Five Benefits to Ask Your Employer for When Working Abroad

Nearly 50% of companies say they're offering more deployments abroad. Here's what to negotiate for when living overseas. Second in a series.

Published: Nov 14, 2019

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After flipping and flopping over the decision to upend your life and work abroad, you've finally decided to seize the opportunity. But as you start to plan your international relocation, you're flooded with questions that go well beyond moving logistics. Where, for example, is the best place to go to have a cavity filled if you can't speak the language?

With 47% of companies saying they have increased the deployment of expat assignments in the past three years, more U.S. professionals have the chance to work abroad, which could give them a unique advantage as they advance in their careers. But having solid company support is critical in making such a move less daunting. In a survey by expat support group InterNations, the top concerns among those moving overseas include the future of their finances, the cost of living, and the quality of their healthcare.

Even for the shrewdest math whiz, handling expat taxes is not a task to be taken on alone.

While large companies that have sent employees abroad before tend to have packages in place that address these concerns, many smaller firms wing it when it comes to their abroad allocations. Here are the top five benefits to ask your company for-and get clarity on-before you board your one-way international flight.

1. Housing, schooling, and caretakers.

Many companies consider working abroad to be a hardship posting worthy of extra employee incentives, such as coverage of housing costs. Some firms will cover the full cost of rent, while others will subsidize rent and pay for a real estate agent to find you a place to live. Indeed, in the InterNations survey, half of U.S. expats consider the cost of living abroad a potential benefit to moving because of their employers' help with housing costs.

Schooling and caretakers matter as well. If you have children, be sure to ask if your company will pay for international schools, which can be very pricey. There are also other perks that many companies provide, such as drivers, cooks, and nannies. While HR may have specific policies written out, it's best to speak with others at your firm who have worked abroad and find out what else may be negotiable. "Compose a long list of considerations before accepting the offer," says Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison. "And half that list probably centers around personal issues."

2. Language and cultural lessons.

Most companies understand the value of learning the local language, even if you have translators in tow. With about nine out of 10 U.S. expats saying they can speak some of the language in their host country, it's fairly typical to get your company to pay for a private language tutor or set up an arrangement with a language school in your city. Depending on your job and interaction level with locals, some organizations may also offer etiquette lessons to help you understand cultural norms in your new country.

3. Tax prep.

The tax implications of working overseas are complicated. Often you have to pay taxes for both your host country and your home country, though there may be certain things the IRS exempts you from when you're living abroad. Even for the shrewdest math whiz, handling expat taxes is not a task to be taken on alone. So be sure to ask your company if they use an accounting firm (usually one of the big four, which will have global offices) and how taxes will be handled. Experts say this benefit is paramount to negotiate for before moving abroad.

4. Healthcare help.

Like taxes, a foreign country's healthcare system can be a maze to understand. While some countries have nationalized healthcare, you may or may not be able to partake in it depending on how the government classifies foreigners. Even if you do qualify, the system may not be up to your standards, and you may opt to ask your employer to provide you with private care instead. The key is to have a setup you trust. "My biggest fear was getting sick and not being able to tell the doctor what was wrong," says Martha, a journalist who worked in Vietnam for several years. "I was adamant about getting a good international healthcare plan from my company before moving."

5. Repatriation costs.

While moving back home may not be top of mind when you're knee deep in the details of moving overseas, relocation experts say it's crucial to have a plan hammered out from the start. "Some companies are good at giving out expatriate assignments but not so good at repatriating employees," Burnison says. Make sure you understand how long your contract is for, whether your company will store some of your furniture or help you maintain your house back home, and if they'll pay to ship you and your belongings back home once you've completed your assignment.

It's also good to have in the contract any wording that will cover you should your work be cut short. For Alex, who lost his job when his employer shuttered several foreign outposts, a clause in his contract mandated that the company pay for his move home-a move that would have cost about $50,000 out of pocket. "I'm really glad we look into this provision before we moved abroad," he says. "That would've been a huge expense to have to pay for from our savings."

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