How to nail an international assignment

At about this time of the year companies start measuring employees against their KPIs and everyone is busy preparing next year’s plan. Set against the back drop of maybe a recent vacation and the onset of winter, life and work in another country becomes appealing.  People start considering an international assignment.

I have moved internationally myself, so have first hand experience of the challenges involved. Without company sponsorship it can be difficult.

So how do you go about it? Definitely not the way I did! This may surprise you, but I threw caution to the wind and just moved. It worked (in the end) but it was not without its downsides. So when my daughter was inclined to do the same, I strongly advised her to be more strategic. For once, somewhat surprisingly, she listened to me.

Want advice about planning an international assignment – contact me!

She and her now husband, decided that they wanted a lifestyle change from their life in London. They carefully researched target destinations to produce a strong favourite location. They took a week’s vacation and set up meetings at their own expense, with potential employers in the destination of choice, Dubai. Within days they had offers from their preferred firms. They are still there with blossoming careers.

An international assignment can be enormously fulfilling. For me it has been. But for some it can be the source of abject misery.


Understand well why you want to move internationally and how this fits into your long term career goals. There are many permutations on an international assignment  –  as a singleton, with a partner and with and without kids. Factor in what this means for your partner and his/her career and your family if you have one. Jack Welch said that tomorrow’s leaders will have international backgrounds, but relocation experts say the international transfer of an executive can centre on how the family settles into the new home and schools, rather than the executive into a new job.


Make a short list of the locations that are in line with your goals. Look into the employment laws of the targeted country with regard to non-national employees. It is getting increasingly difficult to just up sticks and pitch up somewhere new. Some geographies are notoriously difficult to enter, with rigorous immigration restrictions for all but specific key skill sets. Check out the professional restrictions. What sort of visa would you need? Investigate companies and any sector trends or insights to establish which areas might be open to international candidates. Language capabilities will be critical here. Many would-be movers simply give up their lives and relocate without knowing a word of the language of the country they are moving to.


Make sure you understand thoroughly your personal finances and how these translate into another country. It is common to inadequately cost the expenses involved in relocation, to maintain your desired standard of living.  Understanding the general cost of living, housing and education in your dream location is critical. Tax regimes and exchange rates also have to be factored in. I know Americans in Europe currently, who are really struggling as the Euro falls against the dollar, when they have to transfer money back to their home country and are paid in the local currency. Expatistan and Numbeo are good living cost comparison sites


Re-construct your LinkedIn profile to include keywords related to your target destination. LinkedIn is heavily driven by the location field and many companies don’t want to pay relocation expenses. Check out the job boards and sign up for alerts. Some international assignment seekers relocate ahead of finding a job. At lower levels this can work, as sometimes being on the spot and having a local telephone number and address can help. But you do need deep pockets and savings to be able to stick it out. It can take 6-9 months to get a job. I have not seen this method succeed at a senior level.

In today’s regulated economies and employment markets, finding an international assignment can be harder than it appears, but rewarding and a great life and career experience.

So good luck – what is your story of an international assignment?



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