Category Archives: Relocation

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?

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Relocation Mistakes of a First-Time Trailing Spouse

Guest Author:
Rachel Yates – Definingmoves.com

[Editor's Note:  We are very excited to share with you the assignee's spouse perspective on international relocation, from someone who has lived through five such moves.  Rachel Yates edits a website, Defining Moves, devoted to assisting relocating families around the world. ]

Ten years ago, my partner was offered his first international relocation to Kenya. We saw it as an opportunity for adventure, travel and fun, and with that in mind, I made every mistake in the book. With hindsight, I had watched too many period dramas; in my mind, relocation was going to fall somewhere between Out of Africa and Downton Abbey. The reality was far less glamorous, and involved me spending the first six months sobbing, wondering what on earth I had done. So where did I go so badly wrong?

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Hey HR! Here’s What Employees and Families Really Need When Relocating Internationally

Guest Author:
Rachel Yates – Definingmoves.com

[Editor's Note:  We are very excited to share with you the assignee's spouse perspective on international relocation, from someone who has lived through five such moves.  Rachel Yates edits a website, Defining Moves, devoted to assisting relocating families around the world. ]

I read the post from May, 2011 by Warren Heaps about global mobility policies for the 21st century on this site, and found it to be fascinating, mainly because I am part of the changing demographics Warren described. On paper, we are the traditional relocating family; husband as assignee, spouse as the accompanying partner, and two dependent children. We have relocated through three continents over the last 10 years, and we have struggled. And we are most definitely not alone.

So what do relocating individuals and families really need from HR?

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Best Practices for Selecting International Assignees (Part 2)

Author:
Alan Freeman – LOF International HR Solutions

This is the second of two installments on the topic of assignee selection.

In our last posting, we began to list a number of proven best practices for selecting candidates for international assignments.  Here are several more:

Provide an overview of the your company’s applicable policies and processes. You and the candidate need to know early on if there are any “show-stopper” issues or you run the risk of wasting everyone’s time. Be sure, by the way, that your policy and administrative processes are well thought through and developed. You don’t want to be caught building an ad hoc “package” through negotiations. One-off deals frequently lead to lots of ongoing problems. Continue reading

Best Practices for Selecting International Assignees (Part 1)


Author:
Alan Freeman – LOF International HR Solutions

This is the first of two installments on the subject of assignee selection.

A recent question, “Please share ideas on best practices for hiring candidates for an immediate international assignment” triggers a few thoughts.

First and foremost, the organization must definitively establish that it is not possible to recruit local nationals in the location where the job is based. Hence sending a foreigner as an International Assignee is both necessary and can be sufficiently justified to obtain assignment country work and residency permits. If so, then…

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NFTC International HR Conference Report – Part II


Author:
Warren Heaps – Birches Group LLC

Alan Freeman and I both had the pleasure recently to attend the Houston International HR Conference sponsored by the National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC).  This is the second in a series of posts summarizing the proceedings of the conference.  We hope this will allow our readers to benefit from the learnings of the conference, even if you were not there personally.

Here are some highlights of some presentations at the conference that touched on various aspects of Expatriate Program Management.

Reducing Expatriate Program Costs
Expatriate program costs are an important topic for discussion whenever international HR folks get together.  A presentation by Morgan Crosby and Harry Gram of Airinc focused on two areas that have a big impact on program costs – Housing and Alternative Policies.

Expatriate Housing
Housing is one of the most costly elements included in an expatriate package.  It’s not uncommon for rental amounts to reach $4,000 to $5,000 per month, or more, and that’s not including the associated tax gross-up costs.  In assignment locations with a broad range of acceptable housing for expatriates, the reason for such high costs is often the standard used.  By standard, we mean the size and quality of the property, and most importantly, the neighborhood.

Morgan gave an example for London, where a company could save about 15% per year by substituting high quality housing in the London suburbs for apartments in the most prestigious locations such as Belgravia and Knightsbridge.  This usually means that expats will have to commute a bit longer to work, and occassionally, it may mean they will be further away from international schools.  But the housing in the alternative locations is perfectly acceptable and compares favorably to many different home country housing standards.

Alternative Policies
Another opportunity for cost savings is the use of reduced or modified policies in certain situations.  Many companies are introducing development programs to offer staff the opportunity to gain international experience early in their careers.  These employees are often very willing to take assignments with fewer of the ‘bells and whistles” associated with full expatriate packages.

Companies can respond to this by offering “reduced” expatriate packages.  For example, a lower housing standard; reduced relocation assistance; and efficient purchaser COLAs.  And, since the target population for these development programs are frequently young people, they often do not have school-age children, and some may be single, reducing the cost for spousal benefits and education assistance to nil.

Summary
There is an ever-increasing effort to reduce the cost of expatriate programs. These suggestions are just two of the alternatives companies may consider when looking to generate savings.

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Third Culture Kids – Maintaining Stability in a Life Without Roots


Author:
Megan Wu, GMS – Santa Fe Relocation Services (Shanghai, China)

[Editor's Note: We are delighted to feature this article about Third Culture Kids by Guest Author, Megan Wu.  Megan is herself a Third Culture Kid, and is now raising one of her own in Shanghai.  In addition, she serves as Relocation Services Manager for Santa Fe Relocation, a leading relocation provider.]

The business of global mobility is all about helping people who find themselves in a foreign country and a different culture. Many assignees are families and with that comes a lot of worry on how the children will adjust to the move and the new surroundings.

When a child is moved from one culture to the next they instantly begin forming their own “third” culture to incorporate all the new and the old that they come in contact with, making them “third culture kids” (TCKs). A third culture child is someone who has grown up in a culture not their own. They feel that they no longer can completely assimilate with their home culture, and as they are a foreigner, cannot completely assimilate with their host culture; therefore forming their own third culture. How each child handles this cultural jumble does of course depend on each child’s personality, duration of stay, age, parental attitude, etc.

I am one such TCK, after moving to Shanghai in 1998 at the age of 15. I have lived in Shanghai for 12 years. Now that I am the mother of a 3 year old girl and facing questions on how to best raise my daughter in Shanghai, I have thought a lot about the importance/disadvantages/advantages of being a third culture child. Since my daughter is growing up raised by an American parent, living in China, she is very much growing up in the “third” culture that I myself have created. and all the benefits and challenges that come along with it.

Cultural Acceptance and Diversity
Growing up abroad has given me a greater understanding of other cultures. I have had the chance to come in contact with children from different cultures in school, and now in an international work environment. My friends and colleagues are from many different countries around the world, opening my eyes to different cultures. I have become more aware of the fact that there are different ways of celebrating, smells, tastes etc. This has given me the flexibility and a sensitivity that can be more difficult to obtain when living “at home”.

Learning and hearing foreign languages is also an important factor in the cultural growth of TCKs. The hopes of many parents is that the children will be able to learn at least one or even more languages while being abroad. This is not so easy. After several years in China, I did not speak more than basic Chinese, as most of my world was based in English – at home and in school. My understanding was more than basic, as Chinglish (Chinese and English mixed) was a common “language” at school and I achieved some comprehension of the language this way. It was not until I began studying Chinese seriously at University that I could combine all the conscious and subconscious knowledge I had to actually advance to fluent Chinese.

Based on my personal experience, and similar experiences of friends, I believe it is critical for parents to ensure that there is some aspect of the TCKs life that is submerged in the language they should learn – be that extra language lessons, a special activity or even just spending time with a maid/nanny that does not speak your own language.

Cultural Roots
The flip-side to being culturally aware and flexible is a sense of lacking cultural roots. Growing up, I was asked if I felt rootless every time I returned home for the summer, but could not quite understand the implications until much later. I always felt that I had stability of where I came from and what I stood for. This may not have come from my culture but rather from my family. Wherever my family was – this was home and I know what social/cultural rules applied. To me this has emphasized the importance of having consistency in the home environment – not only in terms of rituals, but also in terms of rules and values.

It was only upon my return to the US after graduating from high school in Shanghai and starting US University that I discovered what the effects were of my overseas experience. My lack of understanding of common conversations such as TV shows and politics was embarrassing. My gap of knowledge in the modern culture with regards to TV shows, commercials, programs/activities growing up, and that my peers did not understand my experiences, was a constant reminder of my time away from “the norm”. Reverse Culture Shock does exist and in my case, resulted in my decision to embrace my overseas experiences, return to my life a nomad and move back to China. Every child deals with reverse culture shock differently, of course. Some will see their return “home” as yet another adventure.

Social Skills
Going to school in a foreign country puts great emphasis on your social skills but also builds you empathy. At any international school around the world, each student will have been “the new kid” at one time or another. Generally I have found that TCKs will have a sense of openness and confidence in handling new situations simply because they have to! During school they will inevitably say many goodbyes to good friends; they have to make new friends continuously. This can lead to many good friends all over the world that will last for a long time, but can also create a situation where a protective mechanism is built up where “out of sight is out of mind”, leaving the TCK with few friends from a specific period in their life.

Reflections
Looking back I do feel that the advantages of being a TCK far outweigh the disadvantages. I will always be unique. In my role as a relocation professional, I will always have a different way of perceiving the world and a different understanding of the challenges that face our clients, especially the children.

Resources
There are plenty of resources either from the web or books where you can better understand your Third Cultural Kid. Here are a few websites that might provide you with more insight:

Whatever you do as a parent, the most valuable suggestion I can give you is: Tell your child that their life will be different, the lessons they learn along the way as a TCK will be valuable tools in their adult life, and most importantly they are not alone.

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Tips For A Successful International Relocation

Author:
Matthew Shore – Move One Relocations

[Editor's Note:  We are pleased to welcome Matthew Shore as a Guest Author.  Matthew is Communications and Marketing Manager for Move One, a leading global relocation, moving and logistics firm serving Eastern Europe, Asia, Middle East and Africa.  He is an expat himself living in Budapest, Hungary, with his wife.]

It’s no secret that the stresses of international relocation on employees and their families can take their toll. The magnitude of its effects can be on par with divorce or a death in the family. Delivering the right support for employees and their families during the first critical months after their move may mean the difference between the success or failure of an assignment.

Focus on the Family
It is often the family of the assignee that experiences the most difficulty when relocating internationally.  For example an accompanying spouse who has left his or her friends, family and other support networks to relocate can experience profound feelings of loss and displacement that can persist for long after arrival in the new location.  Providing new expats with the means to become self-sufficient and thrive in their new environment is therefore vital for the success of an assignment.

Best Practices to Support Your Assignees
It’s normal and predictable for assignees and families to experience culture shock and other challenges when taking a new assignment.  Targeted support for families on the ground at their new location helps to reduce their anxiety, speed up their sense of regaining control, and ensures a productive assignment.  It is also good practice to offer support with the aim to keep morale high by offering services that address the full range of all family members’ needs, from orientation and cross-cultural training, to recreation, social integration, security and education, as well as employment options for the traveling spouse.  This support falls under eight categories:

  • Welcoming and orientation. Provide a point of contact for the newly arrived family.  Offer information, contacts, destination resources, and welcome events. It is also beneficial to arrange repatriation workshops for departing families.
  • Employment liaison. Finding purposeful work for spouses can be key to successful adjustment, and the provision of multiple employment resources should be made available.  Maintaining contacts in the local economy, providing aid in exploring alternatives such as home-based business, and assistance in applying for functional training are all good practice, and help the non-working partner get the best out of life while overseas. In today’s economy, virtual assistants are an increasingly widespread option for professionals as well as administrative work in companies small and large.
  • Education liaison. Most relocation companies provides information and contacts for local schools, but offering managed support programs for youths and childcare resources is also beneficial.
  • Information and resource management. Making resources such as internet and intranet access is helpful in the interim period until home access is established, as well as literature and events in the local culture.
  • Guidance and referral. Offering EAP services such as confidential counseling, as well as resources and referrals for such issues as divorce, spouse/child abuse, adoption, death, and mental health concerns.  Be sure to use an EAP that is sensitive to cross-cultural issues, and is familiar with international assignments.
  • Community liaison. Cultivate relationships with community and social organizations and local resources that can benefit expatriates.
  • Events and cultural programming. Cultural events as well as informative programs and workshops on host-country culture help families to orient and adjust to the new culture.
  • Crisis management and security liaison. Relaying security information to the community. This includes ensuring crisis preparedness, emergency evacuation information through alerts and seminars, as well as rebuilding the community after a crisis.

Tools such as our city guides, and our online magazine for expats in Budapest can go a long way to address some of these points, reassuring the new assignee and their family that life in the new destination isn’t going to be a total departure from their old life, and that they can and will ‘fit in’ with their new environment.

For me there is a personal angle, too.  I moved to Budapest when my wife was offered an assignment here.  I can assure you from my own experience, taking the time to ensure that expat families are made aware of the social options in their new city helps a great deal.  For example, Move One recognizes that for non-working spouses of assignees – more-often-than-not female – finding a circle of friends quickly can make a world of difference.  This is why we make a point of supporting local expat groups and schools with sponsorship and practical assistance as part of a commitment to the local expatriate communities where we operate.  Of course, there is added value for us, in terms of brand awareness, to be visible in the local community, but we recognize the importance of supporting these organizations for the greater good of our clients.

There are many new online resources to help families with their moves as well.  Are there any steps you have implemented for your assignees that have been particularly effective in helping them adjust?  Please share them in the comments!

More About Matthew

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How to Develop Effective International Assignment Policies

Author:
Alan Freeman – LOF International HR Solutions

During a recent conversation a colleague shared some frustration she was feeling. “I’ve read lots of articles and attended conferences where we’re told what we “should” be doing with our International Assignments (“IA”) policies on the basis of what everybody else is doing with theirs. What I’m not hearing is how to go about structuring our program in a way that really makes sense for our company. Where do we start? Who should be involved? What steps are necessary?”

“True”, I said. “We hear a lot about best practices such as keeping the spouse happy, increasing flexibility, controlling costs, keeping exceptions to a minimum and conducting benchmarking studies to find out what everyone else is doing. That’s all well and good but if your company sells luxury consumer goods in the best department stores in the largest cities of the world, do you think that practices that work well for mining companies in rural West Africa or at 14,000 feet in the Andes Mountains will be relevant and useful?”

“Exactly – they wouldn’t!” she said, “so what should we do?”

Let’s start with The Prime Directive. Simply put, your IA policies and program exist to help your company achieve its business objectives by having the right talent, in the right places, at the right times, doing the right things. Clearly, your company’s business objectives define what the various “right items” will be. Is this another way of saying you must start by truly understanding your business? Yes, of course!

“OK, that makes sense” she said, “then what?”

Well, now it’s time to go about structuring your program. A process that has proven to work well follows these steps:

Assemble a Policy Development Team

To often, policy development is left up to a Global Mobility department or single HR staffer working in a vacuum.  This generally is not effective. Utilizing teams of key stakeholders provides greater breadth of ideas, broader input from key functions and business operating units, and greater understanding of and buy-in to the end product. The team must be led by someone with significant depth of IA program expertise and include Global Mobility, Tax, Accounting, Payroll, HR Business partners from units that utilize international assignments, etc. Bringing in expert consultants and specialty service providers, e.g. immigration, international tax, global security firms, etc. can pay large dividends as well.

Conduct Benchmarking

There are two types of benchmarking to consider. First, conduct internal surveys of line managers who make use of IAs, and current and former assignees themselves. These groups can provide a wealth of information as to what has been working and what has not. They further can often make great suggestions for new approaches worth considering.

Second, do take a look at market practices through both generally available surveys and, potentially, custom surveys more precisely focused upon your company’s industry and competitors. This can help generate ideas and help gauge competitive positioning. Be careful, however, to not only look at what companies are doing but also to ask how well those practices are working. It’s amazing how many times I’ve heard a colleague say “we do ____” and in the next breath, say “and I’d change that practice in a heartbeat if my management would allow me to!” Another caution about benchmarking is that it’s imperative to consider the policy package as a whole and how the many provisions work together in total. There is a definite tendency toward getting caught up on individual line items and, hence, “lose sight of the forest for staring at the trees”.

Draft a Policy Structure

Put together the first array of policy provisions that make sense given the demographic, geographic and time variables dictated by The Prime Directive. Make sure they integrate and work together in a consistent and holistic manner.

Model the Costs

The first question executive management is likely to ask when the new program is presented for approval is not, “how does it meet our business needs?” It’s assumed that it will. The first question is, “what’s it going to cost?” If you are reengineering an existing IA program you’ll need to show the difference in costs between the proposed and existing programs.

Fortunately, there are many applications and providers that make cost modeling relatively straightforward.

Test Your Ideas as You Go

One of the worst ways to achieve buy-in on your ideas is to keep them to yourself and spring them on someone only at the end. If you communicate as you go through the process, sharing what you’re thinking about and soliciting inputs, that engagement frequently gives the other a sense of having had input and influence on the final product. Those who feel they had input are much more likely to respond positively. Their inputs may well have a lot of value as well.

In a larger corporate environment this could be done via periodic progress update meetings.

Finalize and Implement

In pursuing the steps above, you’ll ultimately obtain approval to proceed. Prepare the necessary communications and implementation materials. If you are reengineering an existing program, you’ll have already determined whether current assignees will be “grandfathered” under their old terms, converted to the new terms, or converted with some sort of buy-out provision.

When you have it all in place, move ahead.

Continually Evaluate and Improve

Finally, when you implement your new program, be sure you’ve also built in metrics and processes for determining how well it’s working on an ongoing basis. You can’t have anticipated everything that will ultimately be encountered and change happens! Be ready to be flexible and make program adjustments “on the fly”.

More About Alan:

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Five Facts About International Schooling

 

Author:
Liz Perelstein – School Choice International

Most companies sending employees overseas offer some kind of cross-cultural training.  But we rarely think of cross- cultural training for school children, even though education can be a make or break issue for many families considering an overseas assignment.

As you can see from the facts below, even expats who send their children to international schools encounter cultural differences that may be significant, and may clash with family customs.  Schools – local and even international – are a microcosm of the culture they inhabit.  Without understanding the host country’s educational system children can be disadvantaged in the admissions arena, in academic performance and in the ease of transition.

Consider these facts:

1) Did you know that 8th graders in Belgium, Korea and Japan do not use calculators in math classes?

Curriculum differences like these make it hard for children trained on calculators to adapt to local mathematics instruction in these countries.

2) Did you know that German parents give their children a Schultuete, or a cone filled with treats on the day they start first grade?

Children unfamiliar with local customs can feel awkward or embarrassed, affecting the transition to their new school.

3) Did you know that in Brazil children either go to school in the morning OR in the afternoon?

Spouses may find it difficult to work in countries with a school schedule alien to them.

4) Did you know that Saudi Arabia is enforcing a law that requires expat children to attend a school of their own nationality?

Many families choose a curriculum other than their national curriculum, often to preserve curriculum continuity with former or future schooling.

5) Did you know that admissions for 4-to-10 year olds for New York City independent schools requires an entrance examination that is ONLY administered in New York City?

Admissions opportunities may be limited for children if parents are unaware of requirements.

To learn more about educational customs in different parts of the world, visit our School Choice International blog or our Fact of the Week Collection.

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