Nine Challenges of Overseas Employment

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One of my favorite television shows is HGTV’s “International House Hunters.”  Lucky couples (at least I think so) go off to exotic places to buy a home for vacations or permanent housing due to a job opportunity.  It’s fun to vicariously live their experience, strolling down narrow winding streets in Tuscany, the wide English countryside, or rain forests of Costa Rica looking for a new home.  While it all seems so exciting and romantic, taking a job in a foreign country comes with its own challenges.  Having lived in Saudi Arabia for two years with two small children when my husband was transferred by his company, I witnessed first-hand the joys and sorrows of an overseas job assignment. 


1.      Visa requirements.  Depending on the country, you will need visas and work permits to legally work in the country.  This can take time and a lot of documentation.  You may need a visa to get in and one to get out, making travel back home a challenge.


2.      Safety.  The U.S. Department of State provides travel safety warnings on different countries around the world.  Once out of the country, you have to rely on another government and their justice system to ensure your safety.  Check out the listing before you sign an offer letter to be sure this is a safe opportunity. 


3.      Language.  The countryside in Bulgaria or the Greek Islands may be breathtaking, but can you find the closest restroom or read the exit signs on the roadways?  Learning a new job is difficult enough, but can you handle the language barriers as well?  Check out Rosetta Stone or a free online language course and see if the bi-lingual life is for you.


4.      Food.  The U.S. is really the land of plenty, with supermarkets bursting with the latest food items available regardless of growing seasons.  Not so in other countries, where you may have to shop in local markets or small grocery stores.  Selection may be limited and your favorite items unavailable.  It’s a small thing, but another adjustment you, and your digestive system, will have to make. 


5.      Healthcare Services – Will your healthcare insurance cover you and your family at your foreign location?  Healthcare systems differ in availability, coverage and quality, so be sure to get a thorough check up and sufficient medications you need to last until you get established with a new physician. 


6.      Housing.  Since my husband worked for a large engineering/construction company, they built an American-style housing complex in Saudi Arabia that had all the comforts of home.  You may not be so lucky.  Housing comes with a hefty price tag in most foreign countries, without the amenities or even what we would call necessities in the U.S.  Check out the relocation package, housing allowances and policy on shipping personal items to your new foreign location.


7.      Transportation.  Many European countries have excellent public transportation systems which eliminate the need to own a car.  But owning a car, with the freedom it provides, is something we take for granted in the U.S.  The car’s purchase price and fuel costs can be much higher for a smaller vehicle, and not every home or apartment has a garage or parking space.  Can you live without your own vehicle and rely on public transportation? 


8.      Children/schools.  Take all the considerations above and multiply them by the number of children you have, their ages, educational needs and medical issues (if any) before signing on the dotted line.  The quality of educational systems varies, and you may need to send children out of the country to boarding school to get a quality education.  The separation may be too big of an adjustment for parents and children. 


9.      Homesick?  How often can you come back the U.S. for R&R—rest and relaxation?  We were allowed a trip out of the country every six months and a month’s home leave once a year.  While it was great to get back “home,” the home was rented to someone else, and we ended up living out of a suitcase while visiting friends and relatives like nomads until we returned to our foreign address. 


Taking a job in a foreign country has many rewards—travel, education, experiencing new cultures and building memories that last a lifetime.  The travel is often paid by the company, with a higher compensation package, housing allowances and other considerations for relocation.  It’s exciting, but not for everyone.  Consider the costs and rewards before making a life-changing decision.    


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