How to Negotiate Your Salary Abroad
During my first job as a lecturer in Southeast Asia, I was so happy to be in the position and able to do my research that I sped through salary negotiations and didn’t think twice about signing my contract. It was only later, while having coffee with my colleagues, that I learned that some university employees had arranged for their contracts to cover housing, food, and travel expenses. I wasn’t aware that those were even options up for negotiation!
Going through the job search process abroad can be confusing enough, but after you’ve received an official offer, it’s important to think about how you will fully understand your contract and successfully get what you want.
We talk a lot about negotiation in the United States, but what if you land a job internationally and are going to be working in an office culture vastly different than what you’re used to? Here are a few tips I’ve learned about how to navigate the negotiation process abroad.
No matter what country you’re in, you should always negotiate. Even if you’ve heard that it’s not a standard practice in the country, you should still see what—if anything—is negotiable. I hear of many new graduates hired abroad who completely overlook negotiations, which leaves them at a big loss and can have lasting effects on the rest of their careers.
If the organization is small or a startup, you may not have much bargaining power around the salary. However, you may be able to negotiate time off, job responsibilities, future references or recommendation letters, or the exact projects you want to manage. Whatever you bargain for, you and the company should reach an understanding so you can be as happy and effective as possible.
Understand Exactly What You're Getting
How far will your salary go in your host country, compared to your home country? It’s critical to consider this, because it could mean the difference between enjoying your time there or constantly stressing out about how you’re going to afford a plane ticket home.
In your negotiations, you’ll need to determine whether the company will pay you in local currency or your home currency and how that translates to the lifestyle you want to lead. Make sure you fully understand the implications of accepting a local salary rather than one that you would get back home.
For example, getting a salary in Norwegian kroner may seem like a lot of money if you’re from the U.S., but the cost of living in Norway is extremely high. In Thailand, the cost of living is low and you could live on a salary of $1,000 a month, but if you want to build up your savings, that probably isn’t going to cut it. You don’t want any surprises, so ask about how taxes, Social Security, and healthcare are calculated in each country, and make sure to negotiate so you have more than enough to live on after those expenses are taken out of your paycheck.
Know the Culture and Values
In a recent salary negotiation with a Norwegian company, I was unsure of how forward I should be. I knew that the Scandinavian social code of “janteloven” suggests that you shouldn’t act better or more special than anyone else. But if that was the code, how was I supposed to show that I was worth the salary I was asking for?
I ended up doing some research and found out that negotiations have been pretty standard in Norway for about 30 years, and it wouldn’t be offensive if I talked about what I could deliver.
When you enter negotiations with people of a different culture, it’s important to research best practices beforehand, so you know what to expect. If you’re in India, for example, expect to receive a low number initially and negotiate several times to get where you want to be. Salary negotiations in Japan can be very intricate, with little room for negotiation unless you provide clear evidence to prove your worth. In Turkey, honor and trustworthiness are everything, so you may want to convey how honored you are to work for the company before you begin negotiating.
Play Hardball with Discretion
In any negotiation process, you don’t want to feel like you’re getting less than you’re worth. It’s okay to clearly explain what you need to make this job work for you, but be sure to do this in a way that’s culturally relevant—which could mean emphasizing family, work ethic, or your focus on helping the company succeed.
Be tough, but don’t threaten to walk away—this could be interpreted as an insult and a rejection of the job offer. Instead, say, “I really value this position and what you are offering me, but there are a few things I would like to modify so we can come closer to an agreement.”
And don’t be afraid that negotiating will cause the organization to pull your offer. The truth is, you’re the candidate they’ve chosen, and they likely don’t want to miss out on hiring you.
Understand the Context of “No”
When you first enter negotiations, your colleagues may shoot down your initial number or say the offer is non-negotiable. Realize, however, that in many countries, “no” leaves some room for interpretation.
For example, the person you are negotiating with may say, “That’s not possible” to avoid appearing weak, but in a few days, he may come back to meet your request or reconsider your offer. So, don’t get discouraged when you hear an initial rejection, because it’s possible that this is protocol in the culture.
Stay true to your initial numbers by encouraging the hiring manager to “take a few days to think about how we can make this work”—then see what he or she comes back with. You should never feel forced to sign right away. It’s always better to stick to your numbers or meet at the middle than to accept a something you’re not happy with.
Make Sure the Agreement is Upheld
Once you’ve signed the negotiated contract, make sure that it is honored. In some countries, contracts aren’t worth the paper they are written on. You would be surprised at the way some companies try to break or creatively interpret contracts.
To avoid any confusion, make sure to include benchmarks in your contract, as well as the ability to meet with your superiors if any issues arise.
Negotiating at anywhere can be intimidating, but in other countries, it can be an especially complex road to navigate. Stick to your plan, do your research, and understand the new culture, and you’ll set yourself up for a great position abroad with a salary and perks that you can be proud you negotiated.
Photo of passport courtesy of Shutterstock.
Natalie Jesionka has researched and reported on human rights issues around the world. She lectures on human trafficking, gender and conflict, and human rights at Rutgers University. When she is not teaching, she is traveling and offering tips on how students and professionals can get the most out of their experiences abroad. She also encourages global exploration through her work as Editor of Shatter the Looking Glass, an ethical travel magazine. Natalie is a Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow and served as a 2010 Fulbright Scholar in Thailand.More from this Author