6 tips for ensuring a smooth international employee relocation
International assignments can be exciting prospects for employees. They’re an opportunity to combine work experience with an overseas adventure. They’re also valuable for companies looking to develop the capabilities of their global network.

But even the most well travelled employees can feel daunted by an overseas move. There are cultural differences to consider and they may face the additional challenge of relocating their family. The support that you provide before and after the move can help ensure the experience is successful for everyone.

1. Set clear expectations

An overseas placement represents significant investment from both parties. It’s important that you share with the employee your expectations of their new role, the nature of their salary package, the length of the assignment and the moving process.

“In many instances, an overseas assignment requires a commitment of at least 12 months, so you need to invest time before they leave so they know what the challenges may be, how it may impact their family, what the tax implications may be,” says Abigail Carradice, Head of Talent Acquisition and Global Opportunities Australia and New Zealand at recruitment firm Michael Page.

“It’s really important to have that conversation upfront so there are no shocks later on.”

2. Consider a scoping mission

Visiting a city early on may assist with an employee’s transition. “Some companies have very sophisticated mobility teams and will pay for the employee and their partner, if relevant, to go to the city for a week to meet people from the local office and be shown around,” says Carradice. “They might also use this time to talk to them about childcare options or schooling if that’s applicable, and the areas that they may want to live in.”

If a scoping trip is not possible, there are other ways to help employees get a sense of a new country before they go. “Even simple things like putting together a list of relevant websites or putting them in touch with employees in the overseas office can help them understand what it’s like to live and work there,” says Carradice.

3. Develop cross-cultural training

While a move from New Zealand to the UK, for example, may present a simple transition, relocation to other countries may require greater cultural adjustment. This is where cross-cultural training can help.

KPMG Australia sends approximately 100 employees on international assignments each year and offers culture-training programs for destinations including China and Hong Kong.

We encourage all employees to go through the training so that when they’re travelling for business or going on an assignment, they’re aware of how to interact within those cultures,” says Glenn Taylor, Talent and Global Mobility Manager at KPMG Australia.

“I’ve attended them myself and have found the information really useful for when I have travelled for work.”

4. Prepare orientation on arrival

The first few weeks in a new country can be the most challenging. “There are simple things you can do, like organising team activities or assigning a mentor,” says Carradice. “If you’re their direct manager, take them out for lunch or dinner in their first week.”

KPMG’s approach to orientation varies between host countries. Employees may be given language training on arrival and may receive assistance from a relocation consultant who shows them around the city and provides assistance in finding permanent housing and schooling if required.

“We have a host-based approach, so the host country office arranges an airport pick-up and temporary accommodation,” says Taylor. “The relocation consultant service is particularly important in helping employees find permanent housing. It’s not very comfortable having a family in temporary accommodation for extended periods, so we assist as much as possible in finding something permanent quickly.”

5. Don’t forget the family

To ensure a smooth transition for employees, support should also be extended to the family that moves with them. In many instances, a spouse may not be eligible to work in the host country, so helping them develop a social network can assist them in feeling settled.

KPMG connects employees and their families with its assignee network on arrival. “They may be from the same country or from different countries but they’re experiencing something very similar,” explains Taylor. “It’s always challenging for a family to arrive in a new location, so having an assignee network is really valuable in meeting people who are going through the same thing and who might also have kids of a similar age. It’s about being able to provide support for the whole family.”

6. Maintain communication

Keeping in regular contact with an employee can help them feel connected to their home network. “It’s important that you check in regularly and also have more formal contact at the end of each quarter to see how they’re going and to allow them to raise any issues as quickly as possible,” says Carradice.

Regular contact also helps you to monitor an employee’s performance. At KPMG, overseas assignees have regular contact with a performance manager in their home country. “We do this on a quarterly basis,” explains Taylor. “We want to make sure that they are developing and achieving the things they set out to achieve by going on the assignment in the first place.”