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Overseas vs. UK - Working in Construction

I think in any profession, most people quite like the idea of working abroad for a period of time in their career. Whether they do go through with it or not, it's something that many people consider at one stage of their life.

Construction is one of the industries where large numbers of opportunities exist for British qualified professionals overseas; and hundreds of thousands of expats in this sector are working abroad as we speak.

Every individual's motivation is different. Some go for money, some move for the lifestyle, and some...the weather!

The truth is if you want to work outside the UK enough, you'll likely find something. The real question is whether it's a good decision to do so or not?

Here is a summary of my thoughts:

You Earn More Overseas

Let me start by saying this information may be more suitable for candidates who have not worked overseas previously. If you have, you will likely have a firm grasp of local salaries and also due to your overseas experience, your worth will likely come at a premium compared to those who have not previously worked overseas before.

True to an extent! Most familiar expat locations such as Dubai, Hong Kong and Qatar will pay all in packages these days. Therefore your overall monthly salary will be made up of:

  • Basic Salary
  • Accommodation Allowance
  • Other allowances (Car, Fuel, Flights etc.)

This 'all inclusive' figure will almost certainly be higher than your current UK permanent salary. In many cases much higher.

However, when you dissect the salary and start to take off your cost of accommodation, schooling (where required) and renting a vehicle etc., the figure that you are left with is usually very similar to the salary that you could earn in the UK. I'll be honest, given how London based salaries are going at present, often it will be less than the equivalent London based salary you could earn in the UK.

That doesn't mean you can't be better off overseas. For a start the Middle Eastern countries all offer tax free salaries which makes a considerable difference to your take home salary. Places like Hong Kong and Macau both offer expats the chance to earn whilst paying significantly lower tax than in the UK. You can expect to pay between 10% - 16% tax in these countries.

If you're moving overseas for factors such as lifestyle, exciting projects, because family already live there (or nearby); having a similar salary, paying less tax, and having your accommodation and car costs covered could be seen as a nice uplift in your earnings. That's without factoring in taxes like Council Tax, TV licenses etc.

Some people that come to me with a desire to work overseas, don't see earning the same salary they are on plus all the allowances for accommodation etc. as enough to tempt them overseas. They may have desires to work overseas and enjoy the lifestyle they can live in Dubai or Hong Kong, but their motivation is salary driven.

If you're looking for a sizeable uplift in your basic salary and expect a company to pay for your accommodation and car and provide you with several flights home a year as well as your salary being tax free or lightly taxed; you're likely going to be disappointed in most mainstream locations overseas.

You may be able to achieve this sort of deal in more remote or less desirable locations such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and parts of Africa, however the likes of Dubai and Hong Kong are desirable locations for construction professionals worldwide and the jobs market is competitive, keeping salaries fairly stable and realistic.

Summary

In summary, I feel your salary will almost certainly be higher in terms of what is paid into your bank account. You will also likely have more to spend if you are working in a low tax or tax free environment. You do need to factor in that many of these locations also have a very high cost of living also. This can often cancel out any uplift in salary, particularly if you enjoy an active social life.

Improved Lifestyle

Whether your lifestyle is improved overseas is a purely subjective matter. It really depends on what you value in life.

I would expect that candidates citing 'Improved Lifestyle' as their main motivation to move overseas have done relevant research into locations and will have a firm idea of where they would / would not consider relocating to.

It won't come as a surprise that many popular expat havens enjoy better weather than we do here in the UK. If more sun is something that is key to your choices, then you have a long list of potential locations that offer this...a very long list.

Many are also very crowded cities with their own congestion problems. Maybe, not such a lifestyle change if you're moving from London or the UK's larger cities, however it can come as a shock to those who have lived in more rural areas of the country.

Please consider that many of these places also come with a higher cost of living than many parts of the the UK also. If you're used to paying less than £3 for your pints down your local Weatherspoons, you can wave goodbye to that in the likes of Hong Kong, Dubai and Doha where you'll pay anything from £5 - £8; making a night out very expensive.

Be aware of the cost of schooling, which is extremely expensive in the likes of Dubai and Hong Kong. There are also limited places in some locations. Qatar for one, being somewhere that has experienced real shortages of places of late.

Summary

Do your research and ideally visit such locations before deciding to relocate. Especially if you are relocating with family.

Further Your Career

A common reason expats come to me and want to work overseas is to 'further their career' on larger and more exciting projects. This can be true. There have been and still are some fantastic projects currently under construction overseas.

The Middle East has been particularly prominent in developing barren areas of land and creating huge, high end mixed use developments. Since I've been recruiting in the Middle we've recruited on a number of huge mixed use schemes such as Al Raha Beach and The Dubai Mall, as well as brand new cities such as Lusail in Qatar.

These have been really great projects to be involved on and I'd imagine the satisfaction of working on such signature projects and seeing them go from desert to what they are now is particularly pleasing.

If you want a continued career overseas for many years, these projects will look fantastic on your CV and open all sorts of doors for you.

However, what we are experiencing is that candidates with such experience overseas are not finding it easy to get work back in the UK, with many UK employers actually preferring candidates who currently work in the UK to those wanting to return.

Summary

Some of the projects overseas are once in a lifetime opportunities to work on projects of unprecedented size and complexity, therefore if that's why you go to work to work on such projects, then follow your dreams.

Also, if you're a specialist at working on a particular type of project, then working overseas could be the best way to further your career. For example, if you specialise in stadium projects, then following major sporting events around the World may be the best option. Qatar is currently starting to move forward with a number of their World Cup stadiums for example.

Moving overseas for a period of time to work on a number of random projects with a view to returning to the UK in 2 - 3 years could actually leave you at a disadvantage when trying to return to the UK, and having to take a lower salary than you would have been on had you stayed in the UK.

CONCLUSION

There are so many factors to consider when deciding whether to make such an important life and career decision. Especially if family is involved. I hope I've given you a few thinking points.

Having recruited in the UK and Overseas, my opinion seems to be shifting slightly on this. If I'd have written this blog 8 years ago, I'd be talking about the streets being paved with gold overseas as the UK construction market struggles.

Years down the line though and the UK market has well and truly caught up with the likes of Dubai and in terms of vacancies, the UK probably has more at this point in time! Salaries are as high as ever and still on the rise in the UK, whilst salaries overseas seem to be relatively stagnant.

There are many reasons why moving overseas could be good for you, and some people have that sense of adventure about them where they need to spread their wings and explore. However the UK has more to offer than ever with exciting projects and higher salaries.

The debate between working overseas and the UK is as close as ever right now.

Stuart Hackett
Senior Recruitment Consultant
Maxim Recruitment

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