Price Waterhouse Cooper predicts that as many as 70,000 British employees will relocate to alternative European locations between now and 2020 following the vite to Brexit vote. This is not counting the thousands of non-British that could also leave.
We are already seeing signs and it is slowly becoming a reality for a number of employees. As a number of companies seek to retain access to European skills, initiatives and pan EU licensing & tax arrangements, relocation of key staff has become central to their contingency planning.
Overseas relocation can be a huge prospect for even the most intrepid employees, making it overtly overwhelming for those who have not previously considered an international move.
Working with expats relocating across the globe, has given us great insight into the most common expat relocation concerns. These concerns are generally consistent; whether someone is relocating to Afghanistan, Zambia, Australia or Zimbabwe.
For many, healthcare is one of the first things that will be considered when assessing a potential move. If something happens, will I receive adequate care? Are the in-country healthcare standards acceptable? How will potential chronic healthcare needs be managed?
Our Suggested Tips:
- Make sure you understand the quality of healthcare offered, the distance of your nearest hospital / clinic from your new home and the way in which healthcare is financed. Although most companies will finance healthcare for their relocating expats, this is not always the case. If you need to arrange insurance, then understand in detail the terms of the arrangements. Don’t get caught out!
- If you have a chronic medical condition, then ensure that the medication you need is available in your new target country. Don’t assume that the medication you take will be licensed in the country to which you are relocating
- If you have a chronic condition, then have an overview of the nature of the condition and your medical history / treatments translated into the local language so that there is no hold up in your treatment should an acute episode occur
Leaving Aging Parents
This is often a concern for older expats as many are leaving behind elderly parents. It can be particularly difficult to move away knowing that future visits home might be sporadic and this difficulty is often coupled with a fear of how parents who may become beset by potential illness / age related difficulties might be best supported.
Our Suggested Tips:
- If you have siblings then formalise support arrangements, which can be actioned should the need transpire. Firefighting the situation from a distance, should the need arise, will only add to your stress and further complicate the situation. Ideally, you need peace of mind that there is a plan in place with necessary buy in from your siblings
- If you have no siblings, then formalise arrangements with someone known well to the family and ask them to pop by as often as possible and inform you if they feel support might be needed
- When visiting, pay attention to factors such as eating, grooming, socialising, mobility and financial management as these can be triggers for the need for extra support and care
- Ensure you capture the phone number of a neighbour local to your parents so that you can arrange for someone to pop by quickly should the occasion arise
- Regular Skype calls are a great way of staying in touch; formalising a regular time for these to happen will certainly give you peace of mind when all is well, whilst also giving you a flag for situations which may need to be managed at the onset
- Keep an oversight of your parents’ important information such as banking numbers, investments, wills, insurance policies etc. as searching for this situation compounds the stress and anxiety of supporting parents with their financial care should this become necessary
Expat concerns of this nature usually centre around ‘What if I find it hard to adapt to the local culture?’ and ‘What if I cause offense through a misunderstanding of the local working culture?’
We have found that relocation assignments between target and host countries with more pronounced cultural differences are likely to have greater concerns. This includes, for example, expats relocating between the Middle East and Europe, Europe and Asia or Africa and Asia.
Our Suggested Tips:
- Commission cultural training via a relocation / cultural training company. They will help you to understand both your own culture, the culture of the target country and the dynamics of these cultures when they interact. They will also highlight areas in which cultural difference may be greater coupled with strategies for managing these situations effectively
- The internet is a fantastic medium for finding free online tips and strategies for working cross culturally. Make the most of it and do as much research as you possibly can in advance of your move
- Interview individuals from within your organisation who are already working in the target organisation. Build an understanding of areas such as ‘factors that they found most challenging when settling in, activities / actions they undertook to resolve these, cultural differences which they found most challenging, areas of cultural synergy and dos and don’t. The feedback from these individuals will be invaluable
- Buddy up with an expat who can give you additional support / advice on arrival
Standards of Living
Most companies will identify cost of living gaps between a home and host country prior to relocating staff. Where necessary, potential differences will be bridged and expats relocating to countries which are more expensive will be compensated in some way. For some individuals however, their concerns are more centred on moves to countries with a poorer standard of living, where facilities are basic and below those of the home country.
Our Suggested Tips:
- Gain as detailed an understanding a you can from expats who have already relocated to the target country – what have they found to be most challenging in respect to a potential fall in standards of living? Understand from these contacts how they bridged the gaps and tools they have used to make life easier
- Negotiate a ‘Hardship Allowance’, should this be necessary, to ensure that you are fully compensated for any difficulties you might encounter
- Consider whether it’s appropriate to take a trailing spouse / family with you to such a destination. If you decide not to, then negotiate leave arrangements with your company. For example, it may be an option to work longer days, including weekends and to have an extended block of leave which enables you to return home and spend time with your family
Adaptation of Children and Trailing Spouse
Family is a considerable concern for those who may be bringing a spouse and children as part of the relocation assignment. The issue becomes pronounced for couples in which the trailing spouse is giving up a successful career in the home country and will become – to some extent – dependent on their partner both financially and in terms of access to new networks and friends. The adaptation of children may also cause concerns for expats, particularly if they are leaving behind a close family network, family based childcare arrangements and a good school.
Never underestimate the importance of adaptation as failure to adapt is one of the key reasons why relocation assignments fail and expats return home. The financial and non-financial impacts of relocation assignment failure are also significant. A company with a full relocation package may lose anywhere in excess of £100,000 GBP and non-financial impacts include loss of confidence for the employee concerned (and ultimately a loss of job if the job they left behind has been filled by another employee), an unsettled workforce and loss of productivity to name but a few.
Our Suggested Tips:
- Prepare, prepare, prepare! Gain as detailed an understanding of the target location as you can prior to departing. The more acquainted you are with the likely day to day life of your target country, the better, as this will help avoid what is known as ‘culture shock’
- Engage the services of a relocation training consultancy as they will equip you and any trailing spouses / family members with an understanding of your target location. They will also help you to understand the emotions you are likely to go through following your arrival in your new location – including the cycle of ‘culture shock’ and how this may become manifest. You will also receive training in the culture of the target country; ensuring that you have at least a basic understanding of the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ which will go a long way in helping you to better settle in and avoid potential issues
- Buddy up with another expat who has already relocated and experienced the journey upon which you are embarking. This individual will no doubt be able to advise, calm, inform etc in times of need
- Talk, talk and talk! If you are finding the experience stressful and if you or your family members are failing to adapt, then ensure you communicate this to your HR department / managers as soon as possible as they may be able to direct you towards interventions which help address your issues
Language is typically a significant concern for those relocating to a target country in which they have a limited understanding of the local language. Although English is spoken in most target destinations, experiences in the broader target areas and beyond the ‘cities’ / working environment will be limited in the absence of at least a basic working knowledge of the local language. Many expats preparing to relocate have concerns that limited language understand will impact making friends and delivering effectively within the workplace.
Our Suggested Tips:
- Try and commence your language lessons before departure as this ensures that you have at least a rudimentary understanding upon arrival
- Buddy up with a local upon arrival for the purposes of exchanging language learning sessions
- Formalise language lesson learning upon arrival and ensure that this time is prioritised. Companies such as ‘Myngle’ provide impressive online language learning facilities which allow you to learn at your own pace and in your own time
- Try to use the local language as much as possible when spending time outside of the work place. If using the local shop / restaurants / taxis etc. then don’t be tempted to fall into your default English setting. Most locals will appreciate the effort and will exercise patience whilst you try and make yourself understood
- Keep an evolving list of vocab that you review throughout the day as you consolidate your new learning
When leaving their home country, individuals are often leaving behind social groups which have been years in the building. Starting again and making new friends therefore is a challenge; particularly if new friendships must be made with a new cultural network.
Our Suggested Tips:
- It is sometimes easier to build your network amongst other expats. Many expats miss out on the potential richness of the local experience by building their new network almost purely amongst other expats. Although sometimes a tougher target, focus equally on relationships with your host country locals. There are a number of ways to do this, for example:
- Pair up with locals from within your community for the purposes of sharing language lessons
- Identify locals with whom you are likely to have much in common and ask them to be your ‘buddy’ whilst settling in. This individual will then become the ‘go to’ person when you encounter difficulties / challenges within your new environment. They may also be happy to introduce you to other individuals within their own personal network
- Identify potential opportunities to become involved in local charity work
- If you have children who are within an international school, then arrange the same access to locals by pairing up with local families with children of the same age. This is a great opportunity for all children involved to develop the most valuable of skills – communicating across cultures and learning a new language
- Most social media platforms will have expatriate forums which are an extremely valuable resource for those relocating. Access these forums and ascertain whether there are any regular expat meet ups. The transience of local expat communities means there is typically no end of welcome for new incomers
- Children provide an amazing outlet to meeting new friends. The school arrangements provide an immediate source of new contacts – in particular, giving you the opportunity to invite parents along when extending an invitation to your child’s school friends