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Five things to consider when moving abroad for work

Updated 24 Nov 2021

There are many reasons why expats relocate abroad, but one of the primary factors is the search for better work opportunities and a chance to earn good money while gaining valuable experience in their chosen field. 

When deciding on a relocation opportunity there is much that expats need to consider, depending on their own situation and that of their family.

Here are five things to consider when relocating for work:

Is the salary enough to sustain the cost of living and still save money?

Is the salary worth it and will it cover everything to give you a comfortable life and still allow for savings? If not, then you need to ask yourself if the move is worth it. Many destinations, such as the United Arab Emirates and Singapore, see highly skilled expats earning fantastic salaries, but this is often countered by the extremely high cost of living in these countries, leaving expats with very little in their pocket by the end of the month. 

On the financial side, expats need to consider what their major expenses will be. Accommodation will likely eat up the largest portion of one’s income, but in many cases this will be funded, or for some provided entirely, by the employer. But this varies from country to country and from one company to another.

For those with children, paying for their kids’ schooling will be the next big expense. In some cases, such as the US or Australia, expats will easily be able to send their children to a local public school at minimal expense, but in other destinations, such as in the Middle East, public schools are not always a viable option for expats and they’ll need to send their children to a private international school, where fees can be exorbitant.

Is my family able to come with me?

Family is often a focal point for anyone considering an opportunity abroad, whether it is trying to earn money to provide for their family back home or whether they're taking their family along. 

Some destinations, such as Nigeria’s Delta region, which is popular with expats in the oil and gas industry, are not suitable to take a family along, while others, such as many European or American cities, may offer a wonderful opportunity for expats with families.

Whether a spouse is able to also work is another consideration. In some destinations, such as Saudi Arabia, the work prospects for a trailing spouse will likely be very limited. The lifestyle and restrictions for a family, especially women, may also be difficult for a family to adjust to.

Schooling will be another issue for those considering a move overseas with their family. Is there a decent public schooling system, or will your children need to attend an international school? Is homeschooling permissible in the country? Will the kids be able to attend a school close to home, or will they need to go to boarding school?

Will I be able to adjust to the culture and lifestyle, both of the business and the country?

There will always be an adjustment period when moving overseas, especially if relocating to a place with a radically different way of life to what you’re used to. For some destinations, this is not a major issue, as expats live in close-knit, largely insular expat communities, away from the reality of life in their host country. This is often the case in Middle Eastern destinations.

But the culture within a company is also important, as you’d want to fit in and feel comfortable with the way things are done. This is often not an issue if working for a multinational company with a local presence as the work culture will be familiar and likely more Western in nature, but this can be a challenge if working for a local organisation which may have hierarchical structures and protocols that are radically different to what you’re used to, such as a local business operating in the Middle East that functions according to the tenants of Islam.

Will my family and I be safe?

Safety and security are an important factor, not only for the employee, but especially for their family, and is a major deciding point for those looking to take their family abroad with them. 

Many move abroad for a better safety situation than what they’re currently living in, but with destinations that are considered risky or high up on the hardship scale, expats need to ask themselves whether the work experience and the high salary are worth the risk to their and their family’s personal safety.

As a starting point, it is advisable to check travel recommendations given by your country’s foreign office before accepting an expat assignment.  

Will I have access to adequate healthcare?

It’s imperative to discuss this matter with your company, especially if moving to a country with inadequate healthcare infrastructure, and where the cost of medical care will be expensive and an emergency may require air evacuation abroad. 

Even in countries where there is excellent public healthcare, this might not be available for free to expats, and the exorbitant cost of healthcare may be something they will need to get used to, especially if coming from a country where they might have enjoyed free or subsidised healthcare.

Expats should ensure that if this is the case, their company will supply adequate and comprehensive health insurance, not only for the employee but for their family as well.

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