Essential considerations for managing international careers

Today’s question is one that I answered about a year ago from one of my contacts on LinkedIn, who wanted some background information on what to think about when designing their first policy for sending employees abroad. I think there are a number of things that need to be checked when designing this kind of programme.

There are people whose job is highly specialised in this area and it takes them years to be on top (especially with regards to tax, social security, healthcare and pension issues). You may want to join online groups related to that topic (I found over 400 when doing a LinkedIn Group search on “relocation”) to get in contact with experts.

To give you a general understanding though, based on my experience managing assignments in companies such as Sita, Apple, Microsoft or Fiat for example :

In large multinationals that send multiple people abroad for varying reasons and durations, there usually is a dedicated team in HR.

Their role is to design the International Assignment policies, usually based on the following set of criteria :

  • What kind of expat situations do we have/want to have : expats who will set up a new country and organise knowledge transfer to the locals ? Expats who go in to work on a specific project and come back to their home country post-delivery ? Expats who are high potentials that we send abroad for development purposes ? People who are permanently moving from one country to another like in the Oil and Gas industry for example ? Employees who want to relocate permanently to another country ?
  • Which kind of package do we want to give to these different expat types : All on the same ? Varies by grade ? Varies by duration ? Varies by family composition ? Which elements do we include ?
  • How do we handle the selection process : who is eligible ? Who signs off the departure ? How do we plan for these in the manpower planning process ?
  • How do we handle the return to home country, not just physical, but also in terms of career opportunities for the employee ?
  • Which kind of tax treatment do we want to establish : do we fully tax protect (all taxes paid for by the employer) ? Do we charge a theoretical tax amount related to the home country and take care of the host country taxes ? Do we let the employee pay for taxes related to the job in the host country ?
  • Other technical issues such as : how do we manage high risk countries and hard standard of living countries ? Healthcare cover ? Pensions etc ? Visas, work and residence permits etc
  • Career elements such as : who evaluates the expat performance during the assignment ? How is the info trasked at corporate level ? How do we manage someone who does not perform ? Does the host country manager keep some relationship with the expat or not etc.

These companies are also highly aware that an international assignee costs a LOT more than a local employee (depending on home and host country, family size, type of assignment). We are talking of high multiples here, so planning and budgeting, as well as constant process improvement to manage costs, are super important.

At the same time, many a relocation fails for cultural issues or family issues (the spouse or kids don’t stand it in the new country).

And many companies lose their international assignees once they come back to the home country if no career opportunity is offered them and they simply go back to their old job as if their 3/5 years abroad never existed…

Basically, it means that international assignments need to be thought of as a full part of HR management, not a stand-alone job function, as this will increase the chances of a successful assignment, both for the employee and for the company.

There are many specifics regarding how Gulf Countries can manage international assignment policies, and I will write about that in a post at a later stage. Take this opportunity to ask me your questions on the topic, or add your thoughts through the comments section !

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