Overcoming barriers to international relocation

Although the expatriate assignment package has been trimmed back in recent years as organisations strive to become more competitive, the contents still provide a number of benefits that aim to encourage employees and their families to relocate abroad. Sue Shortland explains.

Although the expatriate assignment package has been trimmed back in recent years as organisations strive to become more competitive, the contents still provide a number of benefits that aim to encourage employees and their families to relocate abroad. Sue Shortland explains.When employees and their families are asked to relocate abroad, the prospect of living in a foreign country may seem daunting, even overwhelming. The reality of an expatriate lifestyle is far removed from dreams of tax-free income and life by the pool. Setting up one`s home and functioning effectively as a family during times of upheaval requires considerable employer support. As we`ll see, expatriate policies do typically provide a wide range of benefits to help families settle down, and for employees to become as productive as possible quickly.In addition to the financial elements that comprise an international relocation package salary, premiums, incentives (such as mobility premiums, compensation for living in remote locations or other regions deemed hardship`), and provision to deal with tax, pensions and social security there are a host of other elements of support typically made available to the relocating employee and family. These are considered here.PreparationPrior to relocating, employees and their partners (and sometimes the children, too) are typically offered a pre-assignment trip to enable them to see first-hand the new location and to decide whether to accept the assignment. The trip may also (or alternatively) be used to look for housing and schooling in the new location. In addition, before the move takes place, employees and their partners are typically offered briefing on their new destination country, cross-cultural training and language training. The aim here is to reduce culture shock and aid the settling-in process. Being able to speak the local language helps employees and family members to reduce barriers in their everyday living and working environments.Assistance is also generally provided with immigration, in terms of obtaining visas and work permits. Although clearly required as part of the employment process for the employee, this is often extended to help support the spouse, partner and perhaps even older children in their search for work, or to enable them to pursue further&#x;education&#x;opportunities as appropriate in their new country.HousingLiving abroad clearly necessitates the provision of suitable accommodation. Housing assistance in the form of home search, assistance with renting (both in terms of costs and in dealing with the formalities and legalities) is therefore also included in the package.Help with managing the home-country property may also be included in the relocation policy by some employers. This may include assistance with finding and meeting the costs of rental agencies or home management/maintenance services.Health and stress issuesHealth is a major factor when living and working abroad. As a result, employers typically ensure that employees and their family members undergo thorough medicals before the assignment, and also provide health insurance cover while away. Life assurance and other risk benefits are also included, together with emergency evacuation cover.In dangerous areas, secure housing (usually in a compound) and drivers are provided. In such situations, it may be advisable for the assignment to be undertaken on an unaccompanied basis.It is important to establish social ties and to network in the new location, and so contributions may be made by employers to the cost of joining social or sports clubs. Building a sense of community is important for expatriates and their families, in terms of reducing stress and fostering a sense of belonging. Building stronger links with locals also helps to reduce culture shock for employees.Shipping, travel and leaveShipping of personal and household goods is usually included, with a mix of sea and air freight as appropriate. Storage at home may also be required, particularly if the alternative of furnished accommodation overseas is offered instead. The cost of transporting pets abroad may also be met, although this is less common nowadays, as organisations trim back relocation packages. However, there is usually scope within the disturbance allowance given to employees for them to meet the costs of the odds and ends involved in moving home, and this could cover pet removal (assuming a normal domestic pet of course!).Although it is not normal practice for employees to ship their cars with them to the overseas location (unless in Europe, where they might choose to drive to their new location from the UK), a car or a car allowance is normally part of the package. Cost of travel to and from the destination location (air fares) are the norm, with payment for home leave typically offered once a year. In remote or more insecure regions, rest and relaxation trips are usually provided, with air fares and hotel costs met.Education and careersOne of the key barriers to relocation is children`s education, and as a result there is usually significant emphasis on the provision of assistance in this regard. School fees may be met in full or in part (depending on cost), and the services of a specialist education consellor used to assist in locating suitable schools. This may be combined with home search during the pre-assignment trip or carried out within the first few weeks after arrival in the new location. Alternatively, children may remain in the home location and the costs of boarding schools and trips to and from the destination location in the school holidays may be met, in full or in part.Another critical potential barrier to moving rests with second careers. Increasingly, employers have policies to assist the relocating spouse, including help with job search for him or her, visa applications, interview training, CV preparation, education and retraining assistance via the payment of course fees, and so on.The international move is usually seen as being career enhancing for the employee but this should not be taken as a given. As organisations face rapid organisational change, so the expatriate assignment may change from being a preparatory step along a career ladder into a potential career gamble. To combat this problem, and to encourage employees to relocate internationally, career development planning is an essential part of the relocation package typically including mentoring and sponsorship arrangements. The aim of these initiatives is to keep employees in touch with developments at home, and to ensure that their careers are managed purposefully. Career management arrangements may also potentially be extended to cover spouses, partners and even older children accompanying the employee on the assignment.Repatriation or localisationThe return home also needs to be managed, and repatriation assistance (including briefing, cultural preparation and job review) should be provided for both the employee and accompanying family members as appropriate. Clearly the costs of returning are met as part of the expatriate allowances and benefits package air fares, shipping, and so on.If the assignment is extended and the employee and family remain in the destination location, localisation may be required. Employers do not typically shut off all expatriate benefits though it is certainly more usual for continuing issues such as housing and schooling to be subject to a phased reduction although expatriates cannot expect all the elements of their package to remain intact indefinitely. The key rests in clear communication of the outcome of localisation prior to the family going on the assignment.The expatriate package, despite being more cost-efficient than ever before, still contains considerable support for employees and their families to undertake an international assignment. In future issues of Re:locate we`ll address these issues individually in detail.&#x;&#x; 2007. Article taken from pages 20-22 of the spring 2006 edition of Re:locate magazine, published by Profile Locations, Spray Hill, Hastings Road, Lamberhurst, Kent TN3 8JB. All rights reserved. This publication (or any part thereof) may not be reproduced in any form without the prior written permission of Profile Locations. Profile Locations accepts no liability for the accuracy of the contents or any opinions expressed herein.