This week's interview on 'The Tax Expat' is with multilingual VAT Specialist, Michal Telka, who very recently made the move from Poland to The Hague. It's only been a couple of months since his relocation so we're looking forward to sharing a fresh take on what it means to be a Tax Expat.
How's it been for Michal moving to The Netherlands, especially around the holidays? Let's find out!
Michal, happy New Year and welcome to The Tax Expat! Thank you for joining us this week to share your recent experiences of life in The Hague! I think compared to some of our other tax expats, you’ve probably relocated abroad the most recently! First of all, can you start by telling tell us a few words about yourself?
Thank you for the invitation to The Tax Expat series! I’d also like to take this occasion to wish you a great New Year, full of personal and professional successes and new positive challenges! I think it’s a brilliant idea to develop series like this and I’m pleased to share my experiences!
In summary, I’m a Polish lawyer and tax advisor, who was gaining professional experience in a few international legal and tax corporations in Poland before moving to the Netherlands. Mainly, I used to be a part of the PwC Warsaw's professional Team and from this employment, I started gaining the real tax - related experience.
Privately, I’m a happy boyfriend to my fiance and a father of a 10 month daughter, Zosia.
Thanks Michal. So from our first contact, I think what really impressed me with your resume is that you're fluent in 7 languages, which certainly puts many of us Brits to shame as we're notoriously lazy when it comes to learning languages! But from your linguistic profile, there's a strong sense that you've always been interested in having an 'international' lifestyle. Has working abroad always been a goal for you?
Thank you. As far as I can remember from my past, I’ve always had a grip for learning foreign languages and it’s always been my passion to speak with native speakers and sort out language puzzles (which later on, I turned into one of my advantages for potential employers). Also, I need to tell you that for sure I will learn some more in the near future!
With respect to the 'international' lifestyle, working abroad has always been a goal for me. For as long as I can remember, in my first attempts to develop in a professional environment, I’ve always been aiming to work abroad, in some international and diverse milieu. It wasn’t easy to find a suitable job but, thanks to the professional advice of Harvey John, my dreams have come true!
Thank you, Michal! So, from Poland to The Netherlands as a VAT Specialist… Where does the story start & why did your consider taking your career abroad?
Well, the story starts in law school. I graduated from the Faculty of Law and Administration of Jagiellonian University in Cracow. I was already engaged in many international projects there, such as various Schools of Laws of different countries (e.g. American, French or Austrian). Since I received a scholarship to study for a while in the University of California, I had the desire to get to know more cultures, interesting people and new working environments.
As my career developed, I’ve been observing the people who were engaged in international secondments in many different countries and they were mainly VAT and other tax specialists. Therefore, I tried to do the same and after the recruitment process, received the offer for an international VAT specialist in The Hague.
And why The Netherlands?
The Netherlands has always been my professional goal and, for various reasons, it’s a great place to be an indirect tax professional. For example:
Because of reason like this, the job offers here are plentiful and can provide tax professionals a good variety with stable and attractive conditions, as well as with the horizon for big development. And having interviewed successfully with a few companies, I didn’t think twice when accepting an offer from Global VAT Compliance as it ticked all the boxes for me!
It's been about 4 months now since you moved to The Hague. How are you finding this experience so far?
Very good! Everyday I’m facing new positive job challenges and I’m engaged in the processes which are beneficial for my own professional development. As there are very big projects going on in the company, there’s always a possibility to learn something new and develop skills. I’ve always wanted to work in an international environment and couldn’t imagine a better place to be! Here, we have around 15 languages spoken and nationalities employed. Everyday in my work, I have the chance to develop my language skills and work with international clients, which I’ve always appreciated. Also, in terms of personal development and free time to spend, The Hague offers a great variety of entertainment for my family.
Moving over at the end of last year meant that you and your family got to spend the holiday season in The Netherlands. How was this? How did it differ to Poland?
Actually, I managed to go to Poland for 4 days at Christmas, so had the chance to visit my family for a short time. Since I didn’t have the holiday planned for this period, I came back to The Hague for New Years.
It was different from the holiday season in Poland, especially New Years Eve, with the fireworks displays all over the city. As I currently live in the seaside district of Scheveningen, there was a special part of the New Years celebration; the burning of a huge pile of wood on the beach. I’ve never seen such a display before but it was really impressive and a good chance to experience local traditions. Also, my family especially liked the Sinterklaas (Dutch version of Santa Claus).
How does working life in The Netherlands compare to working life in Poland?
It’s different from Poland in every sense. There’s a totally different kind of work done, where I’m now a part of an international team, delivering international VAT services for clients. I’m less focused on local assignments and more on the international area of our services.
With respect to the working environment, as The Netherlands is a very open country, we have specialists from all over the world. Working in such a milieu means knowing a lot more about different business cultures and customs from colleagues and clients. Also, you need to get used to languages other than Polish for your work. However, for the people with an international corporation background I assume that’s not a problem at all.
And over the last couple of months, what’s been the biggest struggle in the whole process?
The biggest struggle for the past 4 months, as is probably in a majority of cases like this, was finding myself in a new lifestyle. Having worked and lived in Poland, I needed to assimilate to a new country with new legislation, laws and social etiquettes. I think this isn’t only the case in The Netherlands, but you always need to discover more when you’re in the new place. However, it can be interesting and challenging. What really help when arranging all of the immigration and relocation admin, which took some time, my employers were really supportive of me, especially during the first days. I was also separated from my family for almost the whole first month of employment, since they stayed in Poland for the beginning. However, they have now happily joined me.
So living life in The Hague as an expat; is there anything that you miss in particular?
Living as an expat in another country is an adventure from one perspective and a big challenge from the other. There are some parts that you may miss from your home country, e.g. I miss my parents and sister who remain in Poland and also my friends. It can be beneficial though, because I’m trying to convince my younger sister to study here, especially now that I’ve seen how this country offers big opportunities for everyone.
This aside, I miss the local Polish cuisine, but this is easily fixed by going to the local Polish shop or restaurant!
How would you rate your relocation experience overall? If you could turn back the time - would you have made the same move or done anything differently?
Overall, I can rate my relocation as excellent! Before this move in my career, I used to think I’d be limited to one labour market, but now the world of new opportunities has opened up for me. Notwithstanding some particular moments that I had in the beginning, I’d recommend the same step for everyone who is brave enough to change their professional life. The thing is, when you’re in the same conditions for a while, you don’t see any difference and you start feeling comfortable.
As for your second question, the answer is ‘yes’. If I could turn back time, I’d still have done the exact same thing!
What advice can you share for other tax professionals who are considering a relocation abroad for their career?
Always weigh the pros and cons of every decision. You need to be sure that you want to change something in your professional life and career. Sometimes you may not be 100% sure as to whether this is the right direction, position or country for you. Even then, you just need to give the opportunity a chance. I always kept telling myself that, if I didn’t try right now and didn’t do anything, the possibility like this one may never happen again.
Michal, thanks so much for joining us on The Tax Expat! It's been great to hear the recent experiences of your journey. I wish you all the best for 2019!
Thank you for inviting me to share this unique experience of being a Tax Expat. I think it’s a great idea to share our insights to help make others more aware of the global opportunities in the tax world. Hopefully my experiences are helpful to others!
I wish you and your network a prosperous and healthy 2019, full of professional and personal successes!
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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