Working Abroad: a Guide for Engineers

By: NES Group

For UK chemical engineers, the worldwide market is predominantly focused on the oil and gas and petrochemical industries with comparative consistent demand for engineers with both on and offshore experience to work in areas such as the Middle East, Africa, Caspian Regions and Western Europe.

Other active industries for Expat engineers are in the pharmaceutical and life science sectors - but indications suggest that demand is from isolated areas such as Singapore, Scandinavia and the Benelux regions.

Overseas work for UK engineers is available on both a contract and permanent basis - and it is the nature of this work that is all covered within this rough guide.

How do I know I have the necessary skills?

From a professional perspective industry knowledge and experience - specifically in the Oil and Gas sector, is the most important skill requirement. Traditionally, UK engineers have been very highly respected for their qualifications and trusted by clients to complete a job efficiently and effectively.
Generally, previous overseas work is desirable (inducing a Catch 22 situation) but with solid, relevant UK experience a UK engineer will still be in demand for employment overseas.

Qualifications and industry experience are necessary traits for an Expat engineer, but language skills are not essential. Professional capability is only half of the picture, as it takes a particular type of person to fit into the lifestyle of work overseas. It is great to have a sense of adventure, but working abroad requires much more than this. You should think long and hard about whether this is the right move for you or not.

Benefits of working overseas

Apart from the raised profile of going to work overseas, there are some other very real benefits. For most engineers, the most significant is the opportunity to get involved in the operational side of things and get out of the design office. A good deal of overseas contract work, particularly in the oil and gas sector, requires site visits and a hands-on management approach that is often not possible working in the UK.

There is also the potential for significantly higher pay rates to be negotiated. Expatriate engineers can command a pay rate premium, which can also be further escalated if the project location is classed as a hardship area, such as Nigeria and Iraq, where there may be personal risk involved.
A final key benefit is that of the experience of the assignment itself. The ability to come into contact with different cultures and nationalities and broaden ones knowledge is a key determinant in attracting contractors to work overseas.

Pitfalls to look out for when considering overseas work

Generally, there is a misconception that all work overseas includes tax-free pay. In fact, there are only a handful of countries where pay is completely tax-free and very often there is a liability to local taxation. The majority of countries will enforce some kind of taxation structure, but this varies from country to country, and in the case of the USA from state to state.

As regards UK tax liability, the basic ruling is that UK Expatriates can only spend 90 days in the UK in any one tax year to preserve their status as "non-resident" for tax purposes.

There are other general considerations to working abroad that should be thought about as well - including: work place climate, hardship locations, and how being away from home will impact on family life. Adequate research through speaking to colleagues, consulting with a recruitment agency, and investigating yourself using online resources will all help to build a picture of whether an assignment or location is suitable for you.

Services an agency can offer

Securing work overseas is a more complicated process to finding a suitable contract in the UK. There are a number of reputable recruitment agencies in the UK that have active overseas recruitment teams and solid experience of providing international recruitment solutions to worldwide clients.

When you work through a recruitment agency on an overseas placement, additional services, such as insurances, healthcare and in-country orientation can be expected on top of the standard placement service.

Overseas employment can be an excellent experience for the well-prepared engineer. Having both a certain sense of adventure and conducting adequate research are prerequisites for experiencing an enjoyable and rewarding placement; and contacting a reputable agency to locate suitable opportunities is a good first step in achieving this.

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