Leave your cash at home, but don’t forget your phone

Are you one of those people who leaves the house with only a smartphone, your driver’s license and a credit card tucked into the attached wallet? A growing number of people travel this light, keeping everything they need on an app and being connected to everyone they care about via call or text.

When it comes time to pay for something, the credit card or a mobile payment app does the trick. Even if you do carry more than a phone – many people still like the convenience of a purse or backpack – cashless purchases are increasingly the norm. A recent Forbes article states that only 30% of transactions are in cash these days, half what it was just a decade ago.

People cite convenience and security as main benefits of this payment practice, as cash is more easily lost and can’t be traced, while cashless transactions are tracked and immediate, replacing the counting of change with a swipe or a tap.

Nowhere is cash used less than in the Nordic countries. According to Deloitte, Norwegians use cash in stores only 11% of the time. In Sweden, that number is closer to 13%; many places no longer accept cash, and even certain retail banks no longer deal in paper currency.

Both nations have widely used mobile payment apps: Vipps in Norway and Swish in Sweden. Norwegians and Swedes – along with Danes through Denmark’s MobilePay— make more than three-quarters of store purchases and peer payments using a mobile device.

It helps that these countries have solid banking and technology infrastructure, and people trust the process. Digital payment adoption depends on many factors, leading to a wide variance in practice worldwide.

But next time you are in Scandinavia, feel free to step out the door without a wad of cash. You should be able to get through your day just fine.

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

What public activity is commonly accepted?

In most Muslim countries what following public activity is commonly accepted:

  1. Showing the soles of your feet when seated

  2. Holding hands with an opposite sex person

  3. Holding hands with a same-sex person

  4. Touching a close friend with your left hand.

The answer:

Library resources at your fingertips

It used to be that the only way to take advantage of a public library was to visit a local building. Now, it’s possible to use many library services from anywhere in the world, sometimes without ever having visited in person at all.

Many libraries make eBooks, audiobooks, and videos readily available to their users via the Internet. One of the largest digital distributors for public libraries is OverDrive, whose catalog of 2 million items is available via libraries in over 40 countries. OverDrive’s app, Libby, allows users to check out materials and view them on iOS, Android, Kindle and Windows devices. Libby even has bookmarks that remember where you left off. Best of all: your materials are returned automatically on the due date — no fines!

Most libraries that use OverDrive and other digital resources are available free of charge to users who can establish that they have residency in a given city or state. Some libraries, including BrooklynFairfax County, and Houston, offer membership to anyone for an annual fee.

Countless other resources can be available to online library users. Some examples include movies and television shows at Hoopla, language learning from Mango, online courses through LinkedIn Learning (formerly Lynda), and access to current magazines through Flipster. Many libraries will even allow you to submit research requests or schedule reference appointments with librarians via email or telephone.

Before becoming a “virtual” library user, read through the application carefully. Fees, lengths of membership, and registration requirements can vary considerably. Also, make sure a library’s offerings meet your needs. Most will allow you to see lists of the services available and preview their catalogs before enrolling.

Happy reading, listening, and learning!

Written by Erin Fitzgerald, GMS, Content Manager

How to get the most out of a conference

Some of you will be attending the biggest global mobility industry event this week in Boston:  ERC’s Global Workforce Symposium.  Professional conferences are excellent places to connect names with faces, discover new industry trends, and network with others in your industry.  It helps to have a plan before you go.

Here are some tips to make the most of your time:

Have a goal.  Do you want to extend your professional contacts, advance your subject matter expertise, find suppliers, develop a partnership or brush up on new technology?  Whatever your goal, take an active role at the conference.

Use the conference mobile app.  This is a convenient and efficient way to do some preliminary planning and a great way to navigate the event.  Make a list of which sessions would be of interest or beneficial to attend.  The app is also a good opportunity to review the attendee list to make the most of your connections and interactions.

Divide and conquer.  Ask your work colleagues to spread out over the conference and attend different concurrent sessions.  This strategy will ensure maximum exposure to what the conference has to offer.  Set aside time to share information with each other.

Introduce yourself to at least three new people.  Make it a point to expand your professional contacts by introducing yourself to at least three new people. If you are not comfortable, network with an extroverted friend who can help with introductions.

Take notes.  Write down a few key takeaways from each session.  Take away at least one idea, tool, concept or bit of information that can be applied to your daily practice.

Attend social events.  If you are invited to social events, try to attend as these are actually a lot of fun and really help to extend the excitement, enthusiasm and energy of a conference.  Don’t be afraid to relax and mingle.

Bring conference highlights back to the office.  Not everyone will be able to attend the conference. Consider yourself an emissary for your entire working group and be committed to sharing what you learned with others.

Follow up.  If you have exchanged business cards, make sure to follow up after the conference.  This is a great way to form and strengthen professional networks over time.

Save the conference program.  The conference program can be a great professional resource. They are directories of expert level knowledge and subject matter expertise. Let your program act as a professional resource and directory.

Thank your boss.  Tell your boss what you learned and express your gratitude for the time off and funding that allowed you to attend.

Attending regular conferences are a great way to grow your professional goals.  Keep these tips in mind and you’ll be sure to get the most out of the event.

Relying on an expert

When it comes to traveling internationally – whether it’s to relocate for a year’s work or to stay for a few weeks on business – there are many aspects that call for precise actions on your part. Professional guidance is critical in areas that are complex and subject to change, those that pose high risk, and those that require in-depth local knowledge. For example:

  • Immigration
    Entry requirements can be quite complex, and what you’ll need can depend on many factors, such as nationality, purpose for visiting, length of stay, and even what other countries’ visas are stamped in your passport. Stepping outside the host country’s law —even inadvertently — can put your presence within its borders on perilous footing. Rely on an immigration professional to keep up with changing, country-specific details.
  • Taxes
    Like immigration, taxes are complicated. Even business travelers, who may think their stay is too short to trigger tax liability, can put themselves and their companies at risk for non-compliance. A tax professional is the best source for the details that apply to your home and host countries, activity while abroad, and number of days traveling.
  • Shipping/Customs
    Referring to a host country’s customs website may be enough to advise a business traveler with a carry-on bag how to enter legally. But when shipping household goods, and maybe a vehicle, a vetted shipping company can provide valuable help with packing, container size, timing, insurance, customs paperwork, and arrival procedures.
  • Housing
    While there’s a lot we can do to educate ourselves and set expectations about host-country housing, some regions – especially hardship locations – are best served by a local agent who knows which neighborhoods answer the assignee’s needs: safety, comfort, accessibility to work, and nearby schools.
  • Schools
    Depending on your family needs, an educational consultant can be invaluable. Families who need to place multiple children, students with special needs, and families moving to hardship locations are examples of those who can benefit from an expert’s advice and contacts.

So, in which areas can you become the expert?

With access to the right information, you can quickly educate yourself on your host country’s history and culture, which – while they may seem extraneous to business travel — shed valuable light on national origins and why people behave as they do. Further, learning specifics about the social customs and business practices will ease your transition and speed your acclimation.  Basics like the local language(s) – and the likelihood you’ll be able to speak yours – are essential information. You can plan some courses in advance, on the go via app, or enroll after arrival.

You can also orient yourself about your arrival and other travel, through airports, mass transit, and ride share availability. Find out about Internet, mobile phones, and whether you’ll be safe using public Wi-Fi. And speaking of safety, you’ll need to know the levels of crime and security concerns in your host location.

Myriad other necessary details include banking, dining, food shopping, driving, and what sorts of clubs and activities are available for you and your family.

As a reminder, all of the above topics and more are covered in Living Abroad’s International Relocation Center (IRC). Access is easy, information is clear, and topics are written and presented for busy professionals and their families. Everything you need to become an expert at your own relocation!

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

How to find the familiar

Think about the last time you were in a place that was familiar…yet unfamiliar.

For me, it was yesterday. Because of some construction, my drive home took me on a different route through town — past a large grocery store I’d never been to. I needed to find something for my family’s dinner, and restock the kitchen cupboards. So I pulled into the parking lot, got out of the car, grabbed a cart, and walked through the door.

At “my” grocery store, shoppers enter directly into the produce section. However, this grocery store greeted me right away with displays of bread, boxes of muffins, and other bakery goods. Not that strange, of course. Interesting, maybe even a little exciting! Yet, I realized quickly that I was used to shopping for items in a certain order.

In this familiar yet unfamiliar place, I guessed correctly that the milk and eggs were along the back wall of the store. But I wasn’t sure where to find ketchup, or my daughter’s favorite granola bars. I didn’t know whether they carried our brand of toothpaste, and my husband is very particular about toothpaste.

I zig-zagged across the store several times when at “my” grocery store, one brisk walk-through would have done the trick. When I finally arrived at the cash register, I realized that I didn’t even have the store’s shoppers’ club card.

On my way home, tired and frustrated, twenty minutes late and with a few substitute items I’d have to explain to my family, I realized that my experience was a microcosm of what the globally mobile do every day. Certainly, some aspects of relocation and business travel are familiar. But unfamiliar elements, combined with pressing needs, is a fast recipe for stress.

Had I been greeted at the door by a friendly employee with a store map, a grocery index, and a shoppers’ club card application? My experience in an unfamiliar grocery store would have been positive — not just for me, but for my hungry (and sometimes very picky) family.

Written by Erin Fitzgerald, GMS, Content Manager

What just passed in Japan?

In Japan there are many different festivals and celebrations throughout each year.  Aside from Respect for the Aged Day, what else is celebrated in September?

  1. Vernal Equinox
  2. Children’s Day
  3. Culture Day
  4. Autumnal Equinox
Click here for the answer!

Coaching is not only for kids

Coaching is something we hear a lot about and which can have tremendous value for individuals, whether it’s used for career development or as support in a stressful or new situation, such as helping to acclimate someone to a new environment.

Being an international assignee is a 24/7 job. Expats don’t know what to expect and may seem fine – until they’re not.  All expats experience cultural transition stress, which can manifest in sleeplessness, reduced self-esteem, and depression.  They are starting over in many areas and become preoccupied with basic daily needs that required minimal thought before.

Coaching can facilitate positive change by reinforcing new skills and behaviors until they become intuitive.  In the global mobility industry, we know how difficult it is to assimilate into a new culture and recognize the many disruptions caused by a cross-border move.

It takes a tremendous amount of mental and physical energy to establishing a “new normal.”  Starting with the basics, a coach can reveal potentially hidden challenges clients may be facing in working toward larger goal.

More ambiguous is the loss of a routine and an overall sense of stability.  It’s typical for expats to feel discouraged and ineffective in areas of their lives where they once felt confident and productive.  Even expats who started out enthusiastic about the relocation soon discover that it’s not like a movie or a book about the country. The loss of old acquaintances and support networks can weigh heavily during these times.

A coach can help an expat find stability and deal with the unfamiliar. Cultural coaching can support them through the stages of transition. Expats themselves can set new goals, and work toward them.

Learning about the host culture values is extremely important, as is identifying individual biases toward the new culture, which can be subtle and unrecognizable.  Working with a coach to understand these behaviors is essential for personal and profession integration in the host culture.

The phrase “think globally, act locally” applies to coaching expats.  They must be mindful of the unique new circumstances of the host location to help them flourish during the transition.  A good coach educates their clients about the expectations and accountability required for success.

Fortunately, there are many good coaching companies available for expats and their families.  In addition to a coach, cultural training and destination specific information will help mitigate a loss of self, build confidence, and result in a successful time abroad.

Written by Cathy Heyne, GMS-T, Managing Director

The Art of Traveling

Last weekend I attended a wedding reception at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.  I had never heard of the museum, but now know that it has the world’s largest collection of art by women.

Founded in 1987, the NMWA houses 5000 objects, hosts 10 annual exhibits, and runs public programs to highlight the impact of women in the world of art — and beyond. Works date from 16th century paintings by Lavinia Fontana to Cindy Sherman’s contemporary photography, Guerrilla Girls’ photolithographs, and sculptures and prints by Louise Bourgeois.

Another permanent women-only collection is the New Hall Art Collection at Murry Edwards College, University of Cambridge.  Among its eclectic works are an early 20thcentury drawing by Mary Cassatt and a 2011 neon Snoopy sculpture by Fiona Banner.

While equality is on the rise for modern artists, and some women prefer to be identified by their work rather than their gender, there are still imbalances to overcome in the art world. Some NMWA facts– about earnings, exposure, and other areas —  are truly illuminating.

It’s also true that the cities we visit have the power to delight us with treasures by artists from every walk of life. Whether you visit the Frida Kahlo Museum while in Mexico City, find time for the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, or make your way to the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden in St. Ives, Cornwall, viewing art enhances the experience.

Of course, there are many more museums dedicated to male artists — like the Munch Museum in Oslo, the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, to name just a few.

Wherever you are in the world, experiencing pleasurable art has been shown to lower stress and improve health markers. Personally, I find great joy in the work of Swedish textile artist Helena Hernmarck, who lives not far from me in Connecticut. Her natural landscapes invite wonder and marvel; her colors both calm and inspire.

May we all find some art to uplift us whenever we are traveling – whether across oceans or closer to home.

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

Bring Your Manners to Work Day

This coming Friday is Bring Your Manners to Work Day! The Protocol School of Washington created this day, observed on the first Friday of September each year, as a reminder to treat others with courtesy and respect in the workplace.

Good business etiquette comes from having empathy for others. Organizations that build a culture of respect have the opportunity to achieve long-term profitability and are viewed as more professional

Here are 10 tips for good business behavior:

  • Be a good listener.
  • Abstain from checking your mobile device when in meetings.
  • Control your temper and negative emotions.
  • Remember the basics, “please,” thank you,” and “you’re welcome.”
  • Refrain from offensive or demeaning language.
  • Dress respectfully.
  • Respond to a phone call or email in a timely manner.
  • Acknowledge others for a job well done.
  • Body language matters – smile more.
  • Respect other cultures.

Respecting other cultures is extremely important.  If your company does work internationally, spend time becoming acquainted with a new culture before moving or doing business abroad.  A culture’s surroundings, history, and values affect many facets of everyday and professional life, including greetings, gestures, appropriate conversational topics, and even table manners.  Learning about a culture’s business etiquette before traveling can also prevent misunderstandings that affect business decisions later.

Living Abroad has some handy tools that can help you prepare for any business meeting abroad.  To be immersed in the culture of the country, the Culture Coach Online is a self-paced cultural learning tool.  For global business travelers, the Global Business Traveler Center is the best fit. And if you are moving abroad, the International Relocation Center provides a wide range of articles to make the move a success.

If you’d like to learn how your employees can put their best foot forward for international business success, contact us here.

And don’t forget to celebrate Bring Your Manners to Work Day!