Have you committed these faux pas?

Standing in front of a table of appetizers at a recent party in New York, I was surprised by the look the hostess gave me as I grabbed a chip and scooped up some dip.  It wasn’t until sometime later when I was showing a client our article on personal conduct in Brazil that I spotted my faux pas, or kind of faux pas.  You see the hostess was from Brazil, and one thing you never do in Brazil is pick up food with your hands – yep, even appetizers. I wondered why she grabbed a chip with a cocktail napkin.

Or have you ever found yourself in a foreign country relying on the server to tell you whether it is customary to tip in that country or not and how much?  That happened to me in Italy last summer.  While the server mentioned there was no need to tip, she wasn’t quite convincing, making me wonder.  I left a tip.

Although these are minor and subtle nuances of culture, it was still important to the hostess or the server.  And that is the point of seeking to understand one another’s culture.  What might be commonplace in your culture could be unusual or even offensive to a newcomer.  Approaching cultural differences with sensitivity, openness, and curiosity can help to put everyone at ease.

How much do you know about culture?  Try to answer the following 3 questions and then click through to see how you did!

1.   In South Korea, which is considered acceptable?

  • a. Eating in the street.
  • b. Blowing your nose in public.
  • c. Covering your mouth when yawning.

2. In the UAE, which statement is true?

  • a. Make sure you get people’s names exactly right, don’t abbreviate, and do pay attention to the spelling.
  • b. It’s OK to lose your temper and stand your ground in negotiations.
  • c. Try to be direct when speaking.

3. In Russia, what should you never do?

  • a. Remove your gloves when shaking hands.
  • Make the “OK” sign.
  • Hug, kiss or show other public displays of affection.

Click here to find out if you answered correctly!

Who won the bragging rights?

Which was the first non-European city to host the Olympic games?

A) Lake Placid, NY
B) Tokyo
C) Montreal
D) St. Louis, MO
E) Sydney

Click here for the answer!

How to be prepared!

For most business travelers, international assignments are an opportunity to immerse oneself in a new culture, explore unseen parts of the world, and grow both personally and professionally. With the prospect of such an exciting venture, it is possible to overlook a crucial aspect of any kind of international travel: do you know what to do in case of an emergency abroad? We all hope that international trips will go smoothly; however, prior planning and a bit of forethought can be absolutely invaluable in the event of an emergency.

One of the simplest steps you can take before departure is collecting the contact information for emergency services in your destination country. This list should include telephone numbers for local fire, ambulance, and police services. Additionally, you should also check to see if your destination has a national general emergency number. For example, the telephone number 112 is used throughout the European Union and many other regions to contact dispatchers that will direct the appropriate services to your location based on your needs. Once you’ve gathered these numbers, keep them posted somewhere visible.

Knowing who to call in the event of an emergency is an essential first step for safety preparedness, but it is also vital to know where to go to and how to seek emergency medical attention if needed. Many of us take for granted the peace of mind afforded by immediate access to ambulance services, but in some areas such services may be unreliable or even nonexistent. And once you do arrive at a medical facility, will you have to pay for treatment? In some countries, universal healthcare is provided free of charge to both expatriates and locals alike, while doctors in other regions may expect immediate payment.

Quality of medical care is another factor that must be taken into consideration. Depending on your destination, there may be a substantial difference between quality (and cost) of care offered by public and private facilities. Still other countries may lack adequate facilities entirely, potentially requiring you to seek treatment from neighboring areas. Knowing this ahead of time, you may choose to take out an insurance policy that covers medical evacuation in order to defray the cost of travel and treatment.

Learning who to call, where to go, and how to proceed in the event of an emergency abroad are all essential steps to take before embarking on your journey. This process can involve sifting through a deluge of information, but Living Abroad is here to help! For a comprehensive guide to the above topics and more, consult the International Relocation Center’s Health and Safety section, as well as the Country Resources section for a listing of local emergency contact information. We take the guesswork out of planning by offering curated, up-to-date content all in one place to help you stay informed and safe abroad.

Supporting your mobile workforce can be easy by subscribing to Living Abroad’s International Relocation Center and/or the Culture Coach Online.  The International Relocation Center has 197 destinations to choose from and the Culture Coach Online, an online cultural learning platform, is available for 150 destinations.  Both services easily link to your company intranet or relocation portal for access at any time.

Check it out with a free demo!  Click here

Written by James Cafferty –  International Content Manager, Living Abroad 

Your Best Shot at Good Health

Your coziest robe. A cup of hot tea. A warm bath.

These sound like the makings of a relaxing day…

But they can also be what you turn to when you have the flu.

This year’s flu season is shaping up to be a vigorous one, and no one wants to get sick while traveling – for business or pleasure.

All the health authorities urge everyone to get a flu vaccine, even while acknowledging that it may be less effective than usual against this year’s flu strain. Still, it does provide protection. This is especially important for the elderly, the young, and those with compromised immune systems.

Australia has seen more flu cases and twice the number of hospitalizations than average, according to the Australia Department of Health. The World Health Organization posts ongoing flu information. Check out the status in your part of the world here.

Of course, standard vaccines are important, too.

Whenever you travel abroad, check with your doctor about the prevailing health recommendations. Several organizations provide useful advice for travelers, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Australia’s Smartraveller, and the U.K.’s Fit For Travel.

Take care of yourself while traveling. As the experts always say: wash hands regularly, stay well hydrated, and get plenty of sleep. That last one is easier said than done sometimes, but with any luck you’ll be enjoying that cup of tea across the table from a friend rather than in a sick bed.

Wishing you good health in the new year!

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

Why Take the Chance?

A recent Brookfield study that measured candidate readiness showed that one assignee in five experiences difficulty adapting to the new host culture. This can lead to lackluster business results, and ultimately to assignment failure. In fact, lack of adaptation is recognized as one of the top three reasons why assignments fail. Providing intercultural training combats this obstacle and supports assignee success, which is a great return on your investment.

Many companies offer their employees cultural learning programs, such as two-day classroom training or/and online applications.  But some employees find it challenging to commit blocks of time to learning about this other culture they are about to experience.  Wouldn’t it be great to have a learning tool that is easy to use and learning can take place when it fits into busy schedules?

About two years ago, one of our clients was looking for a tool that combined our detailed destination information with a cultural learning tool.  This top accounting firm sparked an idea which led us to propose a partnership with a cultural training company.  Pairing Living Abroad’s outstanding country information with a cultural program seemed the ideal product blend.

Since then, we have embarked on a journey leading to the creation of a robust learning tool that complements all our destination information.  In a few days, we will be announcing the launch of this online tool – the first on the market.

We will be announcing the launch of the Culture Coach Online!

Why take the chance?

Living Abroad is committed to supporting those individuals relocating, traveling or working in culturally diverse work teams.

Written by Cathy Heyne, GMS-T – Managing Director, Living Abroad

Got a question?

How much time do you spend answering international assignees’ questions?
At ERC last fall, we shared a luncheon table with global mobility specialists who recounted stories of their most memorable queries. They ranged from one family’s request to move their horses abroad to complicated immigration issues.
We at Living Abroad handle a similar list of queries. Did you know that our International Relocation Center (IRC) features a Help Desk that connects subscribing employees directly to our content experts? Just think of the time you could be saving by taking advantage of this benefit.
How often are you faced with questions like these? (Some have been edited for length.)

•    We are moving from Turkey to Switzerland. My daughter will be 6 years old in September. She was going to start primary school in Turkey. How can we arrange a school for her in Lausanne? Do I have to pay for school? As we will come in October the schools in Switzerland starts in September is it going to be a problem?•    We are moving to Scotland for two years.  I would like to know more about what food stuffs is safe to bring in.  If you have a website I could check that would be great.  We are entitled to an air and sea shipment.

•    Hi, currently I stay in Dusseldorf, Germany. Would like to know the nearest eye check up centres and specialists for an appointment. We already have UHC health card, but not sure how much is the consultation fee here.

•    Hello, could you inform me about the tax system in Switzerland?

•    What are the major banking societies in south Indonesia? As an expat can I open a local bank account? What are the requirements?

•    How do we find out about colleges and college admission for expats from the U.S. to England?

•    I am working on H1B visa in USA and am starting a new project and will need to work remotely from my Base Location in the U.S. for a client in Canada. I need to visit Canada for business purposes. Is it possible to get a business visa?

•    Would you please send information on St. Kitts/Nevis? I am relocating there with my company.

•    I am a U.S. citizen going to Canada on an expatriate assignment on a work permit. I’m looking for information on how to get my vehicles across the border properly.  Since I plan to use the vehicles for personal use only, will not sell, modify, or dispose of them while in Canada, and will bring them back with me when I return to the U.S., it is my understanding that I do not need to go through the formal Canadian importation process (per the RIV website, I meet an exemption criteria).  Can you help confirm?

Even before they engage us via the Help Desk, IRC users have found answers to their questions on airport transportation options, visa requirements, banking services, mobile phone networks, schools, types of housing, and more.  Of course, the answers to these questions are provided above and beyond the incredibly comprehensive information we deliver in every destination report.
In addition, consider the knowledge that sets us apart from other sources and which speaks to the very reason for the assignment: understanding how to conduct yourself in the host environment. Our ‘Business Practices’ and ‘Social’ sections illuminate and educate IRC users on – for example — how to hold a meeting, interpret a foreign host’s communication style, negotiate with the right person, wear appropriate attire, and entertain in a variety of settings.

So the next time your company asks “How do we serve our globally mobile employees and help HR at the same time?”, the answer is the IRC.

For more information on the International Relocation Center, or any of Living Abroad’s suite of other services, click here to contact us.  

Written by Ellen Harris, GMS, International Product Director

Two Business Lessons Learned In The Former Drug Capital Of The World

Recently, I took a vacation in what was once one of the most dangerous countries in the world: Colombia. The country is much safer than it was in the 1990s and 2000s, but visiting places not usually on the tourist track taught me key business and life lessons.

Think Before Acting on a Bank Robbery
One morning, I sat in a taxi in the city of Santa Martha, waiting in traffic. I looked out the window at a bank, and saw two large men, with puffed chests. One man carried an Old West pistol, the other a fully racked shotgun. Both pointed them straight ahead, at the bank.

I sat in my taxi, three feet away, hairs rising on the back of my neck. In the United States, police officers never have their guns drawn unless there is an immediate threat. I was about to witness a bank robbery.

The leader with the pistol put his back against the bank’s door, and held his pistol to his chest. It was identical to an old John Wayne movie where the bad guy puts his back against the door, looks in, then jumps in, guns blazing.

Except the leader didn’t jump in. And nobody but me paid him any mind. Was he a gangster? Some drug lord’s disciple?

I finally caught on. He was a police officer. Having visited almost every continent except South America, I wasn’t aware that his behavior is normal protocol throughout most of the continent.

The Lesson: In life and in business, ensure that what you think is true, really is true.

Sometimes this assumption is as simple as how much a relocation, project or assignment will cost, while other times it can be a cultural assumption of what something means or implies. Not doing so might have a cost — for you, or your company.
Don’t Forget The Pesos
My girlfriend and I flew to a tiny Colombian island in the Caribbean called San Andres. San Andres has typical Caribbean luster – crystal, turquoise water, a local population, sting rays, colorful fish and hot sun. We decided to take a day trip to a reef and island group called Cayo Bolivari, about an hour away. We were told the entire trip was included in the price we paid at the hotel, so we didn’t bring much money with us.After relaxing on the beach for a while, one of the tour guides said, “OK, time to go snorkeling.” We were really excited, since we knew we would see wildlife.

After having a nurse shark swim between our legs and getting a taste of that crystal Caribbean water, the guide brought us back and said “Okay, 10,000 pesos for the tour.”


“10,000 pesos.”

Yet, we had been told everything was included. And it wasn’t the first time this had happened. Everywhere we went, we found invisible fine print, requiring an additional fee. It left us frustrated and angry.

The Lesson: Consider what is not being said in a business deal, relocation, or expat assignment. What might you be missing?

For example, “accompanying partners” have always experienced challenges when relocating. Yet, they have only received much more specialized industry attention in recent years because the value of addressing those challenges is now recognized.

Consider all of the “X” factors. What isn’t obvious? What’s not being said?

 By Alexander Heyne, Project Manager, Living Abroad

Meet us at ERC and Win $1500!

Living Abroad will be exhibiting at the Worldwide ERC in Denver. You can win $1500 by participating in the Moose Passport program there. Just click on the Passport to get started.