One of the best ways to grow your career is to take an overseas assignment. Becoming a corporate expatriate is an excellent way to become acclimated to a different area of your corporation’s business while maintaining your job status and seniority. While your company’s sponsorship will eliminate many of the hurdles of establishing overseas residency you would encounter on your own, there will be relocation challenges before, during and after the overseas assignment.
Before. Planning to relocate with a partner or family? Make sure everyone is in agreement and has clear expectations for the move. One of the main reasons why an expat assignment fails is because the trailing partner is unhappy. Change will be difficult for all, but it can be particularly hard for the partner. When the expat goes off to a wonderful, supportive office to embark on a great new job, the partner often is left alone for hours to try and create a life in an unfamiliar place.
Often, the partner is not authorized to work in the host country, has no established connections, or does not have the language skills to even begin to look for opportunities. Some companies provide support services for the partner to help ease the transition. The best approach is for every family member to keep an open mind and be willing to accept the good and the bad in the experience.
During. Keep your eye on the prize, which is to have a great professional experience. Sometimes, expat employees come across to their new co-workers as being “full of themselves,” or as viewing the assignment as an “extended vacation.” Remember that you were sent to work alongside others to perform a specific task for the company. Many more eyes will be watching you to make sure the company’s goals are successfully met.
To get off to a strong start, try to go to your new city one to two months ahead of your official date and secure housing. Arrive in the country one to two weeks before your start date to deal with cumbersome matters, such as registration at city hall and the U.S. embassy, setting up utilities, furniture delivery and obtaining a driver’s license. An expat often is assigned a “destination services consultant” and local realtor, who know the ins and outs of the city and the relocation process, to help you to manage these details.
Take the extra time up front to sort out important personal matters so that once the clock on your new assignment begins to run you can maximize your time in the office, focusing on your assigned tasks and building relationships. You should definitely get to know your new locale, but you will have plenty of time to do so on weekends.
After. Once you are back in the home office, focus on creating opportunities to show off the skills you acquired overseas. Initially, you will be the water-cooler sensation with stories of your experiences and the fringe benefits you received. Be sure to tell your manager about your work experience and how you think you can add even more value to the company. Hopefully, reviews from your colleagues overseas will be supportive. From daily exposure to your co-workers overseas, you will have acquired a heightened appreciation for cultural differences. Use this new insight, and all the other skills you learned, to boost your career.
Many professionals equate being “out of sight” with being “out of mind” when it comes to internal promotion. Expats should have no such concern. Companies invest heavily in their expats and expect much in return. Over and above salary, many companies contribute to rent and utility expenses, provide a car, pick up private school tuition and fees for accompanying children, make available specialized training and language instruction, and offer an annual vacation trip home.
If you are interested in an overseas, or even out-of-state, assignment, let the powers-that-be know. As a corporate expat, you have little, if anything, to lose and everything to gain.
Constance Gist-Guindo has a master’s degree in business administration and is a trained computer scientist. She spent 14 years in Europe and Africa, building her family as the trailing partner of an expat. Recently returned to the U.S., she is an independent consultant, assisting expatriates who are moving back to the U.S.