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By LP Wirth
Corporate expat life can be difficult, especially when it involves a family that stays behind. My life in Jersey was amazing and life-changing.
Corporate Expat life can be difficult, especially when it involves a family that must stay behind. But it can also offer different perspectives and enrich our lives.
Leaving Home to Embark on My Corporate Expat Journey
So it was in my case. I had lived in Scotland for ten years, had bought a house there and had a girlfriend and her daughter living with me. When the job market dried up in 2009, I was looking at options abroad and applied for a role with a Canadian bank in Jersey, Channel Islands. But if we wanted to save the house, this was the only option.
I signed a three-year contract with the bank, loaded up the van, and made my way to the seaport of Poole, England, a seven-hour drive. I made it in time and arrived the next day in the evening at the port of St. Helier, Jersey. Customs looked suspiciously at my fully packed van, books, my Yamaha keyboard, and tons of clothing, and let me pass after I showed them my employment contract. A friendly lady from HR greeted me at the port and led the way to my corporate apartment, which was guaranteed for one month.
Jersey is a beautiful island. They call it a bailiwick. It’s the most southern location in the UK. Though technically Jersey is under UK protection, it was never part of the E.U. This comes with certain tax advantages the UK government disliked. We had a straight 20% income tax across the board which made filing taxes so simple that I never needed a CPA. It also has a 5% sales tax called GST. Unfortunately, this tax applies to all goods and services, including food, which I found unusual and particularly hard on the lower-earning part of the population.
Jersey is a unique place. For one, it’s French historically, because it used to be under French jurisdiction. Most towns and streets have French names, and many islanders speak French. Both English and French are the official language in Jersey. But there is a third, the insider language for natives: Jèrriais. Few islanders speak it, but they teach it in some schools.
Finding accommodation in Jersey isn’t easy if you are on a budget. They are classified in the Jersey Housing Qualification Law. Islanders with residential status can rent/buy any property. Corporate expats receive permission for the duration of their employment plus six months to rent certain properties, but not all are available.
There are more qualifications. The rule of thumb is, if you lived there for 10 years, you receive residential status. That’s more than most countries require. (I live in Panamá now, where I received immediate permanent resident status.) The reason is Jersey’s size and limited real estate resources. If you are considering moving to Jersey as a corporate expat, make sure to enquire about housing qualifications. If you are moving there without a corporate contract that includes housing qualifications, you want to research your Jersey real estate options with great care. A small, two-bedroom, two-bath apartment, fully furnished, non-qualified, can easily cost over GBP 1,900 per calendar month, utilities not included. Rentals are called “lettings” in Jersey.
The corporate culture is a blissful mix of American/French/UK customs. There is a lot of competition. I found it easier to adapt to my work environment in Jersey than in Mallorca, Spain. It even comes with a hint of French and Swiss liberal lunch breaks. I have fond memories of going out for lunch with the team and, well, not returning to work that day, my boss in the lead. However, we always got the work done, and as long as we did, all was great.
There Is More to Corporate Expat Life Than Work
Because of its proximity to St, Malo, France, just 14 miles, a mere 30-minute ferry ride, French culture is engrained in Jersey life. Many inviting outdoor cafes are sprinkled liberally throughout the island. Jersey is a small place. It is only five miles long and nine miles wide. A trip around the island is possible in about 50 minutes by car or bike. Speaking of biking, I loved to explore this wonderful place on my little bike after work and during weekends. The island’s bikers play a game: Find this spot. We called it “the location game.”
They would take a picture without a caption, and the players would “race” to find the place. Note though, the maximum speed limit on the island is 40 MPH. I loved that game and used it to explore the island freedom-stye. I never got to a place first, mind you. But the adventure of finding it was plenty of reward.
That all said, the three-year stay in Jersey as a corporate expat also resulted in the separation from my girlfriend for a number of reasons. Long distant relationships are not made for long durations. Keep that in mind when considering a position abroad. Always try to negotiate to bring your family. I did, though, but my girlfriend and daughter did not want to move to Jersey. It’s all good now; we went our separate ways. Who knows if I would have arrived in Panamá otherwise?
Jersey is an amazing place to live and work as a corporate expat. But unless you have deep pockets or are a corporate expat, visiting may be better than immigrating to Jersey. I shall always remember the friends I made there, and I treasure the unforgettable experiences I had in Jersey.
Have you been in a situation where you had to leave your family behind for a job abroad as a corporate expat? How did this impact your family life? Let us know, so we can learn from your experience.
Editor’s Note: TCI is a full-service provider of expat education and transition services. Our private platform allows our global expat community and our Expat Alliance of in-country expats and experts to interact so that all can successfully embrace the expat experience. Learn More…