The new job that means relocating your life

03.01.2012 07:34

BBC: "I often wonder why people don't take the opportunity to move abroad more often - if you don't like it you can always go back," says Colin Smith, general counsel in Hong Kong for hedge fund managers Orchard Capital Partners Limited.

He's one of a growing number of professionals to whom the location of a job is as important as the length of commute for most of us.

His qualifications as a corporate lawyer make him very portable.

"Banking and corporate legal professionals move quite a lot, what we do can essentially be done in any global financial centre. I have requested every move I've made myself."

One of these moves was to Sydney, which he decided to leave for what might seem a contrary reason: "It was primarily my work-life balance."

For a corporate lawyer, a 12-hour day is a short one. Perhaps the workload was too light.

Colin explains: "In Sydney, life was good. Every weekend was like a holiday. But, after five years it switched from every weekend being a holiday to almost every weekend in the office. Plus in comparative terms, it is very expensive. I decided to relocate again to find a better balance."

That sort of moving around takes some organisation - something that many people would find far too daunting.

Check list
On top of the challenge of preparing for a new job, with a new office, in an alien location, there are visas to arrange, flights, accommodation, and shipping your goods - after you have decided what to take.
Colin says the most important thing to tackle is the visa: "That is the first issue, but if you're moving with a company the firm works that out for you so you don't have to worry about that."

For these intra-company moves, there is often plenty of help, with the firm paying towards housing, flights, one month's accommodation and the shipping of goods.

Even with that help from the firm, there are still other vital practicalities to be tackled.

"You have to find out who provides telephones, the internet, the best way to get to work."

Most multi-nationals provide a check-list for staff moving, as well as the practical help. And there are relocation firms themselves to whom you can turn for advice.

Developing markets
One of these is the recruitment specialists Hays, which itself is a huge beneficiary of the rising trend for moving professionals.

The developing markets of South America mean it has gone from having no offices in the area five years ago to seven now, with plans for further and rapid expansion.

Its own employees are walking examples of the company's business.

Duarte Ramos is also a veteran of international moves and is able to pioneer not only setting up his own life in a new country, but a brand new business - this time in Bogota, Colombia. He moved there after opening Hays' first office in Mexico City and says business is booming there.

"Locally the executive system and schools system don't produce enough talent to meet the demand for economies growing at 5-6% a year."

His own first move - about 300km (186 miles) from Lisbon to Oporto - now looks like the equivalent of moving desks.

"When I did that move, people asked why? Why don't you stay here for work?

"People in Europe and South America are very parochial. They are not forced to move, even within their own countries."

His relocations have also involved getting to grips with rules governing businesses in a new country.

Hays, as one would hope for from an international recruitment business, has plenty of advice for people moving their lives.
Duarte says it is still a daunting process: "Where to start? It is difficult. We use Microsoft Project to plan a start-up.

"There is a list of about 200 items, everything you have to do to manage a move, the search for a relocation company, searching legislation about what you can bring into the country, registering the company, everything, everything.

"You have to co-ordinate everything, your personal life, the legislative part, right down to stock exchange regulation."

Colin Smith says moving is expensive, even though there are generally allowances for those moving with a company or to a new job.

"It costs approximately $5,000-10,000 (£3,200; 3,740 euro to £6,390; 7,470 euro) to move. Firms don't always cover all of the costs but one of the major expenses is shipping costs. The shipping itself is not that expensive but the insurance costs are.

"Things don't get damaged that much but the risk is total loss if the container disappears over the side of the ship."

Costly mistake
Some moves can prove very expensive, as Ong Ai Bee, a designer, found out.

Malaysian-born, at the age of 18 she moved to neighbouring Singapore, where she stayed for most of her adult life until her husband got his job offer in Hong Kong.

Considered a local hire, he had no help with moving expenses.

She says the move cost 10,000 Singapore dollars (£4,600; $7,800; 5,780 euros), but although she used a company that was personally recommended to her, she failed to take the advice to keep her valuables with her: "It was quite traumatic because they stole my jewellery.

"On the last day I had to go to the police station. I don't know what action was taken as I was no longer in Singapore to follow up on it."

When she contacted the company they said she was foolish to leave the gems unguarded and had put temptation in the packers' way.

There are other professionals whose move itself costs little and have almost no money behind them - nor a spouse with a solid job to go to.

Violinist and music teacher Dushanka Pizurica was short of opportunities in her native Serbia and looked internationally for options.

She arrived in London with 50 euros and received a shock: "The price of transport out of the airport and the phone costs essential to search for work ate that up almost instantly."

Having friends in London provided her with a cushion, but a job was essential.

In her case, a copy of the Lady magazine, a 125-year-old publication famous for its small ads for domestic help for the wealthy, stood in for a relocation package and she applied for and got a job as an au pair.

"I hardly knew what that was but I went for an interview and saw the house and I thought 'My God'.

"I was out of money. I got my first wages from them which came just in time."

Top tips
The best advice given by those who have moved boils down to three things: understand the country you are going to, including its regulations and its language, involve the family and keep a close personal eye - or having someone else keep one - on the process.
Ong Ai Bee did not consider her shift a particularly big one: "It wasn't much of a move in many ways. Its only a four-hour flight from Singapore so it's not very far."

But the language was something she found difficult: "I don't speak Chinese, and even though Singapore is largely Chinese, English is pretty much the official language.

"Although Hong Kong was a British territory until 20 years ago, there were certainly problems for me as a non-Cantonese speaker."

For those with company support, Colin Smith says an essential luxury is to have personal help dedicated to you: "Get a good secretary.

"They can do so much to help - things it might take days for you to find out, they can do within an hour, just things such as how to find homewares and services, where do I find a little man to put up a curtain rail? Where to buy something - there are no department stores in Hong Kong."

Duarte Ramos says so many successful moves boil down to how deeply the family is involved.

"You must first involve your family. You have to think about renting or selling your property. If they don't come with you, you will see them once or twice a year. If you don't have a good reason, it will not work."

Colin Smith's reasons for moving and choice of location mean his move has worked out well.

In Hong Kong, life is, for him, much more convenient than in Sydney: "I still work 10-12 hours a day but Hong Kong is a small place. I walk to work. It's 15 minutes away. There are lots of taxis and it's cheap.

"You can go home quite easily and then go out as it's a late-night place. And of course, while it may not be politically correct, the other huge benefit which is common in Asia is having domestic help (a maid)."

Hong Kong has been a happy move for Ai Bee, too. She now has her own job: "I was planning to be a trailing spouse, [someone who accompanies their partner moving for work but does not work themselves] but I realised that if I didn't work, I would be really isolated, so I applied to two English speaking companies and got lucky with my job."

For Dushanka life has also worked out well. Once further settled in the UK, she was able to use her musical skill, first as a busker on the London Underground, and then with concert orchestras.

Duarte Ramos says the life is not for everybody: "If you don't have the mindset, it is not easy. But there are huge opportunities to explore, and lots of opportunities to learn new skills for life.

"This is the third time I've done it and the second company opening, and you can never, never be fully prepared. There is always a surprise."

By Rebecca Marston
Business reporter, BBC News