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