According to global mobility firm Santa Fe Relocation’s 2017 Global Mobility Survey, about 1 in 4 people managing an overseas assignment have encountered a “critical incident” in the past year. This number becomes a handy majority at almost 2 out of 3 when considering the past 5 years.
Despite the greater dangers faced by expats and other overseas workers, less than one in ten HR teams told Santa Fe Relocation that they made any attempt to monitor or manage risks. This means that overseas workers face disproportionate risks compared to if they just stayed in their home country. This is largely due to an unfamiliarity with how things operate in host countries, but can also be thanks to a lack of due diligence on the part of both workers and employers.
Here are just a few of the very real dangers you may face when working overseas:
1. Breaching local laws
Most of take for granted that laws in different countries can be very different from the laws we’re used to. However, many foreign workers forget just how alien these laws can be.
In the UAE for instance, a country where the majority of the population is composed of foreign workers, reporting a rape can result in the victim being thrown in jail, thanks to that state’s strict interpretation of Islamic law. In some states, non-payment of debt can result in a prison sentence, where this is no longer the case in most countries. In others, there might be a restriction on the ownership of substances that are considered normal in most other countries, such as the case with Singapore’s infamous chewing gum ban.
Likewise, laws related to business ownership, taxes, worker’s compensation, and other such situations one might encounter in their day-to-day life working overseas can be quite different from what you’re used to. Even when working with experts familiar with local laws, the risk that you might unwittingly breach a local law never really goes away entirely.
2. Accidents and medical issues
Working abroad also poses a significant health risk for a number of reasons. First, simply being in an unfamiliar place increases your risks for accidents. Second, working in a foreign country also exposes you to a different set of diseases that your body’s immune system may not yet have learned how to cope with. Lastly, working in a climate different from the one you’re used to can have some consequences to your health.
Another thing to consider is the existence of different healthcare standards in other countries. These can be areas for concern even if one moves to a country with supposedly higher healthcare standards. Some types of medication, for instance, might be illegal in your host country, and the coverage for foreigners might not be as extensive as you might expect.
If you’re planning on working abroad, be sure to get international health insurance from a company that specializes in the area. These companies will typically be able to offer you better coverage when working abroad for less money compared to larger insurers that may not have such a specialization.
3. Depression and other mental health issues
Many countries and employers have yet to truly recognize mental health as a real medical issue, necessitating this item be included separately. The loneliness and isolation faced by remote workers can significantly reduce both their quality of life and productivity, leading them to have a negative view of both the host country and life abroad in general. This is on top of the regular workplace stress that affects workers everywhere.
Those working abroad should assume they will face some challenges to their mental health and actively prepare for it and cope by getting enough exercise, taking the time to socialize with both locals and other expats, and keeping a journal so as to be able to better assess their mental state over time.