Here Five questions you have to ask before saying yes to expatriation:
Q #1: What are my personal motives?: Most people think that by accepting an international position they will get a short cut to the top of the corporate ladder: Wrong! Nowadays, very few companies have long-term talent management especially for expatriates: “out of sight , out of mind”. So you should collect as many data as you can and weight the pros and cons on all aspects of your life: career, financial,quality of life, opportunities to travel and learn new languages/cultures, spouse ‘s job options, children education etc. Be prepared to make your final decision without knowing everything and choose the expatriation adventure based on your intuition.
Q #2-: Should I plan my repatriation before leaving ? This seems obvious but it depends on your character, you age, the economy and family situation. For example my husband and I never really thought about the “what’s next” before jumping into expatriation opportunities as long as I could have an international career too. So for 20 years we kept moving back and forth between Japan (three times, three companies for a total of almost 10 years) and the US ( Three times for a total of 6 year) with few European countries in between with an average of 3 years for each job. If you’re lucky and your company do have a talent management program for their expatriates then it is wise to discuss with your boss about his expectations and options you have after the expatriation and keep frequent contacts with the people you are leaving behind. It is important to notice that once you start getting some expertise in specific cultures then you get more opportunities in those countries.
Q #3- How much money should I save ? When you are 25 you don’t necessarily think about how much money you will need at different stages of your life, yet your early choices make a huge difference. For example children education can cost a fortune like in the US Universities. For your pension plan, how much will you get when you retire? Usually it depends on both the state pension plan and the private ones. In most European countries there is a legal age for retirement depending on how many years you and your employers have paid the social security taxes. For example in France the legal age has just been changed from 60 year old to 62 year old. Usually you cannot get your private pension if you are not legally retired. When you are hired as a local and you did not pay from your own pocket the social taxes in your country then you cannot get your pension there. So be sure to check that point especially if you are the “trailing spouse” you are very likely to be hired locally.
Q #4- Should I buy or should I rent? If the company is paying the housing, then it is a no-brainer especially in cities like Tokyo , New York or London to name a few of the most expensive cities in the world. If you don’t have a housing allowance you have to consider various factors: If you know you will leave after 3-4 years usually buying is not an option. If you use the public school system you might consider buying even for a short stay to be able for your children to go to the schools of your choice and avoid the risk that the owner sell the house and put you out, this might be the case in the US for example.
Q#5: What are my options for health care ? The system you are in will depend on your employer. Usually most multinational companies have a private insurance that cover almost 100% of the costs except few exceptions. If you have chronic and expensive health problem and move to the US for example then some managed care plans will refuse to take you. In Europe you should be able to get access to social security health care but you should ask your company for complementary private insurance especially for glasses, prosthetic dental work and other procedures. Ask if you have an emergency repatriation plan in case you could not be treated locally.
I just gave some ideas of the complexity of preparing an expatriation. For the first question you can gather a lot of information through forums, magazines, social networks, blogs etc. You can hire an expat coach to clarify your motivation and help you and your family make the most informed decision that is right for you.
For the other questions you should consult your embassies or consulates in you target countries, get everything on a written agreement by your company’s HR department. Don’t forget to ask if relocation services are provided as it is usually helpful to deal with all the various local regulations and laws as well as practical details like movers, utilities. other important questions to ask is : does your company provide language training for you and your spouse, expat coaching sessions or pay for international school fees.
For other tips and question about living abroad, check this book launched by Andrea Martins, the http://expatwomen.com founder director and book author of “Expat Women: Confessions-50 Questions to Your Real-Life Questions about Living Abroad”