If you have heard the term FIFO (Fly In Fly Out) but have no flipping idea what it means, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve been doing FIFO jobs since 2014 and have worked in a variety of industries and provinces. This post is a compilation of the things I’ve experienced over my years of living this way and it may not all be applicable to all FIFO jobs. Keep an open mind wherever you choose to roam, but always do your research and when possible, speak to current or former employees to get a more accurate idea of the site you’re interested in.
When you see people post about their “FIFO” jobs, or see “remote” postings for FIFO work, it can be confusing, and a quick snapshot isn’t enough to do it justice or answer the questions that arise. I am here to explain the general overview of what it means to be a FIFO worker and what that life looks like. If you’re interested in trying out the FIFO life, I’m going to list the common pros and cons that come along with it to help you decided if the cost and worth balance.
FIFO is a unique lifestyle. As the name states, FIFO entails flying into a work site to complete your shift’s rotation and flying back home to enjoy your rostered days off. Instead of working a job that you commute to daily in your hometown and usually having your weekends off (Monday to Friday 9-5), you travel to a remote area for the position. You are usually set up in a camp, much like a motel in some ways, and travel to your job site on a bus or in company vehicles. Some sites don’t provide camp lodging. You are given an LOA (living out allowance) and expected to find housing local to the job site. Your shifts are usually 12 hours daily for the entire shift. Some companies have 10-hour work days, but majority of the time you’ll be working 12 hours.
There are a vast number of rotations that are used by different companies in different industries and locations:
- 7 days on, 7 days off
- 14 days on, 14 days off (2/2)
- 21 days on, 21 days off (3/3)
- 14 days on, 7 days off (2/1)
- 21 days on, 7 days off (3/1)
- 8 days on, 6 days off
- 6 weeks on, 3 weeks off (6/3)
And that list continues, on and on. The most attractive and sought-after rotations are the ones that provide equal time home, such as the 2/2 or 3/3 rotations. If your focus is to make as much money as quickly as possible, the 2/1 or 3/1 are surely the fastest route to build that bank account. For the more adventurous spirits, postings come up in other countries across the world and require much longer shifts, starting with 4 weeks in and going upwards of 6 or more weeks at a time.
As you can imagine, this kind of work schedule presents unique pros and cons, challenges and benefits. Let’s start with the pros of working away:
- Depending on the schedule you sign on for, you technically get to work 6 months out of the year for the same or higher pay than a traditional “9-5” job.
- Most sites and companies offer competitive pay and attractive bonuses based on the fact that you are living remotely for half of the year, in shared accommodations and working long and demanding shifts.
- Quite literally, all you have to do is show up and work. Everything else is taken care of for you.
- Majority of the time, you reside in a camp which provides all meals and entertainment for the duration of your shift (added bonus is you do no food preparation, no dishes, no extensive housecleaning, and don’t have to worry about getting stuck in rush hour traffic). This allows you to save money on groceries, daily coffees and eating out while at work.
- You get to travel to remote areas, often not seen by many people. For example, I currently work in the Arctic circle on Northern Baffin Island, NV. I get to see polar bears, arctic hares, arctic foxes, and experience 24 hours of daylight during the summer, with 24 hours of darkness in the winter.
- Your tooling and PPE are usually provided by the company.
- If you are participating in an apprenticeship program, you can accumulate hours towards your red seal much faster than with a traditional 9-5 job.
- You get to meet people from all around the globe, and form fast and long-lasting friendships that you wouldn’t have the chance to nurture working a traditional job at home.
- You have much more availability to make appointments at convenient times, like doctor visits or dental appointments, car appointments, etc.
- You technically can dedicate 100% of your time home to the things you want to do. If you want to nap? Live that life and take that nap! No pesky work to get in the way when you’re on your time off. Want to head to the beach when it’s a beauty day? Pack that cooler, slather on that sunscreen and hit the road.
- You have more time off to spend on vacations or road trips/adventures because your time off is usually several consecutive weeks. It frees you up from having to book time off from a traditional role, and usually leaves you with more freedom for booking adventures when you know your scheduled time off for the year.
Keep in mind, there is a price to everything, and life is a beautiful balancing act. Let’s take a peek at the cons that come along with this seemingly illustrious lifestyle:
- You are away from home for minimum 6 months of the year, and inevitably miss out on important pieces of life. Birthdays, anniversaries, first steps for children, adventures your friends or family are going on, graduations, moments where you wish to give solace and comfort in person, just to name a few.
- You have no control over your living space or environment. By this, I mean that you do not get to choose what kind of camp you stay in, what kind of room you have, what kind of food is served, what amenities are available, what the climate is or what the commute to and from site is like. You are at the mercy of your employer, and not all companies and sites are equal.
- Privacy is no longer a given, and becomes a privilege reserved for your time home. Your rooms have paper thin walls (and in some cases, you sleep in tents with no ceilings and quite literally feel like a sardine packed into a can) so the option of private conversations is never there because someone can always hear you.
- You spend quite literally 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with the same coworkers in the same environment. It is hard to unplug and unwind from your job during downtime when you are constantly surrounded by your peers.
- If you want to make the big bucks, you will most definitely be sacrificing time home. Whether it’s to take a 2/1 rotation, or to do some overtime to get that extra cash, you will ultimately be making more money at the detriment of your home life and personal life.
- It is extremely difficult to cultivate and maintain work/life balance, despite usually having equal time home. The days off always go too quickly, and most of us are so tired from a long shift that the first few days home are spent in solitude. We don’t want to see people, we don’t want to go places, we just want to enjoy the simple pleasures like sleeping in our own beds, choosing our own meals and showering in full sized bathrooms with our creature comforts at our fingertips.
- If you forget something when packing for camp, it is extremely difficult to get it at work. There are usually commissaries which provide the basics like soap, toothpaste, Advil, cold medications and Q-tips. But if you forget a prescription medication and work somewhere extremely remote, it is difficult to get what you need brought up. Likewise, if you run out of something you need, chances are the commissary will not stock your usual choice or brand. Not always a big deal, but for those of us with skin sensitivities and preferences, it’s quite frustrating.
- It can be a very isolating and lonely life in camp. It’s hard to switch gears when you get home and get back into your normal mode which can cause friction at home and be hard on your mental health.
- Speaking of relationships, it can be really difficult for the partner and family members left at home while we work away. They shoulder all the responsibilities while we’re away, we don’t have the time or freedom to dedicate to long conversations or supporting our families, and often the time changes present challenges for when you can even communicate with your family. It’s difficult for both those of us who work away, and the ones who are holding down the forts for FIFO workers. Realistically, if you haven’t worked a FIFO job, it’s hard to grasp the environment and perspective of the FIFO worker. This results in confrontations which wouldn’t necessarily occur if working a traditional job.
- When something arises at home, it is damned near impossible to deal with properly when working on a remote site. This is where those feelings of isolation come up, and these situations are amplified when you’re stuck on a job site thousands of kilometers away from home and loved ones. You aren’t always able to get home right away either when things happen, so keep in mind how remote your site is when taking a job and understand the limitations this presents when an emergency comes up.
- When you make more money, there is a tendency to spend more money. A lot of people find themselves caught up in the “FIFO life”, spending extravagantly on vehicles or homes or material goods. “Fort Mac Steve” has several pertinent videos on YouTube from what feels like the height of the oil field boom in mid 2010’s highlighting some of these things comedically.
Each situation is different, and quite honestly you never really know if the FIFO lifestyle is a good fit for you until you try it out. I left my first job as a millwright after 4 years to try out the FIFO life in the oil field and have now spent more than 8 years chasing the FIFO jobs and living the FIFO life. There have also been people I’ve worked with who literally didn’t last a day on a site, and there is nothing wrong with that. It’s a different beast, and certainly not one we’re all willing to dance with. Especially when you factor in the huge differences between the premium camps and accommodations against the shittier ones. My current site was a massive shock to the system when I first arrived in 2019. I would have left on the same plane I came in on had I known what I was getting into. Fortunately, I was forced to stick it out as there were no more flights out for several days. I ended up adapting and making the best of a super shitty situation, and lots of good has come from that determination to make it through. But had I spoken to someone who worked there, I may have chosen to turn the job down and try my hand somewhere else. Again, I would suggest speaking to someone if possible so that you can go into your new role aware of the good, bad and ugly.
I’ll be going into more details about the different aspects of FIFO life in upcoming posts, but I figured a good starting spot for me was to delve into what the actual fuck FIFO means. If you’re thinking of taking a FIFO position and the pros seem to outweigh the cons, I would recommend trying it out because the worst that happens is you get a great experience which you never want to repeat. Best case is you’ve found a lifestyle that compliments your current goals and priorities, and you’ll meet some pretty awesome people from all over the place.