Continuing on with my series on the different routes one can take to become an expat, this month I was privileged to get some insight from expat Linda Eboukle. She drops some jewels and is a fine example of what you can achieve if you put fear aside. I hope you enjoy reading.
Hi Linda. Can you briefly tell us a bit about yourself and describe your background, education and work experience? How did you first end up living and working overseas?
I was born in the Ivory Coast and moved to the US at a very young age. I grew up in Massachusetts, went to college on Long Island N,Y and stuck around the New York City area until my move to Singapore 2 years ago. I have a bachelors in Accounting and a masters in Taxation. I began my career in public accounting then moved into the banking section. I currently work in the private banking industry as a compliance officer.
Living and working abroad had always been a goal of mine, it was just a matter of when and where. In the summer of 2016 I went on a 3 month work assignment in India, and as part of my stay I took a few trips around southeast Asia, with Singapore being one of the places I visited. I immediately fell in love with Singapore and decided that this would be the place to live and work.
Six months later I had found a job and was relocating to Singapore. I think maybe the stars were aligned and I was extremely lucky and blessed. It was actually the only job I had applied for in Singapore. I went right on the company’s website and found the exact role that I was looking for and submitted my resume online and by end of December 2016 I was on my way to live and work in Singapore.
Can you talk more about your 3 months work assignment? Is that an opportunity others should inquire about with their employers or do you know of finance companies that offer the opportunity? How did you find out about it?
Prior to coming to Singapore I was at one of the big 4 accounting firms. The particular line of service in which I worked had a sizeable back office team in Hyderabad and Delhi. As such they had a rotation program where senior associates and above can go to India to provide and build relationships with the team on the ground in India given that we worked with them a lot remotely. The program ranged from 2 weeks up to 12 weeks.
Apparently they were struggling to find people to go. It seems folks in the US just weren’t too keen on going to India or didn’t want to be away for so long.
As I previously mentioned I was already at a point in my life/career where I wanted to experience living and working abroad, so I jumped at the opportunity and signed up for the longest amount of time away.
Funny thing is, the incentives to get people to go were actually very good. They put you up in a 5-star hotel for the duration of the assignment. You get a daily allowance for food. You get a driver to pick you up to and from work and back to the hotel, and depending on how long the rotation was, you get a free flight back home or anywhere else so long as the price doesn’t exceed the price to go home. Lastly, after completing the rotation you get a bonus for going.
For me I was flabbergasted as to why people weren’t tripping over themselves to go, but in retrospect I think people are just nervous to travel that far. For me personally, I was extremely nervous and apprehensive about going. I didn’t know what to expect, whether I would love it or hate it or how I would manage to make it through 3 long months. But the experience far exceeded my expectations in every aspect. I got a chance to interact with both the local team in Hyderabad and Delhi. I also got a chance to interact with others from various states in the US who were also part of the rotations.
It was through rotation that I got a chance to travel in south East Asia for the first time. I was exposed to so many new amazing cultures, lifestyles and ways of thinking and seeing the world. That is not to say everything was 100% perfect all the time, but the positives out-weighed the negatives. It was truly an amazing experience that I still look fondly upon.
Most international companies have a rotation program or short term assignments abroad, if anyone is interested I would say to find out what your company has to offer, network, also be excellent and stand out doing what it is that you do to increase your profile within your respective firm. And when you find out where those opportunities are, don’t be afraid to put your hand up.
Even if you are afraid, do it scared because what you will find out is that there is nothing to be apprehensive about.
How did you go about your job search for jobs in Singapore? Did you just start with a simple Google search for example?
I knew exactly what I was looking for and which companies I wanted to target, so I just went on those companies’ websites. As previously mentioned this one company, which is the one that brought me to Singapore, had a role that fit exactly what I was looking for. So call it luck or fate that the job posting was posted at exactly at the time I was looking to move, but that is essentially how I got the role and moved out here. I did apply to other places, and the process was essentially the same, I went on the career page of those companies and looked for roles which I felt I was qualified for.
But I would also add that the particular area that I am in is a very specialized area. As such the talent pool for those skill sets may be limited, thus the reason for successfully landing the role.
What has been the best part of living overseas?
One of the best parts of living overseas for me is the opportunity to meet and interact with different types of people from all over the world. I have met and befriended people that I would never have interacted with if I was still in my comfort zone back home.
Another aspect that I like about living abroad is the travel opportunities, once you move away from home, especially somewhere as far as Asia you realize that the world is a much smaller place, and suddenly the fear and hesitation about traveling disappears.
What has been the most disappointing or difficult aspect of living overseas?
The most difficult part of living abroad for me has been constantly being reminded that I am a foreigner. I will sometimes get the inquisitive stares… mainly from the older local folks.
I wear my hair natural and for some reason it has been a source of amazement and wonderment for many people around here. I have sometimes encountered people wanting to take pictures of me. This happens quite frequently when I travel outside of Singapore. It all is generally harmless and people are genuinely intrigued, but for me, after a while it gets tiring. I would like to be able to go grocery shopping without someone wanting to touch my hair.
Has living overseas allowed you to save more money or live a lifestyle different than what you experienced living in the US?
Living abroad, particularly in Singapore, not only allowed me to save more money but it has allowed me to live a very different lifestyle than I probably would be able to live in NYC.
I would say some of the main benefits of living in Singapore are 1) the low tax rates, 2) how those taxes are calculated and paid and 3) also the fact that salaries are paid on a gross amount. Unlike the US where they deduct all of your taxes before you even see your paycheck, in Singapore you get paid the full amount upfront with no taxes taken out. This is particularly great because you get full use of the money you earn upfront, so from that perspective you are able to do more with your money. Then after year end the government in many cases will calculate the amount you owe in taxes then you can get on a payment plan to allow you to pay the taxes owed over the course of up to 12 months.
In terms of lifestyle, I would say my quality of life in Singapore is definitely higher than when I was in NY. For one, the tax and salary payment system in Singapore allows you to put your money to greater use.
Additionally, being an “expat” can give you automatic access to many different things and many different people that you would not have access to otherwise, because you are within a smaller community of foreigners. It is almost as if your status gets a bit of a “boost” and you find yourself at events and interacting with people from many different circles.
What advice would you give to someone with a similar background looking to do what you have done?
Just do it, it is not as scary as it seems. But more importantly network, network, and network. Do not be afraid to reach out to people who are where you would like to be. What I have found is that people abroad tend to be more open and willing to share their story and tips on how they got where they are.
I also think that many times we disqualify ourselves from doing the things we want to do out of fear. We don’t even present ourselves and our talents to the table. Take the chance, search for that job, send in that resume and let them make the decision as to whether they want you or not.
Has living overseas impacted your travel? If so, how?
Living overseas has allowed me to travel a great deal, during my first year in Singapore I think I was traveling to a new country every other month.
The location of Singapore makes it very easy and convenient to travel, you can literally be in many different countries with a 1 – 2-hour flight so it is easy to do long weekend getaways.
Also traveling in this part of the world is very cheap if you compare the costs in US dollars.
Thanks again to Linda for sharing her experience!