If you get the opportunity to work abroad, should you take it? It’s not a decision to make lightly, because your whole life is going to change if you agree to go. On the one hand, the benefits career-wise, as well as the experience of living in another country, could be immense. On the other, you’ll be saying goodbye to the life you know, leaving friends and family behind, and committing to living in a strange place, possibly for years to come. Before you make any decisions about your future, there are some questions you need to ask yourself, and information to find so you can make as informed a decision as possible.
If you are single and unattached, your decision is going to be far easier to make, because you’ll only have yourself to think about. If you have a family or dependents in your home country, the move is going to have a significant impact on them, too. Partners and children would normally accompany you if you had a contract longer than a few months, and that means uprooting the kids from school, finding a new family home, and accommodating your partner’s career. These are all significant factors for family members to come to terms with.
If you have kids, their schooling is going to be one of your priorities, so you need to check out the education system in your destination country. Your employer may cover some or all of the costs of your children’s education, but you need to make sure you know exactly how much they’ll be paying so you can work out what, if any, shortfall there’s going to be.
In some countries, particularly in areas where there are a lot of foreign workers, there are international schools that cater to children who don’t speak the native language. Otherwise, unless the country speaks the same language as you, your kids will have to go to a regular school and learn to speak the language.
Your working day may change when you’re overseas, so for instance, if you’re in Spain, you’ll take a couple of hours off during the day and work later in the evening. You should check when the national holiday dates are and when and how you take time off, too. Your company might arrange days off for significant American holidays such as Thanksgiving and Independence Day, but don’t take it for granted. Americans get an average of 10 paid days off a year, but you could get more or less according to where you move. In hotter climates, employees may be asked to take their leave days during the hottest months of the year, so you might not be able to choose exactly when you take a vacation.
If you’re moving abroad for work, your company should help you get all the necessary documents like visas and work permits sorted out, but don’t forget to make sure yours and your family’s passports are up to date too.
You and your family could find it quite lonely and isolating moving overseas, so try and make some friends before you go. Don’t limit yourself to work colleagues, try and make contact with some local people, so you’ve started to build your social life before your arrival. Chatting to locals can give you valuable insight into living in a particular location, and provide you with local knowledge concerning such things as the reputation of local schools. Locals always appreciate it if you make an effort to speak their language, even if you’re not fluent, so it pays to learn before you go.
You should be assigned a person in your organization who can help you get used to your new country when you start work. Find out about what help you’ll be given by your employer when you start and get in touch with your contact to get to know them a little better.
If you have pets where you live now, you need to decide what you’re going to do with them before you move. Many nations have restrictions on bringing animals into the country, and there could be vaccination and quarantine requirements. If your contract is fairly short, say a year or less, it might not be worth the hassle of bringing your pet, and you might want to consider kennels or leaving the pet with a knowledgeable and willing family member or friend. Think about the welfare of your pets and what would be best for them, for instance, if the climate is very different from where you currently live; they might struggle to adapt. You should always put the best interests of your pets first.
Your new country could have laws and customs that radically alter your way of life. Check up on what’s acceptable and what isn’t, because seemingly normal customary behavior may be frowned upon or cause serious offense. Your company may provide you with a home, or help you find somewhere to live, so make sure you understand what they assist help with. You may well find houses and plots are smaller than you’re used to in the USA, so always view a prospective dwelling before committing.
You’ll have a new currency to get used to, and you need to get to grips with exchange rates and the cost of living, so you know how much you’re spending in real terms. You’ll also have different weights and measures in most other countries, so for example in the UK gas might be £1.25 per liter, so you need to be able to work out how many dollars that is per gallon to get a realistic idea of what fuel is costing you. You’ll also need a bank account set up in your new country, and change all your current financial arrangements such as loans and direct debits.
If you normally drive an American car, you may well find that the models you’re used to aren’t available in the country you’re moving to. You could transport your car over, but that’s a considerable expense and hassle, so it’s easier to buy a car when you move. Your company may provide a vehicle, or contribute towards the cost of a car, so check what you’re entitled to. You’ll find European and Asian cars are widely available in many countries, so you may want to find out more about sorting transport for your move by getting inspired with the latest cars on the market.
Your company isn’t likely to send you anywhere where there’s significant political unrest, but you never know how situations may change. There’s also the possibility of extreme weather to consider. Make sure you know where the American embassy is, how to use it, and what to do in the event of a crisis. Your company has an obligation to care for you when you’re overseas too, so find out what their policies are relating to life-threatening events.
Staying in touch with the USA
While you’re abroad, you still have the right to vote, and you should keep yourself informed of what’s happening in your home state and the country as a whole. Video link technology and social media make keeping in touch with friends and family far easier now, so wherever you are you’ll be able to stay connected to the people you’ve left behind. This is important, because you want to be able to step back into your old life with a minimum of fuss when you return home.
One other major consideration is what you’re going to do with your current home and property. If you’re renting you could put all the belongings that you’re not taking with you into storage, and hand in your notice to the landlord. If you own your home, you might want to consider renting it out while you’re away, but you’ll need to instruct a property management company in handling the administration for you, as you won’t be able to pop round and fix a leaky tap or check the house is in good order.
The best approach to moving abroad is to be well-informed about the new country. The internet is full of valuable information about all the countries of the world, as well as providing advice on the procedures to follow when preparing a move. It’s important to get everyone involved, so they know what to expect when they arrive. Children need to know as much as possible about what their life will be like and all the positives of moving, so the process is less scary and more exciting.
You can also read about the experiences of others who’ve made the change, see what they got right and what they would do differently. Try browsing related forums to see what people are saying, and look for social media groups consisting of people who’ve been through or are currently experiencing working abroad. If your company regularly sends staff abroad to work, talk to people who’ve done it and see what advice they can offer.
There are many factors to consider when contemplating working overseas, so to ensure your adventure is a success, make sure you think carefully about everything that’s involved.