Relocating Overseas? 2 Tips For A Smooth Transition

I wrote this blog post for Firebrand’s blog. I thought I would share this on the Rice Bowl Asia blog too.

The world is increasingly a smaller place. If you are seeking an adventure living and working overseas, it is now easier than ever to get your next job anywhere in the world, if you possess the skills and experience that employers are seeking to hire.

Having moved my career and family from Sydney to Singapore, Singapore to Tokyo and back to Singapore again, I have picked up a few tips on relocating and settling into a new environment that might be useful for you.

Two of the most stressful events in life are 1) changing jobs 2) moving to a new place. When you relocate overseas for a job, that is one mega-combo!

Cost – don’t underestimate it!

Here are some things to watch out for when you are packing up in your home country getting ready to move:

– Getting out of your current lease if you are renting
– Selling big ticket items such as car, white goods, furniture usually at a loss (if you can’t take it with you to the new country)
– Cancelling mobile phones and paying a penalty for prematurely ending the contracts
– a hotel stay for a few days to a week when you are homeless while waiting for the big trip
– transporting all your belongings via sea or air to the new abode.

Ok, now you have arrived in your new home in a strange land.

What are the hidden costs to consider? Let’s start with the deposit for a new rental apartment, it can vary from 2 months to 6 months rent up front, the fee for the real estate agent (usually a month’s rent) to help you find the apartment. International school fees if there are kids involved, buying a new set of wheels, buying new white goods, new furniture and household items, signing up for new mobile phone plans and the list goes on….

A lot of little things, some big things and they all add up!

Some employers do offer relocation allowances to offset some of the costs above, however, increasingly we are seeing more “local package” or “semi local” and less “expat” packages being offered. So, negotiate and agree all your terms upfront to avoid the shock of burning a hole in your bank account before you start your dream job overseas.

One of the attractive things about moving overseas in some cases is moving from a high income tax rate country (eg. Australia, Canada, UK) to Singapore and Hong Kong where the income tax rate is very “friendly”. That is certainly a big positive to consider.

Language – have fun with it!

If you are considering moving to Asia, apart from Singapore and Hong Kong, English isn’t widely spoken in the rest of Asia. Unless you are a talented linguist, it is not easy to attain fluency in a new language quickly, even with lessons. Be prepared to use the most basic forms of communication to get your message across – hand gestures, body language or even your drawing skills. There are countless instances of expats walking into restaurants having to “flap their wings” to order chicken or make “moo” noises to indicate beef.

For my first month in Tokyo, I had a hand written sheet of paper instructing the taxi driver in Japanese to bring me back to my apartment. I prayed to God everytime that he doesn’t turn around and ask me questions, if he did, all he would get is just a blank stare as a reply. I would have no idea how to get myself home if I had lost that piece of paper!

Also, I had to invite my secretary to my apartment to show me how to work the aircon, TV and the washing machine. All the controls were in Japanese! She was nice enough to print labels in English and stuck it on the controls. Simple, basic things we take for granted become huge inconveniences when you are basically an illiterate in a foreign country.

With the help of Japanese friends and colleagues, it took me 3 months to adjust to a comfortable routine in Tokyo and once I had that, life was sweet!

As costly and as difficult initially it was for my many relocations, I would do it all again in a heartbeat because the it had made my life experience richer, multi dimensional and hopefully made me a more interesting person!

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