Small world, big opportunities

For the past few decades, the workplace is growing to include a literal world of options. It’s becoming increasingly more common for employees to further their careers by working abroad.  In fact, going abroad to work either short or long term has spawned a whole new relocation industry, referred to as “global mobility.”   With employees’ increasing commitment to traveling abroad, it has become even more important to know how to travel safely and avoid issues people may encounter living in a new country.

What is Global Mobility?

Today, globalization offers the opportunity for many businesses and organizations to work across borders. More and more, employers are looking for passport stamps on top of degrees in their most qualified job candidates. Forbes published an article on the subject in 2014, when interest in global mobility and international experience was really picking up. Global mobility is business on an international scale. It means being able to manage both domestic and international assignments and doing business across borders.

Global mobility is a relocation service industry helping organizations manage the complex tax, planning, operational, and strategic aspects of deploying an international workforce. Essentially they are service providers available to help with every aspect of the move.

Meanwhile, Depart Smart is leading the way by creating educated, safety-savvy travelers with comprehensive online travel safety courses.  Relocation candidates can learn what they need to successfully further their careers in a new country and what they need to know to be safe anytime they travel.

Expand your global mobility safely…

“Individuals pursuing international assignments are making an important step in their career development and the opportunity to live an enriched life that comes from experiencing a different culture,” says Sylvia Vorhauser-Smith , Forbes contributor. “As companies seek to expand their global capabilities and cultivate leaders to run their multinational operations, providing field experiences that enable the acquisition of new knowledge, skills, languages meets the individual need for more global experiences and helps to achieve competitiveness and growth goals.”

The long and short of it: global mobility is attractive to companies because it increases their international reach and trains great future business leaders. Meanwhile, it is also attractive to individuals because it advances their careers and provides the richness of variety and experience to their lives. In many ways, it’s a win-win for companies and their prospective employees.

The rise of global mobility programs

With the advent of global mobility came a restructuring of how companies operate. A 2013 article by the Society for Human Resource Management described the upheaval. Employers are designing “new organizational structures, governance models and business processes.” An “organized and comprehensive approach,” Littler Mendelson wrote, “is essential.”

Global mobility programs are the organized attempts by employers to restructure their companies to make global mobility possible. It is no simple task, and besides according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), it can be expensive by nature. Labor costs for globally mobile employees can tend to be double or triple the cost of domestic employment. If the employer’s approach to the issue is not organized or strategic, it can exacerbate the expense.

“The result of an unfocused and piecemeal approach is an upward spiral in employer wide international business travel costs and expenses,” says SHRM.

A lack of organization can also lead to the risk of noncompliance with international immigration, labor and tax laws. An organized, informed approach to global mobility is essential, and it is not an easy subject to master. One might even consider turning to professional help. Luckily, due to the meteoric rise of global mobility, there is an entire industry based on the prospect.

Business Meeting

“An organized, informed approach to global mobility is essential, and it is not an easy subject to master.”

Photo by Dane Deaner.

Global mobility specialists offer programs and services to help

Helping businesses navigate the globe is a full-time job and the people who do that job are called global mobility specialists or consultants. Natasha Clark, who wrote a 2012 entry on the career advice website, explained her job as a global mobility specialist in simple terms:

“My job is to acquire new clients who relocate their employees domestically or across the world,” she writes. “I oversee my team who makes all of the necessary arrangements which will enable an individual and/or a family to make a smooth transition from one country to another.”

Natasha says, an assignment starts the basics: immigration requirements. Most nations will not allow individuals to work between their borders without a visa. Things get more complicated if the individual is also bringing family with them as they relocate. Where will they live? Where will their children go to school? What about their old property? What about the bills? What about international drivers licenses? What if they have a pet? What about navigating cultural differences while trying to start in a new position, in a new place? Simply put by Clark: “It is not easy.”

Thus, the relocation industry is born. It is a relocation consultant’s job to plan every single aspect of the move, down to the last detail, so companies and individuals can feel protected and supported as they boldly go to do business in foreign lands.

A qualified global mobility specialist, Clark writes, will have relocated herself at some point in her career – if not globally, at least domestically. They will also have excellent people skills, an understanding of cultural differences and, ideally, foreign language skills.

Selecting the right global mobility services…

There are many ways a global mobility specialist or consultant can help employers streamline their globally mobile enterprises. Some of them are just the little things that individuals and their families will run into when they are working abroad. Otherwise, global mobility consultants and specialists tend to deal the most with three overarching obstacles: immigration, taxes and international employment law.

  1. Immigration law: Every nation in the world has its own bespoke immigration laws, and it is sometimes difficult for employers to know whether or not they are in compliance with all of them when they send their employees abroad. Immigration law specialists deal with work and entry authorizations, third-country visa applications, post-arrival follow-up, tracking expiry dates, advice on renewals, immigration compliance audits and even devising a global immigration policy for the employer’s future needs.
  2. Global mobility tax: Just as immigration laws differ between nations, so too do tax laws. It is important for employers to be in compliance with both domestic tax law and tax laws applying to their overseas enterprises. Moreover, global mobility tax is a changing landscape. Knowing how to navigate the shifting sands of international tax law often requires professional insight.
  3. International employment law: Does the average person know the minimum wage in China? If they live in China, very probably, but it can be harder for employers who are overseas and trying to expand operations to China to know offhand. Minimum wage is one of the many issues affected by international employment law. Other issues include global expansion of women’s rights, as well as changing data privacy laws. It is important for employers – and employees – to go in prepared to navigate two separate employment law systems as they prepare for international operations.
Working on business.

“Knowing how to navigate the shifting sands of international tax law often requires professional insight.”

Photo by Olu Eletu.

How do you know what opportunity is right for you?

Decisions to go abroad for work should be considered carefully. Potential relocation candidates should always make sure their employers have the right services to make the transition as smooth and beneficial as possible. Do they have a global mobility program set in place? Do they make use of global mobility experts? Do they have policies in place reflecting international immigration and tax law? Employees should make sure their employers will be taking care of them while they are pushing boundaries and exploring new opportunities with comprehensive healthcare insurance and support.

Meanwhile, potential relocation candidates should also do some research and make sure their potential destination is right for them. Will they be safe? Will they be able to enjoy themselves? Will their families be able to adapt? It is important to research and decide carefully.

Basic checklist for safe travels in other countries:

  1. Check the travel alerts/warnings: Always check in with the United States Department of State’s travel alerts and warnings for any potential dangers in your destination and follow its guidelines when you are making your final decision. You should reconsider an opportunity if it requires you to move to a country determined to be a travel risk by the United States Department of State. Elevated safety and security support should always be the number one priority.
  2. Make sure it is worth your while: Travel and exploration can be rewarding in and of itself, but it is important to check and see if a relocation is actually a good career opportunity. The Expat Info Desk has a bounty of resources for potential relocation candidates, including what to look for in a quality employment package. There are several kinds of global mobility employment packages, including local-to-local, local-to-expat, long-term expat and short-term expat. Be sure to negotiate with your employer if you want more out of your experience than what they are offering.
  3. Choose a place you want to live in: Not every country is going to be a good fit for you. Make sure to do in-depth research on the country to which you are considering relocating. The United States Department of State keeps comprehensive reports on different countries around the world, just for travelers. It’s a valuable resource for learning about where your lifelines are – also known as your local United States embassies or consulates – and helpful descriptions of safety, security, transportation and local laws.
  4. Do your own research: Even if your employer has global mobility consultants and services, do your own research on international immigration, tax and employment law. Having a basic understanding of what you are getting into can help you in the long run. It will also help you ensure your employment package is in compliance with the United States Department of State’s travel guidelines and international law.
  5. Plan for life events: Accepting an assignment overseas means you will spend quite a lot of time away from home.  Meanwhile, life goes on in the United States. Be prepared for whatever life events you may encounter while you are away, including elections, marriage, divorce and even birth. Use the United States Department of State’s life abroad tools to learn more about how being abroad may impact the circumstances of your biggest life events, and make your plans accordingly.
  6. Take the Depart Smart travel safety quiz: You may think you are an experienced enough traveler, but even experts struggle with this simple travel safety savvy quiz. Test your travel safety knowledge to find out where the gaps in your safety plan are. Then, take an extra step to become a certified Travel HERO who knows and avoids country specific risks, has the tools and resources to get help and return home safely.
  7. Take your time to decide: Uprooting your life and moving to a new place is a big decision. Do not allow anyone to rush you into making it. Take your time. Only after you have weighed all your options and understood the circumstances of your stay should you agree to the relocation and start the process for relocating.

Plan for the social and emotional aspects of living abroad before you go. It can be lonely living in a foreign country. Potential relocation candidates can make this a little easier by learning some of the language in advance of departure and even brushing up a little on the local culture and leisure opportunities.

Seek out other expats for social and emotional support. You can find other expats by joining specialized social media networks. has a special section just for expats seeking other expats to relieve the pressures of living in a new place.

Living anywhere abroad is going to be stressful, at least at first. It takes a while to adjust to the culture shock and loneliness of living in a new place. Remember to also look after your mental health while you are abroad. Schedule time to communicate with friends and family back home via Skype or FaceTime, and seek out a mental health professional to help you cope with depression or anxiety symptoms. The World Health Organization reports psychiatric trauma as a leading cause of emergency evacuation.  Traveling can be stressful.  Have a plan to cope and recover from the stress.

Travel safely with Depart Smart and become worry free…

There are plenty of best practices and things to know when it comes to global mobility, but first and foremost should be the safety of the individuals and families who are going abroad. Global mobility specialists and consultants can help with logistics and law. Depart Smart can help you build skills to protect what matters most, you and your family.

With Depart Smart, travelers learn how to create a personal safety plan so they have what they  need to get safe and comprehensive health care abroad, secure safe lodging, know what to do in case of emergency and choose good and comprehensive health and travel insurance. They even provide the ins and outs of airport security. Visit Depart to take the Travel HEROES Safety Course so you can learn skills that make travel awesome in lifesaving ways.

Depart Smart now offers corporate portals so global mobility companies can offer co-branded travel-safety courses to their clients and employees! Visit our Corporate Solutions page HERE to learn more.