Why Take An International Assignment?

My wife and I are beginning to wrap up our assignment here in China. In less than 90 days we should be headed back to the US unless there is an unexpected change. I thought it would be a good time to list out the benefits of taking such an assignment.

It has been hectic year for us - I started the assignment in July; I came back and we got married in October; we left the next day and have been on assignment since. Even though it was a non-ideal time we still decide to take this opportunity and make the most of it.

Here are some of the non-financial reasons:

  • There is never a good time to go on an international assignment. After talking to many colleagues I realized there is never a good time to take this type of opportunity. Through all stages of life there are family needs, etc that could prevent someone from doing it.
  • This assignment has really help us to become more culturally aware and think with more of a world view.
  • More time to travel. Before now neither my wife or I have ever spent a prolonged period outside the US. Even if money was no object, trying to find the time to travel the world is difficult. Stepping away from the daily grind of life back home has allowed us new freedom on the weekends to see more places than ever before.
  • It goes without saying that being on an international assignment is usually good for the career. Better visibility, more networking opportunities, and likely higher profile work.
  • While it’s a pretty minor in the grand scheme of things, you can rack up some serious airline miles while on assignment.

Here are some of the financial reasons:

  • I rented out my home in the US and reduced my housing costs to near zero. After we got married we didn't have a good plan for my wife's home but have subsidized the monthly expenses by having her brother live there. We are also saving by not having to upgrade our home sooner as we plan to do when we get back to US (Savings: ~$1000/mo)
  • Our living costs are reduced to a minimum amount - I receive a daily per diem to cover food and transportation while away. (Savings: $500-$600/mo)
  • We are on an international healthcare insurance with no monthly cost (Savings ~$100/mo)
  • I got a lump sum moving allowance that I ended up spending most of when we got here on basic furnishings, but was able to save some of it. Savings: ~$500 one time)

Depending on the company and assignment package offered you could get more or less financial benefits from the assignment. Regardless you typically come out with more money as your normal expenses can be cut and some allowances saved.

My wife and I are only coming out negligibly ahead even though we have the savings listed above; my wife is not earning anything close to what she made in the US. Even if it wasn't financially beneficial I would still think it’s a good move and an experience of a lifetime.

Related in Temporary Assignment:

Wrapped China Assignment, Round 2 (Jan 01, 2014) Hanoi, Vietnam We just wrapped up our temporary assignment in China and arrived back in the US before the end of the year. Its amazing how time flies, it seems like just a few days ago that we began...

Packing Tips for Extended Family Travel (Oct 14, 2013) My young family is on the move - we are currently living in China on a 6 month work assignment. With the exorbitant cost to ship additional stuff to China we were incented to only bring what we could fit...

Survival Guide to Traveling with Young Kids (Jul 28, 2013) We didn't have much experience traveling with our young kids prior to our current assignment in China. We did lots of reading in preparation, but we were unprepared for both how exhausting and rewarding it has been for us. Here...

Comments (10)

Great post. I just saw this article about IBM in the NYTimes that talked about their overseas volunteer program (I've posted the link at the bottom of this comment). It made me want to work for IBM just for the experience of leading a project overseas for a shorter duration. I would also agree with you that there is never a good time for an international assignment. When I went on my first business trip to Europe, I had to cancel a vacation I had been planning. I've tried to get on 2 overseas assignments and both would have meant personal and professional sacrifices. I decided against the first one and wasn't able to get onto the second one. Together this has made me realize that I should do my best to get on an international project ASAP.


I think the experience of an international assignment would outweigh a lot of the drawbacks. You get the opportunity to see life from a completely different perspective which will make you pause and think twice about your world.

I really hope this is in the cards for me someday, I would love to have the experience of living abroad. It's all about getting enough MONEY to be able to do it!

Interesting. i would have thought that there would be a larger savings amount. i was considering going as a subcontractor to Afghanistan.

Some things simply aren't tangible, and it sounds like you had something of a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You can't beat that!

And I suspect that being alone in a new country was kind of a nice way to start off married life (having to depend primarily, if not entirely, on only each other), although no doubt you and perhaps especially your wife missed your family and friends.

I can't leave a comment on your "retirement in Thailand" topic.

If you want to go to a country with buying power take a vacation in the Philippines next.

Very hard to retire in Thailand if you are under 50. You have to leave the country every 90 days and get your visa stamped. I have a couple friends that have horror stories that they were not allowed entry because some of the Thai immigration people believe you can only stay 90 days 3 times in a row and then have to get a new visa.

Good luck.

You've mentioned several times that you use a Capital One credit card to avoid the fee for foreign transactions. Is this a Visa or a Mastercard? We are adopting a baby in Kazakhstan and I'm trying to figure out which Capital One to get...so I'm wondering if you've found Visa or Mastercard to be more widely accepted. Thanks!

Nice job, and I'm glad you point out the non-financial reasons to do this. Becoming more culturally aware and expanding your worldview is worth a lot of money.

In my case, it was worth $30,000, or the cost of a large car:


Take care and keep up the good writing.

Great post. I've always thought about travelling overseas with my family but have never found the time to do so like you said. Keep up the great, work, I love seeing the breakdown of the expenses!

A friend of mine has just come back from China. He loved the lifestyle and the people, who he said were super friendly, but he hated the pollution. (This was in the capital, which I can't spell!) He said some days the wind would change direction, the sky would turn blue, and he'd realise what he was missing...

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