Overseas: Before You Jump
About What You Need To Know Before Moving Abroad
|By Samuel Atlee
contemplating a permanent move outside the United States, likely you already
have business or professional involvements that are drawing you away to
your future home. You may have already picked out a nifty place to live.
In your mind, you may be imagining a sun-drenched life of increased leisure,
lower taxes, and greater affluence.
you take the plunge, its worth contemplating ahead of time the potential
downsides to your new adventure. What if, long term, you find that
your new neighbors are aggravating, service at the dry cleaners is too
slow, or that the service at your bank is either unfriendly or downright
mystifying? All too often, people make the jump without thinking of what
theyíre giving up day to day.
|And it may
be those things that torpedo your adventure, particularly if a spouse or
children are involved.
away from the U.S. takes you out of context. Youíre removed culturally
from the ebb and flow of a familiar life. Of course, for some people thatís
precisely why they want to move, and itís an additional inducement for
putting roots down elsewhere.
distancing oneself from family, friends, football, and the movies comes
as a bad surprise. And if these things arenít available in your new home,
you may find yourself turning on the local culture. What it lacks may have
attracted you in the first place, but are there other new things to sustain
with satellite television and the Internet, this situation is a lot better
than it used to be, and maintaining contact with your U.S. interests is
a whole lot easier. Still, think about the way you spend your time at home,
then translate it into your new environment. How much will you miss?
In what ways does your new home duplicate that lifestyle or improve it?
the U.S. is superb at two things -- health care and secondary education--
and if you move offshore youíll be leaving these behind. Unless you have
college-age children this may not be a big worry, particularly if you maintain
your U.S. citizenship. If you donít, gaining access to U.S. universities
can be a problem.
New York terrorist attacks the INS has clamped down on foreign students,
and many U.S. colleges and universities that routinely catered to foreigners
are seeing this educational market dry up.
reason is that students canít get visas, or that getting visas has turned
into a time-consuming process, so keep that in mind.Thereís no denying
that health care in the U.S. is the best in the world.
|Your new home
may seem fine from a distance, but how will it be when you get sick? If
you have an existing medical condition, check out the local physicians
and facilities to make sure they can care for you when you need them. What
about dentists, eye care, and insurance? Before you leave, you have to
make sure that these are all in order.
Much of the
above would have been helpful for me to know before I moved with my family
to Hong Kong. Of course, if your new home is a place much frequented by
expatriates, as Hong Kong is, chances are that someone from the American
Chamber of Commerce has already written a book for newbys just like you.
These hands-on guides are invaluable: they provide tips on everything from
grocery shopping to how to get a driverís license. Tips on schools and
how to hire a maid. Where to get tennis lessons and where to buy a carpet.
How to bargain in the markets with the Chinese.
end up overseas for business, and little in their domestic working
life will have prepared them for what theyíll find.
that was the case with me; Iíd been in the Peace Corps in North Africa,
but aside from that my world experience was restricted to tourist trips
to Europe. So I had no real knowledge of what a regional job in Hong Kong
might be like, or of the business practices Iíd discover.
Before he left,
the man I followed into my post took me on a two-week trip through Asia
to help me find that out.
In quick order
we went to Japan, Taiwan, and Korea; the week following, we hit the Philippines,
Singapore, and Thailand. Needless to say, in each place business was conducted
very differently. The work ethic was as varied as the food. So was their
degree of interest in our business.
If I thought
I saw a new commercial opportunity, I kept things to myself, which was
I wanted to do things my way in my new job, but I had the good sense to
wait before implementing a new strategy -- you have to know the ropes to
avoid disaster. China was impenetrable, Taiwan friendly but reluctant.
Malaysia, and Thailand were sunny but slow. Singapore was efficient.
In Hong Kong, anything was possible.
I thought I should learn Cantonese, but since everyone in my office spoke
English, this would have been a waste; at any rate, I spent two weeks out
of every five on the road, and I couldnít learn six languages.
As for my
family, initially they loved it. Then excitement gave way to the everyday
-- school and athletics, videos and weekend shopping trips to the mall.
Living overseas is less hard on the children, because they adjust so quickly;
itís probably hardest on the wife. After all, she has to figure out how
things really work, while youíre away, protected inside the cocoon of your
office. Pay attention to her. Keep things light. Remember, the adventure
is for all of you.
Hereís a handy
rule of thumb when you move: after six months overseas, you know just enough
to be dangerous. After a year youíll begin to get a handle. After three
youíll know your way around. Too, youíll likely know if you hate or love
the place, and if you can stick it out, if youíre lucky, you and your family
will still be charmed, and your adventure will continue!
Index ~ Hong
Kong Index ~