Tag Archives: parenting

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 Not exactly accessible in the event of our demise, and even worse, was so out of date that the paperclip holding it together was rusty and the Feisty One was not even mentioned.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

Today We Celebrate! The Trailing Spouse Keeping the Family Together

Today we celebrate! All of us trailing spouse moms and dads, who have chosen to follow their spouse’s/partner’s careers over their own, who have sacrificed to keep their family living at one place.

Today is not about what we’ve missed out on but what we have tried to create. A home, a family, a sense of security for the ones we love and a sense of knowing that we will always be there for one another.

We don’t know what direction our families’ lives will take in the future but we all try to do our best to shape our tomorrows. We may or may not succeed but we have to give it the best we’ve got. We all make our choices and some of us choose to put family first because we believe that is the best thing for us. That it’s better for our kids if our family stays together, providing more time to spend together.

Thanks to the visitors from Freedom from Chemical Dependency (FCD) and, later, reiterated by the Director of our school, I now know that research has shown that one of the strongest factors “in protecting young people from getting into trouble with alcohol or other drugs are positive relationships with parents.” Again, according to research, if parents are uninvolved in their child’s life, it increases the likelihood of children becoming problem drinkers (http://www.fcd.org/content/resources/newsletters.asp).

There are varied norms in different countries and many different types of families all around the world. By and large, they are all very happy and successful. I am simply stating that involvement with kids is paramount to any society where people organize themselves in families, whatever the shape, size and nature of family it may be! Yes, parenting can be accomplished from a distance but many of us trailing spouses have chosen to keep our families close.

So when you are asked for the umpteenth time as to where do you work, what do you do all day, give a broad smile and answer “I work very hard at home!”

FCD Educational Services is a nonprofit substance abuse prevention organization http://www.fcd.org/content/index.asp

Expat or not, this is important.. The Relocating Expat Information Checklist. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful Relocation

Expat or not, this is important.. The Relocating Expat Information Service. You.

Expat or not, this is important.. The Relocating Expat Information Checklist. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful RelocationI have two distinct groups of readers; those who enjoy watching and hearing about my expat disasters from a safe distance, and those who are listening carefully, trying to avoid making the same ones themselves. Some are happy to stay exactly where they are and enjoy the fun, and some of you have a thirst, a career or a spouse leading you to life as a global nomad.

You all fall into one of two categories: those who hold the information, and those who desperately need it. I mentally think of you as The Knowers, and the Growers.

The Knowers (aka Locals & Expert Expats) are those of you who have lived in a place for long enough that you know where everything lives, know how to get the information and help you need, and understand the unspoken rules that make every community unique. You know which teachers inspire children, how much to spend on birthday gifts and which children have nut allergies. You know where to go to get your legs waxed, where to get your car serviced, and where to get the best deals on everything from food to children’s shoes to carpets.

And then there are the Growers (aka The Recently Relocated, the Inexperienced, Inept or Just Plain Overwhelmed).We can be easily spotted by our bewildered expression, the vast number of forms were are incessantly clutching, and by the GPS unit permanently fixed to the dashboard of our hire car. We arrive either half an hour early or ten minutes late, depending on how many times we had to stop to check your address. Our children are always under or overdressed and have Tshirts with unfamiliar writing and logos. If you happen to stop for a chat, we will either be lost for words, a little misty-eyed at your kindness or will talk your ears off for the next 45 minutes. And if you happen to suggest meeting up for coffee, our faces will light up with joy as we shout “Yes Please – Now??!!”

I spent most of my life as a Knower, rooted in the same community for the first 30 years, leaving only for college and returning faithfully each holiday. Living in the town was as easy as breathing – I knew where everything important could be found, and when a gap in my knowledge appeared, family and lifelong friends quickly filled the breach. It was a fabulous upbringing – secure, stable and even now, very little changes. It had roots.

At 30, it all changed, and I became a Grower. I had to nurture a new life, a new network and a new identity. I lost my career, my sense of self and my instruction book, and I made many expensive and painful mistakes. So many, in fact, that I have filled a website full of them. It was only thanks to the intervention of some very kind Knowers that I didn’t run screaming back home.

Which is why, following on from the last post, I’m putting together the Defining Moves version of two tins cans and a piece of string, to connect you all in the most basic of ways. No-one should have to make this many mistakes, or hit the low points that so many do, and we can at least try to do something about it. S, linked at the bottom of the page are two lists of all the questions we desperately want to ask those of you in the know, but are too shy / afraid / overwhelmed to ask.

Whether you are a Knower, a Grower or anything in between,  download it, print it, add to it and share it with schools, friends and newcomers alike. Comment if you think I have forgotten something, but whatever you do, please fill in whatever you can. It doesn’t have to be complete – one simple recommendation is enough to tell us that you have noticed us, and you do care. We need you.

We who are about to arrive, salute you.

Stuff We Really Need to Know: The Newcomer’s Checklist

What Every Parent Needs to Know

Photo courtesy of the US National Archives.

This is how a heart breaks. Expat parenting

Expat parenting - this is how a heart breaks. Defining Moves - the art of successful relocation

You think when you have left school, taken exams, graduated from college and reached adulthood that the slings and arrows of the school playground can never hurt you again.

And then you have children of your own, and you realize that you were wrong. Only this time, it is magnified through the lens of their pain, your sense of powerlessness and the weight of parental expectations. I sometimes think that I should just have ‘Bad Mother’ tattooed on my forehead and be done with the pretense. It’s one of the harder realities of parenting.

A wonderful, heartbreaking post by Anne Egros at Zest and Zen International reminded me of the pain of middle school all over again – not my own (the UK doesn’t have a ‘middle school’, just primary and secondary) but instead the joy of experiencing it in all it’s misery; the challenge of expat parenting.

Middle school is widely acknowledged in the US as the tricky one. It serves the 11-14 year olds; that explosive mix of puberty, hormones and identity crises. It’s when the differences between girls and boys are no longer about sports and hobbies, and all about body shapes, gender expectations and the excruciating embarrassment of sex education.

Ironically, my son nearly made it through unscathed. He had a solid group of friends who played football in the park, consumed junk food in gigantic quantities and who had a healthy respect for parental sanctions. We heard of bullying, shoplifting and alcohol consumption, but they seemed either too lazy, too disinterested or too involved in the destruction of opposing medieval forces to be affected by it. His grades were decent, his self esteem was intact and when graduation came around, it should have been a very happy event.

It was awful.

In Britain, the only place you graduate from is college. Everywhere else, you just leave, mostly with only a modest school dance to mark the occasion. And although I knew the parents of my son’s school friends by sight, they didn’t know me well enough to know how uninformed I was. So when we turned up to the Middle School graduation ceremony, I expected a general gathering with a bit of applause, the acknowledgement of the star pupils and very little else.

The first clue I had of impending parental humiliation was the distant sea of undulating teal. It was the massed forces of the graduating 8th grade, all wearing robes. Despite many opportunities over the course of my former life to wear a cap and gown, I had managed to repeatedly avoid it, and yet here all 300 were, at the grand old age of 14, already donning the robes of academic advancement.

It got worse. They were also all in formal wear; shirts and ties, prom dresses and heels. Unlike my son who had dressed himself – in his own personal uniform of shorts and a t shirt. Yet again we had got it wrong, but never so publicly. We were all completely unprepared, and at that moment, I truly hated the fact that I was an expat.

We have faced floods, earthquakes, angry mobs, police questioning and personal injury, but there have been very few moments in my expat life that have brought me to tears. And yet, sitting in that auditorium, surrounded by parents I didn’t know all whispering about the ‘parents who had let their son come so inappropriately dressed’ was by far my lowest moment. It was humiliating, frustrating and unfair, and there was absolutely nothing that I could do about it.

Which is why, when Anne wrote her article yesterday, I was reminded just how important an expat support network is, no matter how many global transitions you have been through. You get better, smarter and more practiced at the art of relocation, but there is always something waiting in the wings to trip you when you least expect it.

The good news? We’ve all been there too, and if we can’t warn you about every challenge you will face, we will at least hold your hand while you pick yourself up.

Welcome to our world.

 

Essential Expat Equipment: The Dog. Defining Moves, Relocation Resources for the Trailing Spouse

Unconventional but Essential Expat Equipment: The Dog

Essential Expat Equipment: The Dog. Defining Moves, Relocation Resources for the Trailing Spouse

I’m writing this in the relative comfort of my bedroom, with the morning sun streaming through the windows, surrounded by the sight and sound of rampaging dogs. It’s chaos in here, a sea of wagging tails, mock growls and flying fur. And every so often, the smiling face of the Feisty One pops up from the middle, pausing in her efforts to teach three mentally challenged canines ever more elaborate tricks.

It’s madness and sanity all at once.

We discovered by accident that dogs are part of our essential expat coping equipment. Our first ‘expat therapy’ dog was Murphy, a stray from the wilds of Ireland, who was abandoned on the ferry to Wales where we adopted him. God knows how he got on the ferry, but it was only the first journey in a life spent globe trotting.

 

When the OH was transferred to London, Murphy spent hours peering out af the car window at the passing landscape alongside the M4, the main motorway that runs between London to Wales where the children and I still lived. Over the course of his travels, he brought a gentlemanly raffishness to the elegant paths of Holland Park, was joined by Hedgehog (another stray mutt) in Kenya and spent 3 years lounging in the sun in LA.

By the time we moved to San Francisco, his teeth looked like he had spent his life chewing tobacco, and his breath was so incredibly rancid that we did the 6 hour LA – SF drive with the windows wound down.
He died earlier this year and my heart broke a little, but he taught us a powerful lesson about the value of dogs in expat family transitions. Here are Murphy’s Laws.

 

You have a friend from day one.

Transitions are hard on everyone, especially the kids, and we all need someone impartial to talk to. Dogs make incredible listeners, stroking and scratching make excellent use of anxious hand movements, and dogs understand pitch and tone of voice far more than we do, so they know when you are upset. Should you need to throw something, make it a ball. Do it over and over until you’ve worked out whatever frustrations are driving you, safe in the knowledge that it’s making both of you happier…

 

They get you out of the house.

One of the hardest parts of any change is facing the new world on the first day. If every journey begins with a single step, it’s much easier when someone is physically pulling you out there, desperate to find out about the sights, sounds and smells of your new environment. Just remember the other rule of kindergarten: Clear up your mess.

 

You find unexpected friends.

Dogs get you to places that you wouldn’t ordinarily go and to meet people that you you wouldn’t normally meet. Take the cargo section of Jomo Kenyatta airport for instance – not the most obvious place to find a new best friend, but when you see another linen clad, jet lagged, disheveled dog-owning Brit already in heated negotiations with the customs official, you have a feeling you may have been sent a soulmate. You know nothing more about them than that they own a dog, but that is enough.

 

You don’t need words.

We get tied up in the need to speak clearly, but time spent with a dog teaches you how irrelevant words are in forming relationships. Dogs remind us that the best way to understand one another is to learn a language together, that friendship, fun and laughter don’t always require words, and that what you do is far more important than what you say.

 

Dogs bring a sense of permanence.

Our family motto is “no one left behind’, and the pets are part of that. The Marines (who we stole that particular phrase from) talk about how there is a comfort and security in knowing that whatever happens, everyone stays together, and the same is true for our family life. It is an acknowledgement of the magnitude of what we leave behind, that the move must be important enough to go to the effort and expense of transferring the WHOLE family.

 

Or to paraphrase George Orwell;

With four legs we’re good. Just two legs? Bad.

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 

I’ve been published!

 

It is a triumph of determination over adversity, of defiance over embarrassment, and of small steps over giant leaps. It’s a David and Goliath story, for here I am, in the middle of a billion dollar industry, and I have been published.

You can read it HERE. (and please do, because it makes the people in the HR world think that I’m really, really influential. We can keep the truth just between us..)

Those of you who have been following this blog (mostly due to emotional blackmail and a warped enjoyment of the blog version of Funniest Home Videos) will be astonished. It’s a victory for the Sausage Splat over the Sausage Plait. It’s public acknowledgement that life is messy, no-one’s perfect, but we can still have a brief moment of looking competent.

Over the past six months, I’ve shared stories of my expat disasters, family dysfunctions, parenting blunders and general ineptitude, safe in the knowledge that I’m not alone. You only realize that we’re all doing it badly until you’re in the middle of nowhere, wondering why your single day cultural diversity boot camp didn’t cover the word for toilet tissue and how all your personal / social / parenting failings miraculously made the journey with you.

All those of us doubting our own ability should take heart from this –  if you need more evidence, here’s my first and second posts that inadvertently launched the site. Those of us trotting around the world in a haphazard fashion do have a voice, and according to the site stats over at internationalhrforum.com, people might even be listening.

Sadly for you, that voice is currently me, and I’m no paragon of Trailing Spouse, expat or parenting virtue.

Sorry about that..

Photo courtesy of  State Library of New South Wales

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

 

The Feisty One and Kitty the Dog

Tried and Trusted Ways to Lose Your Security Deposit – Kids & Puppies

The Feisty One and Kitty the Dog
Don’t let the innocent expressions fool you..

Yesterday I had a dream. The kids were off school, which meant not starting the day fighting through nose-to-tail teenage drivers, soccer moms and testosterone fueled businessmen (yes, I am aware that I have used sexist stereotypes, but if you bear with me, you may feel more sympathetic by the end). The new puppy would have three of us to share the 3 times per hour potty breaks, and I would be able to get endless amounts of inspired writing and expat site planning done. The more observant among you will already have realised that something went awry with this dream from the conspicuous absence of a new post.

The day started well enough, and until 3pm all was going swimmingly. The puppy had remained continent, the carpets unwatered, the Wiggy One had fought hundreds of cyber demons and the Feisty One was working her way through Friends reruns and trying out a nice line in smoky eye make-up. And then the s**t hit the fan. Quite literally.

To be fair, it didn’t start off on the fan. It started off on the bathroom floor, neatly deposited by our new canine arrival. However, in an attempt to cover up the fact that both of them had taken their eye off the (furry) ball, the Feisty One had donned rubber gloves and was using half a rainforest worth of toilet tissue to clear up the mess. Predictably, the plumbing revolted at the cubic volume it was expected to deal with, and promptly backed up. Enter the Wiggy One, whose familiarity with the Xbox controller obviously convinced him that he was SuperMario and possessed superhuman plumbing skills. By the time the stench reached the my office, the Wiggy One was hastily washing his face with the strongest soap he could find, and the bathroom floor, walls and fixtures were coated with coffee colored tissue shreds. The toilet was brimming with good cheer and excitement, a sink plunger was swirling abandoned in the bowl and half an inch of poop soup was sloshing across the floor.

It wasn’t my finest parenting hour. By the time we had the mess cleaned up and the temporary toilet blockage unplugged, I had threatened to take the dog back to the pound, the Wiggy One had learned some new words and the Feisty One was sobbing with misplaced remorse, sure that she and she alone was responsible, despite the fact that she had neither delivered the present nor turned it into a 3D explosion. The only saving grace is that is has inspired learning in my children  – the Wiggy One now has a clear understanding of the physics of water displacement, and the Feisty One has decided that she is safer at school.

One of the first questions people ask is whether I worry about running out of material to write about. Yesterday was proof that nothing beats a day at home with your kids for productivity.

 

Top 10 Concerns of Expats #4 – Defining Moves Version


8. Standard of Living

“Few people willingly move abroad to accept a lower standard of living – there are exceptions of course such as those who volunteer to help in nations affected by wars or dire economic circumstances.  The majority of us move abroad expecting to find or achieve a better or equal standard of living to what we previously enjoyed – but everything from the cost of living to the availability and quality of infrastructure can impact this.”  (Shelter Offshore)

Concerns of Relocating Expats - Standard Of Living

What most of the studies don’t show is that we have a mental idea of what our new life will be life that doesn’t just revolve around granite kitchen countertops and a pool. I for one had a mental image of expat life in Kenya as a cross between Out of Africa and Gone with the Wind, with martinis, perfectly pressed linen clothing and a serene demeanor featuring heavily. I would finally have the time to write a book, master yoga and cook gourmet meals. Hours spent on the phone trying to get my electricity / phone / internet reconnected (an oft repeated task that had no relationship to whether I had paid the bill in person, by mail or at a bank) and days spent sobbing with loneliness did not ever appear in my fantasy life. So when we talk about standard of living, the corporate assumption is that all we are expecting is physical comforts like modern housing, air-conditioning and household help, and while we need to be aware of the cost and availability of the ‘home comforts’ that we consider essential, they are not the route to expat happiness. What we also should know is that more time can be spent managing staff than the work itself would take, that the cost of air-conditioning is not just in electricity, but also in time spent locating a repairman and then waiting at home when he doesn’t appear for the fifth time, and your elegant clothing makes you stick out like a sore thumb in the local markets..

Try to articulate your anticipated life before you go, and then compare it to the average lifestyle of the local and expat population to see whether you are really being realistic. Most physical comforts can be achieved with a little planning and effort, but you may find that once you are there, they no longer have the same appeal. Thinking of your standard of living in a holistic way allows you to sort the needs from the wants, and will give you a far better chance of contentment long term.

9. Bureaucracy / Corruption

“No matter where in the world you live you will always face bureaucracy – and by its very nature bureaucracy is usually mind numbingly ridiculous – but as an expat it’s so much worse because it is foreign bureaucracy so it is even more unintelligible, nonsensical, impossible to understand and yet imperative.”  (Shelter Offshore)

I like to think of bureaucracy as a hoop that has to be jumped through. The difficulty is in defining where exactly the hoop is, and how high we have to jump to get through it. And while I think of corruption as someone with the power to move the hoop to make getting through easier or harder, I also happen to know that there are plenty of ‘jobsworth’ civil servants and who may not be corrupt, but are just as unhelpful.

Getting frustrated with it is universal and understandable, but doesn’t change the fact that it exits, and you still need to get though it. If you have a corporate relocation package, your company may have already hired a professional to guide you though and expedite the process. As an individual, your local and expat network will prove invaluable, because everyone will have already have jumped through those hoops and can give you advice. And as a final note – try not to get angry. I have yet to hear of a situation where it helped, but by contrast, I have many, many personal experiences where staying calm, smiling and asking very, very nicely for help has smoothed the way for everything from getting school places to US visa appointments.

10. Raising Children

I’m pretty sure that concerns about raising children are not exclusive to expats – quite the opposite, in fact.  For where we are wondering if exposing our children to multiple vaccines, repeated school moves and language barriers will warp them for life, our less transient counterparts are worrying about their child’s gluten allergy, lack of global awareness, and Spanish grades. It comes with the parenting territory, and unfortunately, we have no way of knowing how we are doing until they hit teenage years and are only too willing to list our shortcomings..  There are a number of strategies for relocating expat children and Third Culture Kids but my Four Basic Rules are:

1. Keep them informed, but not overwhelmed. Tell them early, include them in discussions about family life, and give them a say in matters that affect them.

2. Move at the end of a vacation, not at the start. It gives them time to say goodbye, and less time spent without friends to play with.

3. Fill the void. Assume that for the first month or so, you will need to keep them occupied with family activities, and keep them in contact with friends from their old location via text, email or Skype.

4. Expect issues. Everyone is under stress during a transition, so try to be patient, allow for a some acting out, and get help if you need to.