How Much Should I Get Paid?

At least twice a week I receive an email from someone who is thinking about making an international move. Most of the emails are looking for practical information, others are a little more emotional  “Do you think my dog will like it?”  The most common question I’m asked is  “How much should I get paid?

I worked in the recruitment industry for years. I know that no matter how much a position appeals to a candidate, if they can’t afford to eat they’re not going to take the job. For an expat position it’s a little more confusing, it’s all about the unknown. You may be incredibly keen to work in another country and while the offer looks good, you’re just not sure. What are the living costs? Is it possible that this assignment could end up costing you money?

Today I’m going to give you 10 years of recruitment combined with 15 years of expat experience in one blog post. I can’t tell you how much to ask for, what I can do is show you how to work out how much money you’ll need to make a well informed decision. Here it is. The top 10 things to consider when taking that assignment overseas.

1. HOUSING

When we moved to North America it was easy to gain an idea of the rental market. I went online, got a feel for the burbs, and spoke to real estate agents. In Libya it was a little bit trickier, there was no such thing as a real estate agent, and there were no burbs. Each location is different, a posting in Hong Kong opposed to a posting in Abu Dhabi will mean completely different options for housing. Will you be required to live on a compound? Can you live in a local house/villa on a street? Will you be limited to living in an apartment? Is it furnished or unfurnished. Will the company pay to ship your things? If so, how much can you take? Is there an air freight allowance? That first move with the 20 suitcases can be a killer with excess baggage.

Your first question should be if housing is provided. If an allowance is offered ask if it covers the deposit and the rent you may be required to pay upfront. In some cases you will be asked to pay a year’s rent in advance. If the company provides housing, does it have a particular house in mind for you. Yes? Where is it? Ask for pictures. Ask if you can speak to someone who is currently based there. When I moved to Qatar I pretty much knew which compound we’d be on, I then found an online forum and asked if there was anyone who’d be willing to speak to me about it. I can still remember standing in the backyard of my sisters house in Australia chatting on the phone to my future neighbour in Qatar. She was very kind and sent me pictures of the house and gave me a feeling for how it all worked. Never be afraid to ask, everyone has been in the same position as you. They get it.

2. SCHOOLING

While public schooling is easily accessible in most countries, this is not always the case for the expat child. My children do not speak Arabic (they may dispute this, they know how to count to 10) so a local school was not going to work for us. Private schooling is expensive, private international schooling can be heart attack inducing. Make sure you’re covered. Getting a place in schools in the Middle East is incredibly hard right now. Ask yourself if you’re prepared to home school while you wait? Can the company assist with securing a spot? Is it a British, American, Indian, German, French, Dutch, Italian, or Australian Curriculum that you’re after? Are you allowed to change schools if you’re unhappy? Does the school cover all years of schooling or stop at a certain point? If so, does the company cover boarding school fees?

3. HEALTH INSURANCE

Health Insurance can work in a few different ways when you’re traveling. Many international companies sign up with a health fund and designate packages to their employees. You need to find out what you’re covered for. Are you planning on starting a family? What happens if you break a limb or have a heart attack? Do you feel comfortable undergoing major surgery at your new location or would you like to be medivaced out? It’s possible the company will have its own clinic, ring them and ask to speak to the practice manager. Go online, see if you can find someone in a forum who has had a personal experience with the clinic.

4. HOME LEAVE ALLOWANCE

How many times would you like to go home? How many times will you need to go home? Every expat has a story of the flight home that happened in a heartbeat, the ticket that was booked on the spot. The unexpected death, the diagnoses of an illness for a parent, the natural disaster; for Aussies maybe its a bushfire, for Kiwis an earthquake. Being offered a business class ticket home may sound fabulous, but perhaps you’ll need to stretch it out to two economy fares instead. Are you given a cash allowance or are you required to purchase the one ticket? Do you have to use all of your holidays at once or can you break them up?

5. PASSPORT AND WORKING VISA REQUIREMENTS

Are you going alone or taking a partner? Will they be able to work? Don’t take it for granted that a work permit or visa will be granted. Do you need to married to live together? Do you have an embassy at your new location? Will you need to fly to a different country to obtain a new passport or attach visa documentation? In Qatar the Australian embassy comes to visit each month, if they didn’t we’d be flying to Abu Dhabi every time we needed to update a passport or visa. If you’re going to be required to fly somewhere make sure you’re covered, a weekend in Singapore may sound glamorous, but if you need go three times a year you’ll want to factor in flights, accomodation and incidentals into your contract.

6. WHAT ABOUT FIDO

If you’re planning to bring the family pet you’ll need to consider more than just the airfare. Getting the beagle from Houston to Qatar was relatively cheap and easy, getting her (and our newly inherited spaniel) home to Australia is going to be a little more involved. Investigate quarantine requirements and vaccinations for your return as much as you do your departure.

7. GETTING AROUND

How long will it take before you can get a valid license? Will you need to hire a car? Are you allowed to drive at all? Will you need a driver? In Jakarta neither G or I were allowed to drive, we began with one car and one driver and then realized we really needed to have two.  It wasn’t cheap and it wasn’t something we’d factored into the budget at all. In Libya we had to pay cash for our second vehicle. In Malaysia we paid a fortune to rent what looked and felt like a dodgem car. We had a driver for our first month here in Qatar which helped immensely, I’ve seen others get off the plane, hire a car and never look back. You won’t know how you feel about it until you get there, factor in a cost for taxi’s, drivers and car hire until you’re on your feet.

8. WHERE WILL YOU STAY WHEN YOU FIRST ARRIVE

Temporary Housing can go two ways. In Jakarta we were picked up from the airport and taken to a 5 star hotel. It was glorious, I was happy to wait for permanent housing for as long as it took. Grabbing a taxi was easy, finding anything involved the assistance of the concierge. Every night was date night. It was bliss. Moving to Libya provided a somewhat different experience. I shared a three story house with 60 men who were rotating in and out of the desert, we shared all facilities and ate in a communal kitchen. G, myself, our 2  year old and 4 week old baby bunked in a room together. I could not wait to find a house of our own, it took 4 months for that to happen. Be very clear on what that temporary housing process looks like. You may be lulled into an offer of “we put you up in the Ritz Carlton when you arrive” only to find out that that offer lasts for 5 days until you are moved to a cockroach infested bedsit under the flightpath of the airport.

9. FIND AN INTERNATIONAL TAX PROFESSIONAL

Tax rules change, constantly. Find yourself a tax professional who understands working abroad. We’ve bought houses in some locations and rented in others. Our tax lawyer in the US saved us from what could have been a $50K mistake when we sold our house in Houston. Talk to a professional in your home country, if you own property it may be better to sell rather than rent it out. Make sure you’re clear on the currency you’ll be paid and the implications of transferring money to your account at home. Will you be stung by fees? Is it as easy as pushing a button or will it be a long and drawn out process each time.

10. BEFORE YOU SIGN ON THE DOTTED LINE

Are there penalties for breaking your contract? How easy is it to leave? What happens when you repatriate? How do you get your belongings home? Do they pay for the flight? Do they withhold money e.g. a bond on your apartment, or the bonus you’ve earned.

Have I missed anything? Have you encountered a surprise financial setback when moving?

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