When you take an expat job on the opposite side of the world from where you grew up, you get lots and lots of questions.
- Why are you doing this?
- Aren’t you going to miss your family?
- Are you sure you’re not crazy?
I agree there are lots of questions and many pros and cons to taking an expat job, so here is my story of how and why I took my expat assignment.
In The Beginning
I grew up listening to stories from my parents of their 2 years living in Kuwait as expats. Now, you may think that Kuwait does not sound like a great place to live, and you are correct. But the best part of that assignment was not the location, but the opportunity it afforded to travel the world. Every year, my parents were required to leave the country 3 times for at least 2 weeks at a time. They were given a big fat check and were told to go relax for 2 weeks before returning. They got to travel the world and really experience different cultures. From Europe to China, Nepal to Africa, they got to experience it all.
After hearing years and years of stories from my parent’s adventures from their 2 years abroad, I knew that I wanted to have the same type of experience. I hope to be able to travel the world and maintain my job as I continue to build up funds to retire early and further the travel dream.
The most common question I get is, did I do it for the money?
Everybody knows expats get paid an exorbitant amount compared to the same job back home, but no. I did not do it for the money. I did it for the experience and the travel freedom that I grew up hearing about from my parents.
Real Life Job
I still remember my first performance review in 2012. I had been working for less than 6 months and I asked my boss about expat opportunities with the company. He told me to just wait and that the vice president of operations comes around from time to time with these opportunities. I continued to look through my company’s job board for expat opportunities, but there weren’t any I was qualified for. Bummer…
It wasn’t until October of 2013 that the expat opportunity literally came knocking. The vice president, sure enough, came around talking about a secret project in China that had been in the works for several years and it was time for them to find 2 expat engineers to move to China and help start it up and get it to produce a quality product. I couldn’t believe it!
I went home that night and talked to my girlfriend about it (not yet Mrs. Atypical). She was not overly enthusiastic about moving to China, actually, she pretty much said no. So as a good boyfriend would, I went to work the next day and promptly emailed the vice president and voiced my interest. It was 2 months later before future Mrs. Atypical finally told NOT me, but my family over Christmas dinner that she would indeed move to China with me (I still can’t get over this). I already had the ring but asked her to marry me a few weeks later after returning home from Christmas vacation.
Starting The Expat Job Process
Several months on, after hearing nothing, I get an email that the leadership would like to talk to me further about the expat opportunity. Now it was April 2014. Being a secret project, I was kept in the dark totally until they told me that I was in. I was told that we were going to go to a secret planning meeting near Charlotte, NC in 2 weeks and then they were scheduling my fiance and I a trip to China with my future boss and the other engineer to visit and see if we would actually move to this location on the other side of the world.
To go from no information to total information on a secret project was like getting slapped in the face! My wife and I went to China and had a miserable experience for our 1 week there, though we did fly business class. I will never forgive the company for flying my wife on her first ever plane trip business class. She always gushes over how nice it is, and there is no way I will ever pay for it!!!
While in China, we toured around and saw some of the sights of the town we were going to move to, we visited the new plant site which was just piles going in the ground, and we toured apartments to get an idea of where we would be living. It was cloudy and rainy pretty much the whole time. We never saw the sun on that trip. We took a short hiking trip around a lake and saw 3 snakes (probably poisonous) within 10 minutes which left me with a bad feeling about hiking and camping in China, 2 of my favorite activities.
So without a doubt, when we returned we said we would take the expat opportunity. I put it this way:
If you don’t take this opportunity now, you will never have the chance in the future. If you take it now, the chance may come again. So grab it like you stole it and run with it!
Getting Ready To Move
I worked in the US for the remainder of 2014 doing commissioning preparation for the new plant which included writing all of the operating procedures and drafting control strategies. During this time, I got married, went on a honeymoon, got my wife a passport then promptly changed it when her name changed. We actually got “married” 3 months before our wedding ceremony so that we could start on the mountain of paperwork and bureaucracy to go through to get a name change and then acquire visas for entry and residence in China.
Finances Of An Expat Job
The finances of the move to China was very easy since it was all covered by the company and the expat package. The only change we had to make was opening a new bank account that had unlimited worldwide free ATM use. We are living in China being paid in US bank accounts, so we need a way to get Chinese cash, RMB, without fees. Luckily, Schwab bank has an awesome checking account that has this covered for free!
When it came time for the move in January 2015, I canceled the verbal lease on the house we were living in, we sold 2 cars for a loss that was reimbursed by the expat package and donated tons of clothes and household goods to Goodwill to lower our amount of stuff moved to the other side of the world. It was hard to say goodbye to our families, but we were moving across the world for the opportunity of a lifetime!
We paid off $32,000 in student loans in 6 months when we moved to China, then promptly started really ramping up the savings rate (70+% savings rate) to achieve financial freedom by the end of the 4-year contract. The constant feeling of being held back by my job has really driven the desire for location independence.
Taking the expat job was one of the best and hardest decisions we have made. Despite all the challenges that we face as expats living in another country, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.
I am not pursuing FIRE as an expat to retire forever but to allow us to travel the world and be able to make money while traveling.
Are you an expat? Have you thought about taking an expat opportunity to make money and travel the world? Let me know in the comments.
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