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Monday, March 17, 2008

The Simple Life -- A Guest Post by An Expat

The Simple Life

Not long ago I was asked to articulate on the easy life of being an expatriate in Singapore. This seemed like a simple enough request. What’s not to like for heaven sakes?:

o Free room and board during my expatriation

o All utilities paid by my company

o My house in the US fully under the management of a third party provider, including but not limited to, house payment, real estate taxes, lawn service, etc.

o Salary adjusted to the region, i.e. US gross pay, net of all taxes, car payments, house payments, utilities, and then adjusted to the local currency.

o Club Dues to be equal to the Dutch Club. This is not a country club kind of place, but a club for expatriates of the various countries to be with people from their same region of the world. Being a Dutch company, the rate at the Dutch club is the lowest one can get. If you want to join the British Club or the American Club one must ante up for the difference at your own expense.

o 1 set of round trip tickets back to the US on an annual basis to say hello to loved ones. (coach class) Flight time is 25+ hours from door to door.

I mean really, what more could a couple ask for? “Piece of cake” as my father used to say. Living the High Life!

What often slips through the corporate crack are a few of the “intangibles” of being overseas:

o Medical bills are paid by cash only, with reimbursement only coming after painstaking attention to detail and the patience of Job as one waits to see if the Insurance Company actually accepts and pays according to the rules. Nothing like having $15k owed one for almost 9 months.

o A 65-page Federal Income tax submission that only happens 2 years after the filing date.

o The inability to communicate “live” with anyone in the US during a normal business day. At best, one is 12-13 hours ahead based on Daylight Savings Time. “Our office hours are from 9am to 7pm Eastern Standard Time.” That effectively equates to 10pm to 8am Singapore time to deal with the US.

o An expat agreement does not, by its sheer nature, guarantee one a job upon the end of the assignment. “We will do our very best to place you in a similar position as you have today, but if we are unsuccessful, then we promise to get you and your belongings back to the US.” Whoa Fucking Nellie -- thanks for asking me to go abroad and looking after my best interests at the end of the day!

o Having family and friends tell you how much they will enjoy coming to Singapore often to visit. (plan 1 visit per year from no more than 1 person)

o As the dollar goes south faster than a swarm of ducks in the fall, one’s “take-home pay” goes down equally fast. Almost 2-1 when you arrive, almost 1-1 when you leave.

o “We will be moving our corporate office shortly after your return, so please be prepared to move within 1 year of your relocation.”

Would I change a single decision or a single minute of my agreement to accept this expat assignment.. Hell No…!!!!!

o I am emotionally richer for the experience. My wife and I operate on the simple philosophy that we will never wonder “what if we had tried this or that.” We do it with the full knowledge that if we don’t like it, we will just do something else.

o The people we have met and the friends we have made here are both “life-long and everlasting.” Who would ever imagine that you would meet up with someone who grew up but 40 miles from your own small home town in Illinois. I recently asked this person where they were from. Response was pretty standard, “I grew up near Chicago.” I say “Oh really, whereabouts?” “Well, actually I grew up in a small town in southern Illinois but no one would recognize the place so I just say Chicago.” I say, “And that place would be?” Lo and behold, this person, half a world away, grew up just 40 miles from my own very small town of 4500 people in Illinois. Small world indeed.

o The cultural diversity of Singapore has truly taught me the meaning that “all men are created equal.” Everybody, regardless of race or religion, worries about paying their bills, global warming, Iraq, Iran, terrorism, and the perils of global unrest.

o We have been truly blessed (and I am not a real religious guy at the end of the day) to have had the opportunity to experience life in a different place and time.

So, my simple advice to those pondering an opportunity to explore the world, at what is effectively your company’s expense, is to “just do it.” You will be far richer for the experience than money can ever buy..!

Yours Truly,

An Expat


Dave2 said...

Good points all.

I would gladly take an overseas assignment... depending on the place. In my travels around the globe, I've run across many places that were great to visit, but I would be hesitant to live there, even temporarily. Usually this has nothing to do with culture or living conditions, but everything to do with easy access to decent chocolate pudding.

Savy said...

I've been encouraging Mr. Savy to look into it, but he's just too afraid to do it. :) And he only wants to go to Germany (beer & sausage factor, I think.)

Geeky Tai-Tai said...

Dave2... You will be happy to know that the chocolate pudding here in Singapore is quite good. The snack packs fit nicely in the fridge and with a proper spoon, all is well at bedtime.

Savy....I can attest that beer and sausage are a "universal requirement" for any man. I could have never gotten my husband out of the German section of Chicago otherwise. And by the way, my husband says he has never met a woman who did not like a good sausage. Whoa Nellie...!

Lisa said...

Great post. Thanks for sharing exactly what it's like to take an assignment overseas. I'd jump on an opportunity like that in a heartbeat!

Geeky Tai-Tai said...

Lisa...Is my pleasure to share my experience. All too often the sales story one gets from a company does not articulate what day to day life can be like. I honestly think that is because most HR departments have never actually done it, they just spin the "good" story. But hey, is okay if one understands that going into it. Hope you get the chance..:-)

An expat

Don said...

Having been lucky in business travel recently (e.g. Japan just a couple weeks ago) I've seen some places I'd love to work in for a couple years' assignment. Tokyo, Shanghai, Milan top the list (as they are almost all I've been to). No doubt Singapore would make the list as well. And who knows, maybe soon I'll be positioned to take your sage advice. As for the falling dollar, well, even with that we're as well off as many of the locals.

Geeky Tai-Tai said...


Fully agree with your statement about the dollar. We are quite fortunate and always good to pinch oneself as a reminder...!

Hope you get to take up an assignment should it come your way. I am sure you will enjoy it tremendously.