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Relocating for work? Here's how to avoid some common pitfalls

Make your relocation successful with these top tips to bypass some common pitfalls and get you and your family settled overseas.

There are many reasons that professionals move abroad for work, including brighter prospects, improved quality of life or simply to broaden their horizons and enhance their skill sets. Whatever the trigger, making sure it works for the whole family, if you have one, is crucial if it is going to have any longevity. See these tips from professionals that have moved from the UK to the United States, Dubai and Hong Kong, and haven’t looked back.

Do your research and have a financial plan

Simon Thompson is originally from the UK but is now based in Los Angeles. He is an established producer, journalist and broadcaster and works across TV, digital, radio, newspapers and magazines. He started his research years before relocating: "My wife and I had been talking about a move for a number of years before we actually relocated about three years ago. I was talking to people even back then."

Research, explains Thompson, includes everything from making in-roads to a career network to establishing how to rent an apartment and get credit: "In the US you can’t do anything without credit because in their eyes you don’t exist without it. The logistics of getting set up can be very difficult so you need to do your research."

Jonty Summers is the managing director of Hanover Middle East, a strategic communications and public affairs consultancy based in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. He relocated from the UK over nine years ago and says it is crucial to be aware how much things cost: "You have to realise it is not a way to make money as it was 30 years ago. Value Added Tax has been introduced this year and a lot of subsidies have been stripped. You must do your sums. For example, alcohol costs three times as much here."

Thompson agrees and says elements of the cost of living are much higher in the US: "Whereas for example you might get car insurance for £300 a year in the UK, the same will likely cost you over $300 a quarter in the US. Your phone will cost twice as much too, and your standard TV package will likely be more than a Sky package in the UK. It can easily take £2000 per month just to cover the basics along with medical insurance. I know a lot of people who think they will live the LA dream and end up effectively sitting in their apartments only being able to afford to eat noodles," admits Thompson.

Summers says rental accommodation is significantly more expensive in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) than the UK and in Hong Kong, Adam Michael Toctan, managing director of MCG Associates in Hong Kong told Campaign Jobs in, The ‘honest’ expat guide to living and working in Hong Kong: "In terms of ‘commission’ be aware that many estate agents work on a 50/50 basis for the first month’s rent. So, if the rental is $30k per calendar month then you will pay $15k and the landlord $15k."

Be resilient and understand cultural norms

Thompson admits he was ‘terrified’ to move from a comfortable living in the UK to the US where neither he nor his wife had a job to go to: "The problem is that it is difficult to have a meeting or go for a coffee unless you are actually in the country where you want to work, and LA is all about meetings," he says. Thompson decided the best course of action was that they would move there without a job to go to. Thankfully it paid off but not without a lot of hard work.

Thompson says a thick skin is a must: "It doesn’t matter if you are Graham Norton or Ant and Dec in the US, they don’t care, and they may not have heard of you either. You must work to build up your relationships. I have just signed a new client that I have been speaking to for four to five years. That’s how long it takes."

In the Middle East, time must also be invested in nurturing business relationships. Summers says: "Lots of businesses don’t succeed because they fail to adapt to the local business environment. It’s a very different culture here and it has to be respected."

Toctan agrees: "Everyone has business cards here and it’s considered impolite if heading out and not taking a handful with you for the chance encounter that you may have. Cards for business meetings are a must - just remember to hand them to the recipient with both hands!"

Thompson adds: "I was also amazed by the business card culture that still exists here in the US. In so many ways they are ahead of the curve and in many others, they are incredibly old school. I don’t leave home without a few of mine. You can see people physically balk if you don’t have one, it’s like you almost invalidate yourself."

Get a visa

Without a visa most professionals are onto a non-starter, but it can be tricky. Thompson says: "Unless you’re lucky or an exceptional candidate, it’s hard to get a visa if you don’t have a job and you can’t get a job without having a visa." It’s a fine balancing act when you first make the move to ensure it tips in the favour of legality. He continues: "Without the correct paperwork and a social security number, you’re stuck."

Country specific regulations must be researched and for many that may mean providing proof of income or employment prospects.

Have an exit strategy

Thompson says it is important to have a return plan: "This is particularly true for the first year. Don’t get to the point where you have no money. Don’t hold out for a ‘maybe’ and if you can, have a way of returning and maintain that. We rent our home in the UK out, so we can always go back, and I keep up with my work contacts there too." Summers says that with all the bureaucracy involved in getting visas, health insurance and bank accounts set up it is hard to extract yourself, but you always need to be prepared to return to the UK if you need to. He adds: "You can’t stay in the UAE forever, so you need to see it as temporary." Even if like Summers that means for nine years and ongoing.

Thompson says: "Don’t forget tax. You may well find yourself needing to pay UK and US taxes during and after, depending on your case. In LA, as a freelancer you also need to fill in additional paperwork to operate and if you fail to do that, you can end up with a nasty and very large bill. It can be a minefield. Overlook this kind of thing at your peril."

Put family first

Summers says that a lot of ex-pats return home because their family can’t settle, and he advises others looking to relocate to invest time in making sure their partner and children are happy with the move: "The Arab world is very family orientated which helps. We chose to move our children from their first school because it wasn’t our first choice and we are glad we did because the children were very happy, and we met a lot of people through that."

Preparing them for a transition also means pre-warning them what it might be like to start with when temporary accommodation may not be the dream and fundamentals are being established: "I lived in a hotel for the first four months. When my family arrived in Abu Dhabi it was the holy month of Ramadan in August, during which strict fasting is observed from dawn to sunset. It was hard for them to adjust to not being able to have food or drink in public, we also had no internet for three months and the heat was over 40 degrees celsius," says Summers.

It was a hard time for the family but knowing that to feel settled they would require a supportive community they worked hard to make friends. "As an ex-pat you have to be quite outgoing. The disadvantage is that quite a lot of people come and go so you can’t wait for six months to ask someone for a coffee or dinner, you have to make the most of the time you have," he adds.

Research the career prospects

When Summers moved to the UAE he did so in the knowledge that it would be a good place to move his career forward. "Dubai has the Middle East headquarters of 137 of the Fortune 500 and Abu Dhabi has another 10 so it’s a good place to be based." This was coupled with the knowledge that in media terms the area was relatively unsophisticated at the time and therefore offered an attractive growth proposition.

Similarly, Thompson could see the fortunes of journalists in the UK diminishing: "There had become an increasing tendency for entertainment journalists to do so for free or for shamefully low rates with blogs for example and this was also forcing down the wages of paid journalists."

With his wife having roots in the US and having dual nationality it seemed like the US would offer better prospects for them both and he was right. He adds: "You have to do it for the right reasons. Don’t do it because you are running away from something or in the hope it will solve your problems."

Other growth areas include Dublin, Ireland, which in the last eight years has seen the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon set up their EMEA head offices in a part of the capital city that has been renamed ‘Silicon Docks’. See more of Dublin’s prospects at: Dublin calling: What you need to know about relocating to Europe's Silicon Valley.

If like Thompson, Summers and Toctan you are looking to move your career abroad then do your research first, understand what it is like to work there and ensure your family is onboard. If you require employment to obtain a visa then start your search by finding the right position on Campaign Jobs, the specialist job board for the new breed of marketing, advertising and creative professionals, and be prepared to start from scratch in your career, with friends, your home and prospects.

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