You’re coming home

Repatriation is commonly cited as one of the most challenging phases in a globally mobile lifestyle. While there is a great deal of support available for assignees in unfamiliar destinations, preparation for a return home can be much more elusive. Many assignees and their families are surprised at how their experiences have changed them, and at how much their home country has changed during their absence.

Here are five things assignees can do now that will support their journey to repatriation later:

Consider challenges
In many ways, repatriation should be viewed as a new assignment rather than a homecoming. Many changes — some small, and possibly some substantial — have taken place in your home country during your time abroad. Take the time to review your perceptions and identify your expectations.

Plan ahead
Think about where the children will be academically on your return home, and compile a list of possible schools or colleges. An accompanying spouse or partner may need to consider whether they are likely to return to their career at home, or use this opportunity to change direction. Those who have learned a new language, or wish to continue developing their interest and involvement in a new culture, should research how they will be able to do so at home.

Talk about what you are going through with friends, family, and colleagues. Connecting with others who have repatriated, and who have experienced reverse culture shock, can prepare you for the unanticipated. Looking for counseling sessions, reentry workshops, and ex-expat clubs in your home destination and online can be helpful, as can determining how you will keep in touch with friends you made abroad.

Stay familiar
Being in sync with your peers will be important when you return. Magazines and newspapers from home, whether in paper or online format, can be a good way to maintain this connection, as can podcasts and other streaming media programs.

Maintain data
Moving from one destination to another requires organization, regardless of what location is “home.” Make sure the following information is up to date, and in easy places to access:

  • Household goods inventories
  • Personal documents such as birth records, citizenship papers, passports and driving licenses
  • Legal documents relating to wills, family matters, property ownership, or insurance policies
  • Medical and dental records, including test results, X-rays and MRIs, prescriptions, and vaccination updates
  • School records and documents such as examples of student work, certificates, and test results

These are just a few of the things you can do to prepare for repatriation. The International Relocation Center offers many other resources to begin thinking about the challenges and processes of returning home.

Written by Erin Fitzgerald, GMS, Content Manager

Lead the way

Is yours one of many companies that is still hesitant to invest in cultural training? Do you question the potential return on investment for soft skills training? Do you believe your employees can develop these skills on the job?  By then it may be too late to repair the damage or avoid a costly mistake.

In our 30 years working with global organizations, we have learned that soft issues – such as learning the host country language, navigating daily encounters, and achieving cultural understanding – can make or break an international assignment.

In our survey, over 80% of responding organizations believe it is important for their global team members to be culturally competent, and that cross-cultural training is a necessity. Over 90% of respondents said their organization would like to provide employees with cultural training, using a flexible online learning platform.

Research shows that improved access to content motivates employees to learn more. The newest learning platforms offer a high degree of portability. This means users can learn anywhere — not only in a classroom environment or the office, but at home, or even during travel.  New learning platforms are also designed to assess a user’s unique needs, and provide content to meet those needs.

Customized cultural training content can minimize misunderstanding, reinforce business relationships, and guide you to a more successful outcome.

Let’s look at one of the globe’s top assignment destinations, India:

  • What are typical working hours?
  • What is appropriate business attire?
  • What are common attitudes regarding women in the workplace?
  • How are business meetings conducted?
  • When and where do businesspeople socialize?

Businesses should strive to create the kind of culture that maximizes learning and brings ongoing performance improvements.

“The single biggest driver of business impact is the strength of an organization’s learning culture.”
-Josh Bersin, Principal and Founder, Bersin by Deloitte

If you don’t already provide cultural training, what are you waiting for?  Cultural understanding provides the confidence required for global roles.  When you invest in your employees, they feel valued and supported.  And your customers know you care enough about them to see the world from their perspective.

Written by Cathy Heyne, GMS-T, Managing Director

Are your children schooled in what’s important?

“Where will they go to school?” is one of the most critical questions relocating parents ask. Finding an answer can take several paths, depending on what’s available in the host country, what’s important to the parents, and the particular needs or strengths of the child.

When all three align on assignment, the resulting educational match can ease parents’ minds and help students thrive. Often, however, parents have to prioritize their needs and wants, and compromise somewhere to find the best fit. Some countries present unique opportunities for learning in different ways. 

In Denmark, for example, empathy is taught in schools. Students aged six to 16 receive one hour of Klassens tid each week.  Fundamental to the Danish curriculum, Klassens tid allows for problem solving in an environment in which children feel safe while practicing understanding and support of one another. Educators and parents alike credit this early introduction to empathy with building adults who are among the happiest in the world. 

South Korea has the distinction of achieving 100% literacy, through a culture of hard work and great emphasis placed on exams. Students go to school year-round and learn to persevere past options that lead to failure. Proponents point to goal-oriented young people who accept that early toil leads to success later.

At the other end of the spectrum is Finland’s belief that personal choice and self-motivation lead to a satisfying course of study. School days are short, compared to those in other Western countries. While taking education very seriously, schools also count extracurricular activities as important to student development. The schedule and curriculum allow time for these activities, typically chosen by the student. This ‘whole student’ approach has worked for Finland, whose education system ranks among the best in the world.

These three examples point to different measurements for success, both while in school and after. Only your family knows what you deem most important. School placement experts can educate you on your options in the host country – or even at home or elsewhere if boarding is the best solution. They can also guide the process of appointments and interviews, while pointing out the nuances of various choices. 

When relocation is on the horizon, start early to get on the path to your children’s education abroad. Coupled with your own parenting and the experience of living in a new country, their opportunities will take them fascinating places. 

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

When in Portugal…

In Portugal, exchanging gifts is not expected when doing business, but small social gifts are more common. When invited to a Portuguese home, bringing red carnations should be avoided as they are a symbol of ________.

  1. Revolution
  2. Bad faith
  3. Courage
  4. Illness
Click here for the answer!

The Australian bushfires: Five facts, and ten ways to help

While bushfires are a regular springtime occurrence in Australia, record-breaking hot and dry meteorological patterns are among the factors contributing to their current unprecedented scale and intensity.

To date, at least 27 people and an estimated 1.25 billion animals have died due to this season’s bushfires, and over 72300 sq km/18 million acres of land have been destroyed.

In many parts of the country, mobile telephone and Internet service has been intermittent during the crisis. This has made it difficult for many to receive evacuation warnings, and has challenged rescue efforts.

Haze from the fires has been visible from as far away as Auckland, New Zealand, approximately 2150km/1300mi southeast of Sydney.

The Sydney Morning Herald’s coverage of the bushfire crisis is free of charge to all online readers.

How you can help communities affected by Australia bushfires:

Givit Disaster and Emergency Recovery Service: Current campaigns

New South Wales Rural Fire Service

Red Cross Disaster Relief: Australia

Save the Children: Australia: Bushfire Emergency

St. Vincent de Paul Society: Vinnies Bushfire Appeal

How you can help animals affected by Australia bushfires:

Animal Rescue Collective

Animal Welfare League

Port Macquarie Koala Hospital

WIRES: New South Wales Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service

World Wildlife Federation: Help Save Koalas

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.

Plan ahead for health

While medical issues are stressful in any location, they can be especially daunting in a new and unfamiliar environment. Here are some ways you and your family can reduce the risk of health issues while abroad, even before you depart for assignment:

Research and schedule


Are there any regional outbreaks, diseases, or health hazards of which you should be aware in your new home? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC) and World Health Organization, (WHO) are good sources for current information on endemic and short-term health problems in locations around the world. In addition, government agencies often issue regular country-specific advisories, available to their citizens who are traveling or relocating abroad.  These advisories can include health considerations. Examples include Foreign travel advice in the UK, Smartraveller in Australia, Travel Advisories in the USA, and Travel Advice and Advisories in Canada.


It is also critical to determine well in advance what your options for health care insurance will be while you are abroad, and if the available coverage will meet your family’s needs. In the event that neither your employer nor your destination country’s government offer health care insurance, other expatriates, business colleagues, and international schools are all good resources for guidance in this area. International firms specializing in supplemental or comprehensive overseas medical coverage can also have helpful information.

Even if there are excellent doctors and dentists in your destination country, there will be plenty of things to keep you busy after your arrival. Therefore, before departure, arrange medical and dental checkups for every member of your family. Schedule these checkups far enough in advance to accommodate any necessary treatment. Be aware that some travel-related vaccinations are administered in a series, and may require even more time.

Consider your circumstances

Special conditions can dramatically affect a family’s experience on assignment. Well before departure, it is very important to determine whether an assignment will take you to any places that you or a family member may have difficulty accessing. You should also learn if there are any other challenges of which to be aware. For example, prescription medications may be more limited in your destination, or there might be fewer support services.

If a family member has a chronic health condition, determine whether it can be adequately treated in your new country. If they are under the care of a specialist at home, the specialist may be able to provide information or helpful references. Another source of information may be your country’s consulate in your destination country.

If you have family members who have depended on you for care while you are at home, it is very important to make and secure arrangements for them before your departure. Many countries offer visiting nurse or home help services, which may present a better alternative to residential care in some circumstances. Good sources of information for care options include physicians specializing in geriatric care, hospitals, health centers, social workers, support organizations, and community centers.

Gather personal data

Secure each family member’s complete medical records, so that they will be available to medical professionals in the new country. Make sure that these records are kept up-to-date, as you will need them when you return home.

Obtain written statements from your physicians and specialists that identify specific conditions, as well as recommendations for treatment. Medical imaging such as MRIs and x-rays, as well as any official analysis reports regarding these images, may also be worth taking with you. Sometimes, these materials are available in a digital format.

In case there are additional questions or more information is necessary, bring all contact information for home country medical professionals with you. In some countries, fax numbers or secure website logins are important communication tools, because they are commonly used for the transmission of medical documentation.

Your pharmacist can provide the generic names of prescription drugs so that pharmacies abroad will be able to match them with local equivalents. Any medications you take with you should be in the original labeled containers. You should have a signed and dated statement from the prescribing physician describing the health problem requiring the medication, as well as the dosage. Be aware that some countries require special documentation to accompany large quantities of medication, and that some countries do not allow the importation of certain types of drugs.

Store your family’s medical information in multiple and secure places, to reduce the risk of theft or loss.

Pack other important items

A small first aid kit is always useful, and over the counter medications, especially those for which you have specific brand or formulation preferences, are a wise addition to it. A health reference book from your home country may help you identify and treat simple maladies. An overnight bag with extra medication, toiletries and a blanket can be useful in the event of an unexpected hospital stay.

Many health conditions require items other than oral or topical medications for monitoring and treatment. If your preferred devices, testing materials, or other equipment is difficult to find in your destination country, be sure to bring a more than adequate supply, or make appropriate alternate arrangements.

Wearing a medical bracelet can be important if you or a family member has serious allergies, reactions to certain drugs, or a medical condition that should be immediately known in the event of an emergency. It may be useful to have its information translated into the language of the destination country, especially if English is not widely spoken.

Be prepared

Making key decisions and plans in advance can not only make a substantial difference in how you are able to handle medical emergencies while abroad, but also in the quality of your family’s assignment experience overall.

A new decade for business travel

It’s the beginning of 2020 and time for another year of corporate travel, which is crucial for any business.  Customer meetings still top the list as the reason for business travel, with average travel plans ranging from once or twice a month to once every two months.  Business travel supports business goals, skills development, recruitment and initiatives for the coming year.

What trends will influence business travel in 2020?

  1. “Bleisure” travel continues to grow with the influx of younger employees into the workforce.  More than half of international business travelers also plan to extend trips to accommodate leisure activities.
  2. Boutique and unique accommodations are growing in popularity.  They often feel homier and offer a little more flavor of the destination.
  3. Self-booking travel options and accommodations are on the rise. However, speaking with a customer service agent is still important for canceled flights and other travel emergencies.
  4. Travel policies are becoming more flexible. Dynamic travel policies, which adjust according to options available at booking, are on the rise.  Dynamic policies tend to have a higher adoption rate.
  5. New biometric technologies such as facial recognition will speed up security lines.
  6. The use of blockchain as secure storage of traveler preferences will continue to increase.  This supports secure and seamless cross-border travel.
  7. Dynamic corporate travel programs will help encourage organizational growth, improve retention, and increase employee engagement.
  8. Political tensions, trade issues, regional conflicts and rising oil prices will challenge growth in the travel industry.
  9. China will continue to dominate the business travel market, and India is slated to be in the top 5 business travel markets by 2022.

If you have employees who are frequent business travelers, it’s crucial to stay ahead of trends, and to keep your corporate policies updated.  The overall goal, of course, remains the same: making business travel efficient for better experiences and investments.

Written by Cathy Heyne, GMS-T, Managing Director

Living Abroad’s Global Business Travel Center  supports 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, request a demo!

Leaping into 2020

Another leap year is upon us. And while none of us was around back in Julius Caesar’s day, most people know that calendars back then had fewer days per year, which threw off the seasons over time. The 46 B.C. Julian calendar reformed the previous Roman one, bringing the number of days to 365 and standardizing one additional day – an “intercalary day” — every four years.

But adding a day every four years began to accumulate incrementally more time than the solar year. By the time Pope Gregory XIII was head of the Catholic Church in 1582, he was concerned about Easter becoming out of sync with the spring season. His calendar skipped leap year every 100 years – with the exception of every 400 years, when it is a leap year. This adjustment makes the Gregorian calendar as closely aligned with the solar year as possible.

The Gregorian calendar is the international standard today, although there are countries that do not use it – including Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and Iran.

If we did not work leap years into calendars periodically, the seasons would reverse every 730 years or so. Just imagine if the hemispheres’ climates swapped according to the calendar. Not that anyone would notice, since it would take about 24 generations to achieve.

The current generations have some decisions to make this year. Presidential elections are on the 2020 calendar, in the United States as well as in Bolivia, Burundi, Greece, Iceland, and Poland.

Meanwhile, we will enjoy an extra day at the end of February. And those born on February 29 can actually celebrate their birthdays on their birthdays, rather than on March 1 as is the norm. As we start the new leap year, here are two quotes from motivational presenter Tony Robbins, born on February 29, 1960:

         “Success in life is the result of good judgment. Good judgment is usually the result of experience. Experience is usually the result of bad judgment.”

“Change is inevitable. Progress is optional.”

Here’s to a year of new experiences, and of learning, growth, health and happiness. Wishing you a Very Happy 2020!

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

Don’t get stuck this holiday season!

Planning to step off your next flight and into a van or a sedan? You might want to plan ahead.

The end of 2019 will also bring the end of a business long familiar to many air travelers. Last week, the airport shuttle service SuperShuttle announced that it will close worldwide after December 31. (Customers who have reservations after that date will receive refunds.) At its peak, SuperShuttle’s distinctive blue and yellow vans transported walk-up and reservation-based passengers to and from over 100 airports in North America and around the globe. Company officials cited “changes in the competitive and regulatory landscape” as key reasons for the closure: in other words, the emergence and continuing expansion of ridesharing networks such as Uber and Lyft.

Traditional shuttle service availability can have a range of effects. Right now, for example, airports sometimes permit shuttles to arrive curbside, but designate space further away for rideshare networks.  Facilities that support transportation services in airport arrival areas can range from on-site personal attention to nothing at all.  And in some cities, fares and fee structures vary dramatically among transportation types.  Many factors contribute to these, such as an airport’s physical space, a goal of reduced pollution, or even local legislation concerning the employment status of drivers.

As airport transportation services begin, end, change and evolve, so too will their range of offerings, affordability and convenience. Checking ahead with your preferred provider and knowing what to expect when you arrive will help to ensure that the rest of your journey is a success.

Written by Erin Fitzgerald, GMS, Content Manager

How do expats celebrate the holidays?

If expats don’t travel back to their home countries, how do they make the best of the holiday season away from home?

Their adopted countries’ holiday traditions may be very different from those back home.  Many expats bring their own personal and cultural traditions with them, and even incorporate some new traditions from their host country.

Four different American correspondents share their holiday experiences from around the world.

Portugal Correspondent, Tricia Pimental and her husband Keith, find the Christmas holiday not too different from the U.S. The season starts on December 8 with the Day of the Immaculate Conception.

“There are Santas, crèches, and tasquinhas, which are stalls selling handmade crafts, wines, cheeses, jams, and jellies,” Tricia says. “Festive lights are everywhere—downtown Lisbon is aglow—and in smaller communities, like where we live, the sounds of Christmas carols are heard through loudspeakers as locals shop and passersby enjoy festivities on the esplanade in the center of town.”

Don Murray and his wife, Diane, who live in Cancun, Mexico, say they celebrate Christmas twice.  However, he notes that it is more relaxed than in the U.S.

“We have our first dinner in a nice restaurant on Christmas Eve. Then, Christmas Day is our time for a homemade turkey dinner, calling friends and family on Skype, binge-watching Netflix, and enjoying some wine.”

Donna Stiteler, a Correspondent in Cuenca, Ecuador, says that she was ready to give up enjoying the holidays in the U.S., but living in Ecuador, life has taken a change for the better given the lower cost of living.

“This is the first time I’ve actually had time to put an effort into decorating. I had sort of given up on enjoying Christmas while living in the States. Fighting over whose house to go to, spending money on presents no one wants, the holiday music that starts at Halloween. Christmas had turned into a chore instead of a celebration.  In Cuenca, I have rediscovered the true meaning of Christmas, and for me now, it’s about stopping to take time to appreciate the things I have.”

Kirsten Raccuia, Southeast Asia Correspondent in Penang, Malaysia believed when she moved there, she would never celebrate a U.S. style Christmas again.

“Malaysia is a multicultural country, so they celebrate all sorts of holidays here, and Christmas is a big one. I’m still shocked to see girls in traditional hijabs, wearing Santa hats, putting up Christmas trees with their Chinese coworkers at a shop. They deck the malls with fake snow and huge Christmas scenes where people line up to pose and take pictures in all the merriment. They play holiday music starting the first day of November and a Chinese Santa walks around in full regalia, never mind that it’s 90° F. Just like home, kids are running up to hug Santa as he belly-laughs and walks around the mall.”

No matter where you find yourself during the holidays, take advantage of the new surroundings and best features of your adopted country and culture. That’s the sign of a successful expat – one who is adaptable and creative!

Prescher, Dan. “Keeping the Traditions-Expat Christmas Around the World.” International Living Web.December 25, 2017.

Written by Cathy Heyne, GMS-T, Managing Director