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Is it time to move out of the United States?

November 2nd, 2009 · Comments

I know quite a few people who recently moved out of the United States or are considering moving. Many of my MBA classmates are now working in China.

They feel that the United States is in decline, and the future is in somewhere else. Given how much debt the United States government owe, some folks are fearful of hyper inflation and a major US currency collapse.

Interesting enough, I recently read A Gift to My Children: A Father’s Lessons for Life and Investing by Jim Roger,  the legendary billionaire investor who sold his mansion in NYC in 2007 and moved his family to Singapore. Both of his daughters were taught Chinese since they were born. He is quoted as saying: "If you were smart in 1807 you moved to London, if you were smart in 1907 you moved to New York City, and if you are smart in 2007 you move to Asia."

Should you follow Mr. Roger’s advice and move to Asia? I would like to offer a few thoughts.

  1. The United States is not as “doomed” as some people think. The financial crisis exposed some serious problems in the US financial and regulatory systems. The US government is in deep debt. The so-called “bears” are very cynical and pessimistic about the system. But, if you look at other countries in the worlds, many governments are much more corrupt, bureaucratic, and ineffective than the US government. I still think comparatively, the United States is in a much better position to recover than many other countries.
  2. Don’t move to Asia to follow the crowed; you should know why you’re moving there. During the late 1990’s, a lot of people moved to the Silicon Valley to join the Dotcom boom. And a lot of them were laid off a few years later. They had no interest or passion for technology, but they wanted to be part of the technology gold rush. Similarly, don’t move to Asia because you want to join the “gold rush” crowded. Make the move if you have a genuine interest in Asia.
  3. Separate fantasy from reality. Before you make the serious commitment to move to Asia, go to live there for a few months. Can you handle the long work hours and intense pressure? Can you survive the hot and humid weather in Singapore, Hong Kong or Taipei? How about the smog and pollution in Beijing? We tend to fantasize and think “grass is greener on the other side”. But, once you look into the details, you will start seeing things more objectively.
  4. If you’re single and interested in Asia, I highly recommend you to move to Asia. You have nothing to lose, and you have a lot to gain.
  5. If you’re a mid-career professional, you should think holistically about your move – what’s your competitive advantage when you move to Asia? What is your contingency plan if the job doesn’t work out? Do you plan to get another job in Asia or move back to the United States? What about your kids’ education? You’re not just making a career decision, you’re also make a life style decision for your family.

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Tags: Career Fast Track · China

Viewing 4 Comments

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    Great post, in that it raises the idea that it's a truly viable option, but that it should be made carefully. A career or personal move to China is no longer the simple backpacker's adventure it used to be. While that option is still there, there is such a thing as a strategic approach to moving to Asia, to China, to Singapore, even to Beijing over Shanghai over Shenzhen. I made the move in 2004, but my strategy slowly formed around 2005-2006, and I haven't looked back since.

    To play the pessimist, it's actually almost behind the curve to pick up and move now without a plan or prepared thoughts on 1) why you want to be there and 2) what you can bring to the country. The rapid change you read about in the paper doesn't do justice to the actual changes occurring every day. It's high times for the 'haigui' - returning Chinese citizens who studied and worked successfully in the US for many years before deciding to go back to the motherland - and bilingualism/multiculturalism is key. Working in China isn't so much bringing your foreign expertise as it is bringing expertise, period. It isn't enough anymore to just be fluent in English and learning Chinese.

    Then there is the question of your commitment. Naturally it's hard to know that when you first decide to come, but that will be on everyone's minds as you interview for jobs or plug VCs for money. Just how committed are you to China, and to China's development? They've had 3000 years of struggles with imperialists, and their memories are hardy (and only as accurate as they can be with such a lengthy history), so they aren't looking for people looking for a free pass to upper management back in their home country. I'm not trying to deter anyone from going, but, be aware that that's a question they'll ask you, and really, you should ask yourself!

    Totally agree with you that a person should come short term first and see if they like their time here and feel they can adapt. You are NOT a wuss if you struggle with it, because it is indeed so different from a western environment, but better to know that first and then decide. As the Chinese say, "Feel your way across the river by touching for stepping stones."

    As this is on my mind these days as I find myself looking for a new job in China, you can imagine I've been mulling over this for some time! Apologies if my tone seems too hard, but really, that's the reality.

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    Thanks. Very insightful comments! Very well said. You should start your own blog about living and working in China as a high tech professional. :-)

    I recently had a conversation with people from a china-based company. They were telling me that they wanted to hire people who agree with their dreams/goals/passions, not just people who want a higher job title and a bigger pay check.

    Knowing a few friends who work in high tech/PE/consulting companies in China, although they get paid well, they all seems to work much longer hours than their counterparts in the United States. I think folks need to understand the demanding work environment when they make the decision to move to China.

    Good luck on your job search.

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    Good post. I guess I was a year ahead of the curve, moving to Asia in 2006 :)

    I agree that there are lots of opportunities here, but they are of no use to people who don't have any inherent interest in the region or the specific jobs people get involved in here. I actually was a Latin American Studies major and decided to come to China about a week after graduation, and my interest in China bloomed after this initial, impulsive decision.

    You might want to check out this excellent Forbes article on the same topic:

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    Thanks, Leslie. The Forbe article you recommended is great! Shune Rein's most recent Forbe article "Three Myths About China" is also excellent.

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