Plan Ahead: What to Consider Before Working Overseas

What to Consider Before Working OverseasLiving and working in a foreign country is an amazing adventure for many people, but before you board the plane, there are a few things to know.

Many people do not even have to change employers to work overseas because such assignments are already available. In other situations, transitioning to another U.S.-based employer is a better option; in rare instances, a foreign employer may hire an American worker. Either way, assignment length is a big consideration because while one can sublet a residence for a few months, a longer excursion often requires alternative arrangements. Compensation can be a bit tricky, so obtain all the numbers upfront, such as relocation expenses, relocation allowance, currency exchange, and cost of living. Bear in mind that U.S. citizens living abroad must continue to pay U.S. taxes in addition to foreign income taxes, in many cases. While it is typically the employer’s responsibility to obtain necessary work and spousal visas, it never hurts to stay in the loop.

Once workers arrive in-county, it may take several weeks to learn enough of the language to get by, find a place to live, and generally assimilate into the area. Healthcare is a major concern as well, as both availability and affordability are often issues in foreign countries. The same process occurs in reverse when foreign workers return home because there is definitely an adjustment period there, as well.

Types of Jobs

As combat operations begin to wind down, at least for the time being, the focus shifts to reconstruction, and there are plenty of opportunities available in this sector for all kinds of workers.

For example, the World Bank estimates that it will cost $180 billion to rebuild Syria after the ISIS war; earlier, Syrian President Bashar Assad pegged the cost at $200 billion. The first priority will be hospitals, schools, roads, and everyday infrastructure because many refugees may not return until these items are in place. Similarly, the power grid and other utilities are also high on the list. Finally, necessary updates and upgrades that have been put off for the last five years because of the war must be addressed. Typically, many Western companies use local workers for manual labor and import people to fill managerial, planning, and other more white collar-type positions.

Even if the fighting ends, security assets must stay on the ground. Building a bridge or overpass in Damascus is nothing like a project in Atlanta. Although the skills and materials are largely the same, the environment is completely different, and companies often use private security contractors to protect the workers. There will be a need for pacification security as well, as frequent patrols and the occasional show of force are often effective deterrents against any lingering militant activity. To that extent, there is also a need for an intelligence-gathering apparatus.

Job Injuries

Security and construction are hazardous professions in the United States, so injuries are even more likely in overseas environments.

The language barrier is an increasing problem on domestic construction sites (fifteen Latino workers die every week on U.S. construction sites), and at foreign sites, there is both a linguistic and cultural barrier. The majority of workplace injuries fall into what the Occupational Safety and Health Administration calls the “fatal four:”

  • Fall: Over a third of the fatal incidents on construction sites involve falls from a height. In competitive environments, some companies are tempted to put profits above people, so worker safety is at least somewhat neglected.
  • Electrocution: Due to lack of safety equipment and training, many workers do not have the tools or knowledge they need to work with live wires. Moreover, on a busy site, it is sometimes impossible to distinguish between a dead wire and a live one.
  • Struck By: When dropped from a high place, a tape measurer or other hand tool quickly becomes a high-speed projectile. An old rule of thumb is to treat a hammer like a gun, so never take it off your belt unless you intend to use it.
  • Caught Between: Power lifters and other tools greatly improve worker efficiency, but if they go wrong, they often cause serious injuries.

While OSHA, state, and local inspectors visit domestic construction sites and investigate complaints, many foreign countries have no such infrastructure, so foreign worksites tend to be quite dangerous.

Brain injuries are among the most common combat-related wounds, as are trauma injuries, like gunshot wounds, shrapnel injuries, broken bones, and the like.

Worker’s Compensation

In the United States, workers’ compensation is available for workplace injuries. For workers abroad, the Defense Base Act provides workers’ compensation for on-the-job injuries.

However, there are some key differences. For example, to be eligible for DBA compensation, the victims do not necessarily have to be “on the clock” when they are injured; instead, if there is a connection between the injury and the job, the injury is normally covered.

Benefits are largely the same. DBA insurance takes care of medical bills and also provides compensation for lost wages and other out-of pocket expenses.

For prompt assistance from an experienced attorney, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen & Frankel.