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Considering an Expat Opportunity in Mining?

Posted by: Lucy Donald
24/10/13

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!

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 Arabia, 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 onetime 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:

Pros:

  • 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.

Cons:

  • 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... 

The Challenges of an Expat

he number one challenge when it comes to being an expat? It’s not getting used to a foreign cuisine, or having to deal with the inevitable dose of culture shock. Surprisingly, keeping your legal status is one of the hardest things to deal with as an expat.

A lot of this depends on what country you are living in and what the legal requirements are, but in most cases, getting, and keeping, a visa long term will almost always be an on-going consideration. Bear in mind that some countries allow you to enter visa free for periods of 2 or 3 months, some for even a year. This, however, changes from time to time, and even with this arrangement, you would still need to leave the country when the time limit runs out. Of course, some countries require you to have some form of visa in place from day one. Again, this comes in different time increments and with differing guidelines. And for most countries, even if you do have a valid visa that allows you to stay, live and work there, it’s almost guaranteed that there will still be many restrictions enforced upon you as a citizen of another country. Keep up on the visa requirements of the country you choose to live in. Most governments have websites that carry full explanations of necessary visas, permits and residency applications – always, always read the information from official government sites.

Like any foreign national living outside their country, there can be a lot of bureaucracy and red tape to deal with, as well as considerable time and money invested too, although if you are an expat for a few years, this does obviously get easier, especially if you choose residency or even citizenship options.

Other challenges include obtaining finance for any significant purchases you may wish to make, such as a car, and that is if you are able to drive in your country of choice! Be aware that some countries do not let expat workers apply for a driver's license or even open a bank account, at least initially. For example, you will need to have some savings so you have a degree or financial independence from the start. And if you do have the option to drive, make sure you are able to secure comprehensive insurance. Another difficulty is that health insurance and service options may be very limited for expats, so take the time to get a good insurance in place as paying a small amount each month as a preventative measure is well worth it.

And last, but by no means least, do not underestimate the challenge of culture shock! This is a proven state of disorientation and frustration that results from entering a new culture where people’s fundamental values, beliefs and ways of doing things are different from your own. Common symptoms of culture shock include: irritability, anxiety, excessive sleeping or reading, depression, increasing isolation, compulsive eating or drinking, resentment or bitterness, feelings of helplessness and physical problems such as headaches, insomnia and sickness.

On arrival into a new culture, there is often a “honeymoon” period, during which everything new seems interesting and exciting. This is typically followed by an increasing sense of disorientation as deeper, more fundamental differences surface. You may have difficulty fitting in and may become increasingly isolated from colleagues in the new culture, while at the same time start to lose touch with contacts at home. This is the stage where many people can consider they have made a huge mistake and become prone to stereotyping or venting about the host culture. However, if you can learn to survive in your new environment and develop coping mechanisms, as time goes by, your level of comfort and confidence will increase and you will begin to appreciate your expat life experience.

Still want to experience the expat life? Here’s a list of things to consider and when:

Before You Leave

  • If you can source pre-departure orientation or cross-cultural training, take advantage of it. An introduction to the culture, history, language and business customs of your chosen country is invaluable. If you are going to be relocating with your family, they should also be involved in the cross-cultural orientation.
  • Talk with expats who have returned from your destination – find out about housing, schooling, medical care, social life, etc. Research, Research, Research!
  • It is important to learn what to expect—both in terms of the job itself as well as the living situation. Make sure you understand everything about the package before you leave. Take the responsibility to clarify.
  • One of the major reasons for the early return of an expat is that the family has adjustment problems, so it is important to discuss how the move may affect them. Your personal time available to spend with them may change – make sure to manage expectations. Other family-related assumptions need to be carefully investigated. For example, the availability of childcare or the opportunities for a spouse to find work in the new country.

After You Arrive

  • Have a plan for acclimatizing yourself to your new culture. For example, set goals and identify two or three activities per week that will help you to learn more about the culture or your new environment.
  • Take language lessons if necessary.
  • Find people who can act as “buddies” and show you around.
  • Stay in touch with friends and family at home despite any time differences!
  • Make sure your family is established first. Allow extra time during the first month (and possibly longer) to provide both emotional and practical support. If you have a non-working spouse at home with young children, his or her experience will be quite different from yours. You will have your work, your identity and your support group at work, while your spouse may be fairly isolated and will have to deal with many of the realities of day-to-day living in a foreign language and culture.
  • There are pros and cons to getting in touch with the expat community when you arrive. If you are with your family, it can be particularly beneficial for your spouse. On the other hand, if one limits your interactions to other expats as opportunities for cultural learning will be missed.
  • It is helpful to make friends with local colleagues and local people outside the workplace. They will be a valuable source of information on how to get by in the local community
  • Try to refrain from making cultural comparisons. Recognize that your new environment is different, and be adaptable.
  • Maintain a good sense of humor. You may suddenly find yourself feeling incompetent in many areas in which you normally excel, so it’s healthy to be able to laugh at yourself.
  • Have patience—not only with family members and locals with whom you interact, but also with yourself. Things may happen in different ways and at a different pace from that to which you are accustomed so learn to “go with the flow”.
  • Have a sense of adventure. Don’t be afraid to try new things.

When you return to your home country

  • People who have spent a significant length of time living or working in a foreign country sometimes find that the readjustment to their home culture is even more difficult than the initial adjustment to the foreign one. Part of the reason for this may be that this “re-entry shock” is not expected! After all, why should you have difficulty adjusting to your own culture?
  • There are many possible causes, which may include losing touch with one’s former colleagues, friends or family members. During the time that you spent abroad, time has not stopped for professional and personal contacts. There will be many experiences (both yours and those of your colleagues, friends and family) that will not be shared and many may even be difficult to communicate.
  • You may have become accustomed, in varying degrees, to your host country’s culture and way of doing things. For example, if you have been living in an extremely safe country, you may feel relatively insecure at home. Also, you may have had a much higher standard of living while living abroad, and must readjust to “reality” after your return.

This article is designed as just an overview but we hope it will at least give you a general idea of what real life as an expat is like. If you are thinking about uprooting and making a move to a foreign country, please know that you can succeed.

Despite the challenges, if you stay focused on the benefits of being an expat rather than on the differences in lifestyle, you can definitely make a success of living the expat dream, no matter what!

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