How to make your International assignment a success from the very startEven if it’s not your first rodeo, embarking on an international assignment takes some planning to ensure success. While seasoned expats may not be fazed as much by cultural differences as those on a first-time placement, family satisfaction and financial considerations still loom large. We’ve looked at money saving tips for when you move abroad as well as the challenges of overseas work before, but this time we’re focusing on what you can do before you leave to make the most of your expat placement and ultimate repatriation.
Before You Go: Here’s Our Guide to Working Abroad
A Pre-Move VisitNot everyone has time for or even wants to go on an exploratory trip to the relocation country. If you do choose to visit the place you’re considering for a work-related move, Monika Anderson, a core member of Team Expat at The Wall Street Journal, writes that you might as well make the trip as productive as possible. Her tips include:
- Live like a local, possibly booking bed and breakfasts or Airbnb rentals in a few neighborhoods of your choice to get to know them. During this time, make notes about any household goods and appliances that seem better to ship from home than buy abroad.
- Locate the essentials in those areas, including banks, and, if you have children, creches and schools. Make sure to schedule appointments at least a couple of the schools.
- Check local transport to see how far your office is from your new home, and whether you’ll need a car. If you decide a car is necessary, is your car from home worth shipping?
Importing vs Buying NewThe term of your international assignment may determine whether you sell your house in your home country or rent it out, either fully furnished or with your furnishings and appliances sold or stored. If you’ve decided to bring your car or some household items with you overseas, you should first look into laws and regulations regarding their importation. In Germany, for instance, writes The German Way’s Hyde Flippo, you’ll pay duties unless you can prove that you have given up your residence at home and are establishing a new one in Germany. As many houses and apartments in Germany, like much of Europe, are rented and sold without appliances, it may make sense to ship from home. And be mindful of the differences in electrical outlets from country to country. Flippo reminds US expats that “it is usually better to buy 220-volt appliances (oven range, refrigerator, dishwasher, TV, etc.) in Germany, rather than try to make 110-volt American appliances work.”
Visas, Work Permits and Other PaperworkJulia is a Briton who lives in Amsterdam. She writes on her blog that friends who’ve been relocated there by their employers have had everything done for them, including paperwork, visas and even finding a place to live. “The only downside to this,” she adds, “is that, unless you’re an EU citizen, your visa will only be valid for as long as you work for the company that provided it.” All that help can be a real boon because relocation challenges abound. Take Switzerland, for example. In the expat guide put out by Geneva Relocation, expatriates are warned that “there may be up to 60 applications per apartment,” which makes house-hunting a stress-inducing activity, especially if there’s a start-date deadline. Citizens of EU countries will also find out that Switzerland has different relocation requirements than other countries in the union. Geneva Relocation CEO Pierre Jeronimo says that before making an application to relocate there, you’ll need to have both an employment contract and proof of residence, such as a lease on an apartment. And if you’re from outside the EU, quotas can mean making your application months in advance, he adds.
Driving AbroadIt’s best to check with the authority in the country you’ll be working in as to what kind of driving licence is accepted. The requirements vary between countries, and depend on things such as residency and which country you call home. In Great Britain, for example, you can use your valid licence from home for 3 years after becoming a resident there. However, if you exchanged a non-EU licence for an EU licence, then you are allowed to use it for only 12 months. Durant Imboden at Europe for Visitors recommends drivers from outside the EU get an international driving permit, even if it isn’t a legal requirement. While not a substitute for a driving licence, an IDP is an official document and together with your licence from home will ensure that you can rent a car from just about anywhere and you won’t have problems with local traffic police. He also recommends looking into buy-back and short-term tourist car leases instead of standard car rentals. These are appropriate if you’re a resident outside the EU and need a car for a minimum of three weeks while in Europe; they can save you money and are more convenient with respect to insurance coverage. Even if you’re hoping to do without a car when you’ve settled in, relying instead on a good public transport system, a rental can certainly come in handy if you plan to spend time in the country before your move meeting with a prospective employer or researching neighborhoods and properties.
How Good is Your Compensation Package?There are a number of factors besides salary you need to consider when valuing a compensation package for an international assignment. KPMG lists at least 50 common concerns in a white paper and while not all are related specifically to finances (like personal adjustments and overall career impact), many are. Topics to consider include:
- General compensation and benefits (including comprehensive healthcare and pension plans)
- Cost-of-living allowance or goods and services differentials
- Housing allowances and norms
- Tax reimbursement
- Is tax compliance and planning offered and/or paid for?
- Cost of assignment preparation and relocation
- Assistance for children’s education
- Reimbursement for (and frequency of) home leave