Your boss asked you to work overseas. You've never lived overseas but you might like it. In no particular order, here's some general rules someone (maybe me) has learned the hard way since I started working abroad in 1994.
In short, digitize everything. Do your homework. Taking a trip across the city in a foreign country can be a major journey. The difficulties are multiplied when you're travelling with families and or groups. Network with others. The internet was just starting to explode when I first moved overseas. Keep two of everything you consider critical and can't buy at your new destination.
Get all of your bills electronically. Notify banks you're going overseas and that they'll be seeing action on your credit cards overseas. Use electronic bill pay.
You'll totally change the way you conduct your personal business. I mostly use cash while overseas. Rarely do I use plastic other than debit cards to withdraw cash to pay for my expenses. Travelers checks are useless. You can't find places that cash them. Currency exchange places...only in emergencies. They're thieves. Use ATMs. Banks will charge you a flat fee plus a percentage of the transaction for transactions abroad which is far cheaper than currency exchange or travelers checks. My bank charges two bucks plus three percent for each ATM transaction. My credit card company charges 1-2% for international transactions. Many local businesses accept only cash. Depending upon your destination and currency fluction, you'll have to decide whether to load up on local currency or hang on to your native currency. Local businesses may accept foreign currencies as a hedge against currency fluctuation.
I keep spare cash (I have U$D but Euros are accepted world wide) and an unused debit card with all other vital documents (passport, IDs, birth certificates, etc.) stored away for safe keeping. I've lost my wallet with everything that goes in it. My mother is a co-signer to my debit card...just in case. Keep an emergency travel bag ready for emergency/unexpected trips.
Make sure you have two debit cards, one for regular use and one for emergencies that stays kept away. Use the emergency debit card every few months as the bank will cancel the card for non-activity. I've had a credit card cancelled in the same week my debit card was cancelled by the banks. I had to travel about a week after the dual cancellation. Luckily, I didn't get stranded somewhere.
Have phone numbers and web sites for your bank. Get to know the local banker and use them to track down information for you while abroad. They may DHL your cards to you if you lose them.
Scan all of your important documents: passport, shot records, titles, etc., into PDF files. Keep original hard copies and duplicate PDF copies at home with someone who can email them to you if the need arises.
Include in your scan records, past taxes. There's nothing like an audit when you're overseas with you're proverbial pants down. Digital copies of past tax records can be like manna from heaven when you're being audited.
Put all of your addresses and other contact information in your computer. Back up your data weekly. Keep your computer and other digital goodies current and healthy. Consider cloud computing or store your data on CDs or DVDs sending copies of these disks home on a regular basis.
What about your stuff at home? House? Car? Who takes care of them while you're gone? Make sure you designate someone who will represent you in all of your financal matters in emergencies.
Pets...are they coming? The US, UK, and Australia have tough animal import laws that you might check into before you go...even for pets that are returning to the country of their birth. How will your pet be received when you arrive in your new country?
Get lots of medications, both prescription and non-prescription...sufficient quantities for the entire trip. My pharmacist told me I am his only client who buys medicine in bulk. You may be able to get prescription and non-prescription medications abroad but you may not be able to read the labels. Some medications just aren't available overseas.
Get a physical and dental check up before you go. Don't forget immunizations. State and county government medical divisions often handle immunizations for international travelers.
Get your precision dental and medical done at home before you go. Before my first international work assignment, I had a root canal. The dentist capped the tooth. Shortly after the capping, the tooth began to have shooting pains. The specialist said he could work on the tooth but not in time for my departure to Turkey. He suggested I see a dentist when I landed in Turkey. In short, the doctor offered me one solution, he could extract the tooth...after I just paid $500 to save it. Lucky for me, the pain went away.
I have two pairs of glasses and three sets of contacts...spares just in case...plenty of contact lens solutions. PDF copies of your eye prescriptions should be in your files as well.
Insurance...home, health...international coverage? Health insurance companies often require that you pay medical expenses while abroad and they're reimburse you. Foreign medical providers often require immediate payment for services rendered. Got cash?
Emergency insurance normally covers transporting people out of a country for medical or political emergencies. Will your employer provide it?
What about illnesses? How's the medical care where you're going? Click here to read about my medical evacuation for an emergency appendectomy in Bangkok! Any medical concerns requiring special treatment? Handicaps? Allergies? I've seen lots of folks who forget about their asthma only to be reminded of it under dusty or polluted skies abroad.
Believe it or not, your body will change internally while you're abroad. Bring laxatives and diarreah medicines. Over the length of my international career, my body now rejects home foods with chemicals and accepts foods abroad. Any cases of the trots are killed with one sitting. Flu strains are different across the world. Always inform your doctors that you've been living abroad and that they might see stuff that's a bit different than they're used to seeing.
What is the political stability of this country? Are they friendly or hostile towards your country? It may be a critical question when you may be responsible for you and your family.
The CIA has a great web site about any country.
Get Skype...and learn how to Skype out. Skype will allow you to call home for pennies as opposed to paying international rates. I pay 2.5 cents a minute to call home. I have an account that if I connect through my VPN, I can call for a flat rate of $3 a month which includes voice mail and a direct line/phone number that anyone can call at US rates. You'll be wanting to talk to your family and friends a lot...teach them to video conference as well.
Cell phones...get an unlocked cell phone. Amazon.com has a great selection. Then, all you'll need is a SIM card and minutes. Typically, I use prepaid cellular service. I like the Nokia (now-Microsoft-latest version). It has GSM with Quad Band and GPS where you can download the maps with the Here App for free. iPhone...wait until AT&T charges you for an international call and you'll wish you had a different phone.
A 110 volt appliance into a 220 volt outlet doesn't last long...smoke...pop...history! Computer stuff is already 220 volt. Most other appliances are not. Voltage adapters are too heavy to travel with. You'll have to get 220v appliances and transformers when you land. When I absolutely NEED something and can't find it, I use East-West International or Amazon.com has almost anything you'll need. Get plug adapters at Radio Shack..remember they don't convert voltage...just allow you to plug your stuff into their outlets.
Keep plenty of books (or go Kindle) or get a Slingbox/TiVO to watch American TV...you might consider this and set it up before you go. I'm big into mp3 tunes.
Taxes...in the US, there are three different methods to go with tax free/reduced taxes. The easiest is the 330...if you're overseas for 330 days in a 365 day period, you'll get an exclusion around 85-90k. If you make 100k, then you'll be subject to taxes at the 15k level. Then you can deduct away. (Go to IRS.gov and look up the I2555 forms and instructions for more). Living abroad, the IRS will automatically extend your tax deadline by two months for those living abroad. I use Quicken and Tax-Cut. I've only paid US taxes and this software make taxes simple.
Check into local taxes. Will your employer pay those? Go to worldwide-tax.com to get info about taxes at your destination. Will you still be liable for US taxes? I bet you will.
Housing - who provides? Will you be given an allowance and told to find your own or will it be provided? Furnished, semi-furnished? It'll go a long way on determining what you need to bring. How close to work? You may have to pay the IRS for the benefit.
Though it's uncommon in my industry, consider yourself lucky if you get a house hunting trip or your employer provides you moving services to and from your destination. If you quit or terminated, will they pay for the return?
Mail from home? How will you get it? Will your company forward it if it's sent to their office?
Married? Is your spouse going? Kids...who pays for school? Local or expatriate schools? Education abroad can be very expensive. What if any of these expenses will the company pay for?
What will your spouse do while you're at work? Alcoholism among non-working spouses living abroad is quite high. It's often attributed to boredom.
The most nauseating thing about living abroad is living/working with co-workers who forget their marital vows when they leave their spouse back home.
The folks you work with become your friends. They are the people you hang out with after work...an extended family if you will. They become your support group as if you're living in a small town. You'll learn to separate work and play quickly.
Conversely, you'll find some of the things back home will no longer interest you or you may no longer have anything in common with your former friends.
Religion...what's the local climate? Is it compatible to yours?
Some countries have negative attitudes towards women and minorities in business and make no attempt to mask them. Think you can deal with it?
Business practices in foreign countries can often challenge what you're taught in business ethics classes yet you're accountable to the US government for ethical behavior? Are you ready for it?
Buy a digital camera and take lots of photos for the memories.
Load up on socks and underwear. Check for annual temps/precipitation to see what weather gear you'll need. Bring walking shoes.
Fodors / Lonely Planet...stock up on travel books.
Stock up on spices and kitchen utensils.
I like to cook which means I bring food and cooking things, keep lots of computer goodies, and bike so I can't bring enough stuff. When I get to the airport, I have too much stuff. When I arrive at my destination, I don't have enough. It all depends upon what you like to do when you don't work.
I travel with these bags I bought at Cabella's. I use the big sizes. Airlines will limit you to two bags plus two paid (50 pounds each). You'll get one carry on bag and one "personal" bag...laptop, purse, etc. Stock enough stuff in your carry on for several days.
Take photos of your luggage before you give them to the airlines. I promise you they've never seen bags like yours (or mine). A digital photo is 100% proof if they've lost them.
International contracts are typically one year. An important rule of thumb about contracts I learned long ago: If it ain't in there, it ain't in there...In other words, anything not mentioned in your contract isn't covered by your employer and they're not bound to pay it. They may pay for something unforeseen but they're under no obligation to do so.
Your hours and working/living conditions should be stipulated in your contract. Will you be subject to local work regulation or those of your native country? Both?
Uplift...will you get raises/bonuses for working overseas? Much of it is not payable until you complete your assignment to the satisfaction of the company. We work a lot more hours...A LOT MORE...when we move overseas. There isn't much time for anything but work and sleep except for Sunday when we're trying to recover from a long work week.
Cost of living adjustments...it costs more to live in some locations than others. Supporting two living conditions, home and abroad, is extremely expensive. Will you get more money or are you on your own? Run estimates...take a stab...is it economically sound for you?
Travel expenses? Standard or full expenses?
Vacation/travel/trips home - how many/often/who pays?
You'll find that your trips home aren't "vacations" though the company deducts days from your vacation allotment. I call them the four F's...family, friends, food, and fhysicians. You'll spend the majority of your leave taking care of these things or other chores such as your home. Note that jet lag will greet you at home and when you return from your leave so your days are further condensed.
Transportation while in country - will you get a car and driver, use taxies or public transit, or walk? If you're driving...licenses, insurance...local driving laws and customs...things to think about.
Will you be working with other fellow country men and women? The people you work with will become your family. Make sure you put their cell phone numbers in your cell phone...it'll become in handy in emergencies.
Work permits / visas - does the company provide? Will your company assist you in obtaining them or are you on your own? This isn't something that's minor...it could be quite difficult. In some countries, you won't be welcome as they view you as taking away their jobs. Will you get your working permits before you go?
Does your company routinely send workers abroad or do you have friends that have done this? If so, ask them your questions.
How will you be paid? Will your employer wire your money to your home bank or are you required to use local banks? My bank charges me fees for wired tranactions from abroad. Is this fee out of your pocket?
When abroad, network with your fellow expatriates. They'll tell you the ins and outs of life in your host country until you can get on your own two feet.
Strive to keep a low profile while abroad. Avoid political/religious arguments with locals. Obey local laws. Stay out of trouble. Be a good neighbor.
Dining out...rule of thumb is that if the locals will eat at a local restaurant, it's ok for you.
Check out the local water...safe to drink or will you drink bottled water?
I took a year of French in high school and studied some Mandarin years ago. Other than that, I only know English. Language skills are helpful though not mandatory if you work with others who speak the same language. I often feel like a deaf person who relies on their other senses when in countries where I don't speak the mother tongue. We generally hire locals who speak English and their mother tongue. They're our translators to the local staff. You might consider language tapes or lessons.
I've lived in some countries where the basic necessities such as electricity, water, sewer...cannot be taken for granted. Ready for that? Will your employer handle these things if not readily available.
There's an isolation about living overseas. I miss family events...cultural events...but I see a part of the world and life most don't. You might consider it sacrifice. To me, it's an adventure.
Remember...more sacrifice should equal more pay. If not...keep looking. Again, is it financially sound for you and your family?
As a youth, I travelled with a friend to their island in Canada. The American flag was flown below the Canadian flag. This symbolizes that you're an American living in Canada. You are a guest and you have to show respect for the host country by putting your host above your own nationality. It took a bit of thinking for me but it taught me an important lesson in life: behave as if you're a guest and you'll be invited to return. Behave as if you own the place (running rampant/criticizing your host and generally behaving like you're an ingrate) and you'll be lucky if you're not asked to leave.
The wife of an associate kept a blog which was highly critical of her surroundings. The locals read it and were offended. Both had to be removed from the project...quickly. Remember, even if they don't understand you, they can quickly figure out what you're saying isn't too friendly and they can be offended. Put the shoe on the other foot...if it was you that was the brunt of the negative comments...how would you feel?
Nervous? The first trip is the litmus test...either you'll love it or you won't. You'll know right away. I can remember my first trip to Frankfurt on the way to Turkey thinking I'd done the dumbest thing in my life. I toughed it out for six months and it was the smartest thing I'd ever done.
If I haven't scared you off, that's great. I've had one hell of an adventure working overseas. Look at the flags at the top of the page. I've been to those places. I've been to the Great Wall TWICE! I went scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. I went on a safari in Tanzania..London, Paris, Bangkok, Hong Kong...and there's more that are captured in the pictures and text of this web site which cover my travels in the US and abroad over the past twenty-five years.
Years ago, I lived in Alaska. A priest, in his homily, gave the reason that folks had left their lives back in the “lower 48 states”; it was something more...a spirit of adventure. The same is true for working abroad. If you’re in it for money...stay home...money isn’t everything and you may find you’ll make more working there. It’s the stories you can tell...
Rule of thumb...if you go through life with a smile on your face and a song in your heart, you'll do just fine. Here's an interesting article a friend on Facebook shared about living and working abroad.>
Here's a synopsis of where I've worked. or go through all the pages of my web site. It'll give you an idea of what it's like to live and work overseas.
To read about my first trip overseas, Click here, here, or here.