An American Expat in Brazil: Part 1 of 3
The following is part one of a three-part Radius series. Read part two.
By Tony Quintero, Director, Accounting Services
When my company, Radius, approached me last summer about helping open a new corporate office in Sao Paulo, Brazil, I was immediately intrigued. Radius has offices all over the world — in London, Mumbai, Beijing, Singapore and elsewhere — but when I was approached we didn’t have a foothold in Latin America. The region is of course home to many emerging markets attractive to companies looking to expand globally, including not only Brazil, but Argentina, Chile, Peru and Colombia. So I was delighted at the prospect of opening a groundbreaking office there.
Along with those considerations, I reflected that I already knew much about Latin America and, more generally, about negotiating new and unfamiliar cultures. Though I’ve lived and worked in Boston for nearly three decades now, I grew up in Colombia and have traveled extensively in Brazil and elsewhere. I even speak fluent Portuguese, which of course I knew would serve me well on the proposed assignment. In short, I accepted the six-month expat assignment in Brazil without trepidation, and I’ve been on the ground in Sao Paulo for about a month now.
While my initial optimism has been justified (at least so far!), there’s no substitute for first-hand experience, and I’ve certainly learned a thing or two since touching down in Sao Paulo. It occurred to me last week that writing a few blog posts about my experiences as a U.S. expat in Brazil might prove interesting and instructive to others planning to take on similar assignments, whether in Brazil or any other country.
In contrast to many posts on this blog, mine will concern themselves almost exclusively with the point of view of the expat employee, without much regard to employer concerns such as corporate permanent establishment triggers, local employment laws and so on. We have a wealth of information about such considerations on our website, as a few minutes spent on the site’s search tool will attest. Instead, I’ll focus on how to prepare for an expat assignment, along with some cultural (as opposed to legal or regulatory) factors you’ll want to consider beforehand.
Let me say up front that expat assignments aren’t for everyone. They’re expensive for an employer; given housing expenses, local taxes and other factors, expat assignments often run between two to three times the expat’s home-country salary. And as for the traveler, he or she may incur some tax-related financial burdens, not to mention other potentially negative factors such as family disruptions and other hardships associated with living and working in an unfamiliar culture.
On the other hand, sending expats abroad can provide an employer with profound benefits, such as those associated with sending a proven employee to train new local employees on company policy and procedures. And the traveler can enhance his or her own resume with international experience, not to mention enhancing his or her knowledge and experience of other cultures, which I regard as important to one’s personal education.
So if you’re lucky enough to be offered the chance to undertake an overseas assignment, I strongly suggest you consider it. The benefits may in the end far outweigh the costs. In my next post, I’ll discuss some steps you should take when preparing for an overseas assignment.
Read part two of this series.
For more on this topic, listen to this recent webinar: Expat Planning: What to Know When Sending Key Talent Overseas.