Relocating for a new job or promotion is a massive deal and - to some extent - a bit of a leap of faith. But as we all know, big (calculated) risks can reap the richest of rewards.
We’ve spoken to expats all over the world from London to Singapore to put together this fool proof guide to everything they wished they’d known when they planned their big move. Aren’t we nice?
Some people moving for work will head off for a couple of years with the intention to settle some debts, take advantage of tax-free earnings and return to the UK with a glowing CV and a nice nest egg for the future.
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Others will take a longer view and relocate with partner and children in tow, keen to make the most of their young ones’ portability whilst offering their family the unique opportunity to experience living a good life in a different culture.
The great news is that if you’re considering a work relocation then you’ve already been recognised by your existing or potential new employer as a valuable asset, and any decent company worth their salt will offer you a good relocation package which includes access to a good removals company and help finding a place to live in your new city. The rest, however, is up to you.
Is This Right for Me?
It’s a life-changing decision you’re about to make and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. For many, relocation for work is a golden ticket to promotion and career progression, but it’s got to be something that makes you happy too. Too many Brits have thrown themselves in at the deep end having not done enough ground work and returned home six months later, jobless and with seriously bruised egos. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail - so before you sign on the dotted line, here are some practical questions to ask yourself.
- Where will I live and who will pay for my relocation expenses?
- Can I afford to live here? Is there any option to move here and manage to save some money too?
- Where is the company going, and does my job role offer the sort of progression and experience I’m after?
- Is the culture of the company and the city a good match for me and my family? Can we adapt to it?
- What’s it like socially within the company and in the city? Will we make friends easily here?
- Is my partner on board with this? Where will they work or what will they do otherwise?
- What does this city have to offer that my current one doesn’t?
- What good stuff am I leaving behind?
- Where will the children go to school and will there be help offered in finding schools and getting them enrolled?
- What sort of climate will we be moving to?
- What if it doesn’t work out? What’s the back-up plan if it all goes pear shaped?
- Can I see myself and my family being happy here?
Good companies offer a range of relocation packages and the best ones will be very flexible in terms of what they can offer you. Don’t be afraid to ask exactly what they can do for you (and pay for), and arm yourself with all the help you can in making this move as seamless (and inexpensive) as possible.
If you need help with something they don’t appear to offer assistance with – helping your partner sign up for work opportunities, or furniture storage - then ask for it anyway and see what they can do. Remember: they want you.
Some companies will pay your travel expenses for recce trips as well as providing an agent to help sell or rent out your home and find a new one. Others will pay for all your moving costs, help you get the kids enrolled in school and will introduce you to someone local who’ll be on call in your first few weeks and months for any issues you run into. Here are some areas you might want to negotiate assistance with in your relocation package:
- Family and spousal assistance in getting a visa, work permit and even in finding work. Same for obtaining children’s visas and paying towards private school fees
- Travel costs and temporary living
- Cost of living adjustments. Your salary might have just shot up 40% but it’s going to cost you 50% more to live here. Make sure you’re not worse off when you move
- ‘Curtain money’ for miscellaneous home purchases when you move
- Paying for a reconnaissance trip (or two) for you and your family. This is in your employer’s best interests at the end of the day. The more acclimatized you are to your new city, the quicker you can get down to work and the less money they’ll have to spend putting you up in hotel accommodation while you research where to live
- Moving costs. From packing and unpacking to furniture storage and shipping, you need to know what they’ll cover. Be aware that whilst many companies will pay to ship your belongings abroad as part of their relocation package, some will only pay for their (and your) return journey home if you stay in the job for the contracted period of time. Read the small print and don’t get caught out
- Immigration and taxation assistance and advice as well as medical insurance and expenses (there’s a difference)
- Pet relocation costs
Dip Your Toes in
At least one orientation recce is highly advisable before committing yourself to anything, but there are other ways you can get insider info on the city or neighbourhood you’re thinking of moving to. Speak to as many people as possible about what it’s like to live here when you do visit – bar staff, taxi drivers, shop assistants, strangers on the bus if you must - but also think about joining social media groups and subscribing to blogs based around the area you’re looking at.
Read the local news too, and use the hashtag function on Twitter or even Instagram to get a sense of what people are up to and talking about in your new city. This will give you a privileged (and often unbiased) insight into the area and its culture as well as its problems and pitfalls.
Work out if any friends-of-friends or family members live where you’re thinking of moving to as well – the power of social media will easily facilitate this and you could be hooked up with a handful of new contacts within moments of posting ‘Anyone know anyone in Abu Dhabi?’ on your Facebook status.
One final point: as soon as you know you’re moving - or even before that’s confirmed, ideally – start learning the language if you’re moving to a non-English speaking country. Most UK towns and cities will offer an immersion course of some sort, and good employers will provide business language lessons either before or after you’ve moved as well.
Your new office might come with a ready-made set of new drinking pals, dining companions or beach buddies – but maybe it won’t. You’ll probably get a sense of this before you move, but don’t be put off if your new place of work scores low on the social side. Mixing business and fun can be a double-edged sword, as we’re all no doubt aware.
Moving with kids can certainly help launch your presence on a neighbourhood, but moving a deux or solo can sometimes make it a bit more difficult to integrate. Lots of our expats suggest joining a club or taking up a new hobby when you move as a way to make the most of your new city as well as meeting new people too.
Whether it’s investing in a paddle board and getting down to your local beach club (this is a big thing in Oman right now, as well as in Brazil and Australia), joining a running club or finding a book group or wine society, use social media to check out what’s happening in your area so you can hit the ground running when you arrive.
One last tip - and this isn’t strictly socialising - but lots of cities with large expat communities will have sale pages on Facebook for expats moving on to sell furniture and other useful household items they don’t want or need anymore, often very cheaply or even for free. This isn’t only a thrifty way to furnish your new home, but a great way to glean more insider tips from those who have been there and done it already. Don’t forget to pay it forward when you move on to pastures new!
If you’ve got as far as making that big decision, do your best to plan ahead and avoid the potential bureaucratic minefield that is moving abroad. Here are a few things you can do in advance to ease the process along:
- Fill out a form P85 from Revenue and Customs as this will let the tax office know that you are leaving the country and make sure you'll be taxed correctly from thereon in
- Make some enquiries as to your eligibility for medical and social security cover in your new country as well as any private arrangements offered by your company for you (and your family if applicable). Consider taking our your own private medical insurance – or asking your company to provide it - if no provision is offered, as the EHIC medical insurance card for EU citizens is only good for a) claims made within the EU and b) for short-term stays only
- Get quotes from a handful of removals agencies. Sometimes your employer will want to see two or three quotes before agreeing to subsidise this
- Cancel or transfer as many utilities as possible, keeping note of the date you spoke to them and the agreed date for cut-off. Be aware that no-claims bonuses can be transferred abroad to new cars and that a TV license has to run until after you have left the country – though you can claim a rebate of up to three months if you’ve paid for a year in advance
- Change your home insurance arrangements if you’re due to rent out your flat or house whilst abroad
- You’ll also need to apply for an International Driving Permit if you’re moving outside of Europe, and it’s a good idea to set up a proper mail redirection service with your post office too. In essence, get ready to become a familiar face at your nearest post office!
- Plenty of expats have complained of dentists’ charges being made for missed appointments they never knew about, so do tell your GP and dentist you’re moving for this reason as often appointments are scheduled and posted out to you with no phone. It may be worth fitting in one last check-up before you go, in case it takes you a while to get registered in your new neighbourhood. Also, make sure you have a good stock of any prescription medicines before you go for the same reasons
- Backup your entire PC onto an external hard drive in case of emergencies in transit
- Sending a form R105 to any banks you have savings with will make sure that any interest income isn’t double taxed – once in your home country and again in your new country of residence