With more and more companies establishing a global base, there may come a time in your career when you will find yourself living and working overseas. The experience can be rewarding, both professionally and personally. But as with all major moves, you need to be prepared.??
“I would definitely advise others to live abroad. Its a wonderful learning experience that cant be matched. As a boy from Queens who had never really traveled (unless you count driving down south each summer), living abroad exposed me to the wonders of the world and I am incredibly appreciative of those opportunities,” says attorney Keith Matthews, who has lived and worked overseas twice–in Singapore and then in Tunis.??
Before you pack up your office and head to the airport, there are a few things you should do first. Research your destination–read about the culture, the lifestyle and the business etiquette. You can find this information on the country´s tourism board as well as online. The Department of State publishes Background Notes on 170 countries, which are brief, factual pamphlets with descriptions of each country’s people, culture, geography, history, government, economy, and political conditions. Some are available at http://www.state.gov others can be purchased online.???
Will you have to learn a new language? It is best to learn or to know key phrases of the nation you will reside. “One challenge in Tunis was the language barrier. I can barely speak English, let alone Arabic or French (the predominant languages in Tunisia),” jokes Matthews. “Fortunately, most people who I came in contact with at work spoke English as did a very large number of Tunisians (at least those living in Tunis). I also learned just enough French to get by and just enough Arabic so that I could say a few key phrases…It also helped me to constantly remember that I was the guest in the country and that made it incumbent on me to adjust to the cultural and business norms. The other benefit was that my fiancé joined me in Tunis for six months. It was an incredible support system and an incredible experience to share.”??
Once you have moved, seek out other U.S. citizens already living there. They can help you establish a foothold and clue you in to the day-to-day life in your new country. Destinations where many U.S. expatriates live will have a U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a bicultural organization, or clubs for Americans. Also, make sure to register in person, via Internet or by telephone with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency.??
“The biggest initial challenge was the lack of African-Americans (at least in any significant numbers). That was initially challenging from a social perspective, but I was very fortunate to connect with a wonderful group of people who remain close friends to this day. They welcomed me into their homes, introduced me to their families and made me feel at home. I also kept in close contact with my friends in the U.S. and that contact was incredibly important particularly at the beginning of my time overseas,” recalls Matthews.??
If you are going to be living overseas for some time, but will want to vote in U.S. elections, find out how you can do so. Americans residing abroad are usually eligible to vote via absentee ballot in all federal elections and may also be eligible to vote in many state and local U.S. elections. Contact the U.S. Embassy to find out how to vote.??
You also need to find out about the appropriate visas and work permits to reside in your new or temporary country. If you are planning to reside in a country for an indefinite period of time, most countries will require you to seek residence status.??
Contact your health insurance company to find out about its international coverage, if it offers any. Find out how citizens of the country where you will reside pay for medical care and if the same coverage is available to resident foreigners. Some countries have government-sponsored health insurance that provides coverage to foreign residents. Also, will you need to get immunization shots before you travel? Some countries require International Certificates of Vaccination against yellow fever from international travelers. Check with http://www.cdc.gov to find out. Some countries also require long-term foreign residents of proof that they are HIV-free.??
If you plan on diving while living overseas, find out how to get an in-country driver’s license. Most other countries do not recognize a U.S. driver’s license and only some accept an international driver’s permit.??
You cannot get away from dealing with taxes with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). U.S. citizens must report their worldwide income on their federal income tax returns. You may, however, be entitled to various deductions, exclusions, and credits under U.S. tax laws, as well as under international tax treaties and conventions between the United States and a number of foreign countries. Consult the IRS for further information. You may also be required to pay tax on that income to the country in which you are living. Check with that country’s embassy or consulate before you leave the United States.??
Banking overseas is actually fairly easy. Many countries will permit you to maintain a local bank account denominated in dollars or in another foreign currency of your choice.??
It is also important to understand the political climate of the country you are moving to as well as that country´s relationship with the U.S.??
“I have lived overseas twice – from 1996 to 1997 in Singapore and then from 2005-2006 in Tunis, Tunisia. Two very different times and places. My first stint overseas was pre-9/11, so it was a much more innocent time for Americans – and aside from visits to the Caribbean, it was my first time out of the United States. I worked with a U.S.-based law firm that had just opened an office in Singapore. I originally went from the Philadelphia office, where I was based, to the Singapore office for three months to cover for people taking vacations. I wound up enjoying the work, people and the experience so much that I actually stayed for a year and almost decided to move to the country permanently. I felt free to travel the region including Indonesia, Malaysia and Hong Kong. I arrived in Tunis in 05, after 9/11 and during the Bush administration, a time when the policies of the U.S. were not perceived as friendly to Muslim countries,” explains Matthews. “I was a bit more hesitant about traveling the region (there was a bombing at a tourist hotel in Egypt while we were in Tunisia). Fortunately, my initial trepidation gave way to a more comfortable feeling and that was primarily due to the people that I worked with people who eventually became like family. I worked at a multilateral development financial institution and most of the people there were from sub-Saharan Africa and had a close bond (socialized, dined, traveled, attended the same church, etc.), so it was an extremely tight-knit community. In fact, my now-wife and I were married during our time in Tunis. We got married in the Seychelles and upon our return, our friends/family in Tunis threw a wedding reception for us.”??
According to the U.S. Department of State, there was a substantial rise in the number of Americans living overseas since 1990, from about 1.5 million to 4.5 million in 2005, to eventually grow to about 6 to 8 million by 2009. Many are retired; others are employed in international business.??
For Matthews, his stints overseas were valuable life and career experiences. “One of the most important takeaways from my time in Singapore is that people are more alike than they are different no matter the culture or background. It was a great time to learn how to conduct business with people from other cultures and the importance of respecting different perspectives,” he offers. “I feel like I have family in Tunis and in Singapore and am much more interested in world events. My time in Asia and Africa helped prepare me for my current job where I work as a lawyer at a private foundation focused on global development, global health and education in the U.S. The mission here is incredible and fulfilling and without the benefit of having lived and worked overseas, I doubt that I would be here now,” he says.