Q&A: Should I Accept an Overseas Job Assignment?

Question: I’ve recently been offered a job assignment overseas. What are some of the things I should consider when making my decision?

Answer: When people think of expatriates, they think of cushy lifestyles involving a generous living allowance, company cars and – if there are children in the picture – a fully-funded education for the young ones at an international school. So when the offer to work in a bustling metropolis halfway round the globe comes around, it’s almost too enticing to pass up. According to an international survey by US staffing firm Manpower, some 78 per cent of respondents would be willing to relocate if given the right opportunity. But is expatriate life really the bed of roses we think it to be? Here are some things you should consider before taking the leap.

Can You Afford It?

There is no guarantee that you will receive the same lucrative packages that are so often associated with expatriate living. As a result, you’ll need to be wary of the cost of living in the country in question and the expenses you’ll incur when moving. And if your move abroad isn’t accompanied by a pay increment, it’s even more important than you be aware of the potential costs as you may end up having to deal with substantially higher living costs. You will need to do a lot of research in order to help you with your decision-making. If possible, speak with people who have lived in the country you are to be posted to. Relocating overseas is no walk in the park – short of an all-expenses-paid-for package, you want to be able to determine if the resulting expenses are within your means.

Who Will this Affect?

Financial matters aside, a new job overseas can be a tumultuous time for your personal life. If you’re single, you probably have a lot less to worry about and can settle down in a new city fairly quickly. However, if you’re married and have a family, you will have a long list of concerns to worry about. You don’t want to make this move to progress your career and end up forcing your spouse to take a step back in his or hers. According to a 2011 study of global employment trends, 60 per cent of trailing spouses were employed before relocating, but only 15 per cent found work after they moved.

Furthermore, spousal unhappiness is the top reason why some expatriate assignments simply don’t work out. Some companies have relocation packages that offer relocation support and job assistance for your spouse, and you should take a look at your company’s offer and see if you can work something out in this area.

What Comes After?

And even though it may seem premature to think about what lies in store for you after you return, it could prove very prudent to do so. It’s not uncommon for returning expatriates to find that there is no suitable role for them back in their home country. This may result in returning employees being stuck in a position below their level of competency or outside their area of interest. While you are enjoying your time in an overseas office, restructuring and management changes could be taking place back at home, so it’s important to always stay in touch with the relevant parties and plan ahead.

If possible, try to secure the role to which you will return even before you leave. A small but growing number of companies have formal repatriation strategies in place, and you should check if your company does too. For instance, Shell keeps its expats connected to ‘global skill pool managers’ to help them find their next job. In short, do not hastily accept an offer to work overseas. Some advance planning and careful consideration of your finances and family are crucial to the success of your assignment and future career.

What are your experiences with relocating overseas? Share with us in the comment box below!

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