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PREPARING FOR AN INTERNATIONAL ASSIGNMENT. By Robert D. Miller. An international assignment can be a great career opportunity. Follow these tips to ensure a smooth transition.

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An international assignment can be a great career opportunity. Follow these tips to ensure a smooth transition.
For your employees, an international assignment can be the opportunity of a lifetime. It’s a chance for them, as well as their families, to expand their horizons, experience new cultures and travel to new places. However, preparing for an international assignment is a challenging and often stressful experience. Aside from packing, your employees will need to take many steps before moving. They should allow plenty of time to get organized and to tie up loose ends.

Your employees will be making many decisions relative to the move. Below you’ll find valuable information to share with your employees to help them with this process. By encouraging your employees to discuss all the important issues prior to their move, such as where to live, what to bring and school choices, you can assure they are able to make the most of their international move.

preparing for your assignment

Learn as much as you can about your host country prior to the move. The best way to do this is to visit the host country approximately six weeks prior to your move. Generally, your employer will pay for the costs of this trip. Both the employee and spouse (if married) should make this visit. The primary purpose of the “look-see” visit is to locate housing and make schooling arrangements for children. It will also give you a feel for the culture, languages, business practices, and the weather of your host country. If you cannot visit before moving, research the host country thoroughly by using books, travel agencies, the Internet, and by talking to other expatriates.

Here are a variety of important tasks/research you should perform during your “look-see” visit or research before your move:

If you have children, investigate your schooling options. Will your employer pay an education allowance? For many families the decision of where to send their children to school will drive the decision of where to live. In all major international cities, there are American/international schools. This is where the majority of international assignees send their children to be educated. Make sure that the school has openings in your children’s grades and enroll your children as early as possible.
What will your housing budget be? Will you receive a housing allowance from your employer? If so, how much will it be? Do you want to live in an international community, where many Americans and other expatriates live? Or do you want to “go native”? Do you need to be nearby an international school? If possible select your home during your “look-see” visit. However, be mindful that you may also need to make temporary housing arrangements, as household possessions may take four to six weeks to arrive and clear customs in the destination country.
Learn about the history of the host country. Read books or magazines and watch videos to acquaint yourself with the history and heritage of the land.
Check the availability of foods. Will the host country sell the kind of foods you need, especially for restricted diets? Are there favorite foods (i.e. Peanut Butter) that you want to bring with you?
Check into utilities. Chances are your household appliances and electronics will not work without a transformer. Do you want to bring them, or buy new ones in the host country? While it is highly likely that your television and VCR will not work even with a transformer, you may want to bring them to view your home videos. On the positive side, most home computers will accept both 110 and 220/240-volt service. Check your hardware documentation. Will your appliances and electronics work in the host country?
Acquaint yourself with the laws. Learn about driving and traffic laws in the country, as well as any other restrictions or ordinances that may be important.
preparing for the move

It is best to begin planning for an international move as early as possible, giving yourself ample time for all the last minute arrangements and preparations, such as:

Decide what to do about your current home. Should you sell or rent it? Arrange for housesitting/property management firm if you’ll be keeping your home.
Make sure you have adequate coverage for personal liability insurance. Once you decide what to do about your home, arrange for moving services and obtain moving insurance.
Decide what to do about your automobiles. Should you sell them or have them shipped to your host country? If you decide to take them with you, arrange for auto insurance coverage in the host country.
Contact the embassy/consulate in the host country. Ask about required documents such as visas, passports, work permits, etc. Inquire about rules and restrictions: formalities for becoming a resident, restrictions on imported pets, customs restrictions on alcohol, tobacco, produce, art, etc.
Apply for a passport and any necessary visas and work permits required by your destination country. Each family member will require his or her own passport. There are other documents you may need as well. Generally, your employer will handle all immigration/legal requirements and filings.
Visit the doctor. Each family member should receive a medical checkup and any necessary shots/immunizations. Request copies of any important records, including x-rays. Visit your dentist and eye doctor to get all required dental work done and order extra sets of glasses/contact lenses.
Visit the pharmacy. Get a refill on all prescriptions and be sure to pack a copy of your prescription.
Contact your children’s teachers. Notify them of your departure date and find out about any special exams or requirements your children will need to allow completion of term work or accrual of academic credit.
Visit the veterinarian and obtain copies of all your pet’s medical records. Your pets may need immunizations prior to the move. Determine if the destination country requires your pet to be placed in quarantine upon your arrival, and if so for how long.
Obtain an international driver’s license for short-term use. In time you will need a valid driver’s license issued by the motor vehicle authority in your host country.
Purchase renter’s insurance or homeowner’s insurance for your host country dwelling. Be sure the policy has adequate liability insurance.
Create or update your will. Each adult family member should have a current will that is properly witnessed and signed. Give a copy to your lawyer.
Create a power of attorney document and give it to a trusted friend or relative who can act legally in your interest, if necessary, while you’re abroad.
Make bank arrangements. Find out if your institution has branches in the host country. Change banks or accounts if necessary, and request that your transaction statements and cancelled checks be forwarded to your new host country address. Consider arranging a wire transfer between your host bank account and home bank account. Find out what ATM card(s) you may need.
Meet with an international tax accountant for initial tax planning. Because of the complicated nature of expatriate income tax filings in both your home and host country, chances are you will require an accountant. This is a standard benefit provided by multinational corporations for their international assignees.
Organize and inventory your belongings prior to packing. Determine what should be air shipped for immediate delivery and what should be shipped via container for delivery four to six weeks after arrival in the host country. You will require an inventory (including replacement value) of all items you are bringing with you for both customs and insurance purposes. Sell or donate any property and possessions you don’t want to keep. Consider holding a garage sale.
File for change of address. Inform the IRS, all financial services and lenders, subscription services, health care providers, insurance companies and other vendors of your new address, and arrange for forwarding of mail at your local post office.
Cancel all applicable utility and subscription services: telephone, gas, electric, cable, water, newspaper, etc.
Gather email addresses of neighbors, friends and family. Email is a great way to stay in touch.
your day of departure

The following items should be packed in a bag or briefcase that you should carry with you during the flight:

Photocopy of each passport and extra passport pictures.
  • Home country and international driver’s licenses (if required).
  • Copies of updated will and power of attorney.
  • Copies of marriage and birth certificates.
  • Social security cards for each family member.
  • Medical and dental records, including x-rays, vaccination certificates, prescription documentation, and pet health certificates from the veterinarian.
An extra supply of medicines and prescription drugs, contact lenses or eyeglasses, etc.
  • Bank account and investment records, including blank checks and deposit slips for home country bank account.
  • Official school records and transcripts, including copies of college diplomas.
  • Health, auto and homeowner’s/renter’s insurance policy documents.
  • Inventory of goods shipped and stored.
  • Tax records: copy of last year’s tax returns and necessary receipts for current year’s tax return.
Extra business cards.
  • Copy of the moving services contract and other moving documents.
  • Traveler’s checks, ATM/credit card, and emergency pocket money in the necessary currency.
  • Information sheet in case of emergency: list names and addresses, contact info, blood type and medical requirements for each family member, etc.
upon arrival

After you arrive, you’ll want to register with the nearest embassy or consulate, and check with the postal service for any held mail. Additionally, determine and meet local in-country registration requirements. Finally, maintain a record of all moving expenses—these costs may be reimbursable by your employer and/or be tax-deductible.

An international assignment does not have to be a complex process. Adequate planning and preparation from the outset can greatly diminish the chances of something going awry. Once you are in-country, relax and enjoy yourself. The benefits from your advance planning will soon be readily apparent as you settle in to your new work and social environment.

Learn as much as you can about your host country prior to the move. The best way to do this is to visit the host country approximately six weeks prior to your move.


Solutions, Winter 2002