Relocating to another country for work, even for a relatively short-term contract can be daunting. As we get older the amount of times we do something new or embark on anything where we are not almost 100% sure of the outcome become fewer and fewer. But that should not stop you from grabbing the metaphorical bull by the horns and doing it. In fact, that should be one of the reasons for doing it. If you are a solicitor, lawyer, paralegal, compliance or legal professional and are considering relocating or have already taken the plunge there are many things you need to be aware of and to consider. There are of course the formalities of visas and paperwork and the actual dynamics of relocating, but there are also several other aspects that perhaps are less obvious, certainly until you wake up on that first day in your new home. Here I am going to go into a few of those, and as always, please leave any comments if you have any advice or tips to share.
Perhaps the one concern that stops many from the legal profession from even considering working abroad is the issue of language. Let me start by saying that in most cases, the ability to speak the local language is a nice to have, as opposed to a requirement. That certainly goes for the Middle East and Singapore, though Mandarin is becoming more and more useful in Hong Kong, and before too long it could be difficult to find work both private or in-house employment there without it.
Concerns, doubts and anxieties about starting what is essentially a new life are completely understandable, and it would be strange if you did not have any at all. But like everything in life it is about balance, about weighing up the perceived disadvantages, potential hardships against the benefits and shiny new opportunities. For those who have grown up and spent all their lives in one country, or one culture, uprooting and parachuting into a completely new one can be a shock. Culture shock is a phrase bandied around willy-nilly, but it is very much a real thing, especially when you are living it day in, day out, as opposed to merely dipping into it on holiday.
There are more fundamental issues that will also have an impact on your quality of life, or at least will make you realise you are living somewhere completely new. The first trip to a local supermarket can be an eye-opening experience for instance. If you have always been used to simply turning on the tap and getting fresh drinking water, living somewhere where potable water has to be bought in bottles can be more than a niggling inconvenience. Similarly, if you are moving to a place where English is not the first language, that could also cause levels of frustration that you perhaps would not foresee. If you have only been somewhere on holiday, much of your contact with the local populace will be with those in the service industry. These are people very often chosen for their language skills as much for their ability to transport your Caesar salad unscathed from the kitchen to your table. It may well be a very different matter when dealing with a plumber, electrician, or the staff of your local grocery store.
On the flip side however, moving to a new country can be, and in most cases is, one of the most rewarding, life-enriching experiences you will ever do. Experiencing new cultures, a new way of life, meeting new people, cannot fail to have a positive effect. It will change you – for the better – make you a more rounded individual. It will also boost your professional profile, not only because you will have invaluable experience, but because you have shown that you are able to do something that only a small percentage of the world – and an even smaller percentage of those you are competing against – have the nerve, drive and capability of doing. Whatever part of the legal profession you work in, having international experience can only increase your marketability, your options and your earning potential.
There are other huge advantages of moving to another part of the planet. You not only have a whole new city/country to explore and discover, but you suddenly have a whole new world on your doorstep. Somewhere that was prohibitively far away for even a week’s holiday before, could now be a weekend break at the end of a two-hour flight.
Many people have the misconception that they will be very much on their own in their new life abroad. That could not be further from the truth. There will be many, many people in the same boat as yourself, other ex-pats who have made the leap. These people will have the same worries, same concerns, or certainly did have when they first stepped off the plane. The ex-pat community can be one of the most inclusive and supportive ones you will encounter, and from my own experiences I have made lifelong friends from shared experiences living and working abroad.
For those who have families, the decision can be an even tougher one to make, but everything that applies to yourself does so tenfold to your children. You will be giving them the chance to become immersed in a richness of experience and culture that would just not be otherwise possible. Added to that, many places enjoy a considerably lower crime rate than in the UK, Europe and the US, and the schools that ex-pats are able to send their children to are very often heads and shoulders above anything they would be able to back home. Also, how many kids are able to grow up in a home with a swimming pool in the UK!
One crucial part of the process, even if you are at the very start of that process, would be to speak to or use a recruitment consultant/firm that specialises in the region you are planning on working in. They will be able to talk you through the process, the requirements, the differences both professionally and personally and they will have invaluable experience of placing and working with dozens and dozens of people just like you.
Working abroad in the legal profession does have a layer of complexity not present in many other professions making the need to have the right people on your side even more important. Some job requirements will need you to have experience in transnational or cross-border procedures, or international disputes for example. Many will not however, and there is the opportunity of course to gain such experience by working on a placement and gaining those very experiences.
I will finish where I started. Relocating will take you out of your comfort zone. That is something, as adults, we are far too unwilling to do, but it is only by doing exactly that, that we are able to progress and improve on a professional basis and a personal one. It is only by stepping outside of that comfort zone, or looking at it another way – by pushing the boundaries of that zone – that you are ever going to make it bigger. A few months down the line, that comfort zone will have grown to include a part of the world that you knew nothing about only a few weeks or months before. Just take a few seconds to think how incredible that is.
If this has whetted your appetite, then your first step should be to have a look at the latest legal vacancies on our site. www.jamesonlegal.com There are some fantastic international opportunities available there, with new ones being added all the time.