By Robert D. Miller
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.
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.
Know the location of
hospitals. Try to select a
personal and/or family
physician and dentist.
Attempt to meet with other
international assignees
and get their advice.
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.
Gauge the climate.
Knowing the year-round
weather will help you in
packing your wardrobe.
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
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
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
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
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
requirements and filings.
Consider these other tips to make your transition
proceed forward as smoothly as possible:
Visit the doctor. Each
family member should
receive a medical
checkup and any
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
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 shortterm 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.
Arrange for health
insurance coverage while
living abroad.
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
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,
Gather email addresses of
neighbors, friends and
family. Email is a great
way to stay in touch.
Register as an absentee
Begin packing. The
process should start at
least three to four weeks
before departure.
Inform all relatives and
friends of your new
address and contact
information before
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
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
Information sheet in case of emergency: list
names and addresses, contact info, blood type
and medical requirements for each family
member, etc.
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 incountry 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
Solutions, Winter 2002