Living and working overseas is something many aspire to. Alternatively an opportunity is suddenly presented and you need to know what to think about.
As an actuary, global opportunities exist as the qualification is well recognised and the profession well regarded around the world. As an Associate or Fellow you have an internationally respected qualification with mutual recognition agreements in place in a number of different countries. Key ones are IFoA (UK) SOA, CAS (US), Canada, South Africa). Other countries often use these professional bodies to provide their education and qualifications.
There are various ways to consider an overseas assignment
- If you work for a professional consulting firm with an office overseas you may be able to work on projects in their other offices – this is an easy way to get some overseas experience without committing to a longer term move. It does not give you the same experience of living in another country and can be tiring if you have to travel regularly, but it does give you that opportunity to add on some local travel at the weekends or end of a project.
- You may be able to apply for more permanent roles internally within your own company if they have overseas offices. This option potentially offers the opportunity to build on the experience and contacts you already have can increase the probability of a role to return to.
- If you can’t do either of the above you may decide to
- apply for positions overseas and when you get a job resign from your company, or
- resign to travel and look for work once you arrive.
What do I need to think about in advance:
- Visa and working rights - a company might be able to help with this if they actively want to employ you but having the right to work in another country in advance will make it easier for a company to consider you.
- Language and cultural differences – many times English is the business language, but you need to think about how realistic it is to apply for positions if you do not speak the local language. Part of the working overseas experience is working in a new culture and you need to be open and embrace this.
- Your family and friends – it is vital to consider this in advance as it is easy to get enthusiastic about a move and then find your partner has no interest or there are other barriers you had not considered.
- Financial implications – you need to understand the differences in the market overseas and how packages and tax are structured. You must also be realistic about the benefits and working conditions on offer, you may not be able to recreate what you have at home but remember this is part of the adventure and you will spend money in different ways. It is important to do your homework in advance. Do not assume that you will get relocation expenses – if you apply for a job knowing it is overseas many companies assume you will make your own way there – t comes down to supply and demand and the negotiation process.
What kind of job will I be able to find?
You may feel it is time for a major change and that you are open to a new area. You need to think about it from the employers point of view - a company needs you to bring something which is of value quickly - particularly if they have to help organise a visa for you. If you have a skill which is valuable internationally – eg IFRS17, this could be helpful so think about it in advance. However, if there is demand overall for actuarial skills you may be able to be more picky about what you will consider. If you have already travelled to a country and are immediately available for work you may have more choice.
How easy will it be to come back home?
If you have a good relationship with the company you leave then this is a potential opening. Some of the challenges in returning are that, for example in Asia you may move from a more technical role into general management as there can be more hierarchical structures in insurance companies there and this experience may be harder to achieve back in Australia as there are fewer positions at this level and Australian companies can have a preference for local experience.
Overall Benefit of working overseas?
In my experience despite recognising challenges and difficulties I have rarely met someone who has regretted working overseas. They may wish they had not had to come home, been disappointed in the opportunities in Australia at the time they chose to return, salaries and benefits may have been lower than they would have wished or they may have had to work longer hours but overall they agree the experience has been worthwhile and they have grown and benefited from it. Some of the benefits they identify are :
- Greater cultural awareness and developing the ability to work with a wider range of people who have different perceptions
- Potentially greater opportunity to be involved in the business and move away from technical jobs
- Learning about new regulation, legislation, and approaches to business
- Team management opportunities which are possibly not available in Australia
- Different living conditions (including good tax benefits in some countries)
- Opportunities for travel
Be prepared for the unexpected, I recently spoke to an actuary who had worked in Germany. As well as leaving 35C heat and arriving to minus 5 they also discovered that when you rent a flat in Germany the kitchen is seen as a piece of furniture and it had been removed prior to them moving in – the result was a need to negotiate purchase and installation of an IKEA kitchen in German – a whole new level of complexity!
If any of this appeals I would encourage you to consider working overseas as part of your career development.