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Defining a hardship posting

Almaty, capital of Kazakhstan: Paradise or hardship posting?
Almaty, capital of Kazakhstan: Paradise or hardship posting?

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• Interactive: Have you ever been on a hardship posting? Have your say. 

London, England (CNN) -- The van den Bosch family from the Netherlands relocated to Almaty, Kazakhstan only three years ago for work.

At first glance it may come as a surprise that Almaty is a hard place to live. But then again some say a hardship post is anywhere you would not want to go on holiday.

"Despite being awed by the beauty of Almaty there have been difficulties -- the infrastructure, the erratic nature of the electricity supply and finding a decent school for four young children," says Jan Willem van den Bosch of ABN Amro.

What defines a hardship post? There is the question of war and personal security, but for the average multinational company much more is involved -- health services, education, climate, language, how remote the place is and the availability of goods.

"Traditionally a hardship posting is defined as one which presents particularly onerous or unhealthy conditions," Sarah Collins of Sterling Corporate Relocation told CNN.

"It does depend on the individual and there are certain people who, when taken away from their frames of reference, their support networks, their friends and families, would find pretty much anywhere a hardship," she reiterated.

Re-location advisors say that success and enjoyment in a hardship post depends on attitude and that planning is essential, as is getting advice.

Security and money

For others the challenges are different. In Lagos, Nigeria personal safety is a much bigger issue and has a serious impact on leading an independent life.

"In terms of security it's still a little bit problematic. I still need a driver, I still need security and escort to places," says Valderique Fernandez Lima, a Brazilian who works here for a U.S. oil company.

The perks that come with an expatriate job package abroad can be big and can out way the hardships including a nice house, domestic help, unique experiences, and of course more money.

In some cases the maximum hardship allowance can be 35 percent on top of the basic salary. Companies will also guarantee to pay any extra taxes incurred.

The good and the bad

For others there is the issue of providing for partners who accompany them on their posting.

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office does not make the distinction between a married or unmarried partner and provides a spouse compensation allowance of $3,000 a year.

"We're particularly conscious of the need to help spouses. Usually the diplomats will be able to speak the language, whereas spouses might not. So it can be a very isolating experience. So we do try to give a lot of support through what we call community liaison officers, " says David Powell of the UK Foreign Office.

But while the lifestyle overseas may be good, it may not necessarily be a good career move.

"Although international assignments are often presented as a means of career progression, actually being away from head office, or being away from people with whom you've already built up a good reputation may not always actually further your career," says Collins.

There may also be issues when executives move back home. Some have returned to find that their job is not available or they have to take an unanticipated move in the firm.

For those that succeed in a hardship posting and settle down the real problem is the move to the next location.

-- CNN Producer Meera Erdozain contributed to this report

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