Remote full-time WFH contract - notify if I go international?
December 13, 2021 5:19 PM   Subscribe

I have a full-time work from home contract, and I'm considering moving to Malaysia for a month to six weeks, to save money and just to be somewhere different. Nothing in my contract mentions anything about this, my place of work is just listed as "home". As I'm only ever seen on blurred background video calls, do I have to tell them if I move?

I'm in Australia BTW, so timezones roughly line up.
posted by Dag Maggot to Work & Money (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You should be ok, but don’t lie if someone asks you. IP addresses can be tracked. Say that you’re there for a visit.
posted by redlines at 5:22 PM on December 13, 2021

Best answer: Honestly, I don't see how you would ever be caught, and I'm sure a lot of people do it, in fact, I know quite a few people who've done it / are doing it.

But... are you planning to work in Malaysia, while on a tourist visa? Because that sounds exactly like the hundreds of "illegal" migrant workers from Asia who enter Australia on a tourist visa then disappear and start working illegally until they get caught. If you want to enter Malaysia on a working visa, then your company would have to sponsor your visa, but you don't want your company to find out.

Though I kind of like the idea of doing it in reverse, it's definitely illegal, even if you were Malaysian and did have full work rights. Your chances of getting caught are pretty much zero, but your company will be unhappy about it if they find out - they could receive a tax bill from Malaysia, for example - since you are working in Malaysia, technically your salary should be taxed by the Malaysian government, not the Australian government - plus all sorts of fees and penalties, which they might even charge on to you since you would be in breach of your employment contract. Our HR department in Australia issued a stern warning during Covid WFH that we should not allow employees to work in other countries. Typically if someone wanted to move to another country to work we would re-employ them at our local branch.
posted by xdvesper at 5:54 PM on December 13, 2021 [12 favorites]

Best answer: In North America, this is increasingly a no-go whether specifically called out in your contract or not. I don't know if a month or six weeks is enough to create Problem #1, which is that your employer may not have done all the legal and tax ablutions to do business in Malaysia and the perception of doing so will create a serious legal problem for your employer.

Problem #2, which normally is explicitly declared as policy or in the contract, is that some companies have customers or some manner of business that has required a commitment that various data will not be accessed except from X, Y, or Z legal boundaries. This is true in my company, where even going to the EU from the US means submitting a notice of intent to travel to our IT security administrator and signing a declaration that no systems except email, calendar, and slack (the only apps we're allowed to access by phone) will be accessed and the work laptop will not be taken out of the country or accessed remotely from outside the country.

I have seen this come up over and over again in digital nomad groups, which tend to be a young and reckless and entitled bunch, and people constantly have offers revoked or lose their jobs for letting it slip or when IT notices either that you're accessing from an IP in a different country or that you're connecting via a VPN (and they start asking questions or just check location tracking on their device).

Your best bet is to find a way to frame this as having an opportunity to vacation in Malaysia, but definitely not the kind of vacation where you won't work your full day or be more concerned about your itinerary. See if that's going to fly. The answer may be yes but only for X days and with proof that you're staying in some kind of accommodation, possibly plane tickets with a return date within a specific window, so that if challenged they can prove you were definitely within whatever limits tourists can stay and not be considered to be working from there. They might say no altogether, but that's better than having your paychecks abruptly stop while you're out of the country.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:59 PM on December 13, 2021 [21 favorites]

Best answer: The fact that you are considering doing this and not telling your employer suggests you know (or suspect at least) they wouldn't agree if you asked them.

They probably wouldn't catch on, but they might and would almost certainly be cranky that you didn't tell them. You would know best what the outcome might be if that happens. Is it worth risking your job over?

An Australian company employing someone in Australia under Australian employment law would not expect someone to suddenly leave that legal jurisdiction without notice, leaving aside all sort of possible security concerns.

You should ask, in my view.
posted by dg at 6:51 PM on December 13, 2021

As another data point, my (US) company recently put some policies around this, amounting to "no more than 6-8 weeks a year" and "we have to approve the country". They have approved things like Canada and the Netherlands. But they said no to China and Nicaragua, for "not being too sure about their network" security/IT reasons. I will admit I don't know where Malaysia might fall on that scale.
posted by brainmouse at 7:08 PM on December 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

We were told that there are tax implications for the business, depending on where the worker has residence versus the tax jurisdiction where they perform the work.

(We have sites in three states and employees scattered across most of the country, so I feel like HR and Accounting are justified in being touchy about this.)
posted by wenestvedt at 8:24 PM on December 13, 2021

Best answer: I don't know how Australia (or Malaysia) taxes work, but I think you're unlikely to have any real tax implications from just being there a month or so (google says you have to be there for 90 days to count as a tax resident). It almost definitely is illegal to work fulltime there while you're on a tourist visa, but that's the sort of thing I wouldn't expect the Malaysian government to care about for remote white collar work being performed for a foreign company for just a month or so. If you're OK with breaking a law that probably very few people care about and you have basically zero chance of getting in trouble for, then the main question to ask yourself is how bad it would be if your company found out, and whether you're willing to take on that risk.
posted by wesleyac at 9:00 PM on December 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

I would definitely be open about it with your company. It would be better to know if it it's an issue before hand, rather than to find this out when you're there.

I would also find it a source of stress if I had to hide something that big during friendly conversations with co-workers, talking about what you did on the weekend, the weather, or even simply the changes in your video background.
posted by Gomez_in_the_South at 10:30 PM on December 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

I work on computer networks including firewalls and the firewall logs helpfully include the flag of the nation that the remote IP address is in. If you were to call support and the network team gets involved they would definitely notice that you're not in the US.
posted by Awfki at 4:29 AM on December 14, 2021 [3 favorites]

My company instantly locks the account of any computer detected outside of the US except for a specific pre-flagged set of machines.

You need to check with your company.
posted by winna at 5:55 AM on December 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

We just had a meeting about this. Our IT blocks the VPN from letting IPs outside the US from connecting. So they'd know pretty quick.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 6:48 AM on December 14, 2021

This could have huge tax consequences for the company. If you do it and they find out that you did it (which they will), I can pretty much guarantee that their tax department will demand your head on a platter.
posted by susiswimmer at 9:29 AM on December 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

You can set up a VPN on your home internet connection, then they wouldn't be able to tell?
posted by flimflam at 9:43 AM on December 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

Long story short: it's really dependent on your employer, your industry, and what your status would be in Malaysia (tourist visa, resident, etc).

Lots of folks have covered the technical issues with regard to an out-of-county IP address and potential cybersecurity concerns (whether this is actually an issue is really dependent on your employer and potentially your line of work). On the tax front, the specific issue you're likely to encounter with your employer is Permanent Establishment Risk - this is the risk that your employer will create a taxable presence in Malaysia. The exact bar for this is not easy to define, so a lot of companies will just say "no" instead of actually doing the work to figure out if it's an actual concern.

I'm in a field where it's not uncommon to do 2-3 year stints overseas, and thus many of my colleagues have a spouse working/hoping to work overseas for a US-based employer. From what I've seen, it is possible but very much YMMV depending on your employer. Some get around the tax issues by becoming independent contractors, although that can have its own issues.
posted by photo guy at 10:57 AM on December 14, 2021

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