Four critical factors to consider before taking a job overseas

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More than in perhaps any other industry, banking can provide life-changing career opportunities overseas that may simply not be available in a person’s home country. Philip Southwell, chief executive of Dubai-based investment bank Exotix, worked in London, Hong Kong, Sydney and Tokyo before moving to the Middle East. He credits his willingness to relocate as part of his own success.

That said, taking a new position in a different country is a major life decision, no matter where you reside. For every Southwell there is likely a banker who regrets leaving his old life behind or not fully understanding the fine print of the contract they just signed.

The key to coming to the best decision is to ask all the right questions during the interview and in the offer stage. It’s also critical to understand the nuances of the country in question. We talked to Harry Youtan, regional director of global search firm Phaidon International, to unearth the key factors you should keep in mind before shaking anyone’s hand.

Career Opportunity: Unless you’re moving to become the chief executive of a major firm, recognize that it’s not just about the job, but also where the job can lead you. “It is important to consider the realistic opportunities for career progression by making the move,” Youtan said.

To do so, you need to assess the prospects of the company in question – as viewed by external stakeholders both domestically and internationally – and look in the mirror to understand whether your skills and experience are transferable in the short- and long-term. “For example, considering whether local languages skills are just a nice-to-have or an essential skill for future career progression in a certain region is important,” he said.

Relocation Package: Unlike domestic packages, overseas offers involve much more than salary and bonus, or at least they should. Ask for specifics on your total remuneration package, housing, relocation costs, one-off payments, flights home and holiday days, Youtan said.

“Don’t underestimate regional differences in benefits such as holiday packages, which is often an important differentiating factor for expats, as time to travel and spend time at home is often a key necessity for those relocating overseas,” he said. Recognize the differences in cultural holiday allowances and negotiate your relocation package as a critical component to the overall offer. Leaning on an experienced recruiter can help here.

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Cost of Living: Taking a few hours to understand the cost of living of a particular city and the differences in taxation laws and tax brackets is highly advisable, Youtan said. Cities like New York, London and Singapore have notoriously high costs of living, but Singapore has lower levels of taxation, for example. Jacksonville, Florida, Salt Lake City, Utah, and Birmingham, England are three low-cost cities where financial jobs are prevalent. “Furthermore, national benefits such as medical cover and educational systems are also important considerations," he said.

Finland, South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan have terrific public education systems. There are excellent primary schools in the New York and London, but most are private and can cost tens of thousands of dollars a year.

Cultural Differences: This includes general cultural differences like language, religion, customs and etiquette, but also inter-office differences. “For example, in Korea subtle differences in corporate title act as important status symbols that have a real impact on professional interaction in the workplace," Youtan said. “Your corporate title, such as ‘Sang Moo’ (managing director) and ‘Jun Moo’ (senior managing director) will affect your ability to interact with professionals at a higher level, having a direct impact on your roles, responsibilities and ability to progress.” Don’t overlook the seemingly small things.