Category Archives: Personal & Professional Development

Facebook settings.

Birthday Approaching? Change your Facebook Privacy Settings…

Facebook settingsFacebook have replaced Apple as the leaders in constantly changing terms and conditions, but with far greater consequences. Where their privacy settings previously allowed you to limit who saw what, now all bets are off and it only takes an ill-advised tag to have your worst moments immortalized.

So, while we are busy safeguarding our children from the perils of social media, a new challenge has snuck up from behind. Poor eyesight and the Facebook app…

I am now in the ‘of a certain age’ group, and frankly, things are starting to go a little downhill. Along with the anti-aging creams and the increasing reliance on Spanx, we are now seeing (or not) increasing use of reading glasses and the large font setting on your iPhone.

All very well, until you factor in the constantly changing privacy settings. It’s easy to pictorially record a moment for posterity and share it with the world, but when you are doing it on a two inch screen without your glasses on, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Now, when someone tags you in their status updates and adds a particularly awful photo of you, they may think they are only sharing it with their own friends, but they are not. They are sharing it with yours, and everyone else mentioned in that darn update. And as viewers around the globe share their condolences on the loss of your dignity, they just add fuel to the fire. Cos it’s now gone out to their friends, too…

[Tweet “A  new social media challenge has snuck up on the over 40s. Poor eyesight and the Facebook app.”]

You know it’s bad when my sister (also known for her fetching array of dodgy photos) laughs solidly for 10 minutes. On an international phone line. She has grown up with me, and has thus been witness to some blinders, but even she was impressed.

While Facebook is a wonderful tool for staying connected with friends, families and networks, never forget that it’s primarily a profit-driven business. It makes money by leveraging your activity against advertising access, which means it wants as many people as possible to see what you are up to. It then charges businesses to gain access to you, your activity and your network, and the more unrestricted (i.e. tagging, liking and commenting without setting individual privacy limits) interaction you have, the more valuable you are.

[Tweet “Check your Facebook privacy settings now. Once it’s out there, it’s ‘shampooing-the-cat’ difficult to get back”]

Let this be a lesson to you: check your Facebook privacy settings every time you post, comment and like, and while you are at it, consider adding your own internal filter before your fingers hit the keyboard. Because once it’s out there, it’s damn near impossible to get back. (Think shampooing-the-cat difficult…).

For those of you about to embark on a birthday weekend away with friends, here’s my ‘How to Remain Friends and Not Humiliate People” checklist. You might want to print them out and distribute them with the boarding passes…

 

1. Agree a “Posting and Tagging” policy pre-departure. Facebook is a minefield when it comes to offending people whose city you are visiting – especially if you aren’t visiting them.

2. If you post status updates to Facebook, notify anyone pre-tag so that they can have editorial approval. Your friends may find your offbeat humor hilarious, but their co-workers / future employers / elderly relatives may not.

3. Check your privacy settings before you go, and select either ‘just me’ or close friends. This video will take you through the umpteen places you need to do this.

4. If anything untoward creeps through, untag yourself or ask the poster to remove it. Never comment directly on the offending pic/post; doing so triggers a notification to your network and makes it even more visible.

5. If you are over 40, posting photos of people from your iPhone is strictly prohibited… Seriously.

6. As a last resort, temporarily ‘unfriending’ your travel companions will prevent them being able to tag you, so your network will stay blissfully oblivious. The bad news is that you won’t be able to see what’s being posted, but any shared friends will…

 

So off you go. Now. Before Many Happy Returns takes on a whole new meaning…

 

The Fragile Finances of the Expat Trailing Spouse. Defining Moves, The Art of Successful Relocation

Women, Money and What ‘Dependent Partner’ really means. The Fragile Finances of the Expat Trailing Spouse.

The Fragile Finances of the Expat Trailing Spouse. Defining Moves, The Art of Successful RelocationUpdate: After considerable lobbying from consumer groups, the US Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection has amended the rule requiring evidence of independent income when applying for consumer credit, replacing it with a declaration of household income. This is excellent news for accompanying partners in the United States who had been denied access to credit and left unable to build an independent financial identity, in a country where a credit card or credit history is required for everything from hiring a car to setting up a cell phone contract. Sanity is restored…

I came to a horrible realization the other day that I was beholden to my husband. It sounds incredibly old-fashioned; even using the word ‘partner’ in that sentence would be wrong, because it implies an equality that I had let slip away.

The dictionary describes the term beholden as owing something to somebody because of something that they have done for you’, so if you view being shuffled from pillar to international post as a favour, the word pretty much covers it. I realized that although I live in California, where community property and a 50/50 division applies, I did not have the independent means to pay for legal advice. And when he leaves all his dirty breakfast dishes on the counter above the dishwasher for the 5 millionth time, there is a big emotional difference between don’t want to divorce my Other Half, and CAN’T…

As with the vast majority of dual career couples, when I agreed to the OH’s first relocation, I was aware that from now on my own career would take a back seat. Global mobility research discusses the change (usually reduction) in income when a couple relocate, but discussion centres around household income, rather than individual earning power.

Which is exactly what I have lost. I have never worked in professions known for lavish salaries (nursing or teaching, anyone??), but I was able to earn significant personal income with opportunities for promotion. Now, however, my sole income in drawn from the ‘household’, and as such, is vulnerable. And I’m not alone.

It’s not just those of us who relocate that are in this position. It’s anyone who has chosen to reduce or give up work to manage family commitments, whether you are in constant global motion, or have never set foot outside your home town. If you have no independent source of income, whoever earns the salary holds the keys to your supposed household income.  And while you are legally entitled to a portion of those, it requires court approval to gain access to them, whatever the circumstances. Which also requires legal counsel, who (funnily enough) will want to be paid.

Take credit cards. Over the last 20 years, we have become used to being approved for credit, regardless of our personal income; the household income has always been taken into account. Sure, the credit limit may be small, but it’s quickly increased once our payment history shows our ability to make payments and manage the account well. However change is afoot, certainly in the US, where credit card issuers are changing their rules, and making it far more difficult for the accompanying partner to gain credit (and a good credit history), unless they are employed outside of home.

Last year, the Fed ruled that credit card applications should ask about a consumer’s individual income or salary rather than his or her “household income”. This isn’t just for students under 21, but for everyone. That means that a stay-at-home parent is considered as unworthy of credit as an unemployed college kid–and seven out of eight stay-at-home parents are mothers. No one without a pay stub, no matter the value of her contribution to her household, can get a line of credit unless her spouse cosigns the account. (Anisha Sekar,  July 7, 2011)

Now, in light of the recent economic meltdown, placing more focus on individual income and ability to repay debts is no bad thing, but it does have ramifications for those of us who suddenly lose the ability to get even the most basic forms of credit like a cell phone contract or credit card. It also means that unless you are named on the account, you lose the ability to make financial decisions, access accounts and resolve disputes, which if, like mine, your partner spends a great deal of time out of the country and on air flights, can make financial management impossible.

The Other Half is also the primary name on the host country bank account, and I don’t have automatic access to his account. Typically, he goes ahead to take up his new post, while I remain behind with the children to finish up the school year and pack the house for the move. It works well for us, but does mean that he has sole responsibility for setting up basic financial services in the new location, so it is his name on the salary transfer and tax details, and therefore his name on the account, at least until we get around to updating it.

We choose to manage this by having me sign all the checks (if he signed one himself, it would probably be dismissed as a forgery), I have the ATM card and PIN number, and I’ve set up the internet banking with my passwords. And while this unusual state of affairs makes for amusing dinner party conversation, it gives me absolutely no legal right to the household funds in that account, nor access to them should he suddenly develop amnesia / get run down by a London bus / decide to trade me in for a younger, blonder model…

The mention of Tax ID and salary above should alert you to the fact that opening your own bank account is not necessarily as easy as it first appears. Requirements vary from country to country, but most require evidence of who you are, your legal right to be in the country, how you will pay tax on any interest, and how you intend to fund the account. So when you turn up with your passport and cash, you may be disappointed… However, it is something that is worth doing if you value your sanity, because things can and do go wrong, and I am willing to bet that it is you who will be left holding the can when it does. If the money is in your sole name, you have control over it; if it’s not, you don’t. Simple as that.

And finally, let me mention the dying thing. I have known a few situations where a spouse has died at a young age, and not once did I ever hear the words “well now, let’s get on and sort out the money”. What I saw were people who had their lives knocked out from under them, who were trying to cope with immense loss, overwhelming grief, and devastated children. Imagine how much worse it gets when you are overseas, your right to be in the country expired with the demise of your spouse, and all your assets (and therefore your ability to get home, to make funeral arrangements, to pay medical bills and to pay for normal household expenses) are now severely compromised. I have seen it happen, and it was horrific.

So, if you do nothing else today, do these things for me, wherever you are. Get started on your own personal credit history, even if you have to take out a secured credit card to do it. Promise to keep track of your credit score, every month. Get an independent bank account in your host country, and commit to funding it, every month. And finally, make a joint will, keep it simple and safe, and make sure it is legal in the country that you live in.

Oprah would be proud. I feel more secure already…

9 Questions every expat spouse should ask (part 3) - Defining Moves | The Art of Successful Relocation

9 Questions Every Expat Partner Should Ask (Part 3)

9 Questions every expat spouse should ask (part 3) - Defining Moves | The Art of Successful Relocation
The Original Portable Career?

 

7. Who retains custody of any children in the event of a breakdown of the marriage / partnership, and can this be enforced?

We’ve talked about the financial provisions needed to ensure that dependents are taken care of, but as the accompanying partner, you also want to understand how the laws of your home and host nation define your rights as a parent, because there is huge global variation.

The types of family going on international assignment are increasingly diverse, with blended family make-ups and complex parenting and care arrangements, none of which are reflected in many of the host country laws.  In Britain for instance, mothers tend to be given primary custody, while under Sharia law fathers have the greater rights. Same sex partnerships are often not even recognized, or in the worst case, illegal.

So, before you go:

  1. understand your parental rights in your host country.
  2. discuss the issue with your partner to reach a consensus,
  3. include custody as part of your written legal arrangements.

8. Is it possible for me to work, both in legal, financial and practical terms?

Many transferring employers now purchase career support services for the accompanying partner, recognizing the need / desire to continue a career in the new location. But don’t confuse support with legal right to work (as specified by your visa) or the authorization to work (Employment Authorization Document, Social Security number, Tax ID etc).

However, the legal issues are just part of the picture. Ask yourself whether it is feasible for the supporting partner to work in the new location, bearing in mind the potential language and cultural barriers, professional certification requirements, time spent managing the move, childcare requirements, and the need for an understanding employer who will work around the assignment constraints of the primary visa holder.

Happily, with the advent of the internet, Skype, remote working, increasing number of contracted services and Jo Parfitt’s Career in your Suitcase guide, there are a far wider range of options available that reflect the need for flexibility that is required.

9. How does this move affect my career and earning potential long term?

It’s full circle time. Remember our first question, asking “How long will I be going for?”. Here’s the final wake-up call. Many, many spouses have taken a leave of absence and agreed to a short term assignment, only to discover themselves 11 years later on a third continent, having never made it back to work.. (Yes, I speak from experience.)

Realistically, a two year break on your resume can be explained, but more than that and you are starting to look at professional development updates, recertification and the need for more current references. So before you go, consider what your long term career goals are, if any.

If paid employment is important to you, consider whether your current career is portable, whether you can continue it on a remote working basis, whether it has the flexibility and demand to sustain multiple moves, what financial investment is required or whether you can use the relocation as a catalyst for change.

It’s a conundrum. I love the potential for  discovery and reinvention that relocation provides, but at the same time, my lack of planning means that I forfeited ten years of earning potential, pension contributions and resume building. So while it has given me the push to search for purpose rather than simply a pay packet, finding the confidence to re-enter the workforce after ten years is hard, and has required me to start from scratch – with the associated pay scale.

 

Photo courtesy of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums 

9 Questions every expat partner should ask - Defining Moves | The Art of Successful Relocation

9 Questions Every Expat Partner Should Ask (Part 2)

9 Questions every expat partner should ask - Defining Moves | The Art of Successful Relocation

In the first of the three part series, we set the scene for some of the tougher questions – the ones that we are looking at today. No-one likes to think about what happens if things go wrong, but as the expat partner, you will have interrupted your independent income stream, be dependent on your partner for right of residency and be judged according to a set of laws that may be at odds with what you believe. In essence, you are putting yourself in a far more vulnerable position, so you need to take steps to protect yourself and your rights should something happen to your partner or your partnership. And then, hopefully, never have to think about it again..

4. What financial provisions will need to be made?

Choosing to go on international assignment in a supporting role means that you interrupt your career, even in the short term. This has potential impact on your pension (both state and company),  home country benefits entitlement (depending on the length of time you are out of your host country), earning potential, credit rating and your professional credentials and resume, so you need to be clear about your financial plans for the future, and how you will safeguard yourself.

As a dependent partner, it may be more difficult to open an individual bank account in your host country, but it is an essential part of your financial security. If something happens to your partner or your relationship, depending on the laws of the country you may lose access to any assets held jointly, and thus the ability to not only pay any bills and live in the family home but also to hire legal services. While we hate to think about a loved one being either missing, incapacitated or dead, the reality in these situations is that your legal rights are determined by the law of the land you live in. The same applies in the case of marital breakdown, and the last thing you need in a time of personal or family crisis is a financial one.

5. What if something happens to the primary visa holder in terms of country law?

Bear in mind that the transferring partner is the primary visa applicant, and in most cases, their residence in the country is dependent on their continued employment with the sponsoring company. So if your partner loses his/her job, breaks the terms of the contract, commits a crime or dies, you no longer have the right of residence, regardless of how long you have lived in the country.

For most expats on short term assignments the immediate response is to return to their home nation. However, the longer the assignment, the greater the family investment in the host location, both in terms of financial assets, education and employment history. So if you are considering seeking employment, re-entering education, have college age children or are going to invest larger sums of money, consult a legal or visa specialist to fully understand your rights.

6. Have we made legal arrangements for all dependents in the event of our death, injury or incarceration?

I am continually astonished at how few people have a Will, let alone an Advance Directive of Health Care (Living Will), a Trust or chosen guardians for their children in the event of their death. As Benjamin Franklin said, “The only two certainties in life are death and taxes”, and we should be giving both the same annual attention. You should have valid copies of all of the above held by a lawyer in your home location, and additional host location ones completed as soon as you arrive. If you haven’t already heard it enough, I’ll say it again.. Laws vary, and your Embassy/Consulate can only do a certain amount to help. Most Embassies retain a list of local lawyers who speak your language, and other expats will often have recommendations or referrals. As with finding a good doctor, it’s always worth finding a good one before an emergency arises.

Photo courtesy of Musée McCord Museum. Interesting what comes up when you Google ‘Supporting Partner’..

9 Essential Questions every expat partner should ask. Defining Moves Relocation Guide

9 Essential Questions Every Expat Partner Should Ask (Part 1)

9 Essential Questions every expat partner should ask. Defining Moves Relocation Guide

In the previous 9 Essential Questions Every Expat Should Ask series, we discussed some of the issues that transitioning couples and families should consider before taking the decision to move. Here, we change direction, and focus on the questions that every expat partner needs answers to..

 

1. How long are we going for?

There is a great deal of research showing that the typical length of international assignment now falls in th 1-3 year category, but not so much highlighting how one assignment often leads to another. So when you ask the question “how long are we going for?”, I’m not referring to this particular move, but the bigger picture.. “How long do we intend to be expatriates?”

We discussed it in the previous series, but it bears repeating. As the accompanying partner, you potentially take on a more vulnerable role, losing primary visa status, independent income and possibly legal rights. You may be willing to tolerate this in the short term, but how will you address it if the assignment is extended, or a new one offered?

 

2 What are the role expectations?

Again, studies have shown that 86%  of expatriate spouses have not only a Bachelor degree or higher, but also an established professional career. So while many take career breaks to spend time with children, their intention is to return to work at some point. International assignments often make this more problematic – not only the invalidity of professional credentials in the host country, but also the visa and EAD (Employment Authorisation Document) requirements, the complex tax issues, and the practicalities of moving, settling in, establishing a support network etc. Oh, and the difficulty in explaining to any potential employer that you are not sure exactly how long you are going to be here..

It is possible to maintain a profession, as many career expatriate partners will attest. It does, however, take planning and commitment. Many transferring companies are aware of the changing demographic of the supporting partner, and provide career services and visa support.  What they can’t do is ensure employment, professional development and childcare provision, so we still circle back to the original question – who’s career will be the primary focus, who will be considered the “Trailing Spouse”and how do you both feel about this in the short and long term?

 

3. What legal rights do I have in the host country?

Expatriate assignments are global, and increasingly include destinations with very different laws and legal systems. While you are not expected to have an in-depth knowledge of the intricacies of the legal system, it’s vital you understand the laws that personally affect you.. The rights of women, the custody of children, same sex partnerships, and any other laws that may differ significantly from those of your home location should be considered, as well as what legal support is provided in the event of a brush with the law.

The majority of accompanying partners are women, and depending on the location, legal rights that are previously taken for granted may not apply locally. The same applies for same sex partnerships.  Ask about common expat legal issues in your host location, so that you can take steps to avoid them if possible, but also plan for the worst case. You may have a valid Will, Advanced Directive of Healthcare (Living Will), Power of Attorney and named beneficiary in your home country, but are they valid in your host country, and do you have access to the legal services to enforce them should the unthinkable happen?

 

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress 

Redefining Relocation - Creating a family timeline | Defining Moves

Redefining Relocation 2: Creating a family timeline

Redefining Relocation - Creating a family timeline | Defining Moves

My brother has a five year life plan. He and his wife have at some point, sat down together and mapped out where they want to be in five years, and how they are going to get there. Every few months, they discuss what progress they are making, examine any changes that have happened, and make any adjustments that might be necessary.

I think he might be adopted.

The rest of my family are a fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants bunch, who value spontaneity, adapt easily, and lurch in and out of minor disasters with astonishing regularity. As a group, we are incredibly creative and resilient, but then again, when your idea of a plan is a weekly menu, you need to be.

As much as it pains me to say it, my brother has the perfect approach for redefining relocation. One of the greatest challenges that relocation service providers struggle with is that of ‘unrealistic expectations’, and yet I have yet to meet many expats who made unreasonable requests.

What I do know is that very few of us have a written plan for the next year, let alone the next five, so unless the relocation training manual comes complete with a crystal ball, the chances of the assignment and relocation service contracts reflecting our actual needs are slim.

The answer needn’t be complicated. We need to clarify our expectations as far into the future as we can, and make explicit what we need to achieve them. We are also going to discover the best and worst times to make any changes in location, and why. We’re going to draw a family timeline.

For those of you who love order and are proficient with Excel, you can use a template to create a timeline. The advantage of this is that you can gloat over the rest of us. However, after two hours of futile struggling, I’m using the pen and paper method.

Begin with each family member, starting now, and charting forward for at least two years. This takes into account your immediate needs for the transition and settling phase, allows for single year contracts to overrun and for an assignment of this length, your needs are fairly predictable.

It is also the point at which many visas expire, home and host location resident status changes, and home nation benefits, rights to resident rates for college and healthcare, and legal and financial rules change. Here’s my two year rough draft for the Wiggy One, just to prove that I sometimes take my own advice..

Redefining Relocation - Creating a family timeline 2 year international education plan

However, as many assignments are extended or rolled over into new overseas placements, two years is an absolute minimum. For ease of use, use a separate sheet of paper for every family member, (and even every category, if it gets really complicated) and plot 24 monthly markers along your line. A lined A4 legal pad turned on its side is perfect.

Over the coming weeks, we will be discussing each category in detail, but for now, these are the main areas we will be considering in terms of our two to five year plan.

  • Career (for both partners)
  • Family
  • Education
  • Financial Considerations
  • Legal Issues
  • Health
  • Personal Development
  • Life Goals

Between now and the next step, take time to write down as many events that will occur in each category that you can think of, including end of school years,  passport and visa expiry dates, driving license renewal, professional re-certification exams, future career and life plans, etc.

Your timeline is not set in stone, and many of the features on it will change over time. What it should do is clarify what is most important, and what challenges you will face, so that you have a working document to take into account when you consider relocation policies, available support and future assignments.

 

Photo courtesy of The State Library of New South Wales

 

Redefining Relocation 1: Getting it right from the start – what’s motivating your move?

When we consider relocating, the common theme is the idea of an easier life. But expat life is not easy; it can be incredibly rewarding, but it is also frustrating, challenging and can be very isolating if you are not both motivated and committed to making it a success.

I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that to your potential overseas employer or relocating corporation, ‘you’ are the sum total of your resume. Actually, ‘you’ are your resume, your (carefully selected) references and your interview technique. You are not the person your therapist sees every Thursday, your overdraft, nor the parent whom your children alternately love and loathe.

This is also the bad news, because these are the characteristics that might give more insight for the HR department, your future boss and your relocation / destination service providers. They are the traits that affect not how you will behave in a new role, but in your new life.

People choose to relocate for a vast array of reasons, and many of them are not great. In fact most of the time, we don’t even stop to consider what’s driving us, and by the time we realize that it might not be such a good idea, the contract is signed, the flights are booked, and the household contents are halfway across the Indian Ocean.

No-one might ever ask you what it motivating you to move, but someone should.

That’s exactly what the first stage of any relocation process should be; asking yourself why you are considering such a major life change, and what do you really hope to get out of it? It’s the time to be honest, put pen to paper, and see if the things we want in our future life require a geographical move, or simply a little attention closer to home.

To get you started, here’s a snapshot of what prompted our first relocation, and the disadvantages we tried to predict. The categories are intended as a guide – feel free to add your own. Take as long as you need to brainstorm all the beliefs, expectations and plans for the assignment, and put it somewhere where you can add to it as moments of inspiration / enlightenment / terror appear. And don’t get caught up in specifics – this is to provide you with an overview, rather than a detailed list of pro and cons.

Once you have clarified your motivations for moving, list them in order of importance, including the positive and negative points. If your top three positives all involve a change of location, it’s time to move on to the next step – defining your expectations.

For those of you who are experienced veterans of the relocation world, we’d love to know what motivated you to start relocating, and what’s changed. Is there something that we’ve missed?

Photo courtesy of the Geoff Charles Collection at the National Library of Wales

Relocating family at airport

Relocating? 9 Essential questions every expat should ask. (Part 3)

Relocating family at airport
photo courtesy of the Nationaal Archief

Part Three of our guide to what you all really need to know about relocating before you accept your international expat assignment: How will it affect the whole family?

(If you missed the previous postings, here’s part one and part two)

 

 7. What provision is there for my partner?

Relocation policies are increasingly aware of the need to keep all members of the family happy, especially when the majority of early repatriations are due to family concerns. This is reflected in many assignment packages, which include career assistance for the spouse (resume preparation, employment authorization documentation, visa assistance etc.), cultural orientation training, language training, or a lump sum to be used in any way you prefer.

If you have taken the time to create your family 5 year timeline, your expectations and goals should be clear, and you can identify whether the package (and the length of the assignment) meets the needs of the accompanying partner.

Some questions to consider include:

  • Is there recognition for same-sex partnerships, and does the host location have a similar policy?
  • Is there orientation and location support for the partner, or are they just expected to ‘get on with it’?
  • Is there an established expat group in place to provide host country support?
  • Who is expected to establish the essentials – housing, utilities etc? How much time and management does this typically take?
  • Will you be legally able to work in your host country, what national and local documentation is required, and how long will the application process take?
  • Will you be required to undertake local re-certification, and how long will the process take?
  • How much travel will the assignment require, and will that affect the accompanying partner’s ability to work?
  • Is the accompanying partner’s career appropriate for short term employment, and what would happen if the assignment duration changed?
  • Is remote working a possibility, or should you consider career counseling to explore other options?
  • Are there any local cultural or legal barriers to your employment?

The ability of the partner to work will depend on many things, not all of which you might expect. Visas, work permits and employment authorization will vary hugely between locations and professions, and it may be wise to get career counseling explore the option of working remotely or creating a more flexible career structure. Even those with widely transferable professions such as nursing and teaching are restricted by the need for local re-certification within the limited time span of the assignment.

Other physical factors such as local vacancies / needs, restrictions (e.g. curfews, dress codes, security issues, laws etc.) the practicalities of sustaining a family life, or even availability of childcare will affect the accompanying partners ability not just to find work, but to maintain an career long term.

 

8. What provision is there for my children?

The questions that apply to the accompanying partner also have relevance for any children in the family. All the standard questions for any school about curriculum, student-teacher ratios, test scores and demographics apply, but there are additional factors to consider to ensure a consistent and coherent academic pathway. For short term assignments and younger children there is more flexibility in terms of practical schooling options, but the older the children, there is a greater need for advance planning for college applications, residency requirements, academic language and funding.

Consider:

  • How long is the assignment, and what if it gets extended or you move to local payroll? While private schooling is the most flexible in terms of admission and curriculum, the long term expense can be prohibitive.
  • Does the host location have appropriate available schooling, or will boarding school need to be considered now or in the future? Is this something you and your children are happy to consider?
  • Does your child have any social, emotional or learning issues that will need special consideration? Are these needs able and likely to be met in the new location, or will you need additional resources?
  • Does the new location allow for transfers between schools, or is there a limited choice? Is homeschooling supported where there are gaps in curriculum provision?
  • What are the demographics of the school? Will the range of languages spoken be an advantage or a barrier to effective teaching and learning?
  • Does the policy absorb the impact of international college fees, and what if we transfer during the college years?
  • If your children are college age and would normally have spent summers living at home, does the package include a flight to your new location for them once per year?
  • What happens when my child reaches legal adulthood? Will they be allowed to remain in the country as dependents, or will they have to apply for an independent visa?

As a rule of thumb, most expats I know have planned current schooling well, but the issues of college education have been forgotten. We are unfamiliar with the admissions process and requirements, fail to understand the importance of standardized tests, and underestimate the complexity of the fee structure.

While colleges are increasingly accepting a wide range of academic evidence for entry, there is less flexibility when it comes to funding. Short term assignments often mean that you no longer qualify for resident rates, whether national or state, regardless of your citizenship. If you have high school age children, consider the long term impact of your school and assignment choices – if you though private school was expensive, just wait until you see the college ‘international student’ rates…

 

Resources:

Career Counseling – Jennifer Bradley

A Career in Your Suitcase: third edition. Jo Parfitt

International Baccalaureate Organization 

School Choice International

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!