Over the years I’ve seen many friends and colleagues make the move to re-settle their families back in their motherland after spending their careers abroad. Among the people in my circles, there tend to be three different strategies for making the transition. They are as follows.
I’ve known career lawyers, corporate country directors, and diplomats that I would put into this category. They have typically served a few years abroad during the course of their careers, enjoying the benefits of an ‘expat package’ that typically includes international schools for their children and increased pay bonuses in return for the inevitable sacrifices in their personal lives.
Their situation certainly has it’s own special challenges, but the focus of my writing in this publication moving forward is going to be on the other two categories. The key thing to know is that when people talk about headhunters and recruiters, if you’re not involved in a career that fits in this category, it’s doubtful they are going to be interested in you.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but don’t worry there’s hope. Just keep reading.
Many expats that would like to return home but end up delaying it “just one more year” year after year until they find a decade or more has gone by fall into this camp. Myself included.
I’ve gone through long stretches of spending every free evening filling out applications and sending off resumes, only to have my application skipped over when they inevitably see that I’m located abroad. When you’re calling people for an interview an you have ten equally qualified applicants, why bother calling the guy that lives in another hemisphere?
Making the transition back home under this model is doable but difficult. Having enough savings for you and your family to live off of for a year or more is highly recommended. And while you’re busy banking overtime hours, make sure you’re also making time to continue upgrading your specific in-demand and quantifiable skills (Microsoft Office, for example). Although soft skills like cultural intelligence are certainly valuable, being able to be ‘the Excel guy’ the office sorely needs could put your application at the top.
It will also be helpful if you have a network related to your old field that you can get back in touch with. Start making contact with that old network early. Leverage LinkedIn and other avenues as much as you can. Many of the people you were in grad school are likely in roles of responsibility by now and could be valuable assets in your job hunt, so touch base and, with some discretion, let them know your plans to relocate.
A second strategy this group follows is to go straight in to more training of some kind. Often this means graduate school, but not always. Coding bootcamps are an interesting way to go too. When I first determined to move my family back to the U.S., I was actually looking at accelerated nursing programs.
In a sense, it doesn’t really matter which type of training you go for. What matters is that it’s relatively short, within your budget, and there is a strong likelihood of being recruited/networking your way into your transitional job by the end of the program. The nice thing is that’s a pretty clear-cut three-axis measure by which to evaluate potential new careers.
It is rare those of us in this category are actually able to secure something before we make the move. Thankfully the traditional job route and entrepreneurship are not mutually exclusive, and it is possible to pursue both.
Many years ago I worked on a project with a freelancer that, in my eyes, had the perfect life. Most of the year he lived in Korea. With a marriage visa he could make plenty of money filling his schedule with private/corporate teaching jobs and enjoy all the benefits that international travel and life in Seoul conferred.
But then every November he packed up and went back to his home in the Pacific Northwest of the United States for the winter where he had his own seasonal business complete with regular employees, offices, and a pretty good reputation.
In other words, he got to live in Korea and enjoy the expat lifestyle a good portion of the year (including the Fall, the absolute best time to be in Korea), and then spend the holiday season with family in the U.S. while continuing to make great money for his family. Quite literally, in my view, the best of both worlds.
No doubt he had his hands full and it would clearly be a lot to manage. Still, I’ve always dreamed of following in his footsteps. Although I am resigned to the fact that it’s likely not in the cards for me, the idea of entrepreneurship as an avenue towards repatriation is ironically looking like the most stable way to go for repats.
The model here seems to be to start studying hard as early as possible about a specific skill that you can freelance with, or setting up another type of (ideally location independent) business.
Once you have a reasonable amount of knowledge towards that, get started. Work your butt off. If you are fond of your family, you’re going to have to get used to operating on few hours of sleep. Wake up earlier than the rest of the family to get work done, and be the last to go to sleep at night in order to do the household chores.
If you’re lucky, those skills you are developing might translate well into a “job” with a stable paycheck that will certainly make your spouse feel better about the big move. But if not, that’s okay too, because you can hustle and get money coming in some other way.
No single one of the above is better than the other. What you have to determine is which way is best for your personality, skills, family situation, and future goals.
Whatever path you end up pursuing, you can make it happen. It’s going to take a lot of hustle, so you’d better get started.