The Complete Guide to International Relocation

A successful international relocation is never the result of a single consideration. There are tax compliance issues, moving logistics, cross-cultural training – and these are just a few examples. Every piece is extremely nuanced, and the details of each change depending on the destination country.

Suffice it to say, international relocation isn’t something businesses should take lightly. According to FIDI, studies have shown that assignment failure can cost an employer as much as $400,000, when you factor in travel, taxes, real estate and compensation. Fortunately, with the right preparation and implementation, both your company and those employees selected for international assignments can have a prosperous and positive experience.

How to identify the right employee for an international assignment

With how much is riding on an international assignment, how do you select the right employee? Traditionally, seniority has dictated who gets the opportunity, or at the very least, who gets first right-of-refusal. The problem with this approach is it dismisses other factors that should be considered when determining who to send abroad.

Cross-cultural evaluation and training

The challenge is that there’s no simple test. There are a host of factors to consider when evaluating who is the right fit to send abroad.  These factors pertain to the employee, your organization and the destination, and this is a process that can take a considerable amount of time.

If time is short, but you don’t want to shortchange your review process, one solution is to hire an intercultural training company, which specializes in evaluating and preparing employees for an international relocation. Some may scoff at this as an unnecessary expense, but there is much more to international assignments than getting on a plane and performing your job in another country.

An employee’s personality plays a large part in how he or she adapts to a new culture, which can be extremely difficult for some people. This can be a significant problem because if your employee or their family has trouble adapting to the culture, it’s much more likely the assignment could fail. Intercultural training companies help identify ways for individuals to best adapt to a new environment based on their personality and the destination’s culture.

Preparing for their international move

Once you have the right candidate selected, it’s time to start getting them prepared for the transition. Understandably so, there’s a lot to do – from finalizing all the necessary paperwork to getting familiarized with a new culture (not to mention the physical move itself).

Here are some tips to think about when getting started.

Preparing the paperwork

Like buying a house, an international move includes a lot of paperwork. It’s best to get started as soon as possible, especially if the employee will be relocating with their family. Make sure each family member has an up-to-date passport, so they can submit for a visa to the new country. Additionally, some countries require a work permit, and in some cases, both a work permit and visa before they can get authorization to ship their household belongings and vehicles.

Regulations and requirements vary from country to country, so they should get ahead by completing all the legalities and paperwork as soon as possible, including collecting health records and getting any required vaccinations. Other important documents they’ll need to gather include birth and marriage certificates, wills and power of attorney.

Embracing the culture

One of the biggest challenges with moving to a different country is getting acclimated to the new culture. The longer it takes to “feel at home,” the more an employee can start to feel homesick and second guess the assignment. This is easier said than done for many individuals.

Adapting to a new culture, especially one where they don’t speak the language, can be daunting. Reading up on common social norms like greetings and dress can help them feel more comfortable interacting with new neighbors and colleague.

Downloading the right instant messaging apps

Communicating with employees over different time zones can be difficult. The answer? Instant messaging apps like Snapchat, WeChat, and WhatsApp. With increasingly regularity, expats are relying on these tools more and more to keep up with friends, family and coworkers back home.

These platforms offer the ability to send “stories” that can help you update multiple transferees who might prefer these messages over email on company news, adding a potentially useful internal communication element to it.

How long do international shipments take?

No two international shipments are the same, and there are a lot of variables that determine their timeline. But at the same time, having their belongings arrive is one of the biggest steps in helping employees and their families settle into their new country.

This is why it’s critical to set reasonable expectations for when employees should expect their belongings to arrive. Simply saying how long you think or how long it usually takes can quickly backfire. Keep these tips in mind when managing international transferees’ relocation.

Know what can affect shipments

Weather, labor disputes, heavy port traffic, customs – any or all of these can add days or weeks to a delivery schedule. It’s important to stay on top of all the factors that can impact a shipment.

Communicate, a lot

People ideally would like to have their belongings arrive when they are supposed to, but if something does happen, knowing about it as soon as possible gives them time to make any other arrangements that may be necessary with the delay. The last thing you want is for them to call you asking why they haven’t received their delivery yet.

Don’t try and do it all yourself

Even if you’re only managing a single international relocation, this is all a lot to handle. Transportation experts like Hilldrup have staff that monitor the aforementioned issues that can affect shipments and can provide regular updates on how a situation is progressing, as well as provide solutions to lessen any potential inconveniences employees might face from a delay.

How sequestration can affect international moves

Unfortunately, while rare, government sequestration events (e.g., government shutdowns) have far-reaching effects that extend all the way to international moves, exacerbating the process at times.

Sequesters generally cut funding for a long list of government agencies including the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). This could mean fewer TSA and CBP agents to help with airport security and customs inspections, which can result in longer wait times – either at the airport or customs.

During past sequestrations, the TSA has predicted wait times to double at many larger airports due to a decrease in staff levels. Peak wait times often reach three to four hours at some gateway airports. To reduce wait times at airport security, employees can check to see if they are eligible for TSA Pre✓™.

Crossing the border into Canada or Mexico also can be affected by these automatic spending cuts. If your employees have to cross either border to get to their new home during a government sequester, they should expect to spend four to five hours waiting to be processed. Shipment of household goods also can take up to an additional five days.

Assessing the risks of international assignments

Sometimes, the unusual stressors lie with the destination country. Beyond the basics, preparing an employee for any international assignment also should include getting them familiar with any high-risk issues associated with that country. For good reason, with how expensive international assignments are, a failed one is a big hit to your bottom line.

Whether it’s a big problem that’s all over the news or one that is easily overlooked by the average traveler, here’s how to get your international transferees prepared for their assignment.

Get the facts

Just because a problem is sweeping the headlines doesn’t mean it’s a real threat for your employees. Take the Zika virus outbreak, for example. Most people just heard “Zika virus” and “Latin America.” The problem is, there are a lot of arid places in Latin America with hardly any mosquitos (the carriers of the disease) and by extension, had no reported cases of the virus. Getting smart about the issues (real and perceived) associated with your destination countries will make sure your employees have the right information so they can best prepare for their assignment.

Everyone has a different risk tolerance

Even if there is a real risk where the assignment is, it doesn’t mean it’ll be a problem for everyone. Sticking with the Zika virus, it is known to cause severe birth defects should a pregnant mother contract the disease. This is a significant issue for anyone with a growing family – and a potential deal breaker for the assignment. But for a healthy adult, the virus generally causes no more than a rash and fever, of which some people may not be particularly concerned. It’s important to review potential risks with candidates to see if they are concerned by them – and to determine if you’ll be able to alleviate those concerns.

Don’t underestimate the small stuff

Sure, it’s easy to get worked up about the big problems that make the news, but often it’s the small stuff that adversely impacts an international transferee or their family. Are the driving laws and culture radically different from what the employee is used to? Or maybe the weather? These aren’t necessarily headline-worthy problems, but they can lead to stress, and in some cases harm, if not properly addressed and prepared for.

International assignments are an exciting time for employees and their family, but they also are undeniably more complex than domestic moves. Employees aren’t just adjusting to a new city, they are adjusting to a new culture, often with a different language and set of customs. With all the change, it’s important that HR managers help their employees understand what’s going on every step of the way of the relocation. If you need support or have questions about your upcoming international move, contact GoRelo!