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Negotiate an Awesome Relocation Package

Relocating is expensive, time-consuming, stressful. A good relocation package is not only the key to a smoother transition; it can also determine your quality of life after the move.

Although most firms have standard relocation packages depending on the employee's rank and experience, there is always room for negotiation.

Before talking to your employer, start by researching real estate prices and the cost of living in your future destination, says career coach and author Dilip Saraf. Talk to friends, relatives or colleagues who live in the area and can give you realistic and up-to-date estimates, particularly if you'll be moving overseas.

"In developing countries like India or China, costs are exploding," says Saraf. "They change from one year to the next." Many human resources departments, he says, have unrealistic calculations.

Start the dialogue with the hiring manager and present your case in a compelling way. "If it falls in the realm of HR, [the package] becomes non-negotiable. Let the manager argue for you," says Saraf.

A way to approach the conversation with a higher-up is saying: "In order for me to make this work, I need some consideration for the gap between the standard package and the costs I've calculated." Lay out the facts, and explain that better conditions will make you more productive. "Most managers are willing to listen," says Saraf.

If the manager faces resistance from HR or has to abide by strict company policies, ask for other considerations. One of Saraf's clients was asked to move from Silicon Valley to India as director of quality assurance at a software company. He couldn't get the expected relocation package, but negotiated the higher title of senior director at the end of the first year abroad.

In Retrospect…
Start negotiating as soon as you receive the job offer and address all the details early on. If, however, you realize later that something was left out, speak up. "Some people are able to bring things up after the original agreement is made," says Saraf.

And keep in mind that rank determines your leverage. A senior executive's relocation is usually taken care of both financially and logistically. The company will arrange for packers, movers, temporary and permanent housing, cars, and almost anything the executive asks for; everyone else is generally offered a lump sum.

The Family:
Family and lifestyle issues also need to be studied carefully. People with kids should find out whether a public school abroad is going to provide the expected quality of education. Sometimes a private school, which can be expensive, is the only option.

When a spouse cannot practice his or her profession at the new destination, employees should ask to be compensated for that loss of income. "Maybe the spouse can work for the company as a consultant, or be on the payroll somehow," says Saraf. "There's always a way to approach that." If your spouse stays behind, negotiate a travel budget for visits every two or three months.

There are social situations to consider as well. In some countries or regions, executives are expected to be very active socially. For example, joining a country club may be the norm.

Last but not least, read the fine print.  You never know where life may lead you, and if you change jobs after relocating, the company may ask to be reimbursed for the expenses.

Paola Singer is a freelance writer in New York City. She has written for The Wall Street Journal, Newsday and Hemispheres magazine.

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