O'seas work: confessions of a 10-year expatriate

Subject: O'seas work: confessions of a 10-year expatriate
From: Jack Shaw <jsh -at- SOFTWARE-AG -dot- DE>
Date: Fri, 30 Sep 1994 11:47:59 MEZ

If you're looking for worthwhile work experience,
working outside the homeland can be it. It gives you
a chance to:

* See/do

* Add to your skills/knowledge set

...but there are things that a job abroad (with rare
exceptions--U.S. foreign service/military-affiliated
work) demand of you, and you'd better be good at assessing
yourself before you go for it. The more common of these

* Language. This isn't necessarily the "biggie" you might
expect, but the ability to acquire a working use of at
least one other language can make the difference between
"getting by" and really "getting a life" over here/wherever.
IMHO, this is definitely not a "smarts" issue, but rather
a personality thing.

* Living standard. If you can give up a townhouse for a two-room
flat, a flitzy Toyota for a bike or public transport (usually
extremely reliable), and at least one night out at a laundromat
because your place has no washer/dryer, you'll probably make
the adjustment. This is not to say there are none of the neat
conveniences of U.S. living--in fact, they're all here. But
they cost like crazy. And you'll have enough to do with local
beauracracy and getting your feet planted...to wit:

Don't even check departure flight times without first having
a job nailed down. Here in the EU (it was once titled, European
Economic Community. But reality has settled in, the myth of
economic equality has been exposed, and now it's "European
Union"...a political, and not an economic description), there
are three statures of citizen:

1. Local nationals (no matter what Brussels says...)
2. Citizens of other EU countries (sometimes...)
3. Others.

U.S. citizens are in the third category. If a local can't
be had for a job, then maybe a citizen of another EU country
can be found. If that fails, maybe there's someone else
with the skills needed. So realistically, it is best to be
moved abroad with the affiliate of your current employer.
There, the advantages/disadvantages vary all over the place...
co's. aren't quite as ready to pick up the costs of moving a
worker plus family overseas as they once were. That's right--
if you've got a family, you're inherently at an obvious cost
disadvantage, with or without employer assistance.

A lot has been said about taxes, and that strikes most of
us expatriates as almost funny at times. Americans are taxed
at the lowest rate of almost all "western" (speaking standard
of living here, not culture) lands. And the U.S. is the
only land other than Boznia-Herzegovina that taxes U.S.
citizens living abroad, regardless of whether the income
is derived from the U.S. or not (with rare exceptions, as
you've read...). But...you have an income exemption (debated
yearly in Congress, thereby always in jeopardy) that
allows you, wherever you are, to earn the equivalent of
around $65,000 yearly before the IRS reaches into your

Add to this other exemptions for moving/living that you
can deduct. The point is, you must file. Always. Every
year, the IRS sends me 5 lbs. of forms/instructions, only
for me to file a simplified, "Sorry, don't qualify to join
your club" form back. But if I don't, they have folks right
here in Bonn to remind me... . And to get those neat
exemptions, I have to be out of the U.S. a full calendar
year, contiguously.

And of course, you pay local taxes. Just like a real, live
German/French/whatever person. And since you haven't grown
up with the local system, you need a tax accountant. Here,
they don't charge by the work they do, but by percentage
of my gross income. Right, no matter how much/little work
they have to do. Tax accountants here just love high-income
foreign workers...

And just because you pay taxes, doesn't give you representation.
No tea parties, here. You probably can't vote, and have
inherently less legal protection than "real" citizens,

So all this implies that the key is, live simply. And that
isn't easy if you've got a family with you, a house back
"home" (itself an interesting mindset), and thereby the
desire and even sometimes the yearning to fly back at
regular intervals -- $$$.

Bottom line: if you're freewheeling and gregarious, you
just might do fine. If you (figuratively speaking) drive
home weekends to do laundry/eat a decent meal/see Grandma,
you might be miserable. But you will experience:

* Frustration bordering on rage
* Diarrhea from nerves/water/fatigue/bureaucrats
* 25-55% taxes
* Great bread/beer
* Unsalted butter
* Pancakes for supper
* Pickles for breakfast

--and a bit of yearning whenever you see someone off at
the airport on their way back to Great Bend...

Sorry about the length--but some folks oughta know...

J. Shaw

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