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Should I stay or should I go?

Few professionals are as well placed to travel as civil engineers and many cite the opportunity as one of the reasons they chose civil engineering as a career in the first place.

The attractions of working overseas - not least the pay, nonresident's tax status and often elevated living standards - are certainly seductive. And the longer you work abroad, the more you get used to the expatriate lifestyle and perks it provides.

'We seldom get engineers wanting to come back to the UK, ' says Kanu Rajguru, manager for civils and structural engineering at recruitment firm BBT Overseas, 'and most of those intending to stay in the UK will want to go abroad again within a few months'.

Not surprisingly, a significant proportion of the ICE's 14,000 international members are expatriate Brits. Most employers will look positively at an overseas posting on a CV, recognising the qualities such an experience can bring to an individual.

A word of warning though to anyone planning a stint overseas. The longer you're away, the more difficult it is likely to be to find a position back home that offers the same benefits - often in terms of status, as well as pay - as the one you held abroad.

'Generally speaking, there's a major disparity in salaries, particularly at a more senior level, ' says Rajguru. 'A 50 year old qualified and chartered civil engineer earning £40,000 to £55,000 overseas will find that such salaries just aren't available in the UK, and what is available is taxable.'

Even at a more junior level, finding work can be difficult.

And it is not just a matter of money; expatriate civil engineers soon find themselves out of touch with British codes and regulations. It can be a burden to keep abreast of British Standards, especially if they're not relevant in the country in which they are working.

It's not surprising then that most of the long term expatriates Rajguru has come across in the course of his work choose to remain overseas until the end of their working lives.

There are exceptions, however, as reader Will Rogers, proves. Rogers, 55, chose to return to the UK in late 1996 after working in southern Africa for more than 20 years, latterly as a principal associate with Knight Piesold in Johannesburg.

He spent his first year back home commuting between South Africa, Malawi and the UK, before joining the staff of a major consultancy 'at a time when the water business was very buoyant'.

The market then changed, says Rogers, and he found himself out of work for three months, before joining Montgomery Watson - the firm he'd left in the 1970s - last October, as a principal engineer working in the Trident West Alliance with Thames Water.

Rogers agrees that moving back to Britain after a long period abroad is not a step to be taken lightly.

'You have to ask yourself what you have to offer, ' he says.

'You may have experience of life, wisdom of years, general managerial skills but little that's bespoke to the UK market. And more to the point, who wants you?

'There's this widely held vision of the opinionated returnee spouting: 'When we were in Nairobi, Macau, Montenegro or wherever'.'

But if you can get over the inevitable hurdles (see box) coming home can be a positive experience. Now happily settled here with his family, Rogers says his decision to move back to the UK, was definitely the right one.

Going abroad? Think ahead Whether you're planning a longterm overseas posting, or you've been abroad for several years and intend returning home before you retire, it's wise to be prepared for certain inevitabilities on your return.

Codes and regulations will have changed in the years you've been away and so too will other aspects of the industry - which could make job-hunting extremely difficult.

Another problem is the expense of living in the UK; despite low inflation. Housing, for one thing, will be a lot more expensive than it was when you left.

Former expatriate Will Rogers suggests that would-bereturnees ask themselves the following questions:

Could you take a lesser post with removal of all kudos?

Do you have specialist skills?

Could you work for a younger, if more adept, boss?

Could you accept a small workspace in a communal office?

Could you describe your skills and experience without boring others with past glories?

Is this what you really want to do; and are you and your partner united in the desire to move?

'If you answer yes to all of these, ' he asserts, 'then come home. The rewards do satisfy desire, but in other ways than those you may have visualised.

The past was fun while it lasted, and you'll end up richer in mind if not in purse'.

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