Successful international relocation of employees and their dependants requires the co-ordination of a number of related activities and procedures. For long-term international assignments relocation normally consists of the following three integrated stages: 1) preparation, including country briefings, language training, look-see visits and assistance with closing utilities contracts etc; 2) travelling to the host country, plus shipping of personal goods etc, and 3) orientation and adaptation to the new environment. For many employers effective support at the repatriation or onward transfer stage is also a key objective, especially if international mobility is part of a strategic talent management programme or it is required in order to retain staff with international experience to help develop the organisation’s international operations.

How effectively the initial relocation and settling-in stage of any type of international move is managed, be it long-term, short-term or permanent, will very likely influence its eventual success or failure. In recent years global economic uncertainty has seen companies looking for ways to make expatriate packages more cost-efficient. In terms of the relocation element the more commonly applied modifications have been to reduce the class of air travel, exercise limits on shipping and storage of personal goods and increase control in the use of service providers. However, it is apparent from responses to ECA’s International Relocation Benefits Survey that relocation support is still considered an investment worth making, largely because of the potential impact it can have on the likelihood of assignees accepting the assignment, subsequent assignment performance and the well-being of accompanying dependants. Below are some of the survey findings:

Economy class is now the most common form of travel for all levels of seniority for flights lasting no more than three hours. Three quarters of companies allow senior managers to use business class for flights of over 8 hours and 40% do so for middle management. Business and first class travel is most prevalent among international assignees employed within the travel industry and is also more likely among finance, logistics and retail companies. One way in which employers can make savings is through buying air-tickets directly from airlines or travel agents. It enables them to exercise greater control and economies of scale as well as tax savings in specified jurisdictions. 80% of survey participants said they used this approach.

Look-see visits
ECA’s 2012 Managing Mobility Survey reported that giving employees the opportunity to visit the location can be very useful in allaying any family anxieties about living in a different country as well as ease the process of adapting to a new culture and lifestyle. 72% of companies in our Relocation Benefits Survey provide look-see visits, usually lasting five to seven days. Of these, more than 80% also pay for the spouse/partner to accompany the potential assignee on the visit. Among organisations managing a number of different (six or more) assignee nationalities, look-see visits are more likely to be paid for, confirming a greater need for such visits when managing assignments to and from many locations, often with significantly different cultures and living conditions.