IT IS becoming increasingly common to know someone who regularly travels overseas for work or who is based in another country.
With corporations expanding regionally or globally, living out of a suitcase is a reality for many mobile professionals today.
If you are aiming to join this community on the move, it is prudent to not only look at the advantages of working and living abroad, but the pitfalls too.
The truth is, not every executive is able to blend seamlessly into a borderless career even if he is highly proficient in his work. There are factors you need to cope with — a new culture, language barriers and even the difference in living standards.
Let’s say that you are thinking of becoming a corporate globe-trotter who will spend between 50 to 70 per cent of your time travelling, or taking up a two-year contract in another Asian country. There are some realities you should consider.
Generous expatriate packages have lost some of their lustre with companies cutting back on hardship allowances and travel expenses. If you are sending out your resumé, envisaging flying business class and checking into five-star hotels, then pardon me for bursting your bubble.
In recent years, many companies driven by cost-curbing initiatives have converted housing and relocation benefits into cash allowances or included them in the overall remuneration package. This leaves the burden of finding accommodation on the employees instead.
Flying on economy class is also becoming the norm for business travellers whose companies are on an austerity drive in the wake of the current economic crisis.
Ask for a “pre-assignment visit” before signing on the dotted line, not only to experience accommodation choices, but to get a better idea of the cost of living. If you are taking your family with you, find out what options are available for schooling your children.
Meet fellow Singaporeans who have lived in that country for a few years to compare notes on the pros and cons of life there.
Beyond excellent work performance, a key factor in your success as an international manager is your ability to understand and be sensitive to diverse cultures, customs, languages and religions.
Even the best management practices need to be adjusted to the local context. Unless you possess a strong cultural sensitivity, you will find it an immense task to win the locals over to try new ways of working.
A very important aspect of any relocation or regional role is the family.
You need to consider carefully if your spouse and children are able to be apart from you for more than 70 per cent of the time. If you are relocating, is your partner prepared to sacrifice his or her career to join you? Are there suitable schools for your children?
Making the leap to becoming a single-career family in a foreign land and settling everyone down can take months and be a nerve-wracking experience, if things are not well-managed. Talk with your family about your intentions before you even start exploring overseas job options.
Plan for the future
Candidates who have decided on a career at home after years abroad, or have had enough of boarding a flight three times a week, often find that they have lost their competitive edge in the local market.
Many of them only negotiated a “one-way ticket” in their contracts, giving little thought for contingency plans if they were unhappy in their overseas posting or with their mobile lifestyle.
Are you prepared for a regional career or overseas posting for a good number of years? A structured career plan should also cover your career with the company upon return from your assignment.
Alternatively, keep yourself updated on developments at home. If possible, take on ad-hoc home-based projects for your current organisation, so you are not completely out of touch with the work that is being done there.
The opportunities for a global or regional career will continue to multiply. Before you take on such a position, find out what its challenges are.
Being good at your work alone is not enough; to function effectively in a foreign environment or to take on a role that involves frequent travel, you have to be professionally, culturally, mentally and physically up to it.