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Taking A Secondment Abroad What Is A Secondment And What Should I Know

Taking A Secondment Abroad: What Is A Secondment And What Should I Know?

A secondment, sometimes called a ‘job rotation’, is when an employee is sent to work temporarily for a different branch of their company or a different company altogether. A secondment overseas can be an incredible experience as well as a career boost – but it does come with its own challenges.

Here we’ll explain what an international secondment is, what it means for you and your career, and some of the issues to be aware of before going on your own secondment.

Key takeaways

  • 1/ An international secondment is when your company sends you to work in a different country, either for a different branch of that same company or another company
  • 2/ Unlike an expatriate, you’ll remain employed by your home country, meaning you won’t need to change your residency or tax status
  • 3/ This will affect some of your rights and benefits – including those to do with healthcare
  • 4/ Not only can a secondment help you to further your career, you can enjoy all the benefits of expatriate life, often with fewer complications
Happy young female employee sitting at her workplace in the officewith colleagues in the background - Taking A Secondment Abroad: What Is A Secondment And What Should I Know?
A secondment is an excellent opportunity to experience another culture / GETTY IMAGES

What is a secondment and what should I know?

If you work for an international company or one that works with clients in other countries, you might be offered a secondment overseas. As well as learning a new range of skills, being seconded abroad offers the opportunity to experience another culture, perhaps even learning another language. And because you’re not changing your residency status, you will also usually be exempt from some of the administration that comes with a permanent move.

A secondment is designed to give an employee experience in another team or department. It’s a great opportunity to experience new challenges, while the company benefits by increasing employee engagement, upskilling employees and improving communication within the business.

How do secondments work?


Occasionally, a company will send an employee to work for a different business as a secondment. This is more common in industries that specialise in consultancy, but could also be arranged if a company needs the skills of another business’s employees. It’s not uncommon to see programmers, data scientists, economists and even creatives working secondments for their clients.

  • Secondments are sometimes necessary for career progression, especially if someone is being lined up for a leadership role.
  • In these situations, the main employer benefits from receiving a fee for loaning their staff member, while the employee gains new experience.
  • A foreign secondment is different to working overseas as part of your regular job. Some people, such as those who work in international development, or who take business trips to visit clients overseas, may find themselves working their regular jobs abroad.
  • The difference between this and a secondment is that, with a secondment, the nature of your job will be change. In many cases, you may need to sign a new contract or agree to be sub-contracted, specifying that your job role and normal place of work will change.
What is culture shock and how does it affect those living abroad?
Find out more here

How long does it take to arrange a secondment?

It can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months to arrange a secondment
, depending on factors such as your current role, the role you’re stepping into and any legal requirements. You may need to take tests and checks and perhaps undergo training before taking on your new role.

For overseas secondments, you may need to prove you have the right to live and work in your destination country. This could involve getting a working visa, proving your vaccination status for COVID-19 and getting the necessary insurance – which could include international health insurance.

Many of these steps could be completed or facilitated by your company. For instance, if you need to prove your income to be accepted to live and work in another country, your company may be able to complete the paperwork.

Male and female colleagues in the office practicing alternative greeting to avoid handshakes during COVID-19 pandemic - Taking A Secondment Abroad: What Is A Secondment And What Should I Know?
While seconded, you will remain an employee of your home country / GETTY IMAGES

How long does a secondment typically last?

A typical secondment usually lasts around 3–6 months, although if you are expected to move overseas you may find your secondment lasts longer. In any case, a secondment should not last longer than two years, as beyond that point the job could be considered a permanent position.

Will my pay or benefits change while I’m on secondment?

  • Your employer should not lower your salary while you are on secondment. They should also continue to pay you any entitlements you are due, such as your pension.
  • You will remain an employee of your home country, so you may find that your tax status stays the same. If so, you will continue to pay taxes at the normal rate in your home country and be exempt from local taxes while living abroad.
  • If your secondment affects your entitlement to bonuses and other benefits, you should agree suitable alternatives with your employer.
  • In some cases, your pay may increase while you are on secondment, but it may revert to its normal level once your secondment has ended. This also goes for any additional bonuses you may be entitled to while on secondment.

You should agree with your employer any entitlement to expenses while you’re living abroad. You may expect your employer to contribute to such things as:

  1. Relocation costs including plane tickets and the cost of moving your belongings abroad
  2. Accommodation costs
  3. Travel and transport to and from your new place or work, or the cost of running a car
  4. If you are relocating with kids, you should consider the costs associated with childcare and school fees
  5. Any insurance you need, including international health insurance, if required.

Make sure you agree your financials with your employer before agreeing to take on a secondment.

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What’s it like to be on secondment?

Ideally, you should have fun, feel challenged and learn something new while on secondment.

However, there can be challenges. Don’t be surprised if you experience culture shock. This is a common feeling for people moving abroad. It can take time to adapt to local food, customs and society.

Hopefully, the company or office you’ll be posted to will have some experience in welcoming foreign workers and be able to help you integrate. Getting to know the people you work with can be a great step towards developing a social life, which is important to supporting your mental health.

Young businessman helping a female colleague in their modern office - Taking A Secondment Abroad: What Is A Secondment And What Should I Know?
If you’re the kind of person who never shies away from a challenge, a secondment could be exactly the thing you need / GETTY IMAGES

What are my rights as a seconded worker?

Unless agreed in advance, you should enjoy the same rights when it comes to:

  • Your pay and entitlements
  • Your normal working hours
  • Sickness and absence leave
  • Maternity/paternity entitlements
  • Annual leave and holiday
  • Disciplinary procedures
  • Anything else as defined by the status of your working contract.

Bear in mind that these rights relate to your employment only. You will still be expected to adhere to the laws of your new country.

What if my company doesn’t do secondments?

Secondments are more common in some industries than others. If you can’t find any opportunities for secondment at your current employer, you could consider:

  • Requesting a move to another division of the company in a different country. However, this will be viewed as a permanent move, making you an expatriate rather than a seconded employee
  • Requesting to change your contract to specify that you work remotely. This could open the door to allowing you to become a digital nomad, allowing you to move temporarily to a country that offers digital nomad visas
  • If you’re really committed to working abroad and your employer is not open to you going, there are plenty of ways to find a new job overseas.
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Do I still need international health insurance as a seconded employee?

As a foreign national, you may have to pay for healthcare abroad. Travel insurance will only cover you for a limited period and only offers access to a limited range of treatments. If you are going to be living in another country for several months or even years, international health insurance is a must-have.

It can give you access to private emergency treatment, routine check-ups, ongoing prescriptions, and checks and treatments for serious illnesses such as cancer.

And if you have a life or limb-threatening condition and treatment isn’t available in your location, you should also expect to be able to access medical evacuation (medevac).

Are secondments worth it?

For the chance to advance your career, while broadening your horizons, there’s nothing better than a secondment
. If you are the kind of person who never shies away from a challenge, a secondment could be exactly the thing you need to inspire and excite you.

Going on secondment? Go with peace of mind

At William Russell, we have 30 years’ experience providing international health insurance to people who have made new lives overseas. If you are planning to go on secondment abroad, make sure you and your family have the cover you need.

Speak to our award-winning customer service team today to find out how we can support your secondment, helping you to get out there and make the most of your once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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