The Expat Life – Negotiating the Perfect Contract

Moving country can be stressful enough but a poorly crafted contract can make it all the more stressful. Here are a few tips to help you avoid the headaches and whether you’re a first time expat or a seasoned campaigner, this list will still be helpful. Also check out The Expat Life – 10 Things You Need To Know

  1. Salary – Make sure you understand the tax implications of your role abroad. Tax free in the country you are working in doesn’t necessarily mean tax free in your home country. Get some advice if you’re not sure because this is a common cause of angst for expats around the world. There are some great firms out there that specialize in international taxation and they will help ensure you don’t pay tax if you don’t have to and that you don’t pay it in two countries. There is no point moving overseas to be worse off than you were at home.
  1. Relocation – Be careful and read the fine print. Your relocation package should include enough money or shipping to complete the move without any personal expense to you. Also make sure it includes relocation home at the end of the contract regardless of the reason for the contract termination.
  • TIP – Consider not moving all your worldly possessions overseas. Expats who have been on the road a long time travel light and realise owned possessions such as couches and living furniture are more painful than beneficial. Rent what you need, it’s more practical.
  1. Accommodation – For me this is the biggest pain point and also for a lot of seasoned expats. Where do I begin? Many overseas properties require advance payment of at least a few months and sometimes the whole year (in cash), depending where you’re relocating to. This can be a fair whack of cash and a drain on your finances. Make sure you ask what costs are likely to be incurred. Your companies HR section will know this information for sure. A good company will make sure that the expat doesn’t have out of pocket expenses.
  • TIP – I would recommend a fully furnished apartment rather than a house. People with families often target houses which I believe is a big mistake. You’re in a foreign country and being in an apartment offers, neighbours, security and maintenance. A low maintenance life is a good expat life. You’ll see.
  1. Flights – Make sure that there is at least one return flight included in your contract to your home country each year. Also ensure it includes the whole family and not just you if you are taking them with you.
  • TIP – Make sure your entry ticket and exit ticket are both included in your contract. This means they will pay for you to go home when the contract ends, regardless of when that is. Meaning, if you get fired, quit or your contract ends, they fund your return flights home.
  1. Residency/Visas – This is also a major source of frustration for most expats. Confirm that your company will assist in all forms of relocation and acclimatization including your residency/Visas. If you have a family with you make sure the company helps obtain their visas too. I have been to several countries where I have been stuck doing all the visa and residency work myself. Not pleasant. Please note that some countries won’t allow you residency or work visas and you will have to do ‘visa runs’ to a neighboring country periodically. If this is the case make sure it’s not you paying for these ‘visa runs’.
  • TIP – If you have family travelling under a different nationality passport, make it clear to your HR department. Some countries have different regulations and requirements for each passport type.
  1. Probation/Contract Termination – Understand what you’re getting into. Ask questions like “What happens if I don’t pass the probation period?”. You need to have assurance that if you’ve paid rent for a year you won’t be stuck footing the bill. Read the fine print on what happens if either party terminate the contract within a certain period. Some contracts require YOU to pay back all costs with the associated move if you choose to leave within a certain period of time. This may not be a bad thing but just be prepared and understand the conditions.
  1. Medical Cover – It can be horrendously expensive to get medical treatment in foreign countries. Make sure you are fully covered and it extends to your whole family. Some countries are remote and have limited treatment capabilities. Make sure there is a policy that takes you elsewhere if required.
  1. Transport – It pays to research how you will get around. If you’re moving to a small island logistics may be less important. However most places require you to have a car or appoint you a driver. Car rentals, insurance etc should all be taken into consideration, especially if the company does not provide a transport allowance.
  • TIP – Live as close to your place of work as possible. You’ll have more time to enjoy the experience of being an expat, rather than being stuck in traffic.
  1. Expenses – This might not be a big consideration for most people but for those in management positions may be required to pay for incidentals that your company will reimburse you for. Make sure you understand the process as most companies are notoriously slow at processing reimbursements.
  • TIP – If your company offers a company credit card, think twice. The issue is that these are generally in your name. If the company pays these cards on your behalf and is continually late on the repayments, your credit rating can be affected. The world is a smaller place now with global credit ratings. Be mindful.
  1. Know your power– These roles aren’t like the roles you negotiate at home. You can ask these questions and you have every right to. You’re a long way from home and you don’t want a poor contract to ruin this experience. Don’t forget these companies are looking for your skill set and they have a smaller pool of candidates to choose from than they would if they were employing local talent back home. So ask for what you want, get it right from day one.

If you feel as though there are any other good suggestions, please share them below so we can all benefit from your experience.

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