How can you prepare for an expat assignment
Today’s guest post comes from Aura at STORAGECafé.
Expat assignments are a great opportunity for advancing professionally, and also for personal development: you get to travel, to learn a new language and to become familiar with a different culture. The perks associated with it are also generally pretty nice: a good salary, transportation and housing provided, school tuition and spousal allowance included, language tutoring and so on.
It’s no wonder, under these circumstances, that most people jump at the prospect of an expat assignment. However, it’s not easy to uproot your entire life – and that’s true especially for families with children. You can make the transition easier for everyone by thinking ahead and by taking all the implications of the expat life into account. Here are the most important steps you should follow in preparing for an expat assignment.
Make sure everyone is on board for the expat assignment
Expat assignments are a bit more difficult to manage when families are involved. Have an in-depth conversation with your spouse to decide if you can manage an expat assignment and what works best for your family. If your partner has a great job they don’t want to quit, or if your children are at an age when it’s difficult for them to leave friends and school behind, going solo is also an option.
Consider the length of the assignment. For short-term assignments of year or less, you may be able to fly back home every couple of months for visits. Is uprooting your children from their schools and moving everyone to a different country worth it?
If it’s an ongoing assignment and there isn’t a clear deadline for it, it may be wiser to move as a family. The most important part, however, is to be in perfect agreement with your spouse on how to deal with the expat assignment. Also, both of you should talk to your children, make them understand what the move implies. Depending on their ages, you may wish to look at other alternatives, for example staying with a relative or boarding school.
Decide what to do about your house
Which is the best course of action regarding your current living situation? If you’re a renter, you have the option to get out of the lease agreement or to sublet your apartment. All that’s left to do is pack and store your stuff until you come back home, if you can’t take your belongings with you.
Things are a bit more complicated for homeowners. Assuming you have a mortgage to pay and you want to hold on to your current house, probably the best course of action would be to rent your home for the duration of your expat assignment.
Keep in mind that dealing with tenants and property maintenance long-distance can be quite an ordeal, and you might end up losing money instead of making a profit. If you have family and friends willing and able to keep an eye on your property while you are gone, that’s great. If not, hire a property management company.
Depending on your country, you will need to consider the tax implications when renting it out.
Contemplate selling your home. This may be for you if you’re headed toward a long-term expat assignment, you’re not particularly attached to your house or the area or you don’t even know where you’ll be based after this assignment.
One common issue, regardless of what you decide to do about your home, is storing your belongings for the duration of the expat assignment, if you can’t take them with you. Self-storage is a convenient solution for keeping your things safe in the long term. In the US, the average price for renting a self-storage unit is USD 115, according to Yardi Matrix. That cost varies a lot, depending on where you live. For example, renting self-storage in San Francisco costs about USD 193 per month for a standard 10X10 unit, but the same self-storage unit in Columbus, Ohio is less than USD 90.
Go into all the details of your expat assignment
Research your destination thoroughly to find out all the details that could have an impact on your life in the new country.
First of all, make sure that you and your family have valid passports. Then, look into whether your partner and children are eligible for visas, how the visa application process works, how long it takes and how expensive it is. Will your company support your application process and pay for the fees?
In some countries, couples must be married to apply for visa and/or to live together. If you have been co-habiting for years, are you willing to get married now?
Assuming that your spouse wants to get a job in the new country, find out whether that will be possible and what the requirements are. Could they work remotely for their current company or be transferred to a subsidiary of their current company? If they can’t work in the new location, what implications will that have for them? Don’t just think about the money. What about their career, identity and self-worth, for example?
Expat housing and transportation
Check out whether housing will be provided to you. Will it be suitable for your family’s needs? If you’re worried about anything or if you have special needs, it’s better to discuss those issues with your company prior to the move. Who will help you find appropriate housing in your new location?
Finding out how you’ll be getting around is also important. Is your driving license and your spouse’s valid in the new country? Will you be able to make do with one car, or you need a second one? Will your company cover for all transportation costs? How is the public transportation system at your destination? In some countries, your company may not wish you to drive yourself. Will they provide you with a driver or will you need to pay them yourself? Finding the answers to those questions ahead of time will save you a lot of trouble.
Look into the living costs, including food, clothing, entertainment and anything else not covered by your employer. Keep an eye on the local currency and its stability.
Often the local products are cheaper than imported ones. Locals may also shop differently, e.g. at small local markets instead of big hypermarkets. This may impact your pockets in a positive way.
Do the math to find out whether the expat assignment is financially advantageous for you and your family, once you have accounted for all the expenses. Will your company compensate for a higher cost of living location? The non-financial benefits, e.g. career advancement, exposure to a new culture, especially for your children, may outweigh a high cost of living location.
Check with your doctor and your paediatrician whether your family’s vaccinations are up-to-date and if you need any additional shots or medical treatments before arriving in the new country. Also, do some research into the healthcare system of your destination country. This way, you’ll know what to expect and how to act in case of an emergency.
Find out what the health insurance plan that your company provides actually covers, whether your spouse and children are covered in any circumstance and if it’s a good idea to purchase additional health insurance.
Identify the corresponding school year, level and programs suitable for your children in the new country. Decide whether you’ll be enrolling your children in an international school that teaches in English, or you prefer the public system and exposing them to a new language. The latter option may not always be there, depending on the length of your assignment and your kids’ local language skills.
Contact the school or schools where you consider enrolling them. What pre-enrolment tests are required? What documents and paperwork are needed? Ensure that you have everything already and if not, request the documents as soon as possible. If you can, secure spots before you start your assignment.
Find out from your employer what educational fees are covered by them. How much will you need to pay yourself?
Things don’t always go according to plan. You might have to abandon your expat assignment ahead of time, for personal, health-related or even professional reasons. The company may also call you back when a project changes or if security is a concern. It’s important to know what termination of your contract entails, i.e. notice period, impact on your bonus and allowances, costs of repatriation and so on.
Finally, make the most of your expat assignment. Immerse yourself and your family in the new culture, learn the language, and enjoy the new surroundings. Accepting an expat assignment can be one of the most enriching experiences a person or a family can have.
Thank you, Aura at STORAGECafé, for these 3 essential steps to get prepared.
If you have or are on an expat assignment, what helped you prepare?
Until next time,