Oil And Gas Expatriates - Getting The Best From Remote And Challenging Locations


International careers in the oil and gas industry can involve being based in remote and chal...

Lauren McGuire

By Lauren McGuire

International careers in the oil and gas industry can involve being based in remote and challenging destinations, often in newly-industrialising countries. Considering an oil and gas expatriate position in such places can be an exciting way to further your career and build your professional development.

People who have worked in such environments have experienced wonderful career opportunities and developed great friendships, but there are some hurdles to overcome when accepting a position in a remote location.

As part of our “females in oil & gas” blog series, this blog gives you some insights into women’s experiences specifically and some tips on how to get the best out of the lifestyle that a remote assignment can offer. 

What kind of job vacancies are in remote locations? 

The oil and gas industry’s upstream operations often involve exploration and drilling activities and typically employ engineers, geologists and geophysicists in expatriate positions. However, expatriate opportunities aren’t restricted to these. Other job roles available may include information technology (IT), corporate social responsibility, commercial and legal functions, and human resource management (HR). So for those interested in an expatriate opportunity, there are a number of different jobs available, besides those directly linked to extraction operations.

There are many different assignment types you could be offered, but most of the roles in remote locations are offered as rotational assignments which means that you’ll spend a period on shift in the host country (probably 28 days) and then a similar period at home. Be aware that this type of assignment is unaccompanied, meaning your family can’t come with you.

If you feel that a solo assignment is unsuitable for you, check out opportunities to expatriate to a remote location on a long-term assignment as these usually enable you to take your family with you. These assignments can also be very beneficial for your career and you have the advantage of your family’s support:

Women who have undertaken solo rotational assignments in remote and challenging locations consider they have gained career advantages from doing so:

“I have heard people say if you have worked in the central Asian venture it is a good plus point.” Zara, working in HR on a rotational assignment in central Asia

Although it can be challenging, working in an unusual expatriate destination also provides the opportunity to learn about the local culture. This helps you to develop international competencies which are very much in demand by employers: 

“I loved it. I was in the middle of the desert, in an oil camp. I speak French fluently, so I had absolutely no problem working with the locals and I made very good friends. I was very inquisitive about their way of life, and I learnt so much about their culture.” Harriet, previously working in IT on a rotational assignment in a North African desert camp.

The challenges of working in a remote location 

Working in upstream operations in developing countries may require you to live in a company camp or compound which can be very different from the home you’re used to. To help with your adjustment remember to take along some special mementoes from home such as pictures that make your living space special

Although these environments can be different, many find they enjoy living there. The camps and compounds are often self-contained environments with their own canteens, gyms and other recreational facilities. While there may be limited opportunities to access local towns and cities due to distance and travel factors, there’s usually a lot to do on site.

Another challenge of working in these locations is the travel to and from the camp location to your home country. This often involves indirect flights and lengthy travel times. Some oil and gas exploration operations are in remote parts of developed countries. Here you will find greater availability of commercial flights but again with long distances to get home. 

Remote assignments and new friendships 

Whilst working remotely comes with its challenges, it’s also an opportunity to build friendships with others who understand your experiences. So when you arrive at your camp or compound, it’s important to make the effort to build friends. Remember that others are looking to make friends too. Women assignees speak of actively talking to female newcomers when they arrive to help them settle-in and making friends this way. Women also speak really positively of the life-long friendships they have made on such assignments:

“We’re all very close. It is such a small place, it is like a very, very small village. Really one of the big influences is the friendship you get. It is like a family and that is something that I would never get anywhere else.” (Cara, a geologist on a rotational assignment into a desert camp in North Africa)

Indeed, some who have experienced multiple assignments in a range of locations prefer the remote expatriate camp or compound lifestyle to expatriation to the centre of a world city:

“I feel more lonely in London than I felt in the middle of the desert, because we organised all kinds of stuff among the expats, and there was a lot more social interaction.” (Harriet, now working on an unaccompanied long-term assignment in London)

Remote and challenging locations can provide excellent career advantages, provide the opportunity for professional and personal development, and provide the setting for lasting friendships. If you’re thinking undertaking a remote assignment, identify any concerns you may have and chat to someone in the industry who has experience of the locations you are considering. Your HR department should be able to put you in touch with other women who are on such assignments, who can offer their insight too.

NES & Global Mobility

At NES, we have a team of Global Mobility experts who are able to alleviate the mobility burden for clients and candidates alike. We currently look after 12,000+ contractors across the globe and are well placed to support clients with their mobile workforce needs.

Our Global Mobility team are expatriates themselves so they know how stressful relocating can be. It’s important you seek help and advice from experienced professionals. At NES, we can help candidate’s experience a smooth relocation via our designated assignment support services

Suggested reading 

Shortland, S. (2016) ‘Extreme expatriation: the effect of location factors and masculine environments on women’s international assignment participation in oil and gas exploration and production’, in Handbook on Well-Being of Working Women, Connerley, C. and Wu, J. (eds.), Springer, New York, pp. 393-411.