Your boss calls you into their office to ask you an important question: Are you open to an international relocation?
The prospect sounds exciting, but a change this big is also nerve-racking to consider. A successful international assignment takes thoughtful planning. So if you decide to make the move, here are some questions you’ll want to get answered as soon as you can.
1. What Language Training Will You Receive?
This might not be where your mind goes first when you think about moving internationally. But trust us: Gaining fluency in the language of your new country will make everything else we’re going to talk about in this article so much easier. You’ll feel at ease in both your professional life and your personal life a whole lot faster. Take advantage of any language training your company offers. And, if you can, push for one-on-one training with a live instructor (whether face to face or online). This will help you learn your new language a lot faster. When we relocated to Mexico in 2007 (before Fluency Corp had been started), we quickly realized that the 8 semesters of Spanish (academic and business) had not prepared me at all to be able to speak like a regular person in Mexico. I needed language training! And fast!
2. Will Your Family Receive Language Training?
Too many expats don’t consider this before their international move, but it’s super important. Just like you do, your spouse and kids need language skills to navigate everyday life and make friends in your new country. Family unhappiness is a big reason that international relocations fail. But everyone (including you) is going to be much happier when the whole family gets language training. Most of the time, your children are going to improve much more quickly than you. Why is this? Is it easier for children to learn? Not necessarily. The truth is that they will be immersed for 8+ hours a day with other children: talking, playing, listening, watching TV, reading, having lunch, socializing and playing sports. That’s how language is learned. So children under age 7 typically do not need much help. Over 7 years old, you should enroll your child in as many fun activities as possible where they can hear the language throughout the day and get much-needed listening and speaking practice. If you’re moving a child over the age of 11, you might want to get a tutor to help with writing class, reading class, and even history, social studies and literature. But again, enrolling the child in as many social activities as possible is the top priority.
3. Is Cultural Training Offered, Too?
Learning the language is only part of the equation of communicating effectively in your new country. Don’t forget that there may be many differences between the culture of your home country and the one where you’re moving. Not to mention, whether you realize it or not, you have stereotypes in your mind about what it will be like there. This is human nature – we all have preconceived notions about the people in other countries. Sometimes, it’s correct, but more often than not, it’s not correct. For example, a Swedish family recently moved to North Carolina, and their kids did not want to talk to anyone at their school because they were told that you cannot trust Americans. What a horrible way to start the new school year in a new country. We had a sit-down talk with the parents, and talked through the reliability of that statement, and how they can get the kids to open up and make friends, despite what they’d heard about Americans.
4. Will You Receive Help With the Immigration Process?
Before you even start your international assignment, simply getting to your new country can be a big hassle. Hello, tons of paperwork! Your company should give you plenty of assistance here. It’s to their benefit to do so. According to Altair Global’s survey on international relocations, the immigration process can be a major drain on expats’ work productivity. Altair recommends making sure you have a designated contact you can approach with questions during the immigration process. And if you think you might want to stay in the country, start learning what you’ll need before you even more: birth certificates, etc. And learn what you need to prepare to get on a waiting list, if there is one, for work visas or green cards.
5. How Will Your Compensation Work?
Along with immigration, this is another complicated aspect of your international move. According to Altair, asking your employer for a total rewards statement so that you can understand the big-picture financial ramifications of your relocation. Also, dig deep. Go on online forums and learn from people who have already lived in that city. Learn what neighborhood you can afford, ask questions about the weather, what clothes you need (4 seasons or 2?), what are the utility bills like in the winter/in the summer, what neighborhoods are safe, what type of vibe does the city have? Forums are the best for learning the real information.
6. What Destination Services are Provided?
What will your company do to help you find and pay for a place to live during your international assignment? What about moving your stuff to your new country? Don’t forget to be creative – if you are given a lump sum, know that you can likely save a lot of money using a service like Airbnb, and you’ll feel more at home than in a hotel. Also, this will allow you to test neighborhoods more easily, as you can live in them for a month at a time and decide if you like the way it feels, the traffic, the commute, the local restaurants, the people walking around, etc.
7. What Support is Available for Your Spouse?
Being the trailing spouse of an expat employee isn’t easy. Does your company offer job-search and other assistance for spouses? We heard from a couple from Paris that the husband was offered a job in Oman. The wife was on board, as she loved adventure, new cultures, food and more. She was told she could work there as well. She looked forward to this new opportunity. Upon arrival, she learned that there was a law that prohibited her from working. She could work under the table, but that would put them at risk of being sent out of the country. So, for 2 years she could not work when she thought she would be able to. These things must be considered, and must be addressed.
8. Where Will You Receive Physical and Mental Health Care?
Many aspects of your daily life will be different after an international relocation. One of the major differences can be how you receive healthcare. Before your move, take some time to learn about what to do when you need physical or mental health care. One of our clients from the Ukraine did her homework about the American healthcare system. She knew it was completely different than in Germany, Poland and Ukraine (3 countries were she has lived and worked), so when she needed a doctor on the weekend, she smartly went to a small urgent care instead of the hospital emergency room. She got right in, was taken care of and then 2 months later she received the bill. What a surprise! Now she knows that you do not know the price when you go. We (Americans) aren’t too psyched about our healthcare system either, but we do know that the bills come. So asking around about the healthcare system is key to understanding it and attempting not to have any surprises.
9. Do You Have Contacts in Your Destination Country?
Preparing for your international move doesn’t just mean seeking information from your employer. It also entails doing plenty of research on your own. For example, tap your network to see if you already know anyone in your destination country or if any of your contacts can introduce you to someone there. It can be enormously helpful and reassuring to have someone you can ask questions before your move and meet up with after you arrive. If you cannot make a contact in advance, Fluency Corp provides a best friend upon arrival, and we hope that your company will provide you this fluency and assimilation service. But even if they don’t, you can meet other expats through Internations.org and also sign yourself up for new classes or try new hobbies so you can meet people that enjoy the same activities as you – then, you will also have people to reach out to when you have questions.
10. What’s Your Plan for Staying in Touch?
Making new friends should be a priority during your international relocation. But your friends and family back home are still a valuable source of emotional support. Don’t rely on social media to maintain your relationship. Talk now about how often you want to communicate and the channels you will use. If your loved ones aren’t familiar with technology like Skype or FaceTime, give them a tutorial now so that they’re not trying to figure things out during your first international call.
At Fluency Corp, we understand the needs of employees working abroad, and we tailor our training to help them thrive at work while building a satisfying life and nurturing support network in a new country. Customized language lessons give expats the vocabulary they need to excel at their jobs, to navigate life outside work and to make connections with others. And because our experienced instructors are native speakers, they can also offer valuable guidance that helps expats and their families adjust to their new culture. For a free consultation, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or (800) 401-3159.