As you prepare to take your first step into working overseas, it is crucial that you know what to expect on arriving in the new country. What your initial financial outlay will be and if there are any cultural and dress norms that you need to adhere to. At home, there 5 key areas of your life that you are certain about. When working and living overseas, you want to have those same areas clarified before you step onto the plane.

Accommodation

Different companies and organisations have their own approach to this. Here are some questions you need to have answers to if they are not already outlined in your contract.

  • Will you have to source your own accommodation?
  • What type of accommodation is available to expatriates?
  • Will the accommodation be paid for by the company?
  • Is the tenancy agreement between the company and the landlord or between the landlord and yourself?
  • What legal areas should you be aware of if you do have to sign a tenancy agreement.

1Transportation

The range of options usually includes driving yourself to work, being driven to work or using local transportation. It is important to know what the options are and what the risks that accompany each option is. In some countries, women are not allowed to drive whilst in other countries, there are no real ‘local transportation’ options.  Areas to consider are:-

  • Some people may wish to purchase a car for the duration of their contract. Expats cannot purchase cars in all countries.
  • The company may provide a driver with a vehicle which takes you to and from work. There may also be a company bus that shuttles groups of people to and from work. Are these available during the evening or at the weekend?
  • Local transportation may also be an option which includes trains, buses and taxis. What are the risks of using each?

2Healthcare

A good healthcare package is fundamental. There are things you will need to know. They include:-

  • What services are available to expatriates and where are they located?
  • Does your company have an out of hours contact person for new staff?
  • Does your healthcare package cover your dental and general health?
  • If you have specific healthcare needs, can they be met through your insurance cover and/or in the country? If this is not covered by the package, what are the costs and availability compared to those at home?
  • Does the package offer an evacuation element in case the care cannot be met in your host country? A colleague was once flown out as the country we were in could not meet her needs. It was only at this point that I saw the value of the evacuation aspect of this package.

3Education

In countries where there are large numbers of expatriate staff, there are ‘International Schools which offer the UK, US and international Baccalaureate curriculums. There are also local schools which offer a curriculum that may be delivered in a local language where a specific religious or cultural emphasis is placed.  Some of the questions you may need to ask include:-

  • What international schools are there and where are they located in relationship to my accommodation and office?
  • Can my children attend the local schools?
  • What can I expect to pay in school fees?
  • When do the school holidays take place? Are there holiday schemes on offer?
  • Do they use corporal punishment?

4Terminating your Contract

If you decide that the role and location are not for you, there are some questions you will need answers to.

  • What period of notice must I give the organisation?
  • What period of notice must I give the school?
  • What period of notice must I give the landlord?
  • Will there be any financial penalties regarding the immigration process?

5Finally

Living and working overseas can be an incredibly rewarding experience. It can also be challenging as you move from what you know, to the unknown. I have worked in Jamaica where I had family and friends who I knew. I found that working in Jamaica was very different to spending time there on holiday. When your PA says ‘ Ah soon come’ and returns 4 hours later, you learn that to be effective, a different strategy may be needed here!  I have worked in Malaysia where I knew no one but enjoyed the autonomy which the good public transportation system gave me, avoiding the taxi drivers who prey on ‘foreigners’ from every country. I cannot emphasize how different life can be with good public transportation.

In Ghana, I had a driver and a vehicle which was the norm as the public transportation options are very limited. Each country has taught me so much and each experience has been invaluable.

These articles have been written for those of you who are about to begin your first contract overseas in a country with which you are not familiar and have no family or friends on hand to support you. The picture is very different for people who are returning to a country where they have family members although that comes with another area of challenges and will be explored in my future blog series.

The articles are also for the agencies, recruiters and organisations who are working with those individuals and will need a coach to take them through the transition.

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