International Assignee Insights: Part I – The Decision to Relocate
Posted by: David Sabey, Director, Account Management
Every year, Cartus relocates thousands of people on behalf of its clients. Some are expats going abroad for a limited period, and some are permanent moves — individuals and families that have decided to establish their life going forward in another country. My family and I fall into the latter category. As someone that has been in the relocation industry for over 10 years, both in intercultural training and global mobility, I thought it would be helpful to share in a series of blogs, from my first-hand experience, what assignees and their families go through in the process of relocating.
Part 1: The Decision to Relocate
Firstly, let me give you some context. I’m a British national, and in 2001 whilst studying abroad in Austria, I met and fell in love with a wonderful American lady, Raina. Fast-forward 14 years and we had been living together in the UK as a married couple for just over a decade and have a beautiful 3-year old daughter and a troublesome cat called Angus. Ever since we got engaged, and even before that, we always talked about our long-term plan being to live in the U.S. In January, 2015 we felt the timing was right to make the move.
So why relocate? Raina comes from a close-knit South Dakotan family unit who only got to see their niece/granddaughter once or twice a year. Beyond that, the lure of the potential for more living space and the American lifestyle had significant appeal. We were pragmatic about it, knowing full well that some aspects of life in the U.S. would be better, some challenging, and some just plain different. In order for this to be a success, we knew that both head and heart had to be on the same page. There were an almost limitless number of elements that we considered, but I’ll list some of the main ones.
What will be the impact on the family?
- My daughter: Being only three at the time, she wasn’t in full-time education yet and, whilst she had friends and even a best friend, she was at an age where we felt she would probably adapt and make new friends faster than her parents.
- My wife Raina: She would be back in her home country (though reverse culture-shock was a concern), closer to the support network of her family, and more comfortable in the American way of life.
- Angus the cat: Yes, he’s part of the family, much as the pets of many of our assignees. Funnily enough, he was the one we were most concerned about, but as long as he was with us, we could make him feel as at home as possible.
What will be the impact on our careers?
We’ve been fortunate enough for Raina to be a stay-at-home Mum (Mom...I still can’t adapt to the spelling!) since our daughter was born, so the move to the U.S. represented minimal disruption, and the opportunity to restart her career and assess which sector she wanted to go into.
For me, having been in my position for nearly three years, there was the comfort-blanket of knowing my role inside and out, but to progress I felt I needed to move outside of that. Was there a risk? Yes, but it was one that was worth taking and, from my perspective, living abroad again could only enhance my career in global mobility.
What will be the impact overall?
For our circumstances, we felt what we stood to gain from moving to the U.S. exceeded the risks and provided us with greater opportunities than staying in the UK. But you need to ask yourself some important questions when deciding if relocating is right for you and your family.
Deciding if relocation is right for you
- Ask yourself, and each other, the tough questions – is this right for ALL of us? Are we prepared to deal with the bad days to have the good? How will we genuinely cope?
- Seek candid advice from others that have made the same move – What were the pitfalls? If they could do it again, what would they do differently? What were the hardest lessons they had to learn?
- Assess if you have an accurate picture of what life in the new country will be like – If you are expecting every aspect to be better, you may be wearing ‘rose-tinted glasses.’ What aspects of your life will be different or most challenging?
- Make the decision as the family unit relocating – You are the ones most heavily impacted, the opinions of friends and family should not influence you either way – the big question being, is the move right for YOU?
- Make the decision with head and heart – Favour one over the other and there will be a conflict at a later point. A relocation, especially a permanent one, has to work for both aspects.
- Am I aware of, and prepared for, the cultural/language differences and their impacts – Even between ‘similar’ cultures, there are significant differences and the perception that ‘everyone speaks English’ is both inaccurate and setting yourself up for failure.
Watch for my next blog post Preparing for a Relocation, where the logistics of relocating came into play and many lessons were learned.