How Do I Know if My Expat Destination is Right for Me?
For most of us, moving for our jobs has become something which is nothing out of the ordinary. If you want to make it to the corporate top, at least one assignment of two to three abroad will be mandatory. But also as a business founder, research fellow or if you are just looking for a new job, it is crucial to know if it is worth your move.
Since I left university, I have moved across the globe multiple times and as you know, I am still on the move. So how do you know if that move will be good for you? Let me share some things you might want to consider in advance:
WHY are you moving?
The most important thing is to know the big WHY – are you moving because of a great opportunity, because you fell in love with a certain city, or, because your partner is moving? If you are not clear about the why it will be very difficult to make it through the tough times of home sickness and loneliness. Whatever it is, remind yourself of it and see if it is worth the move.
Look at it from Realistic Perspective
I often here things like “You are so lucky to live be in a hot climate, it must feel like holidays all the time. I would love to do that too.” Well, really? Have you REALLY thought about what that means? The reality of living in destinations which people go for holidays also means that it is hot all the time, you will arrive at work sweaty and your hair will not stay nice the whole day (believe me, I know what I am talking about). It might sound romantic that we are all lying in the sun the whole day but in reality, it is similar to your life – work hard and have daily routines (which most of the time, do not include any beaches or pools). Be realistic if you really want to have it every day or if it is a great experience for two weeks.
Also, if it means moving far away from your family and friends, can you deal with it? Will it be OK for you to see them twice or even only once a year? Will the vicinity to a beach make up for being lonely when you start out?
Spend Time there Before You Make the Decision
I definitely recommend spending time at your prospective new home. Big corporates often offer their expats an orientation trip. In any case, you will spend a significant amount of time there and it is worth spending a week to get to know the place (and maybe already start the apartment hunt). It is also crucial to involve your partner in this and see if they like it too – you need your partner in crime to have a good time and also realistic job opportunities. Otherwise, it will affect not only your relationship but also your performance at work. During my times abroad, I have met so many people who went back home because of their partner’s unhappiness because the partner did not know what to expect from the move. If your partner cannot or does not want to move with you, discuss how you can make things work and make a plan in advance.
Talk to Locals and Other Expats
Try to talk to as many people as possible – your future colleagues, intros by friends, connect to expats on Facebook and online forums. Ask them what life is like:
What does the daily life look like?
What do you need to know before your move?
How do they like it?
What do they struggle with?
It is important to know which people you will meet there – some cities are very transient and it might be tough to meet locals. Just try to get a realistic picture. And be very clear what you want yourself: some people enjoy only spending time with expats if they stay somewhere for the typical two to three years. I personally like to have a mix of local and expat friends.
If you are lucky to get an expat package, the financial incentives are often very high. No matter if you are on such a package or not, do the math: go to a local supermarket and calculate your monthly budget, add rent, transport and all the additional fees you will need to keep your standard of living. I do not recommend to only move for financial reasons. I met so many people in China who did 3-year expat assignments to finance houses in Europe and hated the place. Do it for the opportunity. It is great if it comes with financial benefits. But even if your salary does not increase, it can be good for your career. Always analyse if the opportunity is worth potential financial sacrifices. Expat packages are a tough thing to get now and if you move for smaller companies, you will probably get a local contract.
One important thing I realized when I moved around: taxes and social insurance systems are very different. Always do your own research and consult a tax accountant. And go into the details: If you get a sign-on bonus, for example – how much tax will you need to pay in that certain country? How much money do you need to factor in for insurance? Sometimes, it seems like a great opportunity from a financial perspective but if you do the math regarding tax, social insurance and living cost, it might not look that attractive anymore.
I hope that this article helps you to make the right decision! Let me know in the comments if you have any further questions or remarks. I love to hear about your feedback!
A lot of you have asked me for recommendations about where to start your business. If it is worth moving abroad for it. As this would have been too much to squeeze into one article, I am working on a separate post about this topic. So stay tuned! 🙂