As many human resources professionals already know, international business travel can be an extremely stressful situation—long hours on an airplane, language differences, currency exchange issues, the logistical nightmare of just finding your destination. Imagine if you’re a less seasoned traveler with no experience in the country you’re visiting. Traveling to a new land just adds to the sense of fatigue of a new assignment—your employees are already stressed, going through different time zones, eating different foods.
Hopefully, you’ve already encouraged your employees to read some travelers’ guides and take time to educate themselves about their new destination. While they’re learning about the country they’ll be visiting, they should also be prepared to know the nuts and bolts of international business travel, safety and health issues.
First and foremost, make sure you obtain the proper documentation to ensure that your employees pass all customs, immigration and visa requirements. In some countries, it can take up to three months or longer just to obtain employment authorization. The visa applications should be one of your first steps in the process. Don’t dillydally and wait until just before your employee’s supposed to leave for his or her new assignment to start worrying about paperwork.
Once that’s behind you, walk your employees through the various travel arrangements, and the health and safety issues upon arrival. Arriving in any destination is a challenge—made even more difficult if you’re traveling to a different country with an entirely different culture. Your company should develop strategies that’ll make the lives of your employees on the road a lot more enjoyable, and eventually more profitable.
Here are tips for you and your travelers.
Try these general travel tips.
- Always pack small packages of food to carry aboard the airplane. Also, call the airline in advance to ask for special meals, if necessary.
- It’s a good idea to carry a list of the items your luggage contains in case something is lost or stolen during your trip.
- Decide whether to buy foreign currency before you leave the U.S. or after you arrive. Take some money in local currency for arrival expenses such as tipping and taxi rides. Take the rest of your money in travelers' checks.
- Think about obtaining health, travel and accident insurance coverage—better safe than sorry. Also, be sure to obtain information on medical, legal and professional services, and how to obtain those services in an emergency.
- Always carry extra copies of your passport photo. They come in handy when you’ve lost your passport or even for an international driver’s permit.
- Stock up on business cards before you leave.
Take precautions to ensure a safe journey.
- Before your trip, study the health and safety conditions of the country in which you’ll be staying. This research should include current political conditions, weather, common wildlife, even the crime rate.
- Leave valuable items at home, including jewelry, cellular phones and unnecessary credit cards.
- Master the local currency before you do anything that puts your fortune on the line.
- Ask for an up-to-date map when you arrive in a city and take a reconnaissance walk to get familiar with the city’s feel and your neighborhood. If you’re in a non-English speaking country, jot down the hotel’s name and address.
- Learn a few key phrases in the host country’s language.
- Learn about the values of a country, and be aware of how you will fit into that culture in every aspect of your behavior.
- Register with the U.S. consulate. It will facilitate help if you have an emergency. If you’re working in a country with no U.S. officials, register in an adjacent country, if possible, leaving your itinerary.
- Find out how the local telephone works. Make a list of addresses and telephone numbers of any local contracts you have—the police, hospitals, consulate.
- If you’re arrested, ask permission to notify the U.S. consulate.
Protect your health.
- Some countries require the employee and all family members undergo medical examination as part of the process. Make an appointment with your physician and make sure you’re caught up on all of your vaccinations. Educate yourself about health risks in the country you’re visiting. Immunize yourself to those diseases found in that country.
- Take copies of all your eyeglass and medical prescriptions, blood type, and so on. Take extra prescription drugs in original containers, and check with that country’s laws to see if those drugs are permissible to bring into the country. Take extra eyeglasses or contact lenses.
- Remember that the cost of medical evacuation of a sick or injured person is extremely high. A company may have to spend $30,000 to airlift the person to another country that has a medical center or back to the United States, so don’t fudge when it comes to your health.
"Moving to another country is a difficult transition," says Jeff Davidson, frequent traveler and author of The Joy of Simply Living (Rodale Press, 1999). "In fact, most people are sorely underprepared for it. They have no idea how cut off from their formal world they’re going to feel. If nothing else, make sure you have e-mail access to everyone who counts. It’s a relatively inexpensive way to stay in touch, no matter where you are. Also, every country and city has a Web site that you can visit in advance; print out the pages that matter to you. Many Web sites even have global map capabilities."
Any company with expatriates should always establish an immigration and travel policy—a handbook, if you will—to help manage your employees’ anxieties and expectations. It will not only go to alleviating a lot of stress, but it can also save you on legal fees and help streamline the entire process. In other words, don’t let the experience ruin your employee’s stay. After all, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
Global Workforce, March 1999, Vol. 4, No. 2, pp. 43-44.