Expatriate Careers - Major Family & Personal Issues
There are two cultural adjustments to consider in any expatriate assignment; the first is how you and your family adjust to your new “host” country, and the second how you later adjust to returning to Australia. The latter is often underestimated.
Even working in a country within a similar Western-European environment, such as the UK and the US/Canada, usually requires some need to adapt your management style, and some cultural sensitivity if you are to be successful. However, what is often forgotten is that your spouse, partner or children also face large cultural adjustments - in fact they may be more pronounced than those of an employee who often simply seems to “move their desk”. The fact is that more expatriate assignments fail because of family issues than employment issues and, if you have a family, you need to consider their needs and level of adaptability very carefully.
Education, Health and Housing
These are normally the top three concerns of expatriate families. Even in the remote chance that education advice is made available you should still do the research in this area yourself because of the potential long term impact - and this should include calling teaching staff at potential schools prior to arrival.
In some locations you will have little actual choice of school, with perhaps only one International school exists. In others you will have the choice of an International, British, American or local school and you will need to consider a number of factors - including your child’s personality and attributes, the school’s culture, how well the curriculum fits with the Australian system and where you are likely to be posted next. If your child is reasonably academic and intends to do a language you should also seriously consider the International Baccalaureate (IB) - more and more Australian schools are offering it as an option.
Relatively few countries offer health services that equivalent of Australia and this is not an area where you should “take a risk” - you should absolutely ensure that you have arranged comprehensive medical and hospital cover, including emergency repatriation if necessary. This is usually most effectively arranged through your employer on a Group coverage basis. If this not possible, read our page on choosing health insurance or contact us directly.
The issue of housing has become a little easier in some locations with the internet giving you access to local listings in most European and Asian countries - and some idea of local costs. Expatriates tend to congregate in certain areas however, because of schools and access to work or security, and you should contact local expatriate associations, if possible, to learn the preferred areas. One universal rule that seems to apply is that agents will usually show new expatriates the properties that don’t shift easily - so don’t be too anxious to move out of the hotel.
It will often be the case that the spouse or partner of the working visa holder will not be permitted to work. Up until relatively recently the spouses of employees working in Australia on visas were not even permitted to do voluntary work. Sometimes this may be seen as a opportunity to “take a break” from work or perhaps start a family - and indeed it might be opportune. It often proves a point of friction however, and not one that necessarily improves with time. This needs to be thought through and discussed in detail before any assignment is contemplated.