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Today, we have a guest post by Justin from Atypical Life. Enjoy the read!
My name is Justin and I have lived and worked in China for the past 3 years. I live the Atypical Life and save 80% of my income in pursuit of financial independence, location independence, and early retirement. Through my expat contract, I was able to pay off $30,000 in student loans in 3 months. I have one year remaining on my contract before I can return home, or travel the world, whichever works out best.
Have you ever been offered or had the opportunity to apply for an expat assignment? An expat assignment uproots you from the well-known where you are currently living and places you somewhere around the world to work and live. I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity, like my parents before me, to accept an expat position, and I currently live in China, on the direct opposite side of the world from my home. There are many excuses to stay home and not take the opportunity of a lifetime in the expat assignment. You will have to overcome all of these excuses in order to feel you are making the right decision by moving for your expat job. Living in a nice expat community in China, we have had the opportunity to speak with many fellow expats about excuses they overcame to move here and they include:
- Wife/husband giving up there current job
- Pulling kids from regular school (they will have to go to school in your host country, or else be homeschooled)
- Wanting to be close to family
- Don’t like the food
- Can’t speak the language
- Leaving friends behind
- Leaving your hobbies/passions behind
- Those closest to you are telling you it’s a bad idea to move across the world
There really are a million and one excuses to not take that expat assignment and live in the comfortable. However, looking back, you will likely regret not taking the opportunity when it came. I put it this way:
If you don’t take this opportunity now, you will never have the chance in the future. If you take it now, the chance may come again. So grab it like you stole it and run with it!
Since there are so many excuses for not taking the expat job, let’s go through the benefits of taking an expat job.
I truly believe that money should not be the only motivation for taking an expat job. If you are only moving around the world chasing the money, then you will be miserable. If you are not personally miserable then you will likely drive your family to be miserable. However, there is no getting around the sweet deal that is generally offered as part of the expat package. How else are they going to get people to give up their comfortable life?
Expat Assignment Package
To go with the expat package you will likely get these benefits among others:
- Increased salary
- Location premium or hazard pay (this is a percentage raise based on where you are living, with more dangerous places offering higher percentages)
- Goods and services differential (supposed to compensate for the difference in price between home and host country normal basket of goods like food)
- Housing and utilities covered in destination
- Transportation covered in destination whether it is a private driver or car, insurance, and license registrations.
- School tuition for the kids
- Spousal assistance allowance
- Language tutoring
- Tax equalization and preparation
- Many other side benefits
Needless to say, you will be getting a huge raise when you accept an expat package. I was able to pay off $30,000 in student loans in 6 months because of the expat package and now will finish after 4 years on assignment with nearly $500,000 saved. On assignment, your living costs go down and your pay goes up which is exactly what you are trying to do when pursuing FIRE. However, the added benefit of the expat assignment is that the company you work for is taking care of all the hard work. They cover your costs in the host location. You will no longer need auto insurance, car payments, gas for your car, or utility bills. Housing costs will likely be covered. Your costs diminish down to food and fun with everything else covered by the company. As you can imagine, the expat assignment is an invaluable asset in your pursuit of FIRE.
2. Learn a New Language
Chances are, if you are reading this, that you are a native English speaker. Speaking English allows us a fairly easy travel experience because so many people around the world learn English as a second language. But if you truly want to get the most out of your expat opportunity and be able to really connect with the locals, you should learn the local language. There is no easier or better time to learn a new language than when you are able to use it on a day to day basis. When you get to converse regularly, you improve by leaps and bounds and will be able to make friends with locals that you could only dream of when speaking English. It is a huge step in the right direction when you can finally converse with the locals at the local markets where you will be buying food. Many of the locals will not speak English and learning their language is the only way to communicate. This is not to say you can’t live in a foreign country without speaking the local language.
I have a good Canadian friend in China that met a Chinese girl that didn’t speak English. He taught her English through Google Translate and eventually married her. He still does not speak the local language very much which is looked down upon by the locals. You will have a much better experience and be highly appreciated by the locals if you can speak the local language. It may be a hard task and require a good amount of study time, but the rewards will keep paying dividends for the rest of your life. Your kids will also have a leg up on their peers returning home by learning a second language while they are young.
3. Travel the World
Traveling the world was my personal reason for taking the expat experience. The US is isolated. It is a long ways away from pretty much every foreign country, so taking an expat job in a foreign country gives you a great jump off point to explore the rest of the world. You will be living closer to other countries and you will get the chance to explore your host country. Part of the expat package will likely be home leave where you will get free trips home, so you don’t have to worry about budgeting for going home.
You can spend your annual vacation funds on exploring the surrounding countries. Since you are now closer to these countries, the cost is lower which means you can explore more countries. The spouse/person that accepts the expat position may have to stick around and work, but that certainly does not mean the other spouse and kiddos need to stick around. They can take even more opportunities to explore while you are stuck working. It helps to keep them level-headed and enjoying the experience. Whether you like cities or countryside, you will be able to see many more in foreign lands than you can from your home country. Traveling the world while an expat can open your eyes to new ways of life and give you new experience that you could only dream of before your expat job.
4. Experience a New Culture
You really cannot overstate the benefits of living in and experiencing a new culture. Living in the US is like living in a bubble. You really don’t understand all the different ways that people live in the world. When you get a chance to live in a new culture you get to experience their way of living. Living in a foreign location is much like traveling the world and experiencing their cultures. However, when you live there, you can truly experience everything there is about a culture.
From how they eat, to how they shop, to their customs and traditions, you will get the real feel for a country that you cannot get while just traversing through a country. Learning the language and making friends with the locals will further your experience of the culture. One of my favorite memories of living here in China is when I got to go riding with a large group of Chinese guys and girls to a hole-in-the-wall barbecue restaurant. To this day, that is still the best restaurant we have been to in China and we got to experience it with the locals as a local. When you live there and show a willingness to learn the culture the locals will go out of there way to share their way of life with you. It gives you a very positive feeling for humanity and the inherent goodness that humankind has. Through learning about another culture and another way of life, you will become more accepting of other viewpoints and become a more rounded person.
5. Gain Worldwide Friends from Many Cultures
Living abroad gives you an opportunity to make friends from so many different cultures. When you are in the US, you are surrounded by a diverse population, but it is not really that diverse. When you move to a foreign country on an expat assignment, you have the chance to live and work with people from a myriad of cultures. The majority of expat jobs that are available will put you in a location with other expats. The expat community is incredibly helpful when it comes to adapting to the new culture. Through their help and your shared experiences on assignment you will forge lasting friendships. My wife has made friends with people from France, Italy, Argentina, Australia, the UK, Denmark, and many others. All of these new friendships give us a network of friends around the world that we can go see and experience different cultures from a local’s perspective. In addition to visiting, you also get the chance to experience many cultures within the expat community. Having friends from so many different cultures has really helped us to have a more worldly view and is truly invaluable.
6. Resume Boost
If you are pursuing FIRE then you are looking to maximize your earnings and your savings. When it comes to maximizing your earnings there is no better way long term than to build your resume and be able to negotiate for that big raise or promotion. Having an expat assignment on your resume shows that you are willing to do what it takes to succeed. Whether you took the assignment for the resume boost, for the travel freedom, or for the money doesn’t really matter. Your resume now shows that you did what it takes and that you have worldly experience that is invaluable when it comes to business success.
7. For the Challenge
An expat assignment will be a challenge. There is no getting around that. You will be:
- Moving far away from family, though your immediate family should be coming with you
- Experiencing a new culture and language
- Eating new and different foods
- Putting your kids into school in a foreign country
- Your job will be hard (That’s why they brought you over in the first place)
Nevertheless, the experience is what you are after. Despite all the challenges you will face on an expat assignment, you will prevail if your attitude is one of optimism. My wife found this quote during the hard times at the beginning of our assignment:
Love the life you live, while you create the life of your dreams. Don’t think you have to choose one over the other. ~Hal Elrod
Love the experience for the challenge. Embrace the challenge and see it as a way to grow into a more well-rounded person and you will prevail.
There are many pros and cons to taking an expat opportunity and they have to be weighed carefully before committing to the contract. It is a decision that should be made as a family because it affects all of you, including the kids. Your family and friends may tell you not to go, but unless they have experience with an expat assignment just take their advice or plea with a grain of salt. You need to make this decision as a family and make the most of it. There are so many positives to the experience that you simply cannot have while working back home. Taking the expat assignment will open doors in all parts of your life. The expat position that I hold has afforded me many opportunities and I want everyone to know how becoming an expat is awesome!