The word “expat” can conjure up vivid images of adventure and excitement – there is something exhilarating about the thought of uprooting from the familiar and moving to a new place, learning a new language and experiencing a new culture. Eating food that you have never tasted before, getting to see places you have only ever read about or seen in the media, learning new skills, meeting new people, soaking up the sights, sounds and smells you have never experienced before, as well as getting familiar with customs that are completely different from your own. The list is endless!
In the first of a two part article, Lucy Donald who is a Director of WRS, a specialist recruiter within the global Mining sector, offers some observations and ideas on what it really means to live the expat life.
Considering an Expat Opportunity in Mining? Part One
The Mining sector offers worldwide opportunities for working in other countries with the main hubs in Africa, Latin America, the US, Canada, South Africa, the Far East and Central Asia and still, albeit to a lesser extent, Australia, as well as a few options within the Middle East and North Africa.
Whatever your reason for wanting to experience the life of an expat, bear in mind that any time spent working internationally in your field is a huge plus on a resume or CV, at any stage in your career. Not only do language skills and intercultural competence make you a valuable commodity – expat assignments can also bring financial benefits. Its worth noting that while you may achieve a higher gross salary in a first world country like Australia or Canada, don’t be quick to dismiss opportunities where the salary is less, say somewhere like Indonesia , as the taxes here are much lower, accommodation is often covered by employers and your money goes a lot further as the cost of living is much, much lower.
Whether it’s on an assignment of a few months or a few years, you will definitely benefit from your time overseas. What you will need to do is research where your particular skills, or those you wish to add to your current skill range, are going to be required or learnt. And are you open to working anywhere or are you focused on a particular destination or a particular company? While many companies within the Mining sector are international they may well not have a worldwide operation.
Working with a specialist recruiter, such as WRS, will give you a good indication of what opportunities are available and where, and also some guidance on the logistics of working legally and being happy living within your country of choice.
What opportunities will you have as an expat?
A chance to learn another language.
Any competency in a second, third or even fourth language is a plus given the evermore ‘international’ focus of the world we live in today. And mastering another language will only enhance your CV and make you a desirable candidate for roles higher up the management ladder. Even more so if it’s a less common one – which could be the difference between you getting that next role in the mining sector within specific parts of the world. But remember there is so much more to learning a language than just knowing how to translate words. When you learn a new language, you learn a whole new culture. So take the opportunity to make friends with locals, eat with them, socialize with them and surround yourself with the sights and sounds of your target language.
The ability to widen your skills and experience
Your time as an expat can also give you the chance to gain experience working in a mining discipline or project that you won’t have the opportunity to explore in your home country. The 2008 credit crunch which emanated from America means the majority of the global economy has been under pressure for some time. When you add in the on-going problems surrounding the Eurozone this could be an opportunity to look at working in parts of the world less significantly affected by these economic factors? If you don’t have a particular country or region in mind, here’s a list of some that you should definitely be considering:
- Latin America: Peru, Chile, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil,
- Central Asian: Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan,
- Africa: DRC, Zambia, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Mali, Cote D’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Botswana, Angola.
- Asia: Indonesia, Philippines, Papua New Guinea
- Middle East/North Africa: Saudi/ Egypt
And while it is well documented that there has been a recent downturn in the Mining industry within Australia, it is still worthwhile checking the Australian skills shortage list on a regular basis as they are still benefiting from demand for natural resources from countries such as China and India. Very often you will be able to apply for a fast-track visa to speed up the paperwork and get you in situ as soon as possible, if your skill set is still in demand.
The chance to immerse yourself in a completely different culture
Combined with those regions and countries mentioned above, it is also worth considering the cost of living and lifestyle offered within some of these as this could be a deciding factor in choosing where you want to spend your time as an expat. According to the latest survey carried out by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) of 140 locations around the globe, Canada and Australia have the most liveable cities in the world. The EIU Index is based on five categories; education, culture and environment, stability, healthcare and infrastructure.
Melbourne tops the EUI list, followed by Vienna, Austria, then three Canadian cities, Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary, followed by Adelaide and Sydney in Australia, Helsinki in Finland, Perth in Australia and Auckland in New Zealand. It is important to note that there remains little difference between any of the ten most liveable cities as only 1.8% separates Melbourne in first place and Auckland in tenth. These results may primarily reflect renewed stability as some economies begin to recover from the global economic crisis of a few years ago.
The general conditions required for a location to be awarded a high liveability score continue to be well reflected in Australian and Canadian cities, with the highest scorers tending to be mid-sized cities in wealthier countries with a relatively low population density. The report does point out that when it comes to a great place to live the big global cities such as New York, London, Paris and Tokyo are all prestigious hubs with a wealth of recreational activity, but all suffer from higher levels of crime, congestion and public transport problems.
Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro within Brazil are in the top third of the ratings, while Santiago in Chile, Johannesburg and Cape Town in South Africa, Jakarta, Indonesia, Mexico City and Monterrey in Mexico are all mid way in the ratings so offer a more diverse lifestyle option for some of the key global mining hubs. In direct comparison Manila in the Phillipines and Buenos Aires, Cordoba and Rosario in Argentina come in around the 100 rating mark so offer the most diversity in terms of life experience. Not all the mining hubs we’ve mentioned are rated in the EUI list so we would highly recommend you do your own research into any of interest to you.
Wherever you favour for your expat experience, a very real consideration is that wages, the cost of living and personal taste for a location can offset liveability factors. And whether you are choosing a life-long international career or a one-time only experience, starting a life as an expat can be a daunting experience. There will be people in your life that will encourage you to pursue opportunities and there will inevitably be people telling you that you are crazy. Sometimes the hardest part is making the decision to go for it!
By the same token, the opinions of people who believe in the long-term benefit of your international experience will undoubtedly help you achieve the dream of being an expat. There are two essential factors that contribute to making your decision easier: Will it help your career and/or will it add to your overall life experience? The best source of wisdom is from people who have already achieved ‘the dream’, so actively seek the advice of people who have survived the expat experience. You will gain invaluable advice on the logistics of how to do it and ‘real life’ examples of the pros and cons of being an expat. Here are some to consider:
- It opens up your mind in a whole new way that is not possible unless you lived and worked in another culture. Everything becomes an adventure…even food shopping!
- The soft skills you develop and your whole outlook on life can be greatly enhanced.
- The constant sense of exploration and discovery can be very stimulating for those happy to continually be on a learning curve.
- You come to understand the world and issues from a hands-on perspective, not just influenced by the world’s media. This is very attractive for companies, especially multinationals or those trying to grow in different countries and cultures. So, if you have international experience you add more value to potential future employers.
- Learning a new language and experiencing a new culture will make you appreciate the history, values and customs of that country.
- Meeting and befriending different kinds of people will broaden your horizons.
- On the career front, you gain a completely fresh perspective of how people deal with work situations and get accustomed to the business culture or professional ethics in your chosen country – this will do wonders for your career.
- Moving to a new country means that you have the opportunity to travel to places that you might have only dreamt of. Being able to explore and experience destinations that are far away from your own is a big plus!
- Living abroad gives you the opportunity to meet a wide range of people from a variety of backgrounds.
- Uprooting yourself from your current job and lifestyle in order to move abroad is a massive lifestyle change
- Distance can take toll on relationships at ‘home’. Not being able to regularly spend time with family and friends can be particularly disheartening. It is in times like these that homesickness can set in.
- Becoming an expat can be an expensive affair. The first few months can be particularly hard as you will almost be guaranteed to have unexpected expenses to contend with.
- Everything becomes an adventure…some days you just want to be able to wake up, go to work, live your life and go to sleep without everything being a challenge.
- If you are not open to new things, new perspectives and different ways of doing things (even very basic things like food shopping) then you could quickly find yourself not able to enjoy the life enhancing experience that being an expat can offer. Living in another country requires the ability to be open to adventure – so don’t live abroad if you are not willing to explore.
- Not everyone back home will understand your choice and may not value or appreciate what your expat status offers.
- Even though you may fit in and develop relationships with people who are native to your country of choice, not every country, or culture, gives you the chance to feel completely ‘at-home’.
Despite the cons, becoming an expat is a rewarding experience. However, you need to be aware that there will be a number of challenges to face while living abroad. Look out for Part 2 of this article coming soon which focus on those challenges as well as the practicalities if you do decide the expat life is the one for you.