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I am a senior postdoc. My lab is moving from UK to Austria, the IST specifically. We have been told reimbursement for moving is not possible. There are tax benefits that we need to apply for, which would of course not cover the moving expenses directly, but over time.

And even so, we would have to apply for them, and may not qualify. Shouldn't personal relocation expenses (at least partially) be paid for by the lab or receiving institution, at the very least as a sign of good faith?

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    This is a workplace issue, or possibly legal, not an academic one. I sympathize, but no one here can really help other than to scream along with you.
    – Buffy
    Mar 19, 2021 at 15:43
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    I suspect there is little room for manoeuvre here. I do not know about Austria specifically, but in many countries the tax authorities lay down very strict rules about what is permissible around relocation expenses - presumably to avoid companies using this as a tax-efficient back-door to paying 'sweeteners' or 'golden hellos'.
    – avid
    Mar 19, 2021 at 18:29
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    This is on topic for the site, but it is not a question. It is a complaint. In many places moving expenses can be negotiated, but a sensible choice is to negotiate higher pay instead. Mar 20, 2021 at 6:57
  • @avid Why would it be a tax loophole to pay expenses proven by receipts? And otherwise, it would be taxable income (and you could deduct it from taxes yourself if you had receipts), so again, why would this be a loophope if a company wants to pay you 10k extra salary at the beginning of your job?
    – user151413
    Apr 22, 2022 at 19:38

3 Answers 3

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I assume you didn’t just walk in to the office one day and got told “pack your things! We’re moving to Austria!” Instead, my guess is you were asked if you were agreeable to the idea of moving, told under what terms, and agreed (well, perhaps with the alternative being that you would become unemployed, but still).

If my guess is correct, the time when you were asked would have been the best time to ask the question about relocation expenses. If you have already agreed to the move under terms that do not include covering your relocation expenses, then sure, you could bring it up now, but it’s possible that that ship has sailed; if the PI or receiving institution are stretched for cash, they have little actual incentive to be receptive to your wishes.

Bottom line: there is no “should” or “shouldn’t”. In the workplace, you commonly get what you have leverage to ask and can get people to agree to give you. It sounds like you don’t have that kind of leverage in the current situation. Perhaps your PI will be understanding and agree to your request, which is reasonable after all. But there is no rule or ethical principle that says what should happen.

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    Indeed. Presumably the legal position is that OP will terminate their employment in one country, and commence working for a new employer in a different country. Merely by coincidence, several of their current colleagues have also been hired by the new employer.
    – avid
    Mar 19, 2021 at 18:25
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    your guess is not correct - we were told over email that the PI was moving, and that was that. no negotiations. there's no should or shouldn't, I guess you're right since what does that even mean. I filed this under "emotional response" ya know. however i would simply like to hear other people's experiences with this sort of thing, so i can potentially understand what is acceptable behavior here, meaning is it acceptable to us as a society to relocate a lab but leave the employees to foot the personal relo bill
    – wezmah
    Mar 19, 2021 at 20:09
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    @wezmah and no one checked with you and the other lab members whether they were interested in moving to Austria? What I mean is, forget the relocation expenses, even with expenses covered moving to a different country is a big deal, so it doesn’t sound like the PI could simply make a unilateral decision to move the entire lab without having at least most lab members on board with the decision. To be clear, I’m not challenging your account of the events, I just find the story baffling and don’t really know what to think. Were you at no point asked to provide any input into the decision?
    – Dan Romik
    Mar 19, 2021 at 20:13
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    @wezmah well, honestly I don’t know what to make of this. Unless I’m missing some key piece of context here, this is no way to treat a senior postdoc or indeed any employee. Sounds more like indentured servitude than an academic job. With a boss like that, the relocation expenses may be the least of your problems. Anyway, good luck and I hope things work out.
    – Dan Romik
    Mar 19, 2021 at 20:24
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    @wezmah: if I had never been asked, I'd seriously consider getting lost during moving. I.e., you do have a UK employment contract presumably specifying even a location within the UK. I don't think there can be any way how such a contract could change into an Austrian employment contract with some location over there automatically. So, consider whether you want to move or not. If you already signed a new contract, have a look at the probationary period and your rights to end that contract. Sleep a couple of nights over the decision, but don't let anyone bully you into moving where you don't... Mar 20, 2021 at 12:55
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In my country, Italy, no one would pay the relocation expenses, especially at the postdoc level. I can hardly imagine any university administration in my country approve this kind of expense. Those I know who moved to nearby countries like France and Germany, and also UK, either at university or in industry, had to pay out of their pocket the relocation expenses.

Therefore, here around, I would consider the payment of the relocation expenses the exception rather than the rule.

On a side note, though, I'd consider the behaviour of your PI rather problematic, for not discussing first the relocation with the whole group, and I'd consider leaving.

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    I have received funds for relocation from multiple universities (not in Europe, though). In one case, I got a ridiculously large sum. Mar 20, 2021 at 6:55
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    @AnonymousPhysicist In Europe it is rather uncommon, at least in my experience. Mar 20, 2021 at 6:58
  • thx to all for helping me come to terms :-<
    – wezmah
    Mar 20, 2021 at 12:15
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    I can speak for Germany: moving to a new job (which this would technically be) is up to certain limits an expense that can be deducted from income tax. This also means: reimbursement by the (new) employer is treated like a one-time bonus payment, and subject to taxation. My experience with this (years ago) is that if you do the moving yourself by car going only once, the deduction may cover the costs, if you go for more convenient options, it will cover a fraction of your costs. Mar 20, 2021 at 12:50
  • @cbeleitesunhappywithSX Reimbursement upon presentation of receipts (e.g. for the flight, or moving company) is not taxable.
    – user151413
    Apr 22, 2022 at 19:44
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It depends greatly on your current and prospective institution’s policies. Mine for example covers relocation, even domestically for new hires living more than 50km away and transfers between campuses (as we have several). The lab is obligated to cover this from our budgets for new hires so we cannot do so if we cannot cover these expenses. In my case (also as a postdoc) this is clearly stipulated in my contract and job listing.

I suggest you inquire with HR to fully understand your situation, there may be support you and your supervisor are not aware of. If for example your supervisor ends your current contract and hires you again at the new institution you may be eligible for this. Unfortunately there may not be and your institution may not be legally obligated to have a similar policy. Of course as your advisor they should have made some efforts to understand your options to relocate already. I do not mean to assume that they haven’t but they will be busy and may not have exhausted all options to cover these expenses. You should also make it clear to them that relocation expenses are considerable and are a significant concern for you.


Note that Japanese law requires relocation to be covered for transfers if your commuting time would be longer than 100 minutes each way. Private companies and Universities both do this. Local laws and regulations vary and may be different in the country you are relocating to. Make sure you understand these before confirming your new position. Applying for expenses retroactively is a bureaucratic nightmare which is best avoided.

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    If the "lab" (=the research group) moves to another country it is not the same employer, so it entirely different from the case you mention, where one research institution (e.g. a national lab) moves a group to another location of that instution (same employer).
    – user151413
    Apr 22, 2022 at 19:43
  • @user151413 there seems to be a misunderstanding here. This applied to your new position, if your lab is moving to a new institution you will need apply for a new contract with them. If you are being transferred to another campus, it will depend on your current employer. Either way inquire with HR for your new position. It depends on local laws and regulations but many employers offer support for relocation expenses so it is worthwhile to ask.
    – Tom Kelly
    Apr 27, 2022 at 4:38
  • This is only partially true. When it happens, the university generally has a separate budget to move someone to a given position (eg hiring a new faculty or international postdocs with a scholarship). However, if a whole lab is moving the budget is generally for maybe the professor plus one or two extra people, definitely not for a whole lab.
    – Greg
    Apr 27, 2022 at 5:14

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