What should I be looking for in a work relocation package to Australia?
December 18, 2013 8:26 AM   Subscribe

Asking on behalf of a friend: May be transferred from the US to Australia shortly. What should I be looking for in a relocation package? Special snowflake details inside that may affect your answer! I have been transferred around the US a lot and thus know how to assess a relocation package when it's from point A to point B in the US - and, most importantly, I know when it's not enough and I need to hold out for more. I've never been transferred overseas and the only thing I know right now is that a relo package like the ones I get in the States would probably be insufficient. What should I be looking for?

Special snowflake details:
I'll be there for one year, not indefinitely, which I know will affect what I'm looking for in the package.

I have a partner who would come with me, but we do not have children nor do we intend to.

We would take this as an opportunity to divest ourselves of a significant amount of our stuff, and store the rest; we'll bring our clothes, our laptops and our e-readers (unless there's some real reason we should bring more). But still, knowing what a normal weight allowance is would be nice.

Moving to Sydney and am already well aware that it is the New York City of Australia in terms of expense. Currently living in one of the top 10 most expensive cities in the US (and one of the most expensive areas of that city), so the price jump is not nearly as big as it might otherwise be.
posted by under_petticoat_rule to Work & Money (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
under_petticoat_rule: "But still, knowing what a normal weight allowance is would be nice."

For international shipping moves like this, it's a matter of volume, not weight, since it goes over on a shipping container. If you don't fill an entire container yourself, your stuff waits in the warehouse until it gets full and then ships... so it can take quite a while. At least, that's what the various moving companies told me when I moved a bunch of stuff from NYC to London and back a year or so ago.
posted by Grither at 8:39 AM on December 18, 2013

You may want to consider some kind of expat support plan. Moving internationally can be tough, especially for a partner that may not have a job to focus on. Usually this consists of some pre-departure training about the culture and maybe some mentoring, counseling or other social support.

The cultural differences between Australia and the US are not huge but there may be some challenges adjusting to local customs or going about you daily lives due to differences in dealing with government agencies, banks, etc. Just something you might consider or discuss with your employer.
posted by Che boludo! at 8:54 AM on December 18, 2013

If you know going in that it's temporary, get them to pay storage fees (and insurance) for anything you don't take with you.

Do you own your place or rent? If you own, make them pay the management fees for a rental company to turn it into a short-term rental unit. If you rent, make sure they will provide housing assistance and/or pay broker's fees for finding a new place when you return.

If there are any special permits or licenses you need while in Australia (do they accept your US driver's license), make sure they pay any related expenses included paid time off to go get them.

Negotiate for at least one paid round-trip ticket back to the US for you and your partner so you can visit family for the holidays or other special occasions.

Does Australia use US or UK electrical standards? If not US, make sure they buy you an adequate number of adapters for your laptops and other electronics.

Cell phone - assuming you can't actually use your same cell number abroad, make them pay to put your account/number on hold so you don't lose it while you're gone, as well as maybe paying for a US-based Skype number or similar so people from home who aren't into IM or video chat can still call you and speak with you on the phone.

If you will continue to be paid in US dollars at your US bank, have them either agree to pay for exchange fees each time you withdraw Australian dollars or provide an additional salary bump to avoid submitting receipts.

Assuming they are providing you with housing while abroad - but if not, again, ask for additional paid time on the ground before you officially start your assignment to find a place and settle in. Agent/broker's fees too.
posted by trivia genius at 9:10 AM on December 18, 2013

Food is going to be a lot more expensive in Australia than you expect. Even if you live in a high COL region of the US. Just throwing that out there. Cars are really really expensive too, even used ones, compared to what you'll be used to in the US; if they're giving you a car buying allowance, do some searches on gumtree.com.au to see what that allowance will actually get you.

As far as shipping, take note of what they say about the method of shipment; moving internationally by air my partner and I have usually experienced 2-3 weeks of shipping time, whereas by ocean freight can be something like 10 weeks. Make sure your company tells you which one they're paying for so that you can evaluate and plan accordingly. As Grither said, it's often by volume, not by weight (though YMMV).

What will be their provision for health insurance? Australia operates on a system that's not like the US but that also isn't just "go do whatever you want for free" -- make sure you understand the implications of what they're offering and what level of care in Australia that translates to; e.g., seeing the same doc all the time versus seeing whomever is available, shared vs private rooms, etc.
posted by olinerd at 9:15 AM on December 18, 2013

Ask for your household effects to be air-shipped because putting you up in a hotel for 2 to 3 weeks will be a lot cheaper for them than paying for a another 8 weeks hotel bills while a sea shipment is in transit. When I relocated from the UK to the USA I got my entire house's worth of furniture air-shipped. It all somehow fit into a 12' foot cube packing case.

See if they can lease you a car for the year you are there to save you the hassle of buying one.
posted by monotreme at 9:29 AM on December 18, 2013

We did an international move with a fairly small amount of stuff. Our quotes were $ per 100 lbs and there was extra on top of that if you had high volume. It's expensive, and you have to get good quotes, there are a lot of little fees in addition to weight (export containers, customs at the other end, etc). Also, international moves are shipped slooooooowly, so think about things that you can't live without and will have to buy in expensive Australia the meantime.

Another benefit would be lodging while you look for a place - hotel or short term apartment.

And opening a bank account can be a tremendous pain - see if they can help get you set up before you arrive so you can land and do things like buy a cell phone and pay a deposit on an apartment.
posted by abecedarium radiolarium at 9:33 AM on December 18, 2013

Australia doesn't have a reciprocal health care agreement with the US, so you will need health insurance.

Qantas has a baggage allowance of 2 pieces at 50lb each for flights to/from USA and Australia, I imagine other airlines are the same. If you're only taking clothes etc., that's a pretty good allowance.

Everything is going to cost more, but things like sheets/towels and kitchenware (which you may or may not have to buy yourself) are not outrageously expensive. Check out Target Australia to get an idea of prices.

Sydney has a decent public transport system so you might be able to do without a car, especially if you live near the city centre.
posted by Shal at 10:07 AM on December 18, 2013

Best answer: Grither's advice is totally the opposite of what we were offered when we moved from Houston to South Korea for three years (2005-2008). I am the spouse, my husband was the one who was transferred. Our move was originally only supposed to be 18 months but it turned into 2.5 years. We were given a weight allowance — I want to say 600 lbs but that seems kinda low. We didn't end up using all of it, but that's a whole different story. Our shipment arrived about two weeks later. The rest went into storage. All this was paid for by husband's company.

We also moved our dog over, and we got an allowance for that paid by husband's company. (Vet bills, pet transport fees, etc.)

We moved to a small island with a large expat community. So, not as cosmopolitan as Seoul or even Busan, but a much cheaper cost of living. Husband's company gives uplifts for expats based on hardship, which varies depending on where you're moving. The uplifts are percentages over the employee's base salary. Even though living in Seoul would have been more expensive, the uplift for Seoul wasn't as high as the uplift for our little island because there were more "Western amenities" (like, a Hard Rock Cafe) in Seoul than where we lived. So we got a little extra money for "hardship."

Because I quit my job to move, husband's company also provided an annual flat fee spousal allowance. It wasn't much, but it unexpectedly doubled our second year there.

Company paid our rent in Korea but more or less chose where we lived (in an expat highrise). They also paid for both of our cell phones and car. They would have offered us either a realtor to sell our house in Houston, or a property management company to rent the place out, but we ended up renting it ourselves to a friend we trusted.

For all of these things company "paid for" (car, rent) I can't remember if they handled it themselves or it was a part of husband's pay check.

Upon returning to the US they paid for our things to be shipped back, paid for us to stay a few weeks in a hotel while we waiting for our belongings go be delivered and retrieved form storage. We also got a "resettlement fee" so we could buy a new car and other necessities. (We sold both of our cars ourselves before we moved, but I can't remember if the company had a program to help with that, like a buyback program of something.)

Company also paid for all our medical exams and vaccines necessary for Visas. In Korea, company had secretaries whose whole jobs were to help expats navigate the system in Korea — doctor's appointments, social events, dining out, one even hooked me up with yoga classes.

Before and after we moved, company also offered expat counseling and culture shock counseling. This was very helpful since living in Korea was quite a change from living in the US. Those resources were available for the duration of our stay, not just at the beginning. There were also re-patriation counseling services because sometimes people have a hard time adjusting to life back home after getting used to being an expat.

Honestly, a lot of this will depend on your industry, and whether you are a contractor or direct employee. Employees at my husband's company have standard packages based on length of assignment. Contractors have a bit more flexibility to negotiate terms. But all the things listed above were STANDARD, not exceptional parts of the relocation package. So it's a benchmark of what certain companies in certain industries will offer. Memail me if you need any clarification or more details.

(apologies for typos, this was a brain dump)
posted by Brittanie at 10:13 AM on December 18, 2013

I should add that I 110 percent recommend you doing this, if it works out for you financially.One year isn't a lot to get to know a new country and culture, but if you can do it on someone else's dime (at least partially) go for it. Living in rural Korea was hard for me, but I wouldn't trade the experience for anything in my life.
posted by Brittanie at 10:16 AM on December 18, 2013

Best answer: If you will be in Australia for work for less than one year, you are on Short Term Assignment and you will need some understanding of the following:

Payroll and Banking: How are they paying you? In USD to a US account? USD to a AU account? In AUD to a AU account? Split payroll? How do you take into account wire fees and FX rates when you have to move money, or take money out?

Visa and Immigration: Start it as soon as possible, and have a professional tax and immigration attorney handle all the paperwork and submissions. Do not try to work in AU until the attorney gives the OK as there could be significant penalties to you and your organization.

Cross-Cultural Training Ask for it, and take it. You will be a better expat employee with this training.

Taxes: Who will be doing your taxes? Will your non-excludable relocation expense be grossed-up? If they are going to be grossed-up, at what rate? This is Red Flag Numero Uno for you otherwise Uncle Sam will require a fair amount of your flesh come April 15th. Demand of your manager and HR that they have a tax provider involved to handle your returns, and you need to understand at what rate the company will gross-up your reportable expenses.

Home Finding and Destination Services – will your company provide a preview trip to Sydney to view properties and get a feel for the area? They should also set you up with a destination service provider who will be your person on the ground to show housing, provide a local area orientation, and help you settle into the area with assistance supporting bank accounts, driver’s licenses, and other important local needs.

Household Goods: If what you are saying about what you want to bring still holds, then bring it as excess baggage and get reimbursed for the cost. Otherwise, an air shipment of 500lbs should be sufficient and should be arranged through a moving professional company (e.g. Allied, northAmerican, Atlas, Graebel, United etc.). The air shipment is probably 2-3 weeks, closer to the 3 week side. In regards to Grither’s comment above he is referring to a consol (or consolidated) shipment via sea where indeed a number of shipments from disparate parties are consolidating into one container booked through a single provider. It’s cheaper, it takes longer, but yes it is an option. If you have a sea shipment as an option, once the container is booked you can fill it to the brim with lead or with feathers and the container rental and shipping cost would be same, though the packing, loading and unloading cost would different. There are two types of containers generally used for global removals: 20 ft and 40 ft. A 20 fits about 7,000lbs and a 40 fits about 14,000lbs. Transit time from Los Angeles to Sydney would be about 8-10 weeks unless the container is routed direct, which is rare. Add another 2 weeks if the container is coming from New York, and Australian Customs clearance could add another delay. Most likely the container would leave Long Beach and go to Kaohsiung, Taiwan for transshipment to Singapore for final routing to Sydney. It’s a long slow slog with a lot of time spent waiting for the next ship.

Housing: You may need to be flexible based on location and duration. If possible, corporate apartments are the best option for housing for short term assignments. They are fully furnished with complete utility setup. They are rented per a month-to month lease, are vetted, high-quality properties that can be directly billed to your company or your company’s relocation provider. Maintenance issues are handled by the corporate housing company, and you don’t have to spend time house hunting during the short period you are there working. When booking corporate apartments for short term assignments under a year a home finding trip should not be necessary. Based on cost and availability, alternative housing may be an unfurnished apartment, rented and managed by you, with rented furnishings. This is not nearly as easy as it sounds and rental furniture is often of poor quality, pretty generic in style, and ridiculously priced. I suggest a corporate apartment, considering your time on the ground in AU and your desire not to bring anything.

Home Leave: Return trips to the origin location to visit family and friends, or to check in on the home, are typically offered. For a one year assignment you should get one trip back home to the States. Vacation time is used for while you are on leave, but the travel time should not be counted as vacation time.

Transportation: A long term rental car or an allowance to use public transportation or make your own arrangements is typical. Do not ship your car, and do not buy a car.

Per Diems and COLA: A flat dollar amount per day might be provided to cover your meals and incidental expenses when on assignment. These are not typically reimbursed when the employee is on home leave or on a separate business trip. The U.S. State Department is a good source for standardized rates or of course you can pay a professional consultant for tables. It is important to note that this per diem is intended to cover meals and incidentals in the destination location in full, and not the cost differential, as a Cost Of Living Allowance provides. You should have your company run a COLA report to see if you are due a differential, regardless of the current understanding of your high cost origin location. COLA are paid monthly or quarterly. Typically you might receive a per diem or a COLA, or vice versa, but rarely both as they have slightly different philosophies. The philosophy is that a COLA works to make you whole to the expenses you would have incurred in the US but are more expensive in AU. So if milk in the USA is $4 a gallon and the equivalent price in AU is USD$5 a gallon, you'd have a COLA of USD$1. A per diem basically says here is money for meals and incidentals while you are on assignment, figure out what is important to spend it on yourself. Hard to say best practice here but I know a lot of people who have banked a lot of money out of the per diem. Just eat Ramen every day on a per diem of $50 per day, and bank the remaining $48.75 per day!

Relocation Allowance: Your company should provide a relatively small dollar allowance to help cover extra one-off costs (for example: toiletries that are not allowed on a plane, or a winter jacket for assignments in a place like Minneapolis). $1,000 grossed-up for taxes is a fair amount.

Because there is so much more to the above, and even a fair amount I've left unsaid, please only use this information as a primer and a discussion starting point. Your company should hire a professional 3rd party relocation company to handle the benefits, and to consult on what services should and will be provided for this relocation.
posted by lstanley at 1:42 PM on December 18, 2013

Just chiming in to say 'health care'. Because while Australia has socialised medicine and everything is pretty much free for Australian citizens with Medicare cards - it's not for visitors. I'm not even sure about permanant residents. I have colleauges and friends who have been up for massive medical bills for very simple things that are free for me - Xrays for instance. These people did have health insurance and expat support, but still ended up significantly out of pocket.
posted by t0astie at 4:09 PM on December 18, 2013

Best answer: Two years ago, I had a client based in Melbourne who asked us to send over one of our engineers for a year long on-site assignment. The candidate that I wanted to send over was one of my brighter, more promising staff members, so I had a vested interest in setting up something that they'd find rewarding and satisfying. This is what I negotiated for them (much of it similar to lstanley's advice):

Visas and taxes - all expenses related to immigration paperwork for temporary employment visas and tax accounting were to be handled and paid for by the client. We basically got away with, I believe, a sequential series of temporary ETA visas. Generally, it seemed that so long as your stay in Australia is a year or less, the tax and immigration implications are relatively minimal.

Health insurance - client covers the employee as part of their standard insurance benefits package (Australia has single payer public healthcare, but many corporations also opt for supplemental private insurance to add additional benefits that are not offered in the baseline public model), and client pays for all premiums associated with private insurance.

Housing - client paid for housing (within an agreed upon budget set against comparable housing obtained by other employees in a similar pay grade) and client also paid for the services of a housing agent to assist the employee in finding their apartment. We actually had them move to Australia two weeks before their 'official' start date to give them time to find a place. They, similar to you, ended the lease in their apartment and moved their furnishings to storage.

Spouse/Co-habitant - the employee had a partner who joined them in Australia. This was a personal expense that we did not cover in the contract, because it wasn't something that they asked for until too late in the process. The partner was also responsible for finding their own work, which they were able to do as they were in the age range for a working holiday visa, and there's ample employment opportunities for young people on that status. In general, it may have been difficult for us to negotiate this for our client given that they were not married; which kind of sucks. Off the books, I did what I could to make it easier for them, but this is something I'd have loved to do over again if I could.

Cost of Living Adjustment - engineer was relocating from Boston (so, not New York, but still relatively high cost of living) and we gave them a 20% stipend bump to account for higher cost of food and general living expenses. Client was not explicitly billed for this, but the stipend was absorbed into the overall fee that we charged for this service. Compensation to the employee was always handled by us and paid in USD. All of their incidental expenses were also reimbursed by us and then rebilled to the client.

Home leave and repatriation - I asked for and got the client to agree to send the employee back to the US once every three months to work at our headquarters for one week to 're-sync'. The employee was allowed to take vacation in the US and see family during this stay, but had to work in the office for at least a week before taking their leave. This is important for combating home sickness and maintaining a connection with our local staff. Without it, I'm pretty sure they would've grown increasing isolated and lonely.

Also, get out of jail free: in the event of premature termination of client relationship, client pays for all expenses associated with repatriation and relocation of employee back to the US.

Aside from this ... aspects that I wished I set up earlier before they went off:

* some kind of large external hard dive for syncing corporate files to minimize the need to transfer files across the Pacific and/or work over VPN.

* ongoing rotation for after hours support. The 14 hour time difference between Australia and the East Coast US is brutal for syncing up with in person catchups and getting coworkers to respond to urgent questions.

* some kind of unlocked or jailbroken GSM phone to give them a little flexibility in picking or using carriers and being able to swap between AUS and US SIM cards. Client had given them an Australian Blackberry that was locked down against international calling, so it was perenially impossible to get them on the phone, and we had to frequently resort to WebEx or Google Hangout, which was also frequently suboptimal for going across the Pacific.

Those were generally the big lessons that we picked up over that year. The employee went off, had an amazing year and came back a rockstar. Good luck.
posted by bl1nk at 6:57 PM on December 18, 2013

Best answer: When we first moved to Sydney, we lived in furnished apartments for the first couple of years. You'll pay a bit more rent, but we thought it was worth it not to have the hassle of shopping for furniture when you arrive and getting rid of it when you leave. For a furnished 1BR in the CBD (downtown) you'll pay ~AU$2700-3000/mo. For 2 BR, $3,200-3800. See Domain.com.au to search out possibilities. Apartments are advertised with the price by the week, so don't get confused by that. Rent is on par with NYC and SF prices. You'll need a hotel for a week or two while you look for a place.

Also, unless they are renting a place for you, you will need time off when you get there to search for an apartment. This will be a very intensive activity for 1-2 weeks. You'll need a few days to get acquainted with the city before you start searching. I went to work immediately while my partner searched for a place, and that was very stressful and not ideal.

Put everything in storage. 1 year is too short a time to bother moving anything. Get them to pay for the storage costs.

On a temporary work visa, health insurance will be your responsibility, not your employer's. But you can ask them to compensate you for the cost. Health insurance is very affordable. Full coverage for the two of you should run about AU$420 a month. This covers *everything* medical (not dental or eye care). Full reimbursements for all medical services and prescriptions--no copays or excess. See http://www.austhealth.com for some quotes.

You'll have to budget a bit more for food and eating out. If you eat out a lot, quite a bit more.

You might ask for budget to travel back home once during the year. This can be very expensive, depending on the time of year, especially if there is a family emergency back home. Also, make sure they cover your flight home when you are done.

You can sign up for a car share membership with GoGet. Or as others have said, public transport is very good.

One thing I wish we'd have had is the services of an international accounting firm-- one that can handle both your US and Australia taxes. It's a huge hassle to get it all worked out, and they file at different times of the year, so you have to keep 2 sets of records.
posted by amusebuche at 8:48 PM on December 18, 2013

Response by poster: My friend thanks you all for the excellent responses!
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 12:51 PM on December 21, 2013

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