Category Archives: Managing the process

Relocation & Expat Resources – Information, Inspiration, How-To Guides and Tools for Trailing Spouses, Accompanying Partners, and Families in Transition.

Expat essentials. Writing a will. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat family, trailing spouse, accompanying partner, global services manager, relocation service provider, destinations service provider.. you get the picture.

(Often Ignored) Expat Essentials – Writing a Will.

Yes, I know. You don’t want to think about it, much less talk about it, which is why I have been getting shifty looks from most of my expat network this week when I asked them the seemingly simple question: “Do you have a will?” Want to know how many people said “Yes”?

Two. Out of about thirty people, all of whom have high net worth, children from at least one relationship, and often dual citizenship / resident status. A little worrying, no? 

I can’t claim the moral high ground – we recently unearthed our Will, dusty from 10 years in an unmarked cardboard box in a storage container in Walthamstow. Not exactly accessible in the event of our demise, and even worse, was so out of date that the paperclip holding it together was rusty and the Feisty One was not even mentioned. So on her behalf, I am doing something about it… Here goes.

Expat essentials. Writing a will. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat family, trailing spouse, accompanying partner, global services manager, relocation service provider, destinations service provider.. you get the picture. I have a new dirty word: intestate. For those of you who have been living a carefree life of blissful indifference, it’s what happens when you don’t have a will. For non-expats, the implications are unpleasant: it gives the state responsibility and control over the division of your estate, decisions about who will take care of your dependents, the timeframe it all happens and (of course) access to a large chunk of your assets via taxes.

It’s a simple fix – a Will. It’s the document that tells those left behind what you want to happen to your dependents and estate.  Most of us overthink it, imagining a torturous process requiring three weeks of desperate hunting for title deeds and old bank statements. Nothing could be further from the truth – the best wills are simple statements of intent, which give executors something to work with and a few clues about where you have hidden your treasure. Combine that with a good estate planning lawyer and you will create a plan that saves everyone time, money and heartache at a time when they are most vulnerable.

Introducing first part of the Defining Moves “Ducks in a Row” program. Our aims are simple:

  • To inspire you to act. Right now. Because this is important.
  • To get you to the lawyer on time. We want to prompt to you think, discuss, list and plan, so that any legal advice you get is based on reality, not just the bits you could remember in the car on the way to the lawyer’s office. And make sure that when whoever prepares your will asks a question, you know the answer and are not paying $300 per hour for them to watch you think about it / argue with your spouse / try to remember whether or not you mailed the last life insurance premium.

So grab your pencil and paper, and let’s get started…

 

Step one: The People.

There are three groups of people you need to consider when drafting a Will;

  1. your dependents
  2. your beneficiaries
  3. your executors

 

Dependents.

These are the people who rely on you for some sort of care, support and/or protection. Traditionally, these were children still living at home, but modern families are often complicated with blended families, shared custody arrangements, adoptive children, elder relatives and even pets added to the mix. Thankfully, lawyers have seen it all before, and, even better if you have a family as nutty as mine, are sworn to secrecy…

Make of the list of those who you are responsible for, whether physically, socially, financially or legally, and the type of care you provide. Keep it simple – the rest can be figured out later – at this stage, your task is to create a comprehensive list.

Now list any special circumstances that will have to be addressed.  For many families, this may involve shared custody, child support or special needs but for expats there may also be issues of differing nationalities, citizenship and resident status that may have tax and legal implications.

For those of you with your own business, bear in mind that you may also have professional responsibility for continuity of care of clients – check your licensing organization or professional code of conduct if you are unsure.

 

Beneficiaries.

Your beneficiaries are the recipients of your estate – usually immediate descendants, siblings, friends and charities. Typically, assets are divided equally between your children, so if you want to use a different split, make this clear to your lawyer so that they can prevent your will being subject to legal contest. Note also that laws differ about division of assets when you die intestate – half siblings, step and adoptive children are often treated differently, and the portion of the estate automatically assigned to the spouse varies widely internationally.

If you have any other people or organizations who you want to leave money to, add them to your list now.

 

Executors, Financial Guardians and Legal Guardians.

It’s your group of guardian angels, so pick wisely. These are people who you trust to administer your estate and make sure your wishes are carried out, to care for your dependents and to manage the finances of the beneficiaries if they are unable to do so. The roles carry huge responsibility, so discuss whether or not your intended choices are both willing and able. They can be family members, friends or lawyers; typically, lawyers are paid (and aren’t given custody of the children…) whereas family and friends are less likely to be.

Note that guardianship differs from child custody: while custody refers to the physical care provided by a parent (who may have no legal powers), legal guardianship may involve physical and/or legal custody, and continues until the child reaches adulthood or the guardian’s death. By contrast, especially in the modern family, custody is far more flexible and changes according to the situations of the parents.

Here’s where expats need to be especially careful, because the local laws may be very different to those of your home nation and custody / guardianship arrangements and next of kin may not follow familiar rules. In the UAE, for instance, if no will is in place, Sharia law prevails, meaning that assets and custody of children potentially follow the male line – your husband / partner’s parents, brothers and sisters. How is your relationship with your mother-in-law, by the way?

 

Step Two: The Money

Your estate is the sum total of your assets, and while many of you will be rolling your eyes that I am pointing out the obvious, I can guarantee that there will be plenty of things that you will have forgotten. The temptation is to run to the filing cabinet / junk drawer and fish out the most recent bank statement, and start noting down numbers, but don’t. Your assets are constantly changing, so you only need to include categories – current and savings accounts, property, jewelry stocks, shares, businesses, investment accounts, life insurance, digital assets (websites, videos etc) – and where those assets are held. For a starter list, click here for pdf cheat sheet.

While you are making your list, make note of who your beneficiaries are, and how they are reported. Typically, life insurance goes to the spouse, but in a world where divorce rates run at about 45%, there are a huge number of exes who are still listed as primary beneficiary. Take note, and make any necessary changes…

 

Step Three: The Decisions

Now that you have the information, you can start making decisions about how to pass on your legacy, human or otherwise. Your key priorities are the welfare of your dependents, so start with those and work from there.

Guardianship of dependents.

Who do you want to care for your dependents if you are no longer around to do so? Depending on the complexity of your family and the types of dependents, there may be more than one answer to this question, so set it all out clearly, naming each dependent individually. Talk to all the parties concerned before you head to the lawyer’s office – you may be surprised to hear who your children would hate to live with, or which relative is intending to move to Outer Mongolia next month – to prevent return visits. Factors that may affect your decision are not just emotional – also consider location (how will your children feel about leaving the country, for instance), age and health of potential guardians, relationship with other friends and family, support network and financial ability to provide care.

Include financial provision for your dependents and decide who you want to manage your estate for them if they are still minors. In many cases, life insurance helps to cover the cost of raising children, but once you include the cost of college education it may not go as far as you think.

Financial, legal and professional dependent provision will require discussion with your lawyer and with those who you nominate to take over; the good news is that if planned in advance, the process is straightforward (and certainly infinitely preferable to leaving your legal advisor / executor to try to unravel the mess in your absence).

 

Step Four: The Division

This is the fun bit, providing you have money to leave. But before you start divvying up between your offspring and the local cat protection league, here are a few pointers:

  1. Remember that your debts and liabilities (taxes, funeral expenses, etc) will be deducted from your estate before the remainder is distributed. You can offset many of these by establishing a Trust, which will will talk about in the next chapter, but for the moment, just remember to include your loans, debts and other obligations when you are cataloging your estate.
  2. Ensure that you own your assets outright before you will them away. Anything jointly owned needs careful consideration to avoid passing on a headache rather than a well-intentioned gift. If you hadn’t already discussed future plans with the co-owner(s), now is the time to do so.
  3. Now is not the time to make a point. Sure, you may have favorites, but remember that in many cases you are not just leaving behind a bequest, but a lifetime of family discord and ill-feeling – not to mention legal challenges. It may seem a lovely idea to leave the bulk of your estate to your newest grandchild/ favorite nephew or next door neighbor, but the resulting fallout can often sour the best of intentions. The same rules apply for property – find out which mementos, furniture or jewelry are most loved by your friends and family, and divide accordingly, informing all of them who has been given what. That way, any discussions, disagreements or disappointments can be directed at you, rather than unwitting recipients.
  4. While we are on the subject of leaving objects to people, think carefully about whether they want them, and the responsibility you are handing over. It’s difficult to part with things, no matter how ugly, unwanted or expensive to maintain without feeling disloyal to the person who gifted it.

Now you have done the difficult bit, it’s time to put pen to paper and make a rough outline to take to the lawyer’s office. If you are an expat, you may be advised to get legal input from both your home and host nation perspective – while the laws of your home nation usually take precedence, extended residence overseas may change the rules, so be sure to explain the situation rather than making assumptions.

You need to include:

  • Your name, and identifying details (usually your address, but if you are an expat, you will need to clarify your domicile (primary place of residence) with an experienced lawyer – it has significant tax and legal implications.
  • Names of beneficiaries; the people and organizations you want to leave your assets (whether money, housing, land, stock options, digital assets etc ).
  • The name of your executor (the person responsible for making sure your wishes are met).
  • Guardians of your dependents – Legal and physical.
  • Who gets what.
  • Your legal advisor should also include a “residual clause” that states the recipient for any assets you forgot to mention, or have been accrued since you wrote your will. “I bequeath any residue to” should take care of it.
  • Signature and date, with initials and date on every page.

Congratulations if you made it to this point- you are well on your way. In the next post, we’ll be introducing the fun stuff.. Planning your funeral, Living Wills and frustrating the tax man.

Bet you can hardly wait.

 

Further Resources:

Nolo.com – Legal encylopedia – Wills

USA.gov – advice on writing both social media and regular wills.

UK Citizens Advice Bureau information on writing a will.

Australia. gov – Resources on wills and power of attorney

3 Simple Strategies for More Effective International Relocation - Defining Moves

3 Simple Strategies for More Effective Global Transition

3 Simple Strategies for More Effective International Relocation - Defining Moves
We all need a little point in the right direction..

At Defining Moves we believe that the most crucial parts of successful global transition are a clear assessment of your situation and thoughtful planning. It seems self-evident, but in reality we are often working with inaccurate information, cross cultural confusion and an unrealistic expectations. With that in mind, here are our 3 essential strategies that will make any relocation far, far easier. And yes, you already know you need them, but how many of us take the time to actually DO them..?

 

1. Before You Go – Cultural Orientation

Many transferring companies provide some cultural orientation training, but it often focuses on the working environment rather than the living one. If you have the chance for professional help, take it, but don’t just stop there – there is a wealth of information out there that can help you better prepare and adapt to your new home.

Guides like the Lonely Planet and Rough Guide both have excellent sections on the local environment, cultures and expected behaviours for visitors, along with a language starter guide. Remember that you are not on vacation, and many other guides assume that many of your basic daily needs will be met by a hotel, so opt for the backpacker and independent travel guides  – they are written for people who have greater contact with locals and are looking after their own living needs.

Blogs, expat websites, forums  and social media networks give you great insight into your new world through the eyes of an expat, and can offer a way to make contacts with like minded local residents without leaving your couch. It’s currently a hugely underutilized resource in terms of cultural orientation, possibly because of the sheer volume and varying quality.

I’ve listed some of my favorites at the bottom (feel free to suggest your own) – many offer local guides for a fee, and a listing of expat blogs by country. Contact the blog authors, read their articles and the comments of others, and build a picture of the day-to day challenges that expat family life will present.

Many expat groups have a Page on Facebook – simply searching the term ‘expat’ and your new location will generate listings. Doing the same search on Twitter will put you in touch with plenty of people willing to share (and probably a few oddballs, so brace yourself), and allows you a less formal method of contact than email. However, remember that with social media, you are also sharing a great deal of information about yourself, so read our guide to using social media before you start.

If you prefer to meet people face to face, Internations is another place to meet a huge variety of expats from across the globe, with monthly meetings in many cities. They also have an excellent online resource and community.

 

2. As Soon As You Arrive – Find a Mentor.

The Armed Forces, established experts at the task of relocating people, have long been advocates of mentors for transitioning individuals and families, but the corporate world has yet to catch up. The good news is that the expat community is a very supportive one that understands the challenges faced on international assignment, and is always ready to rally to the cause, so don’t be shy about asking for help and finding a mentor.

We’re not talking about finding a friend here –  you don’t even need to like your mentor, as long as you respect their opinion. You are looking for is someone who has a good working knowledge of your new location, has an enviable list of contacts, and has recommendations that they are willing to share. You don’t need to agree with their choices or follow all of their advice, but having a place to start will save you time, money and considerable frustration. It’s about getting the information to get things done in the most effective way possible.

Your mentor provides a number of functions – they can point you in the direction of essential goods and services, help you navigate your first weeks in your new environment, and provide an early warning system for problems that you might face.

Ask your transferring company whether they have anyone locally or in your host country who knows the ropes or look for spouses of work colleagues, PTA members or expat welcome groups. Your relationship might not extend beyond a shared coffee, a phone number and a list of people and places, so try to have a list of what you need already prepared. Here’s our Mentor Checklist to get you started.

 

Once The Dust Has Settled – Continued Cross Cultural Training / Support.

In her FIGT 2012 presentation, Philippa Erlank of Consider Culture pointed out that most cross cultural learning takes places between the 6th and 12th month of any assignment. Before that, the practicalities of establishing a home, school and work life take priority, and after a year, most people have settled into some sort of daily routine both in terms of tasks and behaviors.

Those who have been through expatriation before will tell you that most corporate cross-cultural provision happens either before the transfer or immediately after – both points at which you are distracted, bewildered and often struggling with the logistical arrangements of family life. By the time you realize that you need help, it has disappeared into the sunset with the rest of your expat life delusions.

There is good news, however. Most cross-cultural training is delivered by independent consultants, many of whom are happy to provide ongoing private services, both in person or via online coaching. They are familiar with the unique demands of temporary life overseas, and can provide a listening ear, sage counsel to help you with day-to-day dilemmas, and a compassionate shoulder if it all becomes too much. So if your relocation package provision has ended, or if you are relocating independently, it’s well worth exploring the idea of a intercultural or expat coach to help you gain understanding and get the answers to that most fundamental of questions..

Why?

 

Expat Arrivals

Expat Exchange

Expatica

BlogExpat

Expat Coach Directory

Relocating? 9 Essential questions every expat should ask. (Part 2)

It’s the second part of our guide to avoiding relocation disaster – and the same rules apply for domestic moves, diplomatic postings and international assignments. So before you sign on the dotted line, here’s numbers 4 and 5 of the essential questions that every relocating expat should ask.. If you missed the first part, you can catch it here.

4. What support is available? If you answered the first three questions, you already have an idea of what support you’ll need – so here’s where you have a clear conversation with HR about what support services are in place to meet those needs. Many packages seem lavish to the casual observer, but when you scratch the surface, the services included are not always right for your family needs.

Schools, for instance. While the local schools may be excellent, if you are on a 2-3 year contract with a high school age child. you need a curriculum that accepted by their target college rather than a host location one. If the relocation package doesn’t include funding for private schooling, your salary has effectively been reduced by anything up to $30,000 per child, per year.

Increasing numbers of assignments are to developing markets – India, China and Africa – all of which need considerable amounts of cultural orientation and language training. Does the package include enough for you to be able to function effectively and meet your personal goals outside the home or workplace? Shopping, medical visits, dealing with bureaucracy – all are a very real part of the transition, and all involve interpersonal communication.

These examples are gleaned from experience, and the best way to understand what support is needed is to see it firsthand. Hence number 5.

5. Do we get a family pre-visit? In my mind, the pre-visit is vital to a successful relocation – there is no substitute for seeing firsthand the challenges that you all will be facing. Throughout the assignment process, your life transition is facilitated by people whom you have never met, and who are deciding your needs for you. The pre-visit is your chance to see what they got right, and what they have wrong.

The biggest mistake people make is to use the pre-visit purely to find housing. This is wrong for two reasons:

  1. it means you agreed to the assignment based on a very small amount of information and
  2. the time is better spent identifying the challenges you face, not choosing floor plans.

So what should you be doing? Sadly, not staying in the hotel enjoying room service, or visiting the local tourist sights. Your goal is to recreate daily life, in all it’s glory, using the information that you put together in the previous steps. Look at neighborhoods, visit schools, experience traffic and commute times, do some grocery shopping, and most of all, talk to other expat residents.

Listen carefully to what they are telling you about the good, the bad and the plain ugly of your new home. Not all  of their concerns will be problems for you, but you can count complaints about the weather, issues with utilities, security, traffic and schools being pretty universal.

Once everyone has given you the low down and dirty, listen carefully to the concerns of your own family. The work environment will be more familiar and (usually) more supportive, whereas everyone outside of work is flying solo, and your package needs to acknowledge and make allowances for that. With “62% of all refusals to accept an international posting .. family related” and “34% of expatriates return from assignment prematurely because of family concerns”, this pre-visit is a time for the whole family to identify the potential pitfalls and possible ‘deal breakers’ while you still have time and negotiation on your side.

References:

Tales of woe from the roaming professionals

Brookfield Global Relocation Trends Survey

 

Camel train circa 1900's

Relocating? 9 Essential questions every expat should ask. (Part 1)

Camel Train circa 1900

 

When we think of living abroad, we instantly conjure up images of white sandy beaches, turquoise seas, friendly locals and a leisurely quality of life. That is, until we’re two days into our first relocation, surrounded by boxes, with no power, not internet, and no help in sight. By day four, the bloom has gone off this particular rose, and by day seven, we realize that we were possibly just a little naive in thinking that four bedrooms, a balcony and guaranteed sunshine were really all we needed to find our bliss. So for the anyone considering relocating, here’s part one of the ‘9 Essential Questions Every Potential Expat Should Ask’ series. And yes, the same rules apply for domestic relocations too..

1. Where am I going?

The standard ways of finding out destination information – travel guides, websites and maps – tell you very little of what you need to know when relocating. Visiting a country for a short period is very, very different to living and working  there, and it’s the challenge of day-today living that causes many assignments to end early.

To understand whether your new location is a good fit for you and your family, you need to do two things. Firstly, assess how your time is spent currently, including work, school, commuting travel, after school activities, sports, socializing etc. Using resources specific to long term living rather than short term visits, assess how much change you would experience, what benefits and disadvantages your new location has, and decide whether or not this is really the move for you.

This might be anything from a lack of sunshine /open space/daylight hours/ professional theatre to different education systems, religious practice or high crime rates. There is a whole world out there, and it’s better to keep your options open for a more appropriate assignment than be forced to terminate one early.

Ask your HR department about global information that the company purchases –  resources like Living Abroad, Expat Arrivals, the Not for Tourists guides and the Lonely Planet guides will give you much of the information you need, and online blog registries and expatriate forums have the real life experience. Consider joining a network like Internations to meet locals and expats from your potential host location.

2. How long will I be going for?

Notice that didn’t I ask how long was your contract was for?  Ten years and 5 relocations ago, we were offered a 1 year temporary assignment to Kenya. I have yet to return home, and all of our wedding photographs, birth certificates, photographs of our children as babies and furniture are still in a house in Wales. Contracts get extended, new transfers are offered, and if you are taking short term assignments, often all your belongings are not included in the relocation policy.

More importantly, you need to have a clear understanding of how long all members of the family are willing and able to participate a globally mobile life.

The long term issues surrounding schooling mean that your children may not have the required qualifications to attend the school of their choice (although colleges and universities are becoming much more flexible in terms of acceptable international admission criteria) or they may now be liable for higher ‘international’ tuition fees as you have lived outside your home country for too long to qualify for local fees.

The accompanying partner may have negotiated a year’s leave of absence, or may be required to maintain professional registration status, both of which become vulnerable if an assignment is extended.

3. What does the package include?

There are various types of relocation policies, including local, local plus and international, all of which give different levels of pay and benefits dependent on location. And while some will seem very generous in terms of base salary and hardship allowances, once on assignment you can quickly discover that the money is eaten up in unexpected ways.

If you have the information from the previous questions, you will have a better idea of what your new lifestyle will cost, and whether or not components that you consider essential are reflected in the assignment offer.

Key areas to look for are not just base salary, but frequently reviewed goods and services supplements (useful in less stable countries where the price of goods and exchange rates can fluctuate wildly) , health insurance coverage, childcare and school funding, whether you will be paid in your home or host currency, travel allowances, emergency evacuation policies, and repatriation assistance.

Talking to other expats will give you the best understanding of the real cost of living, which brings us neatly to the first question in Part 2 – “Do I get a preview visit?”

Social Media useful for the relocating accompanying partner

Making Friends and Building Support Networks: Using Social Media in Expat and Domestic Relocation

Social Media useful for the relocating accompanying partnerOne of the most important parts of successful relocation – establishing a new social and support network – can also be one of the most difficult, especially when you first arrive. Social media is an excellent tool for expats, transferees and accompanying partners all to make their own connections and get established.

For those of you who missed this my not so quiet meltdown, I’m going to be presenting at the Families in Global Transition conference in March, and I don’t know a soul there. Enter Social Media – in my case Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin, and the miracle that is the search feature. I still haven’t met any of my new friends face to face, but instead of quietly dreading the event, I now have a list of people that I really, really want to meet.

The same strategies that I used are just as helpful when you are relocating across the city, the country or the world, and frankly, if I can manage it, anyone can. There will be hoards of you out there who are far better at this than I (hints and tips in the comments section are gratefully received!), but for those of us not so technically gifted, here’s the Defining Moves guide to Social Media and Relocating.

The two most useful for the accompanying partner are:

Facebook. There are 517,760,460 Facebook users – about 7% of the world’s population – and all of them are using it to connect with others.. So if you don’t currently have a Facebook page, now’s the time to start one. Here’s a great how-to link, and here’s our online security guide.

Twitter defines itself as “a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent messages. People write short updates, often called “Tweets” of 140 characters or fewer. These messages are posted to your profile or your blog, sent to your followers, and are searchable on Twitter search.” If, like me, it’s all very new, check out their FAQ page for more details.

Once you have an account, make it expat network friendly:

Post an appropriate photo of yourself. People feel more comfortable connecting with someone they can see, but make sure it is one you would be happy for your mother / employer / youngest child to see. Social media is all about sharing, remember..

Safeguard your personal information. Avoid entering very personal information such as contact details, religious and political philosophies, family member details and personal photos. There are control buttons to the left of all the information boxes which allow you to decide who can access your information, but it’s better not to enter it at all – accounts can and do get hacked.

Watch your Wall. The incoming information on your Facebook page is referred to as your ‘Wall’, and any of your friends can post something on it. As many have found to their cost, this is not always a good thing. Before you explore new networks, consider ‘hiding’ posts that may cause offense (there’s an X to the top right of each post), or where you have repeat offenders, an entire newsfeed. With Twitter, it’s called a Timeline, and you only have the option to block ‘tweets’ by specific people, but the same rule applies – carefully choose the company you keep, and if you inadvertently post something offensive, delete it immediately.

Use the Search and Hashtag (#) options. These are invaluable to relocating expats; searches involving ‘expat’, your location, and any hobbies or interests will quickly give you a list of people and groups who are delighted to hear from you. If you want to keep track of ongoing responses to a search term, a (free!) service like Hootsuite will allow you to have all your Social Media accounts and searches in one place, and update them for you. Be warned – it’s a little overwhelming at first, but is seriously useful if you want a constantly updated list of potential new friends.

Reach out. It’s not just enough to simply lurk in the background – you have to make contact with people. The best piece of relocation advice I was ever given related to making new friends; “it’s a numbers game”. The huge advantage with social media is that you have millions to choose from, so reach out to anyone with whom you may have something in common and introduce yourself. Not everyone will respond, but on the whole, if they exist on social media, it’s because they want to be social..

Network. Don’t limit yourself to the contacts found by your search terms – look at the groups they are involved with, their contacts etc. Just to start you off, here’s Defining Moves on Facebook and Twitter – feel free to Like and Follow. See? It’s working already!

Vintage photo of five girls on a horse

Essential Expat – Negotiating your International Assignment Contract

Vintage photo of five girls on a horse
Photo courtesy of the State Library of Queensland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When it comes to international assignments, relocation policy is not just a ‘one-size-fits-all’ affair. Not only is there flexibility to cater for specific individual needs within the various policies in use, there are also plenty of potential pitfalls to consider too. So what are the main areas that you need to understand when negotiating your expat assignment contract?

Home or Away. There are now a number of different types of contracts being used by the HR and relocation companies to manage your assignment. The two most common are local (including local plus)  and international. Local means that you will be temporarily governed by the employment pay and conditions of the host country, and aims to ensure parity among employees within a specific location for the duration of your contract. It can mean a increase in salary for more expensive regions, but a decrease for less expensive, and can significantly affect annual vacation entitlement. Local plus provides for additional needs or expenses incurred because of your temporary expat status, such as international school fees and trips home.

An international contract means you continue to work under the terms and conditions of your home location, regardless of the salary and benefit entitlements in your host location. As a comparison, European employees on an international assignment in the US would probably be entitled  to more annual leave days than their American counterparts, whereas US employees heading to Europe would find the opposite was true.

Matching Up. Once you have established what type of contract you will be working under, you need to look carefully at the terms and conditions of that contract, most specifically with regard to equalization. You need to be sure that the package provided gives you the same (or better) standard of living as you would have in your home location. It is more than just the immediate basic requirements – housing, healthcare, schooling, transportation, financial and legal status – you also need to consider the longer term: school planning, college eligibility and fees, provision for dependents becoming legally adult, access to legal services should you need them, long term medical and social care, financial planning, tax implications and superannuation (company pension plan). You will need to do detailed research in advance with reference to your specific individual and family needs, and if you have a preliminary visit, try and talk to resident expats to get a realistic picture of what the cost of living in your host location might be, and what challenges to expect. Don’t assume that the information given by the relocation management company is accurate – they use a generic formula that may have little relevance to your situation and needs. There are plenty of resources available to help you – Living Abroad, the ExpatInfoDesk , Journeywoman and Expatwomen all have country specific information and contacts that can help you understand what you are getting into.

Homeward Bound

“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” – Nelson Mandela

What happens when your contracted assignment is over? In an ideal world, there is a clear progression that goes beyond your repatriation, and provides for a smooth transition back to your home location.  Even with successful international assignments, many people have discovered that repatriation is as hard as expatriation, and there is an increasing awareness that companies need to provide similar support services to move employees back to their former home successfully. And finally, ensure that you are supported should the assignment not go to plan, and either the whole family or the dependents need to repatriate early. If the situation is serious enough to make you leave, the last thing you need is to have to manage and fund your own return journey..

Additional resources:

Expat Info Desk – Negotiating your contract

ExpatArrivals – Expat contract negotiation

BritishExpat – Negotiating the expat contract

 

The Top 10 concerns of Expats #2 – Defining Moves Version

5) The Relocation Process

The trouble with the Relocation Process is that there very rarely is one. Anyone experienced in relocating will tell you that by the time you know you are really going, life becomes a maelstrom of moving trucks, school searches and house hunting, all against a backdrop of a disappearing spouse desperately trying to get to grips with a new role. Focus is inevitably placed on a checklist generated by a Human Resources intern somewhere who has decided that all you need for life fulfillment is a house to live in, a school for your children and a myriad of boxes to unpack. If only they had read Maslow’s ‘Heirarchy of Needs”, this would all be so much easier. Thankfully, there are plenty of people, communities and resources to help you achieve the life you want, so with a little research, some thought, and advance planning, you can get to the good stuff quickly.

As  a rough guide, these are my recommended steps to take.

Assessment. The shortest step, but by far the most important. This is where you need to identify what is most important to you, what you want from life, and whether relocating will actually meet those needs… It’s also the time to discover whether your relocation package is all it’s reported to be, and whether your expectations have anything in common with the company’s.. You may be entitled to cultural orientation training, and if so, wonderful. But don’t assume that it will cover your own particular needs, so try to find time to do your own research and use online resources like expat websites, Facebook and Twitter to connect with people who have experienced your new location firsthand. Expatwomen and ExpatBlog both have location specific resource groups, and most expat bloggers will be only too happy to answer questions.

Planning. The nitty gritty of relocation; a seemingly endless cascade of paperwork, documents, internet searches and phone calls. Assuming that you have a source of income in place, key areas to focus on are documentation and finance, schools, neighborhoods, health issues, transportation to and in location, and finding a social network. A pre-assignment visit is by far the best way to make sure that your planning is effective, and that you have realistic expectations, but make sure that you have done background research before you go, or you will come home with more questions than answers. Don’t spend all your time answering the ‘where’ questions, remember to ask ‘how much’ and ‘how long’ too – many an expat has found life far more expensive or far less relaxing than they had expected.

Implementation. If your planning has been effective, at this stage it should just be a case of carrying out your plans, and getting the basics established in location.  Expect this stage to take up to six months, and in many cases to be an emotional roller-coaster. Ironically, your new social network will be most valuable at this point, both in terms of cultural and destination orientation, and for emotional support. It’s worth spending time on some of the excellent expat forums online and using social media like Facebook and Twitter to discover already established expat networks that you can tap in to.

Evaluation. At some point, you will begin to get a true picture of your new reality. You have all the essentials in place, you have established a day to day routine, and  you have a social network (however small) to smooth the inevitable bumps. Now you can make informed decisions about life in location, and think about what you personally want from it. Up until now, your time is consumed by the practical details, but once those are out of the way, it’s common to feel a sense of loss and a lack of purpose, both for you and your family. Now’s the time to start adding that purpose and quality to your life, whether exploring the local area, starting a new hobby, finding work, whatever floats your boat. Try as much as you can, expect to hate a lot of it, but take pride in the knowledge that you’re getting out there and living life to the full. And don’t forget to take notes – whether photographic, a blog, a diary, whatever. A, inspired friend today confessed that she has a Tumblr account to which she loads a single picture every day, and even after three months, she enjoys looking back and relieving those moments. Chronicling the highs and lows helps to put experiences in perspective, and is a clear reminder of what’s important your own, personal expat life..

The Top 10 Concerns of Expats #1 – The Defining Moves Version

 

The HSBC’s Expat Explorer survey describing the top 10 barriers to relocating was recently discussed over at ShelterOffshore.com, who very kindly put together professional, well thought out advice for the 4100 respondents to the survey. Here’s the first part of my quick and dirty version, for the lost souls who stumble upon this site..

Another happy day out in Wales.. Seriously.

1) Re-establishing a Social Life

41% of all those surveyed advised that this was a key concern for them prior to and initially following their relocation abroad…highlighting just how important it is for us all to have friends and social contact.

Get out there. Bottom line, the only things you will make friends with in your own home are the TV and the refrigerator. The best piece of advice that I received on my somewhat less than comprehensive pre-assignment briefing was that “It’s a numbers game”. You have to filter through the masses to find the ones you want to spend time with. Put another way, if you want to find the diamonds, you have to go down the mine and get dirty. So, trite cliches aside, join the PTA /PTO, call the international school and embassy to see if they have lists of expat groups, take a class, join a sports club or gym (last resort for me due to ingrained laziness) and if all else fails, go and hang around the international food market and start up conversation with anyone who buys the Branston Pickle / Vegemite / Reeses Peanut Butter Cups / whatever your preferred food item might be. Many a lasting friendship begins over a a bar of Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut, as Suzanne (Kenya), Liz & Kate (Los Angeles)and Emma & Staci (San Francisco) will attest.

2) Feeling Lonely / Missing Family & Friends

This of course ties in with the above point, and 34% of expats surveyed by HSBC highlighted this as a genuine worry.  Recent statistical evidence from the Centre of Future Studies also reveals that the expats who adjust most successfully and quickly are those who relocate with families..

One word. Skype. Your job before you leave town (or on your first trip home) is to insist firmly that all family members and close friends download Skype. (Boy, do I wish I was on commission right now..). This magical form of communication means that with the simple addition of a webcam, you can not only talk to loved ones, you can see what their hair is doing today. And nothing says togetherness more than commiserating over your “I’m new in town and can’t find a hairdresser” motif. Should you have a social group that is stuck in the pre-technology age, Skype does offer a monthly subscription that allows unlimited calls to landlines in 34 countries for ‘free’ (obviously you’ve paid a subscription, so it’s not really free, for the accountants amongst you) and cheap calls to cellphones. The bad news is that you will require internet access, so if that’s not possible, use Rebtel, which only requires a cellphone, and handles the internet bit for you.

3) Career Concerns

Oh blimey. Where to start. Probably with Jennifer Bradley’s Free Career Mentorship Classes.. Just to make it even easier, they’re online.

 4) Language Barriers

30% of those surveyed stated that they were worried about language being a barrier to their successful integration abroad – with many Brits relocating to Europe particularly concerned.

Learn the language as you will use it, and get used to feeling ridiculous. There are some excellent resources out there, the more formal being Berlitz and Rosetta Stone, but there are also endless apps, podcasts and online resources, so you have absolutely no excuses. One of my favorites is Fluent in 3 Months, which requires you to spend a lot of time feeling foolish and inept, but long as you have a sense of humor and a willingness to make mistakes, you will develop reasonable fluency in a very short amount of time.

Part 2  of the Top 10 Concerns of Expats (Defining Moves version) continues on Thursday. Don’t want to miss it? Subscribe on the right!

5 Simple Steps to Staying in (Social) Shape

Everyone loves to receive a card in the mail, and never more so than when you are 4000 miles away from home. And while most of us send out holiday cards once a year, birthdays, anniversaries and other celebrations are often left to a last minute message on Facebook. So here’s a step by step guide to successfully mastering the original social media; going back to basics, putting it in writing, and getting it there on time.

1. Update your contact list. Right now, you will probably be displaying holiday cards from most of the people who are important to you. Before you file the cards away or send them for recycling, use them to update your contact list and add any new children, friends or addresses. If you don’t keep addresses on computer, now is a great time to start – either on a desktop program such Outlook or Address book, or online on Yahoo, Gmail or a card company like Moonpig.com. I like Plaxo.com for basic online storage and automatic syncing to smartphones – it takes a little getting used to, but it makes merging duplicate contact details simple, and will let you print off a complete list or individual labels.

2. Make group lists. While you are sitting down with all your contacts in one place, make lists of those who you want to send greeting cards to. Group them under headings like ‘birthday’, ‘anniversary’, ‘religious holiday’ (remember to group under the specific holiday) ‘thank you’ or ‘keep in touch’.

3. Set reminders. If you are using Outlook (PC) or Address book (Mac) or Plaxo.com, there is not an attached reminder function, so you will need to enter them into a calendar. It doesn’t matter whether you use a printed calendar, a desktop one or an online reminder system, you just need one that you pay attention to and gives you enough time to buy, write and mail a card. Two weeks is usually a good rule of thumb – it doesn’t matter if the card arrives a few days early, and it allows for the idiosyncrasies of weekends, holidays and international mail. Good online options for travelers include Cozi.com which will send a reminder via text or email, or Moonpig.com, which emails you a reminder and will also allow you to send customized cards direct from its site, wherever you happen to be in the world. Cozi has a million and one other fabulous functions, but no address book, whereas Moonpig.com does store addresses that you have used, making it a cinch for future years.

4. Buy back-up cards. You’ll be heading to the stores to restock on groceries at some point over the next few days, so grab a few one-size-fits-all cards while you are there. Make sure you buy standard size rectangular ones, with no extra weight or decoration, so that you can be sure of postage costs. In the US, square cards are charged at an additional rate, and the padding needed for many popular decoupage cards takes them over the weight limit for a standard postage stamp. They also often get caught in sorting machines, and are more of a target for tampering / customs inspection in places where hand sorting is still used. If you are determined to include cash, use a standard office type envelope rather than the colored birthday card one for the same reason.

5. Send out a fill-in-the-blanks email. If you are missing information, send out a New Year greetings email with a request for the relevant bits, and update your lists before their reply gets lost in email swamp. If email doesn’t work, try Facebook, Twitter or other social media, but make sure you use the private message function rather than plastering their private details across the internet..

6. Sit back and enjoy!

Taking your iPhone Abroad – How to avoid expensive data roaming charges?

I recently went back to the UK for a seasonal family visit, and have just received my Christmas gift from AT&T, my cellphone carrier here in the US. It’s a bill for $286. I would never previously have described myself as innocent, but obviously in matters of data roaming charges, I am, because this bill rather took me by surprise.

You see, I have a UK cellphone, so calls and texts were made on that, and I stayed at my sister’s house which has wifi, so email checking, skyping and internet use were carried out at home. There were only two days when I was at our old home in Wales, and on those days I checked my email (twice), checked on the website (twice) and searched for a location (once). And for that privilege, I paid through the nose.

So, since I have returned I have been searching for alternatives, and I may have come up with a solution in the name of iPhone dual sim adapters. As those of you who follow my ramblings know, I adore my iPhone, and generally run my entire life though it. Judging by the comments on the latest Techcrunch article on dual sim phones, I am not alone.

Currently, when in the UK I use an unlocked phone with a local sim to make calls and send texts, but when I need to send emails, I either have to be somewhere with Wifi access or pay what I now know to be exorbitant international data roaming charges. The downside is that because we are doing a lot of traveling, access to Wifi is unpredictable, and I would really like to be able to use Google maps to navigate with.

There are a number of dual sim adapters out there, ranging from $20 -$120 with corresponding quality levels, all of which do basically the same thing – connect the existing sim in the sim card tray to an additional sim (see picture on right). But where the previous multiple sim adapters only allow you to switch between sims with only one active sim at a time, the latest – Vooma – allows you to actually keep both numbers on at the same time. And there appears to be no cutting of sims or poking of slots required – a definite plus when you have my history with electronic gadgetry disasters..

For me, this is heaven. With this latest release, I should be able to simply buy a local pay as you go sim with data and use just one phone to do everything. It’s world domination on a cellular scale. And it’s not just expats and global nomads that stand to benefit – for those of you who live in areas with spotty cellphone reception or who want to use an additional cheap rate phone and data package like GiffGaff, this allows you to do just that.

There is bad news, however. Firstly, the Vooma has yet to be released, although I have signed up to be first in line when they do go on sale. Secondly, they require that your iPhone is jailbroken, and while this is now legal, taking that step is a leap of faith.

I’ll let you know how it goes..