Still, over the course of these moves, I’v picked up a few tips on making this whole notion of keeping my current job – or some variation of my current job easier. Since many people have written in asking for them, I thought I’d put them all in one place.
A while back, I contributed to an expat tip campaign run by HiFX. It’s a great compendium of little snippets of advice about living abroad and the related adventures that go with it, but at the same time, I realized I probably could have added more to the discussion on working, especially as a trailing spouse. After all, “expat” is a broad category – some are expats for their own work, but some of us, like myself, are expats because we followed someone else along. It’s not a bad thing by any means, but it does mean that it’s a bit of an adopted identity.
Not everyone wants to necessarily work when they go abroad, especially in a trailing capacity, and not everyone can. There aren’t any guarantees, but if keeping your job from one location to the next is interesting to you, assuming that it is portable to some degree, here are a few ideas to get you started.
Just like about everything else in life, things are easier when you have a trusted champion for your cause. Someone who can speak to the quality of your work, who can advocate for you when it comes down to resourcing decisions, and someone who has a reputable voice (normally that comes with some seniority). Chances are, you’re going to need a little help in getting your job relocation pushed through so have someone in mind who is willing to step up to the plate for you – probably multiple times.
At the same time, realize that for many things, you’re going to have to be your own best advocate. Whether it’s building the business case for why your relocation is still a good business idea, or making sure that you’re covered from an HR perspective, often times, you’re going to have to do your own legwork. The thing is that if you’re a trailing, working spouse you often fall into a bit of a no-man’s land. Your company might try to be accommodating but often won’t have much of an idea about where you’re going, what the work permit or visa waiver status levels, or what not. And your spouse’s company or organization won’t have any idea about you either, since historically many spouses have not worked or have been expected not to work (though that is changing slowly). You can’t blame either of them (really) – chances are, there’s only one of you, and many things that they are trying to take care of. Do your homework as best you can and always assume that you’re on the hook for investigating the answer that best fits your needs. Here’s the thing, when the shoe is on the other foot, the company is going to look out for the company, so just make sure that you’re looking out for you (diplomatically of course).
All of the above so far point to this one. Things will take time, and again, they will be going on while your workplace is trying to deal with the bazillion things they normally deal with. There might be some trial and error. Things that either they or you thought would work might not. Don’t start so early that you don’t have any specifics to work off of, but give yourself lead time. For me it’s been about 6-9 months each time once I know the location for sure, and even still, finalizing all the terms and conditions go well into after my move. You might have to adjust that timeframe based on the culture of your organization. But know this, while the idea of you working elsewhere might be accepted quickly, the logistics and ins and outs of making sure the relocation works will take a lot longer than either you or they ever thought.
When you relocate as a trailing spouse versus when your own company relocates you, the equation shifts a bit. In the end, you’ll probably be making a pitch to either keep your current job or some variation of it, so you likely will have to be prepared to travel back. In Vienna, I had to come back about quarterly. Here, less so, but I travel much more than I expected intra-European to other clients and offices. And some travel might be out of your own pocket – you might have to be okay with that. You might want to do a “check-in” from time to time so that you’re not perceived as too far away from the mothership. Again, it always depends on your actual company, but a little face time when you work far away is never a bad thing.
Things can change. Things will change. You might keep your old job but in a new location. You might get a new job altogether but stick with your old company. You might have to work in a new office. You might have to work from home. In my first transition, I actually ended up having to move six months later on my own so that I could deliver certain work projects and get ramped up in the US. So many different variations can come your way, but ultimately, the business needs to pick what’s right for their business needs so if you have some built in flexibility, you’ll find that that openness to making it work will be much appreciated. Since you’re presenting them with a request to accommodate a personal need, staying as open as you reasonably can increases the chances of something working out.
Be prepared to take some time or some resource to set yourself up for a successful transition – in fact, it might be part of your business case for your move. If you might have to work in another language, at least get some basic language training before you go to increase your credibility in your new location. If the job will be different, see if there is anything you need to read up on or take a class in so that you can hit the ground running… The transition, which is also coupled with a move and with culture shock, can be a tricky time, so any investments you make here usually pay off in a smoother move.
This can easily be an investment too. Two of the smartest things we’ve done over the years is to get really good tax help, and here, to get good legal help on my shift in employment contracts. You can bet any company is hiring that same type of help for themselves, so why wouldn’t you do the same for yourself? There can be extremely large tax shifts once you go abroad (or even into another state), so make sure that you’re prepared. Know what you’re getting into before you actually get into it so that you can make an informed decision (learned that one the hard, and the expensive way). When we got advice, it was on our own dime, and not through my employer, but several thousand dollars spent on good help saved us literally tens of thousands of dollars of mistakes.
In the end, despite everyone’s best efforts, jobs often don’t work out. The timing isn’t right, the location might not be either, the company might not have the experience or the resources to invest in a relocation (hint: it’s extremely expensive for them)…It happens. The question is to ask yourself what else you would do. Would it be to keep trying alternatives in the company? In another company? On the ground at your new home? Many who can’t make it work through traditional corporate arrangements set themselves up solo, and then return to the company as contractors – does that sound like an option? Do you want to pursue something else altogether? Do you want to work at all? Wherever you fall out on those questions, just have alternatives in mind; it’s not uncommon for it to take a few tries to get it all right. Our options end up being somewhat governed by our circumstances, but it doesn’t mean we can’t make our own choices.
This post was written in collaboration with HiFX.