By Françoise Falisse
Expatriating is a work and life project which requires
motivation, reflexion, preparation and involvement
Many people are convinced that their country is the best place to live in, they would never
think of living elsewhere because, except for holidays, their country is the only they know and they feel good in.
- Some people think that living in another country could be worth experiencing, at least once in their life. However, due to personal, family and professional circumstances they do not get the opportunity or this movement seems too hard to organize and would destabilize them and their family.
- Some more have experienced living abroad since their childhood and perceive moving to different places on earth as a natural mode of living. Others, on the contrary, decide to return home as they are convinced that their homeland is the best place to live in.
- Some others, due to various professional and personal reasons, freely or not, decide at one particular moment in their life to move in order to work and discover different working and living
conditions out of their country.
Their motivations can be, for instance :
- Few job opportunities in certain areas of expertise
- Ambition to push up their career and to develop high potential management skills by means of international experience
- Wish to take new challenges and assume quicker more responsibilities
- Wish to change their mode of living and work for what makes more sense to them
- Some ideal vision that life could be better elsewhere
- Self-development in other life and work condition
- Wish to pay fewer taxes to the State of their country and take the best of their money for them and their family
Whatever the motivations are, the decision to expatriate is not an easy one, leaving on a bachelor or a family basis.
Helpful guidelines to take into consideration before taking the decision:
Spreading between working term abroad and vacation, travel frequency, working hours and days (e.g. in some Muslin countries, local and expat staff work on Saturdays and Sundays, they are off duty on Fridays, starting their week-end on Thursday afternoon. In others, local staff take a break on Friday at noon while expat and non-Muslim staff go on working and they all have their week-end on Saturday and Sunday).
- The culture of local staff including the mode of communication, the working habits, the level of competences and training, the ability in assuming responsibilities, taking initiatives or decisions, global motivation.
- Relationships with the head office on the one hand and the expatriate or local management team on the other hand (close or remote control procedures, risk management, process standardization, channels of communication).
- Though many companies often export their own culture onto their overseas subsidiaries, management style will be coloured locally and has to integrate some local rules (legal, tax, staff management laws,…).
- Scope of responsibilities and objectives
Terms and conditions
Gross salary package including basis salary, local allowances (based on a day/person or on a month/person basis and what differs if the family comes), risk exposure of the country, social and medical care insurance. What are your expectations in short and medium term ?…
If you are proposed a function abroad, the first person to be involved is you! Your previous professional experience, your personal experience, your personal life and your temperament will guide
Key points to keep in mind:
Who are you?
What is your preferred mode of living? In terms of location, scenery, habitat, type of population, food, emotional closeness (family and friends), religious beliefs, … What are your preferences in terms of behavior and values?
Knowing yourself better can develop your awareness about your ability to adapt and your preferences in this field. You may think you could adapt to a totally new environment, with different infrastructures, with people thinking, behaving, communicating, working or even relaxing very differently from what you have always been used to? Or would you better accommodate a rather similar environment to your usual one? Or not at all?
Discovery of the country
Does this particular country you are offered a position in enough stimulates your curiosity to consider it as a plus point in your decisional process?
At this stage, it is very important to get multiple information from various sources about the concerned country because they will help you acquire a more objective vision of the possible living and working conditions there. Some examples : Political stability and economical development, the cost of living (for you to be able to compare with the salary package you are offered), items to store in your container, purchases to plan before leaving, local custom taxes, security measures, health conditions, leisure and touristic opportunities, internet connections, social networking, making friends, … Do you know people there ?
And above all, would you feel like taking up this challenge in this particular country?
If you are proposed a function abroad, the second person(s) to consider as a priority is (are) your family! This is often the most tricky part of your decisional process. Whatever on which
basis you intend to expatriate, either as a bachelor (not necessarily meaning you do not have a companion or a family) or with your family, leaving one's country greatly influences people around
you, with all possible emotional reactions.
They are often part of the decision, mostly if they still depend on you. Listen to the way they feel about the possibility to move out or see you move out of the country and encourage them to express their fears and their dreams through this project. Some will draw, some will talk, some will spontaneously adhere and see a great opportunity to develop in this change while others will revolt more openly… you may be surprised at their abilities to perceive the situation in a very intuitive and pragmatic way.
Moving to another country necessarily implies to change school and often to integrate a new educational system where courses may be given in a foreign language.
- Identify the schools in the city of the target country and the teaching language
- Check compatibility of educational systems and admission procedures
- Visit the schools websites and complete with an email directly sent to the schools for additional information
Most important capitals overseas have American, British and French schools. Other European schools can be found according to historical background and economical interests in the country. The younger children are, the easiest school integration should be.
These are real personal considerations because they all depend on the type of relationship every person entertains with his/her own family at second and third levels. To consider, for instance:
- Health of close family members: what about your parents' health and their ability to take care of themselves?
- The frequency of meetings : could you, for instance, consider to live a long period without seeing your parents, brothers and sisters, nephews, aunts and uncles,… ?
- Autonomy of decision: do you feel free in your decision in front of your eldest or other members?
Friends and leisure
Long term membership in one’s favourite sport club makes it harder to decide to take distance from all the friends you have made there for a long time as it has become part of your life. Are you ready for it ? How to keep contact with your best friends at a distance ? What are the possibilities to play your favourite sport, music instruments, take part in cultural events,… in the target country if they are so important to you ?
House :To leave it without being occupied, to rent it or to sell it?
After so much thought and doubts which can be very disturbing and make you feel very uncomfortable for a more or less long period of time, the decision can surprisingly be taken in a very rapid way.The quickness of the decision mainly depends on your previous international experience, on business urgency, on personal and family aspects to consider.
What to do, when to start and how to get prepared for departure
From a few weeks to a few months, time to prepare departure depends on business and family aspects.
Key points to put on your planning, presented in a chronological order.
The school : Registration procedure comprises administrative and time consuming tasks such as:
- fill in application forms (including teaching and health forms)
- Check equivalence of levels with the target school
- Gather required documents (e.g. : birth certificate, photographs, copy of passport or identity card, family composition,…)
The child’s school has to attest the child’s level of competences in main branches and the public services of your municipality have to provide official documents.
Many companies (but not all, get informed about it) directly deal with the embassy of the target country in order to get the appropriate entry visa (tourist, business or working) for the expatriate and his/her own family. Examples of official documents the embassy will request : passport, pictures, proof you are no longer resident in your home country, certificate of good conduct, marriage certificate, …
Do you need an identity card or passport to enter the foreign country? Introduce a request for new passports to the concerned public services or check the expiry date of your passports. Pay attention you are not allowed to travel latest three months before the expiry date !
Moving and housing
- Most private companies and international organizations take moving expenses to their charge, but some do not, better get informed during the negotiation process.
The expatriate's company choose their moving company and send one
delegate to visit your house in order to evaluate its contents, determine the size of the container and agree upon an approximate date of removal. A quotation is usually sent to the
expatriate's company which approve (or not) the moving expenses. As most multinationals make cost cuttings, they also tend to reduce their moving expenses by renting
an apartment or a house which will be completely or half furnished when the expatriate arrives in
the country. The solution standardizes moving process as furniture can hence be re-used by the next expatriate (family). It also reduces global moving and settling expenses as expatriates
do not have to remove all their personal furniture, they "just" need to carry their personal belongings.
Many private companies provide accommodation or allow a budget for their expats, which amount is naturally linked to their hierarchical position but some scientific experts "borrowed" for a couple of years by a research centre do not always benefit of the same material advantages as the ones offered in multinationals. Expatriate management policy tends nowadays to reduce expatriation costs and some companies even discourage family expatriations.
- But expatriates' policy can differ from one company to another and feeling good away from home remains of great importance. In this matter, this all depends on personal considerations and mentality of the expatriate.
- When a date of delivery is scheduled, complete your selection and finalize your purchases. Import motorized vehicles can sometimes cost more than their actual reselling value, get informed about import customs taxes applied in the foreign country.
- Carry in your suitcases what is necessary to live when you arrive in the country as it may take from a few weeks till a few months before your container is cleared and delivered home. By useful things to carry understand enough clothes, shoes, daily care, bedsheets, … all depending on the level of economic development of the country and what seems a priority to you.
Leaving one’s country also means leaving one’s home or appartment, at least for a couple of years. It is the perfect moment to remove what has become absolete or what you do not need any more. It can be left unoccupied so you can live there during holidays. Another possibility is to rent it or even to sell it according to future plans. Consider various elements:
- Maintenance: regular cleaning, central heating at winter time, garden, alarm system to be installed or care for a regular surveillance by reliable persons, …
- Inform your water, electricity, gas or fuel suppliers but also internet, TV, telephone providers that you are leaving.
Keep your motorcycled vehicle in the garage may seem the easiest solution though not always the less expansive one as your car still needs to be insured and circulation taxes are still due to the State until the car plate is registered at your name. However, in some countries, as it is the case in Belgium, the ownership of the car plate depends on you residency. In other words, four months after being declared as non-resident in Belgium, you are no longer the owner of your car plate which has then to be transferred to another person (usually a member of the family). What about in your country ?
Import your motorcycled vehicle to the foreign country implies paying important import custom duties which sometimes exceed the actual value of your car; get informed about its value at the moment you intend to import it.
Family, friends and acquaintances
Gather their personal details, inform them about your moving and forward them your future details so that they can also communicate with you after your moving.
From moving to settling in a foreign country
How to deal with change and how to adapt yourself efficiently in the new country?
In the winter newsletter Out of Africa, March 2016, you will discover how your ability to manage change and your adaptability may greatly influence your experience as an expat. Read more in part 2 of "checklist when leaving the country".