What every assignee wants to know

As borders start to open, assignments that were on hold will start to move forward.  No matter how much someone prepares to move internationally, there are always surprises along the way.

Here are a few common concerns you can address before your assignee moves abroad:

It seems more expensive. The COLA or cost of living allowance in a new location is factored into any assignee’s salary calculation, yet many expats say it is not enough to cover the differences.  Is this perception or reality?  This is often caused by comparing costs at home for gas, eating out, and shopping for their favorite foods at a local supermarket.  Often there are many items in the host country that are lower than home.

I can’t find like items.  Expats often complain they can’t find clothes or shoes in their size and that the quality is not the same as back home.  As mentioned above, some food items may be harder to find, adding to the frustration.  Knowing in advance which items will be hard to get will allow them to stock up on these items before the move.

Lots of bureaucratic red tape.  Many assignees express frustration with the length of time it often takes to obtain a residence permit and/or visa, driver’s license, open a bank account and other requirements in setting up a home abroad.

Finding housing within budget.  Expectations need to be managed when it comes to housing.  Many expats expect a certain level of housing when compared to the home country, but often that housing doesn’t exist in the host location and/or doesn’t fit their housing budget.  The expat should be updated on any additional costs such as housing taxes and legal fees that may need to be paid, too.

Is it safe to drive abroad?  Driving conditions vary greatly around the world.  It is best to discuss the driving conventions with the expat before departure.  Is traffic unmanageable?  Is it dangerous to drive around the host city?  Is there an efficient public transportation system?  Discussing transportation ahead of time will lessen the stress associated with getting to the office.

Living Abroad’s International Relocation Center’s destination reports provide detailed information on all the topics above and takes the stress out of your employee assignments and business travel by providing detailed solutions to obstacles and questions…even during the most complex relocations and business trips.

Advantages of working with us:

  1. Location-specific information on moving, living, and doing business
  2. Web links to in-country resources
  3. One source for employees’ international relocations
  4. Professionally written for business use
  5. Comprehensive topics – including the most current issues
  6. Cultural learning for international relocation, business travel, and international teams

If you move employees around the globe or manage business travelers – or both – tap into our 30+ years’ experience, a wealth of trusted information, and our exclusive suite of innovative tools that remove all the guesswork from your assignments.

Written by Cathy Heyne, GMS-T – Managing Director

Let Living Abroad’s International Relocation CenterGlobal Business Travel Center  and Culture Coach Online equip your assignees, families and global business travelers with the tools they need to navigate the unfamiliar with confidence.

If you’d like to learn more about the depth of our content and resources, request a demo!

The Sounds of Solace

When those of us in Global Mobility talk about “talent,” we normally mean a person with skills, aptitude, and experience particularly suited to a job or project.

But during the pandemic, we’ve discovered new ways to appreciate a different kind of talent. With performing arts venues closed, musicians, dancers, actors, and comedians have made their way from their homes into ours, via the small screens on our computers or phones.

Video collaborations have been sources of both calm and soaring beauty, like the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra performing Beethoven’s 9th Symphony or the New York Philharmonic’s performance of Boléro as a tribute to healthcare workers. The lovely “Raining on the Border,” by the globally-mobile band The Troubadours, was composed as a project to instill relaxation in its musicians as well as listeners.

Professional musicians have popped up in the unlikeliest of places. American actor John Krasinski surprised a little girl — who’d been disappointed that her long-awaited Hamilton performance was cancelled – with the Broadway cast serenading her with the title number from their homes. See the SGN (Some Good News) link, at the 8:27 mark.

Now that things are opening up in some countries, residents may once again venture out to public performances. Outdoor venues will open first, especially those suited to groups that have space to spread out. Indoor venues have a bigger challenge to keep performers, staff, and patrons safe.

People in countries that are “open” now have a better chance of seeing some live performances. For example, Sweden’s stunning natural outdoor arena, Dalhalla, starts its summer of performances in July. Reykjavik Iceland’s Harpa concert hall is open for a range of music and other acts.  In Seoul, South Korea, there are shows and musicals happening at various venues around the city.

Of course, while these events are accessible to residents, there may still be border issues for travelers and regulations are subject to change. Check with the appropriate authorities before booking travel to any of these locations.

By the way, you will find these links in our Sweden, Iceland, and Korea reports, for your easy reference when the time is right for you to attend public gatherings again.

Meanwhile, those of us who are still in some degree of shut down are counting the small steps toward healthy freedoms with gratitude and hope.

Stay well!

Written by Ellen Harris, GMS, Product Manager, Content Group

In which country will you be beckoned this way?

Some countries are opening up their borders. Which country uses the following hand gesture to summon people and is now opening its borders?

“If you need to beckon someone, do not do so by moving a single finger towards you. Instead, extend your arm palm down and move your fingers up and down.”

  1. Iceland
  2. South Korea
  3. Taiwan
  4. Brazil

Click here for the answer!

Looking at the familiar

In what feel like new and overwhelming times, it can be helpful to look at the familiar. Here are five articles from the Living Abroad blog that are as useful now as they were on their dates of publication, before the pandemic:

What You Should Know: Emergency Readiness offers a checklist of things you can do now, whether you are at home or abroad, to smooth processes in many kinds of emergencies.

With so much interaction occurring at long distances, cross-cultural communication skills are more important than ever. “Good morning, Mr. Morris.” “Hi, Julien.” looks at the challenges global communicators face, and the opportunities that cultural agility provides.

Streaming media use is at an all-time high, and many new services are launching this year. Digital Content at Your Fingertips outlines important considerations before buying equipment and clicking the “subscribe” button.

Those who are sheltering in place, or otherwise compelled to purchase goods online, may find some things to think about in Order Items Online around the World.

While global mobility has become more complex and challenging than ever, Voting Whilst Abroad reminds us all that preparation for civic duty should be a part of everyone’s plans.

Written by Erin Fitzgerald, GMS, Content Manager

Let Living Abroad’s International Relocation CenterGlobal Business Travel Center  and Culture Coach Online equip your assignees, families and global business travelers with the tools they need to navigate the unfamiliar with confidence.

If you’d like to learn more about the depth of our content and resources, request a demo!

Attack of the Zombies

While the pandemic has pushed telecommuting and online interaction to all-time highs, another unfortunate Internet activity has also been on the rise: cybercrime.

Criminals exploit COVID-19 fears and our new online reliance with schemes that range from spreading misinformation about the virus to creating e-commerce links to protective gear that capture a victim’s personal information.

What’s more, botnets, zombie computers, IT equipment infected with malware, and viruses are among readily available for criminals to buy and sell. Whether based in technology or social engineering, we need vigilance against cybercrime more than ever.

Here are some protection tips:

•    Only download or install programs/content/apps/add-ons from sources you trust.
•    Do not provide any personal, medical or financial information unless it is via an official channel by a competent authority.
•    Confirm the origin of the source of information you receive.
•    Share only vetted information, and use official sources to keep from spreading scams, false information and messages containing fraudulent links.

As difficult as it may be in the midst of other challenges, we need to pay close attention to what we choose to accept and interact with online.  Fighting cybercrime is everybody’s business — keep yourself safe!

Written by Cathy Heyne, GMS-T, Managing Director

Remote work now and in the future

How many of you took part in ERC’s “Road to Recovery” virtual conference last week? The sessions I attended were very informative, packed with data, ideas, and resources. Despite being unable to meet in person, session benefits were more than the sum of their parts this time.

As we all work in varying degrees of isolation, spending time with others who are experiencing the same challenges is heartening. Hearing from different parts of our industry is educational. Learning from peers whose particular expertise gives us a detailed view of the mobility picture is thought-provoking.

One topic making the rounds is remote work. Given the quick transition companies undertook to shift employees out of offices, it’s no wonder that work-from-home came as a shock to the system for many. Coupled with school children at home, entertainment sources off-limits, and shortages of essential items, figuring out how to be productive at home was a massive change.

Workers may find they appreciate the lack of commute and office wardrobe. Many are finding more time for simple pleasures and family togetherness. Still, they struggle with solitude, changed processes, and the strain of video interaction in place of face-to-face.

Living Abroad’s Content team has worked remotely since 2008. In this, we’ve been fortunate to avoid the stark adjustment many experienced this year when moving to a home office environment. But we are dealing with physical transitions, too. For example, my husband teaches high school math via Zoom from an upstairs bedroom (with a white board clipped to a bunk bed!) while our grown son moved out of New York City and now works at home with us as well.

Randstad, which provides outsourcing and other services – and kicked off Thursday’s ERC session with some great insights – gives us 4 Tips for Mastering Remote Work.  For some physical tips and videos, New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery offers ways to feel better from home. And finally, NPR has a good list of 8 Tips to Make Working from Home Work for You.

For companies, many employers are just coming to terms with the compliance issues remote workers present. Fragomen’s team delivered critical info during Thursday’s ERC session on immigration, reminding employers to stay abreast of country requirements with regard to visas and taxation.

With all that said, remember also to include some levity in your day when you can. Take in the clever, humorous content people are sharing. The original work-from-home-Dad video never fails to make me laugh: Watch Professor Robert Kelly’s famous BBC interview interrupted by his children.

Remember: we are all in this together these days. We may not all be in the same boat, but are weathering the same storm, staying afloat and sharing navigational maps to chart our way to the future.

Be well, everyone.

Written by Ellen Harris, GMS, Product Manager, Content Group

Whom should you tip?

In which country should you tip ALL of these people?

  •     Grocery bagger
  •     Parking lot attendant
  •     Valet parking attendant
  •     Gas station attendant
  •     Garbage collector
  •     Taxi driver
  •     Delivery person
  •     Hairdresser
  •     Hotel bellman
  •     Airport porter
a.  USA
b.  Mexico
c.  Argentina
d.  Switzerland
e.  Australia


Click here for the answer!

Don’t be late!

Since much of the world’s interaction has moved online for practical purposes, it’s not surprising that business communication application use has surged. Among others, Skype, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and especially Zoom have all seen an exponential rise in downloads and usage over the last few weeks.

The growth in teleconferencing and other types of online meetings has also presented a new challenge to the newly “virtual” globally mobile: dealing with time zones while scheduling meetings, and setting up one’s own daily schedule.  A simple oversight in determining where and when a meeting takes place can mean being late for it, or even missing it entirely. Fortunately, there’s a website for that!

World Time Buddy provides a handy visual graphic that allows you to enter your own time zone, and then compare your days and times to others around the globe. When I receive an invitation to Zoom with a destination service provider in Johannesburg on Thursday at 1pm, I can simply use the search field and then add Johannesburg as the next row…and know it will not be a lunch meeting for me!

And if I need to schedule a meeting this Friday with colleagues in Paris and Santiago, some quick additions to my entry let me share our options with everyone:

World Time Buddy is just one of countless resources that Living Abroad’s International Relocation Center suggests for doing business and communicating globally. Whether you’re in person or on a webcam, we help you maximize your business relationships, opportunities, experiences, and development.

Written by Erin Fitzgerald, GMS, Content Manager

Hand grasping no more

The handshake is a common worldwide greeting, but will we continue to shake hands after the quarantine ends?  With most people using gloves and a mask, the germ transferring ritual of a handshake has disappeared despite the cultural significance.

“The handshake wasn’t born out of courtesy or goodwill, but fear,” said Pamela Eyring, president of the Protocol School of Washington that offers training in business etiquette and communications skills around the world.

The handshake has existed in some form for thousands of years.  Some say the gesture started as a way to convey peaceful intentions. When extending an empty right hand, you showed that you were not holding a weapon and came in peace.  A handshake could also be a symbol of good faith when sealing a promise.

The earliest documentation of a handshake was found on a ninth century B.C. relief with the Assyrian King Shalmaneser III shaking hands with a Babylonian ruler to seal a pact. In fourth and fifth century B.C., the gesture can be found on Greek funerary art.  In ancient Rome, the handshake showed loyalty and friendship.

Historians believe that the handshake became popular in the 17th century with Quakers who viewed the gesture more equitable than the tip of a hat.  Etiquette guides in the 1800s included proper instruction on how to give a perfect handshake.

“When shaking hands—or, rather, taking the hand—grasp it firmly, do not take merely the fingersAmong friends the shaking of the hand is the most genuine and cordial expression of good-will.”  The Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Etiquette, 1877.

Many predict as the virus comes under control, we will go back to our old ways of handshaking given the length of time the greeting has been around.  This practice is one of the few appropriate ways of connecting in a professional setting that imparts a first impression.

However, the pandemic may be the impetus to reconsider.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, has a recommendation for Americans.  “I don’t think we should ever shake hands ever again, to be honest with you. Not only would it be good to prevent coronavirus disease; it probably would decrease instances of influenza dramatically in this country.”

The trick may be to come up with some alternatives.  We could adopt namaste, the Hindu greeting, which is a slight bow of the head with palms pressed together at the chest. In the Middle East, putting your hand over your heart is a common greeting.  The fist, foot and elbow bumps have also been recommended.

As we wait to see if the handshake makes a healthy comeback, we should all use caution in the meantime and adopt whichever greeting we feel the safest and most comfortable as an offer of camaraderie.

Written by Cathy Heyne, GMS-T, Managing Director

Virtual Assignments During the Pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused many firms and organizations to ‘go virtual’ for those whose jobs allow this. It has also created awkward situations for assignees and their sponsoring companies when borders are closed and “shelter in place” orders are given.

Our current environment, combined with advanced communication technologies, will have an impact on jobs. It may translate to some business trips being replaced by virtual meetings, and perhaps fewer assignments. Companies are beginning to make decisions as to who will be required to come into the office, and who can work at home. Will many international assignees become virtual assignees?

There are several ways this phenomenon can manifest itself in global mobility. A few examples:

1.         Stuck while on holiday: An assignee from Brazil working in Germany was in South Africa on holiday recently and was trapped there when the country closed its borders. He suggested he ‘just work from there.’

2.         Shelter in Place: A UK native lived in France and commuted to her job in Switzerland. She was told to shelter in place, and work from her home in France.

3.         Expat in place: A US citizen living in Philadelphia had just received a job offer that would relocate him to Singapore when Covid-19 made this move impossible. Instead, he offered to work from 8pm-6am daily in Philadelphia, aligning with Singapore office hours, in order to smooth communication with his colleagues. His Singapore employer has no offices in the US.

4.         Being with aging parents: A US employee with Brazilian roots asked to move from Boston to Sao Paulo (on his own) so he could be with his aging parents. He believed he could work virtually from there with ease.

5.         Expired visa: An employee’s visa expired but the pandemic means they cannot return to their home country anytime soon. The host country said they can stay without penalty, due to the circumstances.

To learn what the globally mobile who are caught in brand new scenarios like these should do, I reached out to industry colleagues at Fragomen. Martine Cuomo and Ethan Kaufman are both immigration attorneys with decades of experience. Here is a summary of what they shared with me:

“They should speak with their in-house mobility team, or in-house or outside immigration counsel, to make sure they have correct guidance. The impact of a change in employment circumstances (location, duties salary, hours) may vary widely depending on the visa category.

Also, more is at stake than an employee’s status. Some countries have draconian immigration policies and even a single ‘exception’ has the potential to implicate a broader corporate interest, such as debarment from immigration or work permit renewals beyond the employee at issue or potential tax ramifications at the corporate level.

In some instances, disparate treatment of foreign nationals for immigration purposes – even compliance – raises the possibility of creating potential claims under local employment laws if domestic workers view the accommodations as prejudicial to their interests or simply unfair.

The rules in some circumstances are clear and in others, given the fluid nature of the government pronouncements, are gray areas with room for interpretation.  Therefore, policies need to be made nationally by country management and in alignment with global mobility and broader legal concerns, but not ad hoc case by case as seems expedient.

All five scenarios present seemingly simple transitions to virtual jobs. However, they raise country-specific work visa issues and can trigger tax liabilities. Being virtual does not exempt anyone. Circumstances vary. For example, for the person whose visa expired but was unable to travel home (#5 above), the host country could hold them blameless and allow them to stay. But could they work? It may depend on who in the government was granting them some room to maneuver.

Shelter in Place (#2 above) may be the easiest to do and have the least risk, but which side of which border and what is happening there requires close watching.

So does the virtual working trend cross over into the global mobility world? Clearly it will, to some degree, but will it result in a new way of working?  It may, if proper visas, taxes and PE (Permanent Establishment) guidelines are followed. Companies could easily have people living in Philadelphia but “working” in Singapore from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. The scenarios above all cross over immigration guidelines, even when there is no immigration at all.

Just because it is easier than ever, doesn’t mean it’s legal. To be sure, talk with your in-house or outside immigration counsel before letting an employee working across borders “go virtual”.