Expat Series – The importance of a relocation package

Important note : this post, as every other post on the subject, is my personal experience as an H1-B immigrant. I can’t help you get a visa, I can’t help you find a sponsor, so please don’t ask me for any help regarding your personal situation. I’m not an immigration lawyer or expert.

So you’ve passed all the hurdles. After (probably many) interviews, numerous emails and phone calls, maybe even Skype calls, you negotiated a good compensation package, and you got the job. Hooray ! Visions of the American Dream are dancing in your head, the Star Spangled Banner is now your favorite tune, and you’re spending all your free time looking for a new home. And reading Expat blogs OF COURSE.

But there’s one more thing you need to talk about, aside from the visa process. Your relocation. It’s very very important, because if you have to do it all by yourself, it’s going to cost you a ton of money (think multiples of $10,000) and even more headaches.

Most companies worth their salt will offer a standard relocation package. But a lot of them have little experience of long distance relocations, let alone cross-continents. It may sound straightforward enough, but believe me, there is a lot more than just a plane ticket. Remember you’re going to a new country, with different customs and different laws. You think you know the United States because you’ve visited a few times and because the American culture is everywhere in your home country ?

Think again.

Ask if they offer such a package, and exactly what’s in it. If anything is unclear, ask for clarifications. You need to know what you’re getting yourself into, and you need to get ready.

Chances are, you won’t get all of these. This list will just give you some things to ask about, and to think about. Some of the bigger items (home sale assistance, home hunting trip, home sale assistance) may be reserved for internal transfers (L1) or higher management, for example.

The obvious stuff : the move

Honestly, this is IMO the bare minimum. This should be a big red flag for you if your employer doesn’t pay for this AT THE MINIMUM. Don’t let the stars in your eyes blind you.

  1. Do they pay for the plane tickets for you and your family ? If yes, are there any specific conditions (like a preferred airline, no more than 1 and a half child, etc)
  2. Do they pay for the move (packing, transportation, and unpacking of your things). If yes, to what extent ? Do they use a specific company ? What’s the limitation in terms of container size ? How about your car ?
  3. What about your pets ? Can you take them with you, and under what conditions (I took my two cats with me, paid for their tickets, and got reimbursed).
  4. Will they pay for everything, or will you have to advance the money before getting reimbursed (don’t underestimate the cost of an international move) ?

The less obvious stuff : your home

If you own your home, ask yourself what you want to do with it. If you want to rent it, that’s on you and all is well (but look into your country’s rental and tax laws !). However, if you plan on selling it, will your employer help you ?

  1. Can they provide assistance with the sale ? Closing costs ? Mortgage pay-off fees ?
  2. What if you sell at a loss ?
  3. What if you sell too soon and find yourself homeless until the day you leave ?
  4. What if you haven’t sold yet when you leave ?

On the same note, will you get a trip ahead of the move so you can start hunting for a home before moving ?

After your arrival

The first few weeks are going to be very very busy, especially if you came alone, and you will most probably need help.

Temporary housing

Ask whether or not your employer will provide you with temporary housing. This can be a hotel, or furnished apartment, for example. The duration can vary – one week, one month, or more.

If you have pets, tell them so they can get you into a pet-friendly place.

Rental Car

You will have a thousand things to take care of, in addition to starting your new job. A car is mandatory, and it’s always best if it’s paid for by your employer. Don’t expect to be able to buy one before a couple of weeks to a month, even if you have the cash on hand.

Relocation help

Some employer also provide help from a relocation agency. They can help you with all the formalities, and even help you find a home. Most often, they can be quite useful to help you navigate the administrative maze, and even help you avoid unnecessary expenses. However they are usually completely useless when it comes to finding a home (aside explaining what neighborhoods to avoid). They’re also useful when you don’t speak English fluently yet.

Financial help

Some relocation packages include financial help, in the form of a one-time bonus or a low-interest loan (for example a car loan at a preferred rate).

Home Buying assistance

If you buy a new home in the US, will they help you with the cost (closing costs, mortgage points, other fees, bridge loan if you haven’t sold your house back home yet) ?

Accounting help

This is super helpful. Ask if they will help you with your taxes, at least the first time you have to file them. This process can be incredibly complex for Americans, so it can get particularly daunting for expats. Especially if you have foreign income or assets in your home country for part of the year (or the whole year). They will need to also be familiar with your country’s tax treaty with the US, if there is one.

If such a help isn’t provided, unless you’re very good at maths and reading foreign tax laws, and your situation is very straightforward, I strongly advise you to find a good CPA specialized in taxes for International taxpayers.

Assistance for your spouse

If you leave on a L1 visa, your spouse will be able to get EAD (work authorization). This can take a few months, but it’s usually not an issue. Ask if your employer will pay for this, and if they can provide job search assistance for your spouse.

Here you go, a list of items to ask about when negotiating your relocation package. Go through it carefully, and know your bottom line, the bare minimum you can accept.