Over the past 20 years, I've lived and worked in Europe, the US and the Middle East. The best advice I could give anyone planning to work in a new country is to socialise. Websites such as internations.org are great for meeting people from all over the world, finding activities and helping you overcome any fears you have before moving. I've always found it helpful to learn the country's general dos and don'ts. Remember that what may seem acceptable in Europe – such as showing affection in public, or even taking photos in public spaces – can sometimes be viewed very differently in the Middle East or Asia, and could even land you in legal trouble.
Perhaps the greatest challenge each time I've moved has been in getting to grips with a new work culture. It is important to understand both slow-paced and fast-paced work cultures. Particularly if you're in a management role, you have to recognise that what motivates employees from one group, may not motivate employees from another. By group, I don't just mean people from different regions of the world, but also people of different ages. Using a variety of motivational techniques, instead of just threatening people with company rules and policies, is key. No matter where you are, understanding your employees' needs will always benefit you and your company.
It's incredibly exciting but also daunting to move your career to another country, especially if you have to learn a new language. I've worked across the world over the past decade – from the UK to Liechtenstein, to Australia, Zurich and now Liechtenstein again, where last year I co-founded my own construction management company.
Before taking up the job in Zurich, I made a huge effort to learn German, because my interview was going to be conducted in German. It was tough, and it might have put many people off, but it helped enormously, and from the get-go I could talk to colleagues and clients at a much better level once I eventually moved over for the job.
Sometimes people can feel out of sorts when they begin working in a new country, and the temptation to give it up and return to the comfort of your homeland can be strong. But you've got to give yourself time. As well as understanding and appreciating local working practices, both within the company and the wider market, you must get out and meet people to grow your professional network and, crucially, your personal relationships. The two have to go hand in hand. Take up a sport, join a hiking group, or just have a drink with people who are in a similar situation. Feeling isolated outside of work can have a detrimental effect on your productivity at work.
Last year, I moved from Romania to Luxembourg, not only to take up a great opportunity at KPMG, but also to gain knowledge and experience of the international real estate funds market. It was an unexpected move, as the opportunity came via a recommendation from a friend. Normally, it is very challenging to find accommodation when you are outside of a country, but I was lucky to be able move into the apartment of a colleague who was leaving just as I arrived.
In Luxembourg, people speak English, German, French and Italian, but the company conducts almost all its business in English. However, if you do know other languages, it adds enormous value to clients to show them you are willing to discuss in their language. Clients have been pleasantly surprised when I've broken out my little bits of Italian, and it really helped strengthen the relationship.
If you are considering a move to a new country, my advice is to be open and take the opportunity while you can. All the more so if you are single or without children, as there will be very little upheaval from moving, compared with if you had to move your entire family. See it as an ideal time to try out a new life and new ways of working, to broaden your skills and experience. It will take courage and sacrifice, but it will be worth it.
Moving your career to a new country can be one of the most difficult things you can do. Also, it will be subject to how far your new host country accepts your prior experience and qualifications. After a 20-year career in land valuation in Jamaica, I moved to the US in 2005, but I didn't realise I effectively had to gain further surveying qualifications to be able to work, because at the time the US did not recognise qualifications obtained outside of the country.
The methods and language of real estate appraisal can vary significantly between Jamaica and the US, so as well as obtaining a real estate appraisal licence, I had to learn a new working culture. In fact, I would say the US and Canada are perhaps the most difficult countries in the English-speaking world to move to. US regulations and laws added an extra layer of difficulty to transferring my skills and experience, particularly because the methods and technologies used – and I don't just mean in IT – require one to undertake a high level of retraining.
Before embarking on a move, I would suggest you do as much research as possible about how the ways of working will differ. Unfortunately, a number of people I know who moved to the US ended up having to leave the profession, due to the high costs of retraining or of getting new licences to practise.
In 2006, I transferred to Moscow. In Russia, the concept of modern logistics was still in its infancy, and the need for logistics parks to more effectively serve the vast consumer base was huge.
I had a lot of worries prior to the move, with the language barrier, cultural differences and business and legal issues to overcome. But these can be sorted out with good preparation. I was fortunate to have an employer that sorted out most of the legal details and initial housing situation. But learning and speaking Russian was the main issue not being able to read street signs or maps proved difficult during the frequent times I was not accompanied by a driver or translator. Furthermore, it is surprising how different local market norms can be from your home country. Studying an ethics module is an important compass for navigating new foreign waters.
Ultimately, it comes down to preparing for the things you can – immigration and visa issues, employment, housing and transportation all need to be sorted before a commitment to a relocation is made. Later, it is crucial to be able to adapt to the things you cannot anticipate. And while it's hard to imagine feeling isolated in a city of 20 million people, it's a real possibility. Getting involved with expat groups, as well as local professional chapters such as RICS, really helped me adjust to my new surroundings.
Illustrations by Andrea Manzati
Ann Gray FRICS 02 May 2023
Stuart Watson 29 March 2023
Gela Pertusini 27 March 2023