It is said that moving is one of the most stressful things you may go through. That stress can be magnified when the move is overseas for work. It is important to realize that you aren’t the only one who may be making a major life change.
“You need to think about education if you are going with your school-age children,” said Kay Curling, senior vice president and chief human resources officer at Salient CRGT. Curling spent 10 years living aboard.
“You need to understand education allowances provided by your employer,” she told ClearanceJobs. “But you also need to think about the type of school they’ll attend. My kids were in a German school, which are very good, but they had to learn to speak German. In some communities there are international schools as well.”
The whole family has to understand the culture changes they may face, including work culture and new national customs. Fortunately you don’t need to rely just on guidebooks today.
“Google searching is your friend,” said Dan Stoll, an Australian who relocated to the United States for work as a technical marketing manager at Nintex. “I did a lot of online searching, reading expat forums, and learning from others who had successfully done it. Make connections through Facebook groups and colleagues that may have already made the move.”
Once in a new land it is important to make social friends as quickly as possible outside of work, he added.
Creating a community is important for the whole family.
“If you have kids, connect with someone in the area where you are moving to find the best schools and programs to ensure they start well in their new environment,” Stoll suggested. “It’s the small things – everything will be an adjustment. But the experience of living in a country outside of your own is a rewarding challenge and totally worth it.”
Planning an OCONUS Move with the Family Pet
One part of the family that may have a bit more trouble relocating is your pet.
“Bringing a pet is an interesting topic depending on the country,” said Curling.
Some countries have taboos against certain animals, and many countries have quarantines. The UK for example requires animals to be quarantined as a precaution against rabies.
As fairly short term relocation of a year or two may not be worth the trouble of bringing a pet.
“A lot depends on the country and the pet’s tolerance for that type of travel,” noted Curling.
Health records are important, but the issue can be much greater depending on the country. Curling’s daughter actually moved to the Caribbean for work and the travel was almost too much for the daughter’s poor cat! “Not only did the cat not do well, but the she had to be met at the airport by a vet to get a health check before it could come into the country.”
Don’t be a Stranger in a Strange Land
A new home in a new land won’t just have different items on the menu, or different shows on TV. It will also have different holidays and major events.
“The local holidays and leave customs could be radically different,” said Curling. “Some countries shut down for holidays and leave tends to be taken in blocks.”
In Europe many take vacation during the month of August, while in Australia there is an annual holiday time off around Christmas.
“If you aren’t familiar with this you need to understand it so you can plan accordingly,” added Curling.
There are things that you could do that can cause embarrassment, but others that can be much more serious. Simply chewing gum in Singapore can get you in trouble, just as showing too much skin in Saudi Arabia can be an issue.
“Those are big things actually,” warned Curling. “You need to understand the local laws. If you are going to live overseas you ought to invest time not only to know the laws but also to learn history and public figures so that you can engage intelligently with the locals.”
Understanding this will help you engage and not stand out. Or worse, make you want to go straight from the office to the home as quickly as possible.
“You don’t move overseas to become a hermit,” said Curling. “So to help navigate you need to know the culture. Of course you should learn the language to the best extent you can before you go. People are always happier if you can attempt to speak their language.”
Much of the same holds true in the office as well.
“If you are being sent by your employer they should provide a buddy mentor on the other side who can help you prepare for the culture,” said Curling. “It is disrespectful when anyone goes abroad and doesn’t change or attempt to fit in and that is the wrong attitude.”
Plan How to Go, Plan How to Leave
One important consideration when making the move to work overseas is to have an “exfil plan” – as in exfiltration– should things “go sideways.” You probably don’t want to think about it, but being on the other side of the world in a disaster, terrorist attack or all out war could require getting out of the country quickly.
“An emergency evacuation is something you have to plan for,” said Curling. “At the least you want to know where the closest embassy is. Some companies will provide emergency services to get employees out of danger. But if not you should have a contact with International SOS.”
With its dual headquarters in London and Singapore, International SOS is the world’s largest medical and travel security services firm, and it counts nearly two-thirds of Fortune Global 500 companies as clients. It operates from more than 1,000 locations in 90 countries.
“You should absolutely have a plan in place for a natural disaster or civil unrest, even if such an event seems unlikely to occur,” suggested Curling.
And finally think about how long you might live aboard.
“Repatriation is something you need to think about, maybe before you leave,” said Curling. “Are you going for two years, five years or longer? That affects what you do with your stuff.”
Another consideration is not to forget about issues – including politics – that may be important to you. While you are away the country is going to continue to operate and that could include moving in directions you don’t expect.
“American Citizens Abroad recommends that Americans keep themselves engaged with their Representatives on issues and exercise their right to vote from overseas,” said the group’s executive director Marylouise Serrato.
In addition, “(ACA) can help members keep current on legislative issues that arise while they are overseas,” Serrato told ClearanceJobs.
In the end, if you’re going to work abroad it is likely because you have a sense of adventure. So don’t expect everything to go smoothly all the time, and when it doesn’t, don’t let it get you down.
“You better be prepared to laugh at yourself, and you have to be ready to be embarrassed,” said Curling. “If you can’t laugh and aren’t ready for adventure, don’t go.”