Last week, one of your favorite colleagues left for Paris to live there for the next three years. Yes, Paris, the same beautiful city you spent your honeymoon five years ago.
With an increasing globalization, easy transportation, powerful and fast communication, the world seems smaller and smaller and global mobility more and more common.
Going to work abroad which might have seemed a distant fantasy is now a real option even for someone who is not extremely adventurous.
Of course, becoming an expatriate employee can be such a different experience depending on where you will work (Dubai? London? New Delhi?) and what you will do (Collecting data? Managing a team? Opening a new factory?)
Here are a few things to keep in mind if you consider taking this exciting turn in your life.
Am I the right candidate for an expatriate assignment ?Sounds about obvious right? But it does not mean this should be taken lightly. What are the key questions to ask yourself before applying for an expat assignment?
On a professional level: Does the job description fit my profile?
Of course if everything goes well with your expatriate assignment, adding an international slot to your resume will upgrade your professional profile with extensive skills, stronger network, more field experience, etc.
Obviously there is nothing wrong with taking up a challenge, but you must be very honest with yourself and make sure the task to achieve is not oversized for instance.
You might gain expertise in the process but do you have the necessary knowledge to begin with?
So you should totally consider some room for progress but not to the extent where the gap between what you are doing now and what you will be doing then is so wide that it becomes impossible to fill in.
You don’t usually get to be a Jon Snow or an Ethan Hunt behind a desktop! But you may eventually get to drown… So be confident and ambitious but in a rational and objective way insofar as possible.
Don’t forget as well that being in a foreign country will make everything more complicated or testing at least in the beginning.
Your boss thinks you are the right person for the job? Great! But what do you think? Let’s not pretend to live in la-la land: the stakes are high.
If you end up not being able to fulfill your mission, your company might blame you for the failure and it might weaken your personal and professional relationships back home. So think it through.
On a personal level: Will I enjoy myself?
Nothing’s perfect and there will be bad and good days (and we are not just talking about the weather) but you want to make sure there are enough excitement and enthusiasm looking forward for you AND your family to get on board with this journey.
Again it might sound easy but a big part of answering this question will lie on thoroughly collecting info and preparing a list of more questions, including pros and cons:
- Does the country I will be living in correspond to my personal values?
- Where will I precisely live?
- Is my family ready to move with me?
- Will my partner be OK with leaving behind his/her career?
- How easy/difficult will it be to make new friends?
- Will my kids adjust to a new school?
- How difficult will it be to learn /speak a new language?
- Will we like the food over there?
- Will the kids be able to continue practicing their favorite sport?
- How is the cost of living there?
- How is the healthcare system?
Your spouse, your children, even your parents (if they are getting old for instance) need to be included in the decision process.
Your professional project must become a family project so everybody plays his/her part and stick together.
Is becoming an expat a risky journey ?Even though going to work abroad do not require any survival skills per se, it will probably mean a major change in your life.
On a professional level, how do I prepare myself to such an experience?
Depending on the position you will take, an international assignation might be quite a challenge. For instance if you are sent to support an affiliate going through a rough time or if you are sent in a country to start everything almost from scratch.
You need to understand very clearly the situation you will be facing there (colleagues, hierarchy, cash flow, means, confidence level, forecast report, market, etc.) and the exact expectations from your employer.
Also find out who will support you (locals and HQ) and how.
In the meanwhile don’t hesitate to list and negotiate your tasks, your objectives, your KPI’s and the room for maneuver (budget, decision process) that you will be given to achieve them.
If you can, try to go there a couple of times to see for yourself, meet future coworkers and evaluate the situation.
On a personal level, how do I prepare myself and my family to live abroad?
You must take everything into consideration to make your moving as painless as possible and your situation once settled as comfortable as possible.
Almost everything is open to negotiation with your company from hiring an agency to find your new home sweet home to allocate an amount for the whole family to take language classes.
Whatever you obtain will have direct consequences on your family’s peace of mind and experience abroad. Try to shape up the best memory in the making possible!
Talk to your HR department and discuss each and every detail of your assignment contract. Don’t be afraid to seem fussy or demanding or even greedy!
Remember that this is normal business for your employer. Play it calm and friendly.
As an expat candidate, you can negotiate practical aspects and financial package that include:
- All legal key elements of the contract (length, suitable jurisdiction, etc.)
- Promotion (salary increase)
- Days off, holidays.
- Local assistance (to move, find housing, school, get paperwork, etc.)
- Company car
- Financial support (also called lump sum in the US) for renting, school fees, moving…
- Financial compensation based on the cost of living index, tax equalization…
- Social insurance and healthcare plan.
- Plane tickets to return home during holidays
- Language classes for the whole family
And don’t forget to negotiate as well some of the details of your return home once your expatriate assignment is finished!