Ten things to consider when moving overseas

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So, you're packing up and moving overseas for a mining job. Great news! But a little stressful, hey? There's just so much to organise. The good news is that most mining companies are fantastic at providing information to employees and families on commencement. But you'll still need to be savvy to ensure you've got all those little 'ducks in a row'. MiningFM's regular contributor Brooke Martin, a former WA mining employee now living the expat life with her mining partner in the Dominican Republic, offers some great advice:

1. On-boarding

If you're like me, you'll have a zillion questions about just what you're getting yourself into by joining a new mining company - especially if you're required to relocate overseas. You want to know exactly how the company is going to help you and your family during this difficult and sometimes stressful period. First, here are some of the questions you should ask the company about on-boarding (the first few weeks in your new location):

  • Is short-term housing/accommodation provided?
  • Is there a car service and/or driver for the first month (to fill the gap between arriving and buying your own vehicle)?
  • Where is a trusted car yard to buy a car?
  • Is there any language training (if English isn't the native language)?
  • Are there any mining company discounts in the local community?
  • Can they offer any info on support groups, contact details for other mining families, schools, banks, phone and other service providers?
  • If you have a pet, will they help with relocation and organising pet lodging for the short term?

2. Housing

This differs depending on the country, the company requirements, your individual circumstances and your confidence.

Generally, mining families heading overseas rely heavily on the company (or their dedicated relocation agency) to help with housing - even if only for the first month or so. With some expat roles you have no choice but to live in a mining compound. (This is where you don't live in an actual town, but rather in a mine-made community with other employees and their families.) This can be the safest and easiest solution in some countries, but it's not for everyone. You'll need to consider this when you're weighing up which overseas mine sites to work on.

If you're not required to live in a compound, make sure you have a good look around and get familiar with the area before you settle into a 'permanent' house. For example, here in the Dominican Republic families can choose between everything from a small apartment on the beachfront (perfect for my partner and I because we have no kids) and a huge five-bedroom home in secure, gated community with room for kids to ride their bikes and play cricket in the backyard!

In most instances when you're headed overseas, the company will assist you with your housing needs. (After all, if you're happy at home, they will reap the benefits of a settled employee willing to stick around in the medium to long term.) If you haven't been offered assistance, ask! You can't be expected to know everything when arriving in a new place. Word of mouth is paramount – just listen to advice from those around you, and then decide what best suits you and your family.

3. Medical

This is a big cause of anxiety for many families moving overseas. It obviously depends big-time on the country, the population, the remoteness of your town etc. Generally, companies provide some type of medical coverage for employees and their immediate family. Ask about this coverage before commencement and decide whether you are comfortable with the amount of support. If you have a serious long-term condition and require daily medication, buy in bulk if you can and take it with you! If your child has special needs, do your research to find out if those resources are available. Do you require regular treatment for something like chiropractic or physical therapy?  If so, investigate those resources as well. 

Once settled into your new home, check out the local hospital or GP to familiarize yourself in case you do have an emergency and need to access those facilities urgently. This leads into another question: what do I do in case of medical emergency? Is there an ambulance number you can call? What if you don’t speak the language, how are you meant to get your message? Have a plan, save "in case of emergency" phone numbers in your mobile phone, and be prepared. You can never be too careful, especially in a new place. Don't assume it will just all work out!

4. Security

Your mining company should be able to offer good information on this: where it is safe to go; what to wear and not to wear (e.g. no 'bling' jewellery); and most importantly, where it is safe to live. Definitely take this info into consideration - it's given to you for very good reason - but familiarize yourself with your surroundings before taking it as gospel. For example, you might be told not to use public transport because it is "too unsafe". But you might make friends with expats who use public transport every day without drama.

I think there are not only dangerous and dodgy areas, but also dangerous people in every town and city all over the world. We all know which streets to avoid at 3am in the morning! So use your common sense: my number one rule is don't do or wear anything that will draw attention to yourself. Again, if in doubt ask questions!

5. Postage

Many of you who enjoy shopping (like me!) might miss the good old retail therapy on offer in Australian cities. You need to find out how you can get your online shopping purchases to your doorstep via the international postage system. In mining compounds or other expat areas, you'll usually need to speak to your HR or relocation representative to find out how/where to organise postage. A little tip: some international postage services require a fee on delivery of your parcels, determined by volume or weight. You might want to consider that before ordering a discounted plasma TV! In any case, you'll need to find out if/where you can set up a post office box for yourself, so you can snap up those online shopping bargains no matter where in the world you are! (And don't forget to re-direct mail from your old address!)

6. Schooling

A big deal for those of you with kids! Again, word of mouth is paramount. Get in contact with other mining families in the area and ask around. Your choice might be simple, with only one or two schools to choose from. But even so, make your decision based on sound research. Meet with the principal, take a walk around the schoolyard and pop your head into classrooms to see how the whole place comes together. Do they offer after-school activities for the kids? Do they encourage parent participation throughout the school year? What improvements are they currently working on? Is the school bilingual? Do they generally have a good reputation? If the school doesn’t sound right for you and your children, you might want to consider distance education or online education options.

7. Immigration

Another thing to consider is immigration/residency. Educate yourself on the processes before you relocate. Are you allowed to come and go from the country whenever and as often as you like, or are there particular rules and requirements? What is the process when you leave the country (i.e. do you need to provide a special ID or do you exit/enter as a tourist?) Do you need to travel to any capital cities or embassies for immigration and residency purposes? Are there any specific medical checks that need to be performed? Your mining company should be able to provide all of this information.

8. Sports/recreation activities

If you’re the type of person who enjoys team sports, outdoor activities or any other specific fun and games, check into this. This isn’t a life-or-death issue to consider when relocating for a new job, but it might play a huge role in your lifestyle and/or your family’s overall happiness. Check out local gyms, ask around about sporting groups and get your miner to find out if there are any clubs or groups organised through the company. 

9. Travel

Before you relocate, you need to have an upfront discussion with your partner about your individual travel expectations for annual leave (e.g. Sally might want to go home every year to visit family, yet John might want to use that time to visit new countries/places.) Whatever you decide, don't forget to get out and explore your new country and make the most of any opportunity to fly further afield in your new part of the world.

10. Positive attitude!

Lastly, don’t underestimate the power of being enthusiastic about life in a new place! A lot of people out there envy us mining couples/families and the fact that our jobs take us around the world. Yes we work hard to enjoy this lifestyle, but we are also very lucky that we work in an industry that provides us with these types of opportunities (I say this while looking out over my beachfront condo terrace! Yes, this is definitely the life!) Get out of your comfort zone and do as the locals do. Join in local community events, especially those sponsored by the mine or wherever the mining company is involved, to meet people and form part of the organisation you're representing. There are always pros and cons about moving to a new country, especially if there are massive cultural differences. But try turning those differences into positives, and laugh at the little things that seem so frustrating! It’s all a big adventure and it can be as negative or as positive as you make it!

And finally, have a back-up plan. What if you don't like it at the new mine, but there's a lock-in period (e.g. do you have to stay for 12 months minimum or pay back relocation costs?) Make sure you're aware of every requirement and contingency.