So, You Want to be a Contractor...

So, You Want to be a Contractor…

Many people take opportunities overseas for financial reasons, because they like to travel, or because they want to get away from it all. Whether you want to go to a hotspot like Syria, a remote outpost like Diego Garcia, or an in-between location like Japan, opportunities abound. The process is much the same in all these areas.

Step One: Self-Reflection

Almost anyone can be a contractor. Most people think of private military contractors as movie action heroes who kick in doors and shoot bad guys. A few contractors do fit this profile, but the truth is much different. There is a significant need for people like:

  • Cooks,
  • Mechanics,
  • Construction supervisors,
  • Intelligence operators,
  • Office workers, and
  • Morale officers.

Most of the positions are with large military contractors like KBR (Kellogg, Brown & Root of Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam War-era fame), Aegis, ImageSource, and Academi (nee Blackwater). These places are a good place to start looking for positions.

There is something else to do first. Ask yourself why you want to be an overseas contractor. Many people do not just like to travel. Instead, they like to immerse themselves in a different culture for a few months. If you are one of these people, you might enjoy being an overseas contractor.

If possible, talk to people who have been on overseas assignments. Do not exclusively rely on online reviews, as this feedback is not always completely honest or accurate.

Step Two: Getting a Security Clearance

Securing a private contractor job requires a little more than updating your resume and blasting it to various email addresses.

You should think about obtaining a security clearance if you do not already have one. Technically, the clearance is your new employer’s responsibility. But if you already have one, you are a more attractive potential employee.

The process is not easy or cheap. The questionnaire is extensive, as the government wants minute details about long-forgotten jobs or addresses. Responses like “I don’t remember” or “I don’t care” are not acceptable. After the government receives the questionnaire, there is an interview. If the application revealed no red flags (or pink flags, for that matter), the interview will probably be brief and smooth. However, expect lots of questions about anything like:

  • Foreign Preference: The government takes a close look at people who have friends or relatives who live in foreign countries or work for foreign governments. Reassure the interviewer that your ties to that country are weak or that your relationship with that individual is distant. Do not lie.
  • Organizational Membership: Affiliation with a group like al-Shabaab or ISIS is clearly a deal-breaker. The problem here is that not all terrorist groups include something like “International Terrorist Organization” in their names. Many people belong to groups that are really terrorist fronts, yet the members know nothing about that affiliation.
  • Personal Habits: People who drink heavily often make poor decisions, people with financial problems often take desperate measures to raise money, and so on. These issues are pretty fair down on the list, but they may still be red flags.

There are different security clearance levels. It is obviously easier and faster to qualify for an entry-level clearance. That is usually the path to take. Then, your employer can always sponsor an upgrade later.

Also, be sure your passport is valid and that you have no other encumbrances. Generally, your passport must be valid for at least another six months, or DHS will not let you on the plane. Typically, people with past-due child support or other legal problems, such as current probation or outstanding warrants, cannot get passports or visas.

Step Three: Making the Transition

Your employer should tell you where you will be living and working while you are overseas. Usually, you will be traveling light. So, pack accordingly as you leave.

Also, be sure you know all the financial rules. Contrary to popular myth, foreign income is not “tax free.” Unless you renounce your U.S. citizenship, which is usually a bad idea, you still must file a federal income tax return. The Foreign Earned Income Exclusion for 2018 is $104,100. So, if you earn more than that, you must pay taxes on the excess. Furthermore, your state income tax filing requirement might remain. Check with your local department of revenue for rules.

Finally on this point, most contractor jobs have no health insurance or other benefits. So, once again, plan accordingly.

Step Four: Think of Tomorrow

Workplace injuries are a big problem in the United States. They are even more of a problem overseas, where medical facilities are often spotty and preventative health care is often nonexistent. Fortunately, injured overseas contractors may count on a very familiar system.

Victims need not prove negligence or fault to obtain benefits under the Defense Base Act. Typically, these benefits include:

  • Lost Wages: Victims with temporary disabilities usually receive two-thirds of their average weekly wage until they can return to work. Victims with permanent disabilities usually receive an alternate form of wage compensation.
  • Medical Bills: The DBA applies to more than just initial hospitalization. These insurance benefits also cover follow up care, physical rehabilitation, medical devices, and any other reasonable expenses. Typically, the DBA insurance company pays these bills directly and victims never see statements.

Most injured contractors can choose their own doctors and change physicians at any time during the course of treatment.

For more information about qualifying for DBA benefits, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen & Frankel, P.A.