What to consider before moving abroad for work
Here at Hermes BorderGuru, our just over thirty employees have 15 different nationalities (and counting). Yes, we don’t only make parcels cross borders, we also brought people from all over the world to Hamburg to work with us. More and more job seekers opt to move abroad as companies try to charm them with shiny benefit- and relocation-packages, and for some, it comes as a shock that it’s not all sunshine and roses once the initial excitement subsides. Since we’re at the source, we thought we’d help you out by interviewing our international team to give you a list of the most common pitfalls that might cloud your experience.
Have a good reason.
The motivation behind taking a leap abroad can be the first deciding make-or-break factor you might not even be aware of. Not to say that one reason is better than another, but your mindset can set you up for success. A predominant factor all of Hermes BorderGuru’s ‘successful’ expats mention is the curiosity to find out what is hiding outside their comfort zone and to experience different cultures. It’s easy to see why this mindset is so important: it will fuel your efforts to go through hiring processes, visa applications, and all the other obstacles that come with relocating the center of your life (‘Lebensmittelpunkt’, as we call it so fittingly here in Germany). It can be a daunting process, and without intrinsic motivation, it’s hard to get through. And this only continues once you’ve made the move because integrating into a culture that might be vastly different from the one you’re used to requires a very open mind.
Of course, other reasons are often thrown into the mix. You might see the move as the only way to escape a dreary labor market situation, might even feel unsafe in your country or want to give your kids the opportunity to grow up in a country where they can walk home from school without danger. Maybe your company offers you a promotion half the world away or you see impactful international experience as the only way of selling yourself in an overcrowded labor market. But these alone might have a hard time getting you through the challenge of overhauling your entire life. Without some degree of curiosity and openness, you will most likely never be comfortable with your new life.
Know where you’re going.
This point also depends on your motivation. You might have Germany in mind because of its stable economy, or maybe a country where you already have family members or friends. Or you might be more open and would literally move anywhere for the job of your dreams. In any case, research is key. Find out as much as you can about different places and cultures. You won’t be able to avoid a culture shock, no matter how well you think you’re prepared, but knowing a few basics will give you a headstart. Learn all you can about the place, its culture, traditions, food, weather, living costs and its language.
The language is a part you will most definitely be confronted with the second you arrive, and you should start studying the basics right now. Yes, you might not need it in the office, and you may even get by alright with English. But without making an effort to learn the language, you will always be an outsider, no matter how hard you try to integrate. Yes, it sounds daunting, but learning a language by immersing yourself in it is light years easier than struggling to memorize textbooks. See it as an exciting opportunity!
Find out the rules (and play by them).
Finding a job abroad is usually not as easy as just applying and hopping on a plane. Unless you are relocating within a union such as the EU, you will most likely need a work permit. Those come with a long list of prerequisites and supporting documentation both from you and your prospective employer. Your official documents may need apostilles and translations before you can even start a visa process. Make sure not only you but also your employer know what documents are required and that it will take a while to get all of them. Not to speak of the visa process itself: once you’ve cut through all the red tape and filed your application, it can take months until you receive your work permit and are good to go. That said, employers who have experience with international hires will most likely do all they can to help you with this and the processes below.
If you have a family and will be relocating with them, decide immediately whether you want them to move at the same time as you, or whether you want to test the waters first and bring them over later. One of our colleagues suggested applying for everyone’s visa at the same time. Germany, for example, is a very popular destination for expatriates and the family reunification visa in high demand, which means it can take over a year to be approved and issued. You can still come over by yourself a few months before bringing your spouse and kids.
And once you’re at your destination? The fun is just getting started. Sorting out taxes, insurance, social security and all the other things you probably had to do at home once before, they all come back to haunt you. And the same applies when you relocate from one EU-country to another, for example. You will normally need to make appointments with the relevant authorities, and especially in big cities, it can take weeks or even months until the next available slot.
Get a roof over your head.
Here in Hamburg for example, even locals struggle with the apartment search. The best thing you can do is finding a short-term solution so you’re not left standing in the rain once you step off the plane, and then devote that time to the search for something more permanent. Airbnb or similar services are appealing because you can book a room or apartment quickly and without hassle. But often it’s a quite expensive option, and you will not be able to officially register your residence there, which is a prerequisite for most or all other official procedures. Dive into the world wide web, especially if you speak a little of the local language, and try to find flatshares or short-term sublets. But make sure you at least get a Skype-tour of the place or ideally ask a local friend to visit it if you can. Pro tip: search for local apartment-hunting groups in social networks!
Make life a little easier.
When you’ve sorted out the most crucial parts of your new life, you’ve probably already become a much wiser, stronger and more independent person than you have ever been. And really, the excitement of having made it through and starting your new life is worth all the hard work you put in. But if you are like most people, you will have to face hurdles in your everyday life that will get you down. So here are a few tips from our collected personal experience to help you avoid or overcome some of those:
- Always ask questions! Your new colleagues and friends may or may not know what you’re going through, but they will try to help you with everything from taxes to figuring out what Grünkohl is.
- Get busy! Find new hobbies and activities early on. They will make it so much easier to deal with homesickness.
- Find communities of fellow expats! Everyone will try to understand what you’re going through, but only someone who’s lived the same challenge truly can. Be open to their advice and helping hands.
- Take the time to walk! You will know your way to work and to the most important shops very soon, but the best way to really explore and connect with your new home is switching off Google Maps and getting lost for a few hours.
- Try to find the little comforts of home! Whether it’s your favorite sweet or a TV-series from your home country, sometimes you just need a piece of home to get through hard times.
- Make new rituals! It’s important that you make your new life feel like home as soon as you can. It’s the perfect time for picking up new habits, even if they’re as simple as making your bed every morning or finding your go-to coffee place on the way to work.
And last but not least: Stay optimistic! You will have days, weeks or even months that are dark and challenging, but they will be followed by all those amazing things that will make you forget about them.
Whether you already made the move or just had the exciting idea, we hope our tips will prove useful! Last pro tip: check out our vacancies in the most beautiful city on earth, Hamburg!