Expatriate Orientation – Why, What, When?

Author:
Jennifer Stein – Global Tax Network

When individuals relocate, they are bombarded with many changes at once. You may hear the phrase: So much to do, so little time. They may be tempted to skip part or all of the relocation process. Here we’ll discuss three questions related to orientation meetings.

  • Why do we need to provide international assignees with orientation meetings?
  • What should be covered during the orientation meetings with an international assignee?
  • When should this information be provided to the international assignee?

Why do we need to provide international assignees with orientation meetings?
Once a candidate has agreed to accept the international assignment, many things that impact their daily lives change. This uncertainty causes concern for the employee and their family. Each step along the way to the new work location can create confusion and fear, keeping the employee from settling into the new work environment and quickly becoming a positive contributor in the new location. A thorough orientation process can help minimize the disruption associated with the move.

One of the keys to successfully communicating what is going to happen during an assignment is to provide the assignee with the information they need at a time when they will need it – just in time. The information also needs to be provided in a format that is easily understood and readily available for reference during the move.

To meet these goals, it usually means that the orientation process will consist of more than one meeting with more than one person during the relocation process. Care must be exercised as the employee can quickly become overloaded with information.

What should be covered during the orientation meetings with an international assignee?
Many areas of an assignee’s life will be impacted as the result of an international assignment. Several of these areas will require education of the transferee and their family, which is usually provided as a part of the assignment orientation process. Issues typically addressed include:

  • Cultural issues
  • Compensation changes
  • Relocation benefits
  • Tax and financial issues

For an assignee to be successful in their host location, they will need to understand the subtle cultural differences in the business climate. Cultural orientation meetings assist the assignee and their family in understanding the common practices in their new home location and help support them during the settling in process, as well as preparing the family for culture shock. Cultural orientation meetings may last from a few hours to several days.

During the compensation meeting the company will review the financial support they will be providing. The meeting will review differences in cost of living, how housing will be supported in the host location, and provisions for children’s education and other compensation related benefits. The meeting should also include a summary of how and when this support will be delivered. The assignee may have additional questions after the meeting for the program administrator.

In addition to reviewing the steps needed to move household goods, the relocation meeting may cover information regarding the host location housing and schooling options. Depending upon the assistance a company provides with home country housing issues, the management of rental of a principal residence may be covered.

Changes in the home country tax filings as well as the need to file in the assignment country may create financial concerns for the employee. Learning about and understanding the tax impact of an assignment or permanent move can be a time consuming process for the transferee. These and other tax issues should be reviewed with the employee in a comprehensive manner at a time when the employee can best use this information in their personal financial planning. To thoroughly review these issues, the assignee will usually meet with an outside tax service provider. The assignee will frequently need additional consulting assistance as they work through the tax compliance cycle for their home and host countries.

All of these meetings are a critical part of the assignment process and often the spouse is included in the meetings as well. The meetings help manage the assignee’s expectations and lay the foundation for a successful assignment.

When should this information be provided to the international assignee?
Information should be provided to the international assignee at a time when they need and can use the information. Typically, the tax orientation meeting is conducted after the individual has accepted the assignment. However, if an individual is moving permanently to another location, he/she may need to have the tax and financial meeting prior to acceptance so that they understand the terms of the package being offered.

Web based communication tools can assist the assignee through the details and issues related to their assignment. These tools reinforce company policies and are available to the employee at any time and any place that they have Internet access.

What challenges have you faced in providing orientation to international assignees, and what suggestions can you share with others based on your successes?  Please share in the comments below.

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About Global Tax Network

Global Tax Network provides international assignment tax compliance and consulting services for corporate global mobility programs, including program development, ongoing tax management, and special projects. The firm is recognized as a leader in consulting for emerging to mid-sized global mobility programs. GTN has six U.S. offices, with allied partners and resources in more than 100 countries to support assignee home and host tax requirements.  For more information please contact us.

6 Responses to Expatriate Orientation – Why, What, When?

  1. Pingback: Expatriate Orientation – Why, What, When? - International HR Forum - Member Blogs - HR Blogs - HR Space from Personnel Today and Xpert HR

  2. Hi, It is an useful and interesting article. The challenge I have been facing is that Insurance coverage to employees and family when they are moved from one country to another. For example, an employee was transferred from UAE to Central Africa. In UAE, medical insurance was provided. But in Central Africa, no company provides medical insurance only for that country, except worldwide insurance which is costing considerably, that too on reimbursable basis, not on cashless treatment basis. Similarly to Iran. Insurance premium itself is costly. Your views, if any. – regards – Sivaram

    • Sivaram,

      Unless your company is very large and can self-insure, I’m afraid you would be limited to the large global companies that specialize in expatriate health cover. In addition to companies in the US such as Cigna International and Aetna, you should also look at European companies (the leader is Bupa International). You may be able to get individual policies for your assignees at a reasonable cost.

      That said, depending on where in Central Africa you are sending folks, there may not be an acceptable level of medical service available in-country, and you should include emergency evacuation to the nearest services, usually Europe or South Africa.

      Hope this helps,

      Warren

  3. Thanks Warren. We are extending the same facilities that you are describing here through Aetna.
    regards
    sivaram

  4. Congratulations for the excellent article. Here in Brazil local HRs are still reluctant with cross cultural trainnings. Ironically there is a local culture of “friendly environment” that makes one believe that adapting to Brazil is as easy as taking a tropical vacation! As a mobility professional I know this is not true and your text explores perfectly this side! Alessandra

  5. Great article Warren – thanks for sharing.

    It strikes me that with the well-reported fact that the majority of refusals to go on international assignments are due to the reluctance of the spouse or accompanying partner, a meeting at the point of recruitment – involving the spouse – may be better than when the assignee has already accepted. (see for example ‘International Mobility and dual Careers Survey 2012 by the Permits Foundation).

    With the increasing concerns of dual career families and the long-established pattern of family inability to settle into the host location being the major cause of failed assignments, it seems that something as simple as a conversation regarding the support that will be available to help the family integrate could make significant improvements in the rates of refusals. Through easing the spouse’s concerns at the very front of the process, the inevitable discussions that will follow at home needn’t then necessarily start on a negative footing. That’s always harder to swing back around to a positive stance.

    If the amily were made to be excited by the assignment – by the location, by the support they would have to integrate, by the very fact that they are even being considered to this degree! – it could go some way in directing the focus more on the amazing opportunities it represents rather than any (often misconceived) notions of the hardships they will face.

    Naturally, as well as the potential to reduce assignment refusals this approach would undoubtedly reduce the number of failed assignments where families do accept.

    Thanks again,
    Nichole
    @provisita