Welcome to the penultimate edition of Consultant 2 Contractor. In the last edition I outlined my experience of how to make the move from a consulting practice into the contracting space. In this edition I want to share with you my experience of contracting in a different country than your residence – i.e. International Contracting.
In the final edition of the series, I would like to answer any questions that you guys might have for me. For anyone who wishes to ask me a question, please feel free to post it to the Google Form.
How do I get a job?
First and foremost, you need a job. Remember our old friends at recruitment from last time? Well this time, you will really need to approach them – after all, you want to set yourself up in a new region and they won’t know that. Generally speaking, you need to find an international recruitment company which will be split into geographical divisions or specialist companies that focus on certain regions, either will suffice. Outline specifically what type of project you’re looking to get involved in and do your own research to see what’s out there. Get them to listen to the market and feed this back to you, expand your LinkedIn network, attend some events and speak to other people in the scene, look at vendors/ISVs/Partners etc. Once you’ve found a position, get your LinkedIn up to scratch (you should have done this by now anyway), tweak your CV specifically for the position and apply.
What about Visas?
Secondly, you may need a visa or a work permit to gain the right to work in the country/territory that you desire. This could be straightforward, or it could in fact be a long and very drawn out process. Whatever you do, check up front as you don’t want to go all the way through the process of getting a position, just to get accepted and then hit visa problems; that’s not good for anyone involved. There will also be specific conditions to your work permits/visas that you must adhere to in order to comply with that country’s law. Make sure you know exactly what these are, and well, comply.
For instance, I have visas (working holiday) for Australia & New Zealand and one pending for Canada. In Australia, it stipulates that I cannot work for more than one employer for more than 6 months and cannot take a permanent role (perfect – I wanted to contract anyway!). In New Zealand, its the same condition, but I can work for the same employer for up to 12 months. Currently, I live and work in The Netherlands and because of this tiny thing called ‘Freedom of Movement’ for EU citizens, I didn’t have any visa requirements at all, awesome!
You may have heard the Brits are slightly split about that last one…. Guess what I voted for.
Whatever you do, do not underestimate the amount of admin involved in getting a new position in a foreign country. Let’s consider my current position didn’t even require a visa; 3 months on and I’m still getting bogged down in admin.
Let’s look at some of the reasons why. Generally speaking, you will need to do the following;
- Navigate the recruitment process and sign a contract
- Perform all onboarding procedures
- Arrange all flights and travel arrangements to get to where you need to be
- Sort yourself out temporary and/or permanent accommodation
- Set up bank accounts, new phone contracts etc
- Set up social security numbers, tax, health insurance, GPs, etc
- Set up payroll
And that’s just your starters for 10. As you can see, this can be a little exhausting for those who enjoy the easy life. However, there are things that can make your life a little easier at first. For instance, for accommodation I used AirBnb in the short term, I have an international bank account via the use of Revolut and my phone contract allows me free use of minutes and data across the whole EU (don’t underestimate the number of calls you will have to make) and comes with Health Insurance! Boom!
However, there are some things that will just be a hassle. Accommodation is one; not only can it be hard to find something permanent, but you might well have to pay a lot of money up front to secure it. My advice? Think about of all these different factors up front and estimate/plan accordingly; there’s nothing worse than being hit by a fee or a process you are unaware of.
Also, there’s bureaucracy. Inevitably you will need to interact with foreign government bodies in some way or another and they will almost certainly operate to processes different to those in your home country, and probably in a different language. This can sometimes be frustrating and difficult to navigate, especially if you cannot even understand what is expected of you because of the language barrier! I found the best way to handle this is to be flexible in your approach and plan accordingly because some of these processes will not flexible to you. Also, Google Translate; this app might just become your saviour (although it’s hardly ever 100% correct).
Getting Paid – Payroll, Rates, Tax and Exchange Rates
Even writing about this pains me. Let me assure you I must have had the single worst experience with a payroll company in recorded history and I want you to avoid the same mistakes that I made.
Part of being able to effectively plan as a contractor is being able to effectively forecast your cash flow and to do that you need to clearly know how much money is coming in, going out and when each happens. Essentially, you have to run your own personal P&L as you don’t have a company to cover your expenses – this can especially hurt you when you need to incur relocation costs (accommodation and flights).
First of all, you need to confirm your rate with your client/recruiter; once you have done this, confirm it again, and then confirm it one more time with your payroll company. Get everything in writing, leave nothing to the spoken word. I found out the hard way that there was a difference of somewhere in the region of 30% of what was paid to me and what was paid to the payroll company because of their fee and the type of contract that I was on.
There’s also tax implications and exchange rates you need to be cognizant of. No doubt you will always think of how much you get paid in terms of your home currency and tax rates will almost certainly be different. Make sure you know exactly what these are and forecast appropriately. With regards to tax, you should do your due diligence and ascertain where you need to pay your tax, depending on where you are declaring your earnings. Additionally, you should check if there are any tax agreements between your country of residence and the country that you work in and the implications that this has for you. Because let’s face it, no-one wants a visit from the tax man.
Did that all sound like hard work and slightly pessimistic in parts? Well, I think it’s important that you realise how much is involved with making a move like this – it shouldn’t be thought about lightly. I think the outcome I want you to take away here is that you should thoroughly research, plan and forecast every aspect of the move, not just the job. But hey, you’re a consultant; that should be second nature anyway, right?
Now let’s focus on the pros; and let me tell you, for me they by far and away outweigh the cons.
Let’s look at my current project. There was no project on this scale or quite as complex using Apttus in London or the rest of the UK. Not only am I learning a huge amount and gaining valuable project experience in several new spaces (entire OTC cycle – CPQ, CLM, BI&R), but I’m learning it in an entirely new set of market-leading applications. The team is truly international; I’m the only Brit amongst a team from quite literally all over the globe, who bring a plethora of experience with them and allow me to soak up that knowledge from them. Then there’s the rate – this is better than any offered in London/UK at my level, not to mention the 30% income tax exemption for expats in The Netherlands.
Let’s consider the other aspects. No longer is my commute a frantic 45+ minutes to catch the tube, only to be stuck under someone’s armpit, desperately trying to avoid eye contact with anyone else on the underground. It’s now a 15-minute cycle along the canal with the ducks, enjoying the breeze. I live in one of the greatest cultural cities in Europe; Amsterdam, where there’s a huge amount to see and do. And if I get tired of it, I can get door-to-door to the departure lounge of what is arguably the best airport in Europe, in 30 minutes, for a whole 5 Euros. Oh and because of that whole Schengen Zone thing, I don’t even need to take my passport….. Apparently, the Brits had a problem with that too; can you tell what I voted for yet?