Expatriate Orientation – Why, What, When?

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.