In our last edition of The Tax Expat, we were joined by Michal Telka to discuss his very recent move to The Hague to explore VAT opportunities. This week, we go a bit more intercontinental and we’re joined by Martin Lazaroff, a Global VAT and Tax ERP specialist who has been an expat in North America, Europe, and Asia!
It’s another fascinating journey of one of our global tax expats with some great tips for those yet to take their career abroad. Over to Martin...
Martin, thanks for joining us to share your experiences for The Tax Expat. I think you're the first interviewee we've had who can say they've ticked off three continents in their tax career! Can you start by telling tell us a few words about yourself?
Thanks for inviting me to take part, Alex! Yes, I’ve worked on three continents but you’re the first to point that out! I’ve not paid particular attention to that fact because, in essence, I work across many VAT jurisdictions globally. The truth is that I’ve always been eager to learn and diversify my skills and the geography has played a big part.
But, in summary, I’m a Sr. Manager with a Big 4 firm in and I’m currently based in the GCC where VAT is in the process of being implemented... and it’s big news! In the past I’ve also worked in-house for global industry. Working for industry gave me a unique perspective on the VAT challenges from accounting and finance through to technology.
So, your big relocation story… Where does the story start & why did you consider relocating abroad?
The story begins in Canada where I started as an Auditor with the Canada Revenue Agency a few years after the introduction of the GST. I spent 3 years with the CRA before moving on to an advisory and consulting practice. It quickly became apparent to me that, with globalization, there’s an advantage to gaining knowledge that’s transferable cross border. Unfortunately, as most of my colleagues know, this is easier said than done as the advisory work didn’t transfer across borders. So, the only way to be exposed to international assignments is to go there. I took advantage of internal opportunities related to the upcoming expansion in the EU and transferred to Bulgaria prior to the country’s accession in 2007. That was the international break I was hoping for. Later, I had a few others.
And I understand that, as well as Bulgaria, you spent some time working in The Netherlands. What were your experiences of being a tax professional in Europe?
Yes, I did have the opportunity to work at a mature VAT location such as the Netherlands, which enabled me to experience borderless trade, integration of services, and also appreciate the uniqueness that each country offered.
Working in different countries within the EU offered the distinct advantages of broadening my knowledge and experiences. You can’t say that, if you worked anywhere in the EU you can now do the same everywhere else. It doesn’t work like that. The more exposure you get broadly, the better.
And that move to Europe seemed to initiate a string of other international moves as you then went back to North America - this time Portland, Oregon - and then Dubai. What influenced these moves?
Frankly, the timing was good for me both from a personal and professional perspective. Working for an automation company and providing third party content was exciting and dynamic. This is the type of skill that companies look for in-house from their employees. This also happens to be the direction of the future in our field of work. Clearly, I’m living proof of that. I implemented VAT in over 50 countries and I’m enjoying my advisory role in the UAE where I help others with the challenges of VAT.
So you're now in Dubai, playing a role in the implementation of VAT in the region. How are you finding this experience so far?
This is probably the best experience one could hope for. I’m getting enquiries from people around the globe who would like to do what I do. Unfortunately, few get that break and so I feel privileged to have this opportunity. And life in Dubai fits my motto; work hard, play hard.
It’s dynamic here and you get to work with a huge range of people from around the world. I enjoy this a lot. But what I also love is that the learning curve hasn’t ended in the UAE, because each of the GCC states have their own specific regulations.
Looking across all of your international moves, what’s been the biggest struggle in the whole process?
The biggest struggle has been reconciling my family life with my professional life. Sometimes, I wish I did what I’m doing at a younger age. As they say, timing is everything.
And with everything being a ‘learning curve’, as you say, what’s the most important thing you’ve learnt about yourself since working around the world?
I’ve learnt that I can adapt and achieve. There’s a positive in all we do, we just have to know how to recognize it.
What's been your favourite location to be a Tax Expat so far?
I love each and every place I’ve been to and I look forward to seeing many more. Each country has presented its own experiences and challenges, so it’s very difficult to choose one in particular!
And if you could turn back the time - would you have made the same move?
An emphatic YES.
Finally, what advice can you share for other tax professionals who are considering a relocation abroad for their career?
Everyone has to make the right choices for the right reasons. I can only share my experience, which has fortunately been incredibly enjoyable and rewarding. If you like to travel and you enjoy constant change, then just go for it!
Martin, it’s been great to hear your insights. You’ve definitely come away with some unique insights and amazing experiences over the years, so thank you for sharing some of them with us!
Are you a Tax Expat? If so, we'd love to hear about your experiences and share them with our global tax network. For more information, please contact Alex Mann.
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