006: These 6 Questions Helped Us Decide On The Perfect Expat Destination.
These 6 questions helped us decide on the perfect expat destination. Which country is best for your family?
Moving abroad is a big deal. And your first real job abroad, and all that being an expat entails, can be daunting. But when you have a family, the decision is even more complicated and nuanced. So here are the 6 questions we asked ourselves to help us decide on the perfect country for us, and the thought process that led us to Hong Kong.
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Just over 4 years ago I had gotten the urge to leave. To leave behind the business my husband and I had created. Leave behind the small town life. Say farewell to our amazing church and good friends, and go on a new adventure. The pull was magnetic, daily building in intensity until I felt that I would combust if I didn’t explore somewhere new soon! But to where? What country should I focus on?! The options seemed endless and everyone seemed to have their own ideas on what country would be perfect, but that was what was perfect for them and their situation. Not us in our situation.
So instead of telling you which country you should move to, I want you to go through these 6 questions with your spouse, and maybe even your kids, and be completely honest with yourself. By doing so you’ll know what to look for in YOUR perfect expat destination.
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1. Why do I want to move and work abroad?
Is it because you want an adventure? Do you want to get into a certain type of job? Do you want to pay off debt or earn a lot of money? Or is there just a certain country that you’ve always wanted to live in?
Knowing your motivation will help you narrow down your options.
Why Hong Kong was the right country to find a job for our situation:
For us, we wanted some adventure, but a major reason was to earn a good living so we wouldn’t have to struggle so much financially. Knowing this was our goal we looked at countries that were known for good salaries. Last we looked, that was: South Korea, Hong Kong, UAE, and Saudi Arabia. Sometimes you can find this great salary to cost of living ratio in places like China, Singapore, Macau, Thailand, and Taiwan as well.
2- What kind of job do you want or can you do?
Are you a pilot, banker, businessman, or teacher? Are you good at marketing, engineering, or an architect? These are the most popular jobs for expats abroad, but they are not the only options. Be creative, think outside the box and even consider starting your own business!
If you have a degree in anything, you can often become a teacher teaching English as a second language working as a “Native English Teacher” (NET) or in language centers.
What my job options were and how Hong Kong offered me job options:
As for me, I’m a teacher. Dual certified in elementary education and art education. At first, I was open to teaching English, elementary, or art, but as I dived deeper into the process and even applied for schools in Abu Dhabi, I realized that if I was going to do this, I wanted to be an art teacher as this had been my dream for a long time. While this definitely helped narrow down my search results, it was also a bit limiting. Typically the higher paying countries often pay the most for people to teach English through their government programs. However, Hong Kong is adding international schools every year and so the ability to find a job in almost any subject is a possibility! In fact, we’ve been looking for a librarian for months!
While the best time of year to apply for teaching jobs is around November, don’t be afraid to try for jobs throughout the year. My first job started in January because the other person had left!
3- Are you single or married? Is your spouse going to work or stay home?
If you’re single, obviously you have no one to worry about, but yourself. But in some countries like Saudi Arabia, you will have other limitations if you’re a single woman. If you’re married and your spouse wants to work then they need to be able to get their own job before leaving (like teaching couples) or you want to choose a country that allows spouses to work on a spousal visa. Also, be aware of how long spousal visas take to process. I had one friend in Macau that had to wait a whole year to bring her spouse over. I’m not sure it’s the norm or not, but it is something to consider.
Why Hong Kong was the right country for having a working spouse:
Obviously, I’m married so I had to consider this question carefully. While my husband could and has just been a stay-at-home husband, he’s often wanted to work or own his own business. unfortunately, he doesn’t have a degree or qualifications in any area that expats are normally hired. This meant we needed to find a country that would allow him to work on my visa. That eliminated a few countries, but since the laws change often I’m just going to advise you to research your list of countries.
4- Do you have children? Where will they go to school?
If you’re a teacher or business professional, often your employer will give you free or reduced tuition for at least 1-2 children. However, some schools are now requiring you to pay a debenture or capital levy first. It can be one lump sum payment or monthly payments, but it can be a lot of money. If you’re moving abroad because you’re financially strapped this can be problematic, but not impossible. Be sure to check your expat package as different companies offer vastly different packages.
In addition, you need to consider what kind of school you want and if you can find it in your chosen destination? Do you want a Forest school, Democratic, Montessori, Public, International Baccalaureate, American Curriculum, French Curriculum, or home school….? The options in most cities are extremely diverse but can be difficult to get into your preferred school.
If your children aren’t of school age and your spouse is working, you’ll also want to consider daycare or hiring a helper. In most of the countries I mentioned, daycares don’t exist or are not readily available. These countries will have you hire a live-in domestic helper instead. As of writing this, I know this is popular in almost all the Middle Eastern countries, Korea, Hong Kong, and China. Even Canada has a program to hire domestic helpers.
How we manage childcare in Hong Kong:
This wasn’t a concern for us when we came over, but now it is. My school offers tuition-free for up to two children but does make you pay a capital levy. As my son isn’t school aged yet, and you’re not allowed to send them to a “school” until 2 at the youngest, we’ve employed a foreign domestic helper. I’ll write more about that experience later as we are currently hiring one for the second time.
5- Do you have pets that you will bring?
Pets have always been a major part of my life and I don’t believe in giving up my animals. So this aspect of our move was probably the easiest way to narrow down our options. For some, they will just be doing 1-2 years abroad and moving back so they leave their pets with family. Others need to figure out which countries allow you to bring animals, what’s required in order to bring your pets to a new country, if there’s a quarantine, and even how easy it would be to bring them back or to another country. I have found this website extremely helpful in learning about pet visas and travel information for pets- https://www.pettravel.com/passportnew.cfm
Why Hong Kong was the right country for us to bring our dogs to:
We have two larger dogs that we knew we would bring with us. To us pets are family. However, we couldn’t bring them over right away as we didn’t know where we’d live long term and we couldn’t afford it. So we kenneled them with this nice facility for a few months while we earned the money to bring them over. I’ll make another post later on this whole process.
We chose Hong Kong because it is a class 2 country (there are 3 classes of how prevalent rabies is) just like the US and so as long as all our shots and documents were in order we didn’t need to do any quarantines. Of course, this also makes it easier later when we move as well.
If we had chosen a place like Korea or China, or even Thailand we’d have to worry about being able to get them back out of the country… Plus there is the treatment of the dogs. In many Asian countries, dogs are eaten as food and many house dogs are stolen for this purpose.
In the Middle East, dogs are seen as unclean and so not allowed in some homes. As a teacher for the public school system oh Abu Dhabi they provided the housing and didn’t allow dogs, which made that decision to cross it off the list super easy lol.
6- Can you get by not knowing the local language?
Of course, this can be a part of the adventure and fun, but not being able to communicate can get old fast and be very overwhelming. Places like China, Japan, and South Korea will be particularly difficult in this department if you struggle hearing languages as I do.
Why Hong Kong was the right country for the language learning inept person I am:
Hong Kong was great because English is one of their national languages. So while it can still be frustrating to deal with sub-par or no English, all the important parts of living here like government paperwork and doctors in the hospitals are in English.
It’s still important to learn a few phrases in the language of your new home, but it’s so nice knowing my contracts are all legally binding in a language I know fluently. It’s also not as limiting or excluding for my husband who did all the shopping and bills making the transition a *bit* easier.
To sum it up:
So these were the questions we asked ourselves when deciding which country to focus on in my job search. Of course, there may be something important to you that we didn’t consider and I’d love to know in the comments below. I know even after living here that this choice is completely personal, and there is even more to consider when you have kids, but hopefully, this will at least help get you started on your path to adventure!
Want even more guidance? Register below and receive the workbook 10 Questions Every Expat Should Ask Before Moving Abroad PLUS a 10-day email course that looks at each question a little more in depth and gives you an actionable step to take!