Relocating to a new country can be a daunting prospect for employees – especially if they are uprooting their entire family.
We’ve put together our top ten tips for international assignees to help with the practicalities of physically moving abroad, to make it easier to settle the whole family emotionally and psychologically on arrival and to help Global Mobility managers consider how they might be able to use their policies to assist.
10 top tips for international assignees
1. Arrange a visit to the host destination: This isn’t always possible, but if it is, then a pre-move orientation is definitely a great way to get a taste of life in the new country. Internet searches are great - and much information can and will be found online - but if there’s a window of opportunity to arrange a visit then this will really help with experiencing the culture first-hand, to visit potential schools and new houses, gain an insight into the healthcare facilities in the area and even do a test-run to work or school.
2. Budget for the relocation: Understand what the relocation policy entails completely and budget for things that aren’t provided. Does the relocation package include a budget for things like school expenses, rent and health insurance, as well as added extras such as professional home search, language training, spousal retraining or flights home in the case of an emergency? Make sure you know up-front what is and isn’t included so you can budget for your new life accordingly.
3. Join expat forums and start reading blogs: Hearing about the experience of people who’ve been through the relocation experience and asking them about your concerns is a great way to get a realistic insight. You’ll be able to ask questions, receive support and maybe even make business or social connections in your new area to meet up with when you arrive. There are lots of online discussion forums, some generic, some for specific areas, join in (Bournes are a proud partner of britishexpats.com – one of the UK’s leading expat forums).
4. Prepare for culture shock: Understanding that life will be different in the host location to at home is important, from food and currency to language, behaviours and routines. Even if everyone is excited about the move and feeling positive preparing for culture shock can make the transition easy. If your employer provides cultural training this is a great way to prepare, if not make sure to do your own research, involve your family and help everyone build their expectations to minimise any unsettling impacts of the change. Consider documentaries, online research, maybe use Google maps street view to show children what their neighbourhood looks like and to explore. Try to focus on the benefits of your host country and to answer any questions or concerns.
5. Learn the local language: Unless you’re lucky enough to already speak the language of your host country then part of your preparations should be some language training to learn as much of your new language as you can, both business language, social language and every day phrases. Communication with the locals – however basic – will help you feel more settled and confident in your new surroundings. Many countries will use English as a second language anyway, which can be a great help if you’re really struggling, but always give your new language a go first; the more you use it in regular, everyday situations the easier it will become, and the more your new friends and colleagues will appreciate your efforts.
When moving to a country where English is the mother tongue, it’s still worth investing some time in researching the local colloquialisms, common phrases and words – for example the subtle differences between American English and British English.
6. Prepare your ‘trailing spouse’: Relocating can be challenging for the whole family, but consider the extra strain on your partner who is not relocating for their employment. They may feel like they have little control over the move with a high requirement to compromise their life, simply supporting the working partner’s career, perhaps giving up a job of their own and a life they enjoy. That’s not to say they won’t be supportive, but by providing extra assistance for the trailing spouse may make the transition easier. Supporting your partner in identifying career opportunities, perhaps evaluating any training that might be required to do their existing job under new standards or perhaps retraining for a new career they are interested in. If your partner isn’t planning on working in the host country then establishing new social networks will be an important part of helping them settle in.
7. Know the local rules and laws: Understanding how to behave both legally and in a socially acceptable manner is really important, especially if you’re going anywhere outside of the EU, where attitudes towards public behaviour and dress codes can be completely different. Even the smallest of gestures in some countries can be taken as a sign of rudeness, which can quickly land you in hot water with the locals. Take some time to find out about the customs, local laws and regulations of the new society you are about to enter – things like speed limits and road rules, dress codes for public outings, the correct way to address and greet your peers and table etiquette when dining out might seem trivial, but get them wrong and they could result in you (at worst) breaking the law or (at best) publically embarrassing yourself.
8. Check your insurance policies: And then double check them. As a minimum, you’ll need travel and health insurance – especially where your host country does not operate a national health service for which you will be eligible. In addition consider insurance for your new home and making sure that other policies such as life insurance or car insurance to ensure you’re still covered is important too. This may be something covered in part by your relocation package so check your policy.
9. Arrange removals services: If your employer is not paying for International Shipping of your household goods or if you receive a lump sum but are responsible for your own arrangements then you should consider researching and appointing a mover 3-4 months in advance of your move. If you’re sourcing your own Removal Company it’s a good idea to get 3 quotes to make sure you’re getting a cost effective price AND the level of service you require. Visit the FIDI website for a list of independently audited and certified professional movers to ensure that you’re working with a reputable company or ask your employer if they have an approved panel of removal companies they would recommend.
10. Consider Additional Relocation Services: if your employer isn’t providing full relocation services then you may want to consider budgeting for certain services yourself. Assistance with finding a school or a home, helping you with inventory check in and arranging utilities when you arrive etc. can really help get you set up and settled quickly without the stress.
While these tips can really help with a smooth location, one final tip is to expect the unexpected. Always. Because no matter how hard you plan or how prepared you think you are, something somewhere will catch you unawares. And that’s completely normal for a move of this magnitude.
Generally speaking, it takes around 6 months for expatriates to feel settled in their new surroundings, so worry if things feel strange for a little while; it’s all part of the process. Remember that you have to embrace your new life, not the other way around – you’re moving somewhere where the customs and traditions have been set in that particular society for hundreds of years, so being open minded, accepting your new surroundings and letting go of your expectations is the best way to truly become part of your new culture.
If you would like more help and advice on preparing your employees for international assignments, or preparing for an international relocation yourself contact our experienced team who'll be happy to help.