Demand is high for talented people that are willing to live and work abroad. Even after their expat assignments are done, people with international experience are highly valued.
According to the U.S. Committee on Economic Development, “80 percent of U.S. executives believe their companies would operate better if more internationally cultured employees were present.” American companies need people that have the ability to adapt to different cultures, languages and countries if they intend to sell their products internationally.
Companies are willing to pay a premium for talented expats. Expat employees earn on average between 30 to 40 percent more than their counterparts in the same positions in the U.S. In addition to this, being bilingual can earn you between 2 to 15 percent more depending on how fluent you are and also what languages you speak. Expat benefit packages typically pick up housing, car and driver, international schools and housekeeping services.
In China, for example, the average expat pay package for a middle manager is worth about $276,000. On top of the significantly higher pay and benefits packages, the U.S. government does not tax the first $90,000 worth of income for its citizens working abroad.
Not only are the pay packages phenomenal, but 71 percent of executives at American companies believe that an international assignment is essential for people on a leadership track. The bottom line is that not only should you want to take on an international assignment, you need to if you want a leadership position at a American multinational.
I was hooked on the expat lifestyle during my first two-week trip to Shanghai. I was meeting a friend and her colleagues at Kathleen’s Five for brunch. Kathleen’s sits atop the Shanghai Art Museum, which was once home to the Shanghai Race Club in the concession era. The view, overlooking People’s Park on a blue sky spring day, was spectacular. I was sipping Champaign and listening to their stories about their recent travels to Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore and all over east Asia. I was hearing about private clubs that they were members of that sounded more like secret societies than social clubs.
Suddenly, one of the girls broke into Mandarin. She was arguing with the waitress over the bill. What she said to the waitress I will never know. The next thing I knew more free Champaign was being poured. It was like something out of a movie. I was in awe of these people and wanted to be one of them. It wasn’t long after that that I committed to staying in Shanghai for a year.
The expat lifestyle is something to be treasured in and of itself. While living in China, I traveled to almost 50 countries on six continents. Instead of vacations to Florida or California I was going to Tokyo or Bangkok. It became a jumping off point to adventures I had never imagined. Everything was closer and more affordable.
I’ve stood at the foot of Mt. Everest and went to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. I’ve seen lions hunt down a buffalo in the Serengeti and felt the biting cold of a winter in Moscow. I have a Chinese goddaughter and have officiated a wedding in three languages, one of which I don’t even speak. I count among my friend’s people from Brazil, Mexico, Spain, China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Ireland, Europe, Australia and Thailand.
These are the real rewards for going global. The places I’ve seen and people I’ve met can’t be done justice here. Life abroad exposes you to the unimaginable and forces you to expand your horizons. It makes you a global citizen.
While the lifestyle is amazing, it’s not all safaris and mountain base camps. There’s a reason for the large pay packages for expats: adjusting to a new country and culture is hard. A lot of expats wash out.
According to Rosetta Stone, 75 percent of all expat relocations end in failure. The reasons cited are the language barriers, lack of preparation, cultural differences, a family’s inability to adjust and stress. Life as an expat is an emotional roller coaster that touches the most extreme ends of the emotional spectrum. When you’re happy, you’re ecstatic. When you’re mad, you’re enraged. There are no in-betweens.
Life abroad is not easy. Things as simple as a haircut are difficult when you don’t speak the language and sometimes even when you do. Managing a cross-cultural office space is hard. It requires a cultural competency in a culture that is foreign. It requires an ability to effectively communicate to the team back at home why things can’t be done the same way abroad that they are done in America and why the American way isn’t always the best or only option.
But those up to the challenge will open themselves up to a world of opportunity.
Writer: Ryan McMunn