Whether you’re considering an overseas post or permanent move abroad, adjusting to the expat life can be hard, with more than its fair share of homesickness, culture shock and financial complexity.
“Living and working overseas is a great opportunity to see and do different things that wouldn't be possible at home.” Shane
Australians are a well-travelled bunch; as much as we like to head overseas for a holiday, some of us are making the departure more permanent.
The most recent figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics say 391,000 permanent departures were made in more than nine million overseas trips in 2014-15. An extended holiday, taking up an overseas work posting or looking for a new place in which to live and retire are some of the options fuelling the departures.
Europe remains a popular destination for expats while many head to Asia for the lifestyle and high salaries, according to HSBC's 2014 Expat Explorer survey.
About 33 per cent of Australians abroad live in Asia across 10 countries, compared with the global average of 13 per cent of expats residing in Asia, the survey reports. About 31 per cent of Australian expats live in the UK and 9 per cent in North America.
For working expats, the promise of an overseas post – whatever the destination – can seem like a dream come true. A chance to advance your career and get paid for the privilege of seeing new sights and experiencing new cultures is a lure difficult to resist.
But adjusting to the expat life can be hard, with more than its fair share of homesickness, culture shock and financial complexity. According to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, about 80 per cent of people who ticked the box stating their intention to leave our shores permanently will return to Australia within a year. While the data is still not in on how many people came home, seasoned expat Shane is one person loving living overseas.
Shane has been on many short-term international assignments as an engineer for Ford, travelling between Thailand and China for weeks or months at a time. He didn't have to think too hard before accepting a long-term assignment in Cologne, Germany.
While Shane, wife Katie and their two kids, both aged under six, have travelled extensively through Europe since settling in January last year, he says it's not all sightseeing.
"Living and working overseas is a great opportunity to see and do different things that wouldn't be possible at home; the opportunity to travel throughout Europe was very appealing," Shane says. But there's a reason why more families don't end up living abroad, he says.
"Planning and organising relocation can be challenging and it can be difficult for the family without core family and friends for support. On the other hand we hope this builds our resilience."
Expat financial adviser George Mileski says any move, be it a three-month sabbatical, a two-year assignment or a total relocation, requires careful financial planning.
Mileski says the top challenges Aussie expats face are cultural and financial issues, including banking, tax and super.
"The two main reasons people choose to work overseas are to improve their financial situation and to advance their career; to achieve that, they really need to get on top of their current finances," he says. "There is a whole range of complex and conflicting tax and superannuation rules and other considerations that can have a significant impact on your long-term financial and career goals."
Shane agrees, an expat needs to have their finances in top order.
"In my case I had the option for split pay between home and our new location, so I needed to make sure all our ongoing home expenses were taken care of, while still having spending money for our adventures abroad," he says. "I would definitely recommend having an Enduring Power of Attorney in place prior to relocating because it gets complicated if you are trying to manage banking paperwork from outside Australia."
The most important thing, Shane says, is to keep your family happy and to be realistic about your plans and what you want to achieve while abroad.
"We learned early on that what attracts my wife and I in terms of weekends and travel destinations might not offer the same interest to our kids," he says. "The best way to make sure everyone is happy about staying on overseas is to make sure everyone in the family has things to look forward to and enjoy.”