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Managing Expat Personal Finances From a Distance

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With international mobility on the rise, more banks are offering specialized services tohelp inpatriates and expatriates manage their personal finances.

Managing personal finances has never been an easy job — balancing a checkbook, paying bills, transferring funds between accounts, maintaining investments. Now, imagine doing all this while you’re on a three-year assignment in Japan and you still call the US “home.”

“There are many special considerations associated with conducting your personal finances while living abroad,” says Mary A. Skrabut, assistant vice president in the International Private Banking & Investments area at Michigan-based NBD Bank.

“Where, for example, do you have your salary sent and how do you pay bills in your home country? If you sell your home, where do you invest the money? If you rent it out, who accepts the rent payments? If you’re an expatriate living abroad, how do you maintain a good credit rating back in the States? If you’re an inpatriate on assignment in the US, how do you obtain credit when you have no credit history here?”

In recent years, a number of banks have begun to offer specialized services to help expatriates and inpatriates address these issues. Skrabut says NBD’s International Private Banking & Investments business started as a value-added service to the bank’s corporate customers. But as the global economy has grown, so has the need for the service.

“Expatriates and inpatriates are a very service-intensive group,” says Skrabut. “To accomodate their changing financial needs, banks are developing more personalized international services.” NBD, for example, assigns each customer a private banker who brings the resources of the entire bank together in one place. The private bankers currently handle both routine and complex transactions for expatriates in 54 countries. They also serve inpatriates who have made Metropolitan Detroit their temporary home.

Managing finances by phone, fax and cable

Expatriates often use many of same banking products while living abroad that they use at home, including a checking account, credit cards, ATM cards and debit cards. What is uncommon is how these products are delivered.

“We work with most of our expatriate customers by phone and fax machine,” says Skrabut. “We talk with them once or twice a month, giving them account balances, cabling funds from their US account to their foreign account or, occasionally, helping them with special situations or emergencies, such as paying the college tuition bill of a son or daughter back in the US. Many of the services provided to expatriates are done on an exception basis because of their unique situations.”

And expatriates do find themselves in some very unique situations. Skrabut tells the story of one expatriate customer who was trapped in Iraq for eight months during the Gulf War. “An Iraqi family hid this individual and eventually helped him get out of the country,” she says. “While he was trapped, we distributed funds to his wife, who had stayed behind in the States. She didn’t have access to the account where his salary was being deposited, and she had no other funds to live on.”

NBD private bankers help expatriate customers set up accounts and establish direct deposit of their salaries to their US checking accounts. “Often, customers will split this deposit between their US accounts and accounts at a foreign bank in their host countries,” notes Skrabut. If requested, the bank will also mail account statements overseas to its expatriate customers.

International banking services are a particular help to homeowning transferees. Most expatriates going on a long-term assignment will sell their homes before they leave the country. If they wish, NBD helps them invest the proceeds. If they opt to rent out their homes instead, the bank will accept the rent payments.

Perhaps of greatest concern to individuals on foreign assignment is the ability to pay their US bills on time. To respond to this need, many banks now offer bill payment services. “We make timely payments of credit card bills and utility bills on rented homes and vacation homes to help expatriates preserve their good credit ratings,” says Skrabut. Expatriates take advantage of the bank’s foreign currency exchange, and its availability of foreign travelers checks, as well.

When the US is the foreign country

The growth of the global economy has also seen an increase in the number of foreign nationals coming into the US on assignment. These individuals soon find that banking here presents its own set of problems, not the least of which is how the system works. NBD’s banking service to inpatriates begins with an education on local banking services and practices. During an orientation session, private bankers introduce the bank’s products to newly arrived inpatriates, help them set up accounts, and distribute welcome packages with maps, magazines and information about the region. Because nearly 70% of the bank’s inpatriate customers come from Japan, the bank has a Japanese translator on staff and provides a product booklet in Japanese.

Another common problem for foreign nationals in the US is the problem of obtaining credit. Stores in many locations require a major credit card even if you are just writing a check. But without a credit history, getting that card can be difficult. Along with its savings and checking accounts, ATM cards and certificates of deposit, NBD also provides credit products to new inpatriate customers. Margaret Mioduszewski, an assistant vice president in the International Private Banking & Investments area, says, “Inpatriate customers would normally be denied credit because they lack credit histories in the United States. We can offer credit cards, auto loans and mortgages to inpatriates because of the long-standing corporate relationships we have with their employers. Most of our inpatriate customers use these services.”

Inpatriates also take advantage of the bank’s investment services, including its mutual funds. “Some inpatriates continue to deposit money into CDs and other investments at the bank even after they’ve returned home,” says Mioduszewski, “because they believe the US is a stable place to leave their money.”

A benefit for companies and their transferees

In the long-run, specialized banking services benefit both companies and their transferees. NBD client Kathleen M. Kosmatka, a partner in charge of International Assignment Services at Deloitte & Touche in Detroit, says international banking services alleviate some of the administrative burden that would normally be on the expatriates and their companies. “These individuals are not calling the corporation when a personal financial need or problem arises, they’re calling NBD, and their requests are generally being handled more efficiently. This makes the expatriates happier, and lets them focus more on their jobs.”

 

Expat Living in the USA

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1. Are “green card” holders required to report all income to the US Government?

Yes, all income must be reported to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), even that portion earned abroad. This does not mean that all income is taxable by the US, since international law treaties regulate where taxes are paid and off-setting credits applied. Failure to follow US tax laws is usually considered a criminal offense.

2. I am currently visiting friends in the US on a B-2 Visitors Visa. It is valid for six months, but I wish to stay longer. Must I leave the US and apply for another visa?

No, you may file an application for an extension with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (Form I-539) for a period not exceeding six months. This extension is not automatic, but may be granted for valid reasons.

3. I will soon be applying for a “green card.” I realize it will take a while before the application is approved. I would like to begin my employment as soon as possible. Should I file separately for employment authorization?

The best way is to file an Application for Employment Authorization Form I-765 with the “green card” paperwork. The Form I-765 will most probably be approved prior to the “green card” being issued. If so, you will receive an Employment Authorization Card, Form I-688.

4. I received some videos in the mail along with a bill addressed to me. I did not order them. What should I do?

Federal law states that if you receive something by mail that you did not order, you may either refuse it or keep it as a gift. However, to avoid any potential problems, you should notify the company in writing that you did not order the merchandise and that you are keeping it.

5. A friend is recommending I buy insurance through a company I do not know. How can I be sure if it is a good company?

Check out the company’s rating in Best’s Insurance Reports. It is routinely updated and is available at local libraries or by contacting them at (908) 439-2200. Look for a company with an “A” or “A+” rating.

6. What is the difference between prescription medicines, over-the-counter medicines and generic medicines?

Prescription medicines are drugs ordered for someone by their doctor. They can only be obtained from a licensed pharmacist with a written prescription or phone call from a doctor. Over-the-counter(OTC) medicines can be purchased without a prescription. They are considered safe and effective for minor health care problems, such as headaches, common colds, constipation or diarrhea.Generic medicines are sold by their chemical name instead of the “brand” name given by the manufacturer. Both prescription and OTC medicines are usually available in generic form at a lower cost. The difference can be several cents or several dollars.

 

Managing Expat Employee Mobility in a Challenging Decade

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Global businesses need global executives, but increasing societal pressures are hindering employees’ ability — and desire — to be mobile.

One of the most significant societal developments of the last 30 years is the revolution in the economic role and position of women. Initially, this change was driven solely by economics — women sought employment to provide the family with a higher standard of living.

Today, however, the trend is toward dual careers, rather than dual incomes, and employment now offers women rewards above and beyond their income. Since replacing a career is more difficult than simply finding another job, the impact on relocating couples has been substantial.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that professional people tend to marry other professionals. While the number of women who are active in the economy has grown, those who regard their careers as extremely important are found in higher percentages among the partners of the very people corporations are most likely to relocate.

Not surprisingly, nearly half (48%) of the companies responding to Global Relocation Trends 1995 Survey Report, a joint survey by Windham International and the National Foreign Trade Council, said their employees turn down assignments because of spousal career issues.

Maintaining consistency in education

Another ongoing concern for expatriate executives is the impact relocation has on their children’s education — a situation that has worsened in recent years. In the past, for example, boarding schools allowed expatriate parents to preserve the continuity of their children’s education. Today, however, families’ increased desire to spend more time together makes the boarding school option socially unacceptable.

The development of standardized course content for individual schools, and the rising use of academic assessments to determine whether students have covered specific information, also make it much more difficult for children in their teens to move from one school to another. Those who do are likely to find they’ve missed important parts of the curriculum.

Financial pressures on higher education institutions pose yet another problem, since expatriate children are often penalized financially compared to local students. The required ‘residence qualifications’ also make expatriation difficult.

The emergence of a “Third Economy”

Peter Drucker has written extensively on the development of a “Third Economy,” or the area of non-remunerative work. Although volunteer work draws people from all walks of life, the type of effort Drucker refers to usually involves individuals who are partners of executives. These are individuals specializing in high-level work that replaces activities once handled by the government. Since such opportunities are more dependent on location — and the volunteer’s particular network of contacts and associations — the partners of relocating executives may find it harder to sacrifice their voluntary commitments than to take a hiatus from their careers.

Developing effective alternatives to mobility

In response to these challenges, many corporations are seeking alternatives to mobility. Whenever possible, they are using technology to avoid relocation altogether. Electronic mail, videoconferencing, and teleconferencing allow certain activities, particularly multifunctional projects and research, to be managed with only occasional face-to-face communication.

For example, a major communications corporation developed a new cellular phone application using a design team in France, a marketing team based in the UK, and initial productionfacilities located in Germany. The team held monthly project updates in France, and otherwise met only by videoconference.

Other companies are limiting international job experience to short-term assignments, usually lasting about six months. Such assignments minimize the disruption to the family and social connections that longer assignments usually entail.

Finally, some corporations are sending employees on assignment alone, leaving the family and children behind. For obvious reasons, however, this approach is a last resort. Divided situations can distract the employee’s attention, while the frequent (official or unofficial) visits home reduce the employee’s integration into the local team. Single-status arrangements also inevitably lead to a higher level of marital breakdown.

In search of better solutions

Although these alternatives may work in some situations, new and better solutions are needed. Global mobility is a growing trend. In Managing Mobility, a survey of 200 major corporations conducted by ECA International, two-thirds of responding companies increased their expatriate population in the past five years, and two-thirds expect further increases over the next five years. Effectively removing the constraints on mobility is essential to achieving long-term business objectives.

As mentioned previously, nearly half the respondents to the Global Relocation Trends 1996 Survey Report said candidates rejected international assignment due to dual-career issues. Yet few organizations have developed a coherent, consistent response to this problem. Usually, cases are handled on an individual, as-needed basis, and this ad hoc approach has given birth to a new trend in some companies — providing partners with a budget (of up to $10,000) to cover the costs of job-finding or continuing education in areas where employment is either illegal or impossible.

Planning the assignment

Although current alternatives alleviate some obstacles to mobility, others, such as the issue of children’s education, are extremely resistant to solutions. One possible solution is to plan assignments so potential expatriates become partners in deciding the appropriate time for relocation.

This can be particularly helpful during the years when an executive’s children are in their teens, normally a very difficult time for families to relocate. Even so, the reality is that a child’s adolescence frequently coincides with the time corporations most need his or her parents to be mobile.

Increasingly, companies are trying to accommodate the need for expatriates to manage both their careers and their families. Employees are being allowed to “opt out” of mobility for periods of their careers. Most often, this is to accommodate children’s education, but employees view partners’ careers and the care of dependents as other valid concerns.

Success, however, requires a supportive company culture. Employees must be free to discuss the hardships mobility presents during specific times in their life cycle — and to be honest about their willingness to take on an international assignment.

Ensuring expats’ return on their investment

Perhaps the most important element in achieving required mobility in the future is to ensure a return on the expatriate’s investment. An expatriate’s experience must be recognized upon return — not, as frequently occurs, regarded as irrelevant in determining his or her future career path. Downsizing has made this increasingly difficult, but it is essential if employers want their key employees to be willingly mobile in the future.

The Global Relocation Trends Survey Report shows a marked increase in the perceived importance of repatriation support in recent years. Three-quarters (75%) of respondents to the 1995 report formally address repatriation, compared to just 45% in 1993. Nearly a third (31%) now offer expatriate career development; 28% provide repatriation support, and 25% offer spouse career assistance.

Employee mobility is a key to future business success in the global marketplace; successful companies will respond to the increasing social constraints on mobility in a flexible manner.

 

Relocating to Romania: Getting to Know the Romanian People

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Understanding a country’s customs and culture will help your expats appreciate why others communicate, negotiate or build business relationships they way they do.

After enduring four decades of strict control under the Soviet Union, Romania finally broke free in December 1989, and has been struggling to reconstruct itself ever since. During its time behind the “Iron Curtain” the country fell far behind its Western counterparts. Such disparity, however, wasn’t always the case. At one time Romania held close ties to Western Europe, France in particular; so close, in fact, that Bucharest was once considered the “Paris of the East.”

Today, as the country continues its evolution into a free-market economy, the number of US expatriates on assignment there will likely increase. Following are some key themes that will help your expats develop a better understanding of the Romanian culture:

A Latin influence

Despite its geographical distance from Latin America, Romania has a number of Latin traits in its culture. This influence dates back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries, when the area that is now Romania was under the control of the Roman empire.

Common Latin/Romanian characteristics include a relaxed attitude toward time, an expressive communication style, frequent touching and physical contact, and a determination to celebrate and enjoy life.

The importance of family and friends

One of the most important facets of the Romanian culture is the value placed on family and friends. In the country’s group-oriented society, friendships, as well as family ties, typically last a lifetime.

Another key aspect of the Romanian culture is that society is less achievement-oriented than the United States and other Western nations. Romanians believe that enjoying life and relationships is often more important than achieving particular goals; work is more a means to an end than an end itself.

It comes as little surprise then that Romanians are known to be extremely gracious hosts, often heaping food, drink and gifts on their guests. Taking the time to nurture relationships — at work as well as the social sphere — is an important first-step to conducting successful business negotiations.

Indirect communicators

Romanians use a more indirect style of communication than people in the US, Germany, or Australia. While Americans, for example, are taught to be direct and honest, Romanians are more concerned with not offending another person. In this sense, their culture mirrors that of the Asians, who are often very polite and will tell others what they want to hear. In Romania, being slightly dishonest about your feelings is less offensive than being overly direct.

 

In keeping with their past ties to the French, Romanians enjoy getting to know others through conversation over food and drinks. But while they can be friendly and hospitable, they can also be a bit reticent when first meeting new acquaintances, and often will reveal little about themselves. This trait has its roots in the years of Soviet domination — a time when one never knew for sure who might be an informant for the Secret Police.

Relaxed about time

The Latin influence is also evident in the Romanian concept of time. Romanians are more relaxed about schedules and deadlines than many of their Western counterparts, and view the clock as more a guide than a rule. They don’t always comprehend the “time-is-money” attitude of Americans, and believe that things happen in their own time. But while business meetings may seldom start on time, expats should always ensure their own prompt arrival.

 

Expat Relocation to Toronto, Canada

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Transferees to Canada’s largest city will find a vibrant blend ofcultures, commerce and community.

Located on the scenic shores of Lake Ontario, Toronto is a modern, cosmopolitan city with a decidedly international flavor. Known as a “city of neighborhoods,” its more than two million residents reflect 80 different ethnic groups and over 100 languages and dialects. This multicolored tapestry of life offers an intoxicating blend of customs, foods and cultures.

As Canada’s largest city, Toronto is also its financial and industrial hub. The city is home to the Canadian headquarters of such major corporations as Suzuki Canada, Compaq Canada, Sega of Canada, Ford Motor Company of Canada, and countless other corporations which have found it a favorable location for business.

Transferees to the city will find that there is also plenty to do outside of work. As the world’s third-largest theater center, Toronto offers an abundance of quality entertainment.It also boasts fine dining, museums and elegant galleries, trendy boutiques, and year-round recreation and sports. Even its weather, which is among Canada’s finest, seemingly conspires to draw new residents to the city. Summers are pleasantly warm with average temperatures in July of 72F (22C). Winters are moderate, with average temperatures in January reaching 23F (-4.6C). Spring and fall are especially nice seasons, filled with warm, sunny days, and cool evenings.

Not surprisingly, Toronto recently captured the No. 1 spot on FORTUNE magazine’s 1996 international list of “Best Cities for Work and Family.” This year’s study, which was conducted by Arthur Andersen’s Business Practices Unit, considered such factors as opportunities for family-oriented, balanced lifestyles; economic vitality and regional diversity; public education and safety; arts and recreation choices; availability of affordable housing; and reasonable commuting distances to work. Toronto was hailed for its easy-living qualities, clean streets, ample green spaces, and low crime rate — in fact, it is North America’s safest city.

From commerce and culture, to quality of life, Toronto has it all.

In and around the neighborhood

The city’s advanced public transportation system lets you get around town with ease. The Toronto Transit Commission comprises an extensive system of subways, street cars, buses, and rapid transit trains. Ontario’s GO (Government of Ontario) Transit provides commuter rail and bus services. Transferees will find that driving in Toronto is also user-friendly thanks to the grid-like pattern of the streets.

 

The city is home to numerous shopping areas, boutiques, and farmer’s markets that offer an abundance of fresh produce and homemade foods. Most stores are open from Monday through Saturday, with later hours on Thursday and Friday. Sunday hours vary, but are usually from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Ontario has an 8% sales tax in addition to a 7% GST (Federal Goods and Services Tax), so transferees will need to add 15% to the purchase price of an item.

Mail delivery in Canada takes place on Monday through Friday andis provided by Canada Post. Most post offices are open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:45 p.m., although postal stations in shopping malls operate during regular mall hours. Within Canada, standard postal rates (letters and postcards) are C$.0.45 for 0-30g, (roughly 1.2 oz.) and C$0.71 for 30-50g, (1.2 – 2 oz.). Rates for airmail to the States are C$0.52 for 0-30g or C$0.77 for 30-50g. International airmail rates for letters and postcards are C$0.90 for 0-20g and C$1.37 for 30-50g. (Need help with metric conversion? Stop byMetric Conversions, Lengths and Measures.)

 

Major daily newspapers include The Toronto StarThe Globe and MailThe Toronto Sun, and The Financial Post.

Toronto is also home to several television stations, including CBLT-TV – Channel 5 (CBC), and TVOntario.

Finding a place to call home

The Metropolitan Toronto area offers a wide range of neighborhoods and housing choices. Rental prices vary from city to city, depending on the age, location, and condition of the house or apartment, as well as the local housing market. Following are average monthly rental rates (as of January 1996) in select areas:

Mississauga/Oakville

Two areas that are especially popular among transferees are Mississauga and Oakville. Located to the west of Toronto, Mississauga is easily accessible by GO Train or GO Bus, and is just 20 minutes from the city by car. One of Canada’s fastest growing cities, it offers residents a choice of both old and new housing, as well as art galleries, shopping centers, and numerous parks. Average monthly rental prices range from C$850 for a standard condominium apartment (2-bedroom, 1 1/2 baths, underground parking) to C$1,000 for a townhouse, (3-bedroom, 1 1/2 baths, 1-car garage), and C$1,300 for an executive-style (2-story, 4-bedroom, 2 1/2 baths, 2-car garage) home.

 

Oakville is nestled on the western shore of Lake Ontario and is also within easy access to Toronto. It offers a blend of older traditional neighborhoods and newer developments. Housing styles range from stately Victorian mansions to newer, upscale homes. Average monthly rental prices range from C$1,000 for a standard condominium apartment, to C$1,100 for a townhouse, and C$1,800 for an executive-style home.

Ajax/Pickering

To the east, in Ajax and Pickering, transferees will find a choice of affordable housing within easy commuting distance to downtown Toronto.

Ajax offers a number of new housing developments and a wide range of styles and prices. Average monthly rentals range from C$900 for a standard condominium apartment, to C$950 for a townhouse, and C$1,200 for an executive-style home.

Pickering is just a 30-minute ride to Toronto, and offers a variety of residential neighborhoods, numerous shopping centers, and a wide range of recreational and social activities. Average monthly rental prices run from C$800 for a standard condominium apartment or a townhouse, up to C$1,100 for an executive-style home.

Markham/Unionville

To the north of Toronto, transferees favor Markham and Unionville, where the neighborhoods are rich in diversity.

Markham, the northern boundary of Metro Toronto, offers an urban lifestyle with a strong sense of community. Located 30 minutes from downtown, it is within easy commuting distance. The city also provides an abundance of cultural, community and recreational events, as well as numerous golf courses and acres of parkland. Average monthly rentals in Markham range from C$1,150 for a standard condominium apartment or a townhouse, to C$1,400 for an executive-style home.

Unionville is a quaint community with home prices slightly higher than in Markham. Average monthly rental prices are comparable, however, and range from C$1,150 for an apartment or townhouse, to C$1,600 for an executive-style home.

Richmond Hill /Aurora

Richmond Hill and Aurora are other popular spots with transferees.

Despite its growth in recent years, Richmond Hill still offers the feel of small-town living. It also offers first-class amenities and numerous parks. Average monthly rental prices range from C$1,100 for an apartment, to C$1,200 for a townhouse, and C$1,500 for an executive-style home.

 

A blend of rich farmlands and residential developments, Aurora is roughly a 35 to 45-minute drive from downtown Toronto. Average rental prices range from C$1,100 for a townhouse to C$1,200 for a detached bungalow (3-bedroom, single-story home with 1 1/2 baths and a one-car garage), and C$1,500 for an executive-style home.

Or would you rather buy a house?

Property ownership in Canada is more a “privilege” than a right. US transferees desiring to purchase real estate in Canada will find there are some notable differences between the two countries.

Canada taxes at a much higher rate than the US to support its substantial social structure. For this reason, some corporations provide hardship allowances for their temporary workers.

Although there is no capital gains tax on the sale of a principal residence, mortgage interest is not deductible from income tax. Equity protection on corporate relocations is a nontaxable benefit to the transferee. There is no GST (federal goods and services tax) on the purchase of “resale” properties, but this tax does apply to the purchase of a “new” home.

Radon, lead and asbestos have not achieved the same notoriety as in the US. UFFI is still a minor issue in Canada although some jurisdictions require disclosure from the vendor. Soil inspections have been completed in some areas, but are rare.

Securing a mortgage

Other than minimal appraisal fees, there are no costs or fees required to obtain a mortgage. Mortgage rates are standard for most lenders on a national basis, although they may vary by between 1/2 to 1/4%. Rates are established weekly in accordance with the Bank of Canada’s disclosed prime rate.

Five national banks account for the majority of Canada’s mortgage funding. Mortgages are negotiated for set terms of interest ranging from six months to seven years during the amortization period (which may be up to 25 years). At the end of the declared interest term, a new term is negotiated at the prevailing rates. Interest rates in Canada are traditionally between 1-5% higher than those in the US.

In most cases, same-day mortgage approval can be provided to qualified purchasers. The quick approval process is based on the equity value within 75% maximum mortgage funding, with additional funding possibly being insured by Canada Housing & Mortgage Corporation, a federal government organization.

Average home purchase prices range from a low of $C150,000 for a bungalow in Ajax, to a high of C$372,000 for a senior executive (two-story, 4-5 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, two-car garage) in Unionville.

School choices

The Canadian public school system is similar to that of the US. Depending on the province, primary education begins at pre-kindergarten and continues through grade 6 or 8, followed by secondary education or high school. In some provinces, these grades are divided into junior high (grades 7 to 9) and senior high (grades 10-12). By law, children must attend school until the age of 15 or 16, depending on the province.

Taxpayers in Ontario support two different school systems: the non-denominational public school system and the Roman Catholic Separate School System. Residents or taxpayers in all Metro Toronto municipalities may send their children to any secondary schools within their taxation area, providing space is available. In addition, children may be allowed to attend schools outside their taxation area by paying a fee. Typically, instruction is given in English or French. French “emersion” courses are offered in the school systems in the early grades (1-6), and through high school to grade 8.

Toronto offers a comprehensive selection of programs for children with special needs, including the physically handicapped, visually impaired, deaf and hearing impaired, those with special gifting, etc. The local school board can provide additional information on these services.

Canada also boasts many excellent private school facilities, many of which are world renowned.

Parents should register children at the local school or school board office (these are listed in the telephone book under the provincial government section). They will need: the child’s Canadian immigration visa (record of landing), a birth or baptismal certificate, a vaccination certificate, and any previous school records.

Quality healthcare

Comprehensive health care is funded by both the federal and provincial governments, and is a “national right” for every person in Canada with more than three months’ residency.

Transferees will likely want to participate in the provincial medicare program. They should be aware, however, that certain provinces, including Ontario, do not provide coverage in the first ninety days of arrival. They should arrange for private coverage to ensure protection during this time.

Provincial regulations also vary concerning whether coverage applies to all family members or just the worker. In Ontario, for example, the employer must confirm in writing that the worker’s employment in Canada will exceed three years.

Overall, Canada poses no special health risks to transferees from the United States, and good quality medical care is widely available.

Closer to home than you think

Despite its international flavor, Metro Toronto is just 90 minutes by air for 60% of the population of the United States, making it a desirable assignment location for transferees. And with all the city has to offer, they’ll undoubtedly find it an easy place to call home.


 

Relocation to Australia – Moving Your Expats’ Goods into Australia

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Australia is often described as the most beautiful place on earth and, although admittedly somewhat biased, I would be the first to agree. The size of the continental United States, the country boasts a diverse landscape – from tropical rainforest to barren desert, fertile valleys and alpine resorts, to endless miles of sandy beaches and of course, the Great Barrier Reef. In addition to the natural beauty with which it’s been blessed, Australia is also home to a number of cosmopolitan cities that are attractions in themselves.

Wherever your expats are relocating to in this great country, they’ll find the following customs information useful:

Household goods and personal effects

Normally, US expats may import household goods and personal effects into Australia free of duty and tax if they have owned and used these items overseas for at least 12 months prior to their departure for Australia. They must complete Customs Form B534, and provide it along with a photocopy of their passport to the Australian moving company handling Customs clearance.

New household goods or personal effects

Any items not owned and used in the US for at least 12 months prior to departure must be declared on Customs Form B534. These items are subject to duty and tax at the rates applicable when the expat enters Australia.

Antiques and precious metal objects

If these items are part of the expat’s bona fide household goods removal, they are handled in the same manner as used household goods and personal effects.

Firearms

Expats may only import firearms as part of their household goods consignment if they have been issued a firearm license from the Australian Police Authority for the area in which they will reside. Firearms must also pass ballistic examination by the Commonwealth Police. Expats considering importing a firearm into Australia should first seek approval in writing from the Police authority in their destination location.

Alcohol

Alcoholic beverages may be imported as part of a household goods consignment, but the expat must provide a detailed listing of each bottle, including its size, type of alcohol, and alcohol content by volume. Duty and tax will be assessed on the alcohol at prevailing rates.

Foodstuff

Food items should not be included in the expat’s household goods shipment.

Motor cars and motorbikes

Importing motorcars or motorbikes into Australia is fairly complex, and anyone contemplating doing so is best advised to contact an international mover for the latest information. However, here’s a brief explanation based on the Australian Customs Notice 92/206: In order for a vehicle to be brought into Australia as a “personal import,” it must have ben owned and used by the importer for at least three months prior to being shipped to Australia. All cars and motorbikes are subject to duty and tax, which can be quite high. The Customs value of the vehicle can be determined by depreciating the purchase price (as long as this was a “fair market price”) by 5% for the first month of ownership and use, and 1% for each month thereafter, to a maximum depreciation of 76%. Tax and duty is then assessed on the Customs value, based on the type, age and value of the vehicle. Normally, left-hand drive cars can not be imported.

The entry of expats’ household goods and personal effects must be approved by both Customs and Quarantine officers. Australian moving companies with Customs-approved facilities will have consignments brought to their warehouses. Usually, the Customs and Quarantine officers carry out their task at the moving company’s warehousing, making a physical inspection if deemed necessary. Quarantine officers are particularly interested in preventing the import of soil, foodstuffs, or borers, so they scrutinize garden items, bikes, kitchen items, rattan and other wooden items.

 

10 Tips for Managing Expat Life in America

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Confucius once said that all people are the same, it’s just their habits that are different. That’s as true here in the US as it is anywhere else. Whether you are here as a visitor, on a long-term business assignment, or have decided to live here permanently, you will likely find that our way of life is different from yours. Here are a few firsthand tips on getting along in the US.

1. Hi, How Are You? – In America, this is a greeting, not a question, and no one really wants or expects an honest answer. A typical response would be, “Fine, thanks, and you?”

2. I’ll Call You – Unless the person has made a specific point of telling you when they’ll call, this and other expressions such as “Let’s do lunch” or “We’ll have to get together,” are just polite ways of ending a conversation, and not really meant to be taken seriously. Although this approach may seem a bit rude to those unfamiliar with it, it is not intended to be. It’s simply an American form of expression.

3. Picture I.D.s – Whether you are signing a check or using a credit card — or simply trying to obtain those items, for that matter — the people you are dealing with will almost always ask to see your I.D. This usually means a form of identification that carries your picture on it, and the most widely accepted I.D. is your driver’s license.

4. On time, every time – Unlike some countries, things in the US usually proceed on time. So, if you are scheduled for a 2:00 meeting, be sure to show up on time. In fact, you may want to arrive a little early, just to be on the safe side.

5. Parlez vous Ingles? – If you are an American returning to the US after living years abroad, you’ll find that some things have changed. If your requests for help go unanswered, try faking an accent. Most Americans will respond readily to assist foreigners.

6. Get to the point – Americans are usually ruled by the clock, and have little patience with people who go to great lengths to express themselves. Whether in business or personal life, it’s best to make your point quickly.

7. Don’t like it? Take it back – In the US, if you purchase a product or article of clothing, always save your receipt. If you later find there’s a problem with the product, or you simply decide you don’t like (but haven’t yet worn) the clothing, you can return it to the store where you purchased it. If you have your receipt, you’ll either get your money back or what’s called a merchandise credit, which can be used to purchase something different in that store.

8. Fixed pricing – Women’s magazines in the US will tell you that you can negotiate with some shopkeepers for a lower price. Although this may be true at some trendy boutiques (we’ve yet to find one, though), it is certainly not the norm. Department store prices are what they are, and you should expect to pay what is listed on the price tag.

9. Everything’s on SALE! – Beware sale advertisements, since they are not always what they seem. Some merchants may mark up prices prior to a “sale” and them lower them during the sale period, so you really are not saving anything. There are legitimate sales, of course, particularly at the end of a season (following the Christmas holiday, for example). The US also has many “off-price” or discount clothing and merchandise stores where you can find designer “seconds” for much less money than a department store. But to really take advantage of them, you have to be a smart shopper and know what the items would cost originally.

10. Enjoy yourself – Life in the US is different, yes, but there are also many wonderful new things to learn about. With your insights, unique culture and lifestyle, you also have much to offer the American people. So take the time to adjust, relax and enjoy yourself.

 

Expat Australia: A Cultural Profile

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n understanding of the country’s customs and culture will help ease your expats’ transition and improve their long-term business success.

All things being equal

One of the main themes of Australian culture is egalitarianism – the idea of equal rights for all. Although this is also true in the US, the value has a notably different slant in Australia. While Americans lean toward equal opportunity, Australians are more interested in equal results. They are also less apt to emphasize an attitude of strong self-reliance.

To better understand this desire for equality, it’s helpful to look at the historic and cultural influences that shaped the country. The Europeans who settled Australia were sent from England to live in a penal colony. This resulted in a society with little class consciousness and a strong dislike for the authoritative control experienced under the British.

Australians have also been influenced by their land. Although there is a frontier consciousness in the country, the outback was not a fertile place. As a result, the Australian “frontier experience” was one of relying on others for assistance and survival.

Australian egalitarianism manifests itself in many ways. People are informal, and have little use for social rituals or formal protocol. They also have little appreciation for anyone who tries to impress others, and often refer to such individuals as “tall poppies.” In the workplace, employees may resent managers who exercise too much authority, or those who separate themselves from the crowd.

G’day mate

Along with egalitarianism, Australians possess a strong sense of collectivity, often called “mateship.” In the country’s history, a sense of camaraderie developed among people who found they were better off working together than competing against one another. This is typified by the word “mate,” which Australians use with friends, relatives and neighbors alike. Well-worn colloquial expressions such as “g’day mate!” or “She’ll be right, mate!” illustrate the Australian sense of kinship.

On a political level, this fraternity is embodied by the government, which provides a high minimum wage, national health program and extensive social safety net for its citizens. In business, it takes the form of an “old-boy” network. And in the neighborhoods, it’s perhaps best symbolized in the pub, where Aussies gather in groups and take turns buying rounds – or “shouts” – of drinks.

Let freedom ring

Freedom is another deeply embedded Australian value – and that means the ability to live and do as they please. In fact, a desire for this type of freedom has become an enduring part of the national mindset; Australians do not at all enjoy having others tell them how to live and act.

Other aspects of the country’s freedom ethic include an appreciation for the land, and for the value of leisure time. The land, in many ways, represents freedom to Australians, and this is reflected in the amount of time they spend outdoors. Australians are also known to guard their free time carefully, and many employees resent even the thought of having to work on the weekend.

Perspectives on time

Because it is a relatively young country, many of Australia’s business practices come from the US or the UK; in the workplace, Australians adhere to schedules and focus on short-term results. But the country has also been influenced by Aboriginals, who have a much longer perspective of time and view themselves as part of the cycle of life. Thus, while Australians may live in much the same way as Americans or West Europeans, they are apt to be more laid-back. They may take longer to make decisions, or feel less of a rush to achieve.

No affection for authority

Australians have little respect for authority. There are, of course, managers and subordinates in the workplace, as well as a government. Australians just don’t want to be reminded of this all the time. They respect individuals for who they are, not for their titles or credentials. And while they may respect someone in authority, that respect is not automatic simply because of the person’s position.

They also do not believe anyone should receive special treatment, and a person who acts superior is sure to be brought down quickly; at the very least by way of a teasing humor, if not by outright indignation.

A direct style of communication

Communication styles in Australia are more direct than in other countries. Australians come to the point quickly and rarely talk around a subject. They also tend to use words sparingly and want just the relevant facts, minus the extraneous details or courteous formalities. Because of the country’s cultural framework, Australians are typically modest, practical and not easily impressed. They don’t, however, shy away from conflict; debate and confrontation are more the norm than in the US.

Getting down to negotiations

Although Australians are similar to Americans in that they share the same concerns for profits and bottom-line results, there are notable differences in style. Australians are more likely to go straight to the point and less likely to tolerate a lot of hype or superlatives. They don’t take well to a hard sell, and make decisions at their own pace. Negotiations are not always lengthy, but due to their collective nature, Australians do consult with each other before making a final decision.

Expats who take the time to learn about the Australian culture – and adapt their own styles accordingly – should have little trouble getting down to business in the land “down under.”

 

Expatriate Cross-cultural Training and the Bottom Line

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More than just a “soft-issue service” cross-cultural training is imperative to meeting your company’s bottom-line goals. Here an expert on the subject tells you what your programs should include — and why.

Decision-making. Negotiations. Deadlines. Commitments. Another meeting this morning… finish that report this afternoon. Just another day at the office, right? Now take it overseas. Just as easy? Perhaps not.

We all know that business practices vary around the world. Countless articles have been written about business cards in Japan, or building relationships in Mexico. The latest focus is on China and India. Guanxi, saving face, patron, kaizen, meishi — all are terms introduced in the context of training expatriates to conduct business overseas or cross-border.

At least we are now dealing with business acumen that is skill-based, rather than relying on protocol tips, or do’s and don’ts, as we’ve done in the past. But although it’s encouraging to know we are moving in the right direction, we need to do more.

Global managers must be skilled in the intricacies of a culture. They must understand how to manage a country director in Malaysia, or negotiate with a vendor in Brazil. Human resource directors managing the global relocation process must know how to evaluate and select a cross-cultural firm that has solid credentials in business training. If the training program doesn’t adequately prepare employees to do their job in-country, we are missing the opportunity to build skills that lead to success in bottom-line business objectives.

Family adjustment to a global assignment is equally critical. Employees whose partners and families can’t make a satisfactory adjustment will opt to end their assignment rather than sacrifice their family’s welfare.

To successfully prepare your employees and their family members for an international assignment, your pre-departure cross-cultural training program should focus on three main areas: cultural profiles, cultural adaptation, and application.

Cultural profiles

All cross-cultural training programs should begin with a profile of the target country comprising the cultural propensities of time, risk, decision-making, communication and negotiation styles, and issues surrounding hierarchy and formality, to name just a few. Key background information about the country’s history, political structure, religion, geography and economy also should be included.

The true test of any cross-cultural training program is whether its participants are able to make the link between the target country’s profile and their own. In his book, Training for the Multicultural Manager, Pierre Casse notes that the most important skill for effectiveness in an international assignment is to “know thy own culture.” Unless expatriates have a benchmark from which to measure similarities or differences, all they have left are generalities and stereotypes. This makes it extremely difficult for them to read another culture on an individual basis.

Cultural adaptation

Quality training programs include significant time to review challenges the family may face as they build their infrastructure in the new culture. Where do they buy certain groceries? How about gift giving, tipping, taking taxis, or putting their kids in school? These topics must be covered – either by the relocation company under the guise of destination services, or as part of a cross-cultural workshop.

Culture shock is a term with which we are all familiar, but how do you avoid it? How can you ensure the family rides the wave of change without a bump? Let’s not kid ourselves. It’s tough out there. Try moving your family to Fuzhou, China, or Bombay, India – and these aren’t even the most difficult locations, according to hardship allowance statistics. Rather than avoid unpleasant inevitabilities, why not meet them head on? Realigning expatriates’ expectations leads to the greatest success stories.

Cross-cultural application

Unless expats are able to apply the information they’ve gained from the target country profile to the roles they will assume in the new culture, all they have done is increased their awareness of the culture.

Whether your training program lasts two hours or two days, employees’ job descriptions should be dissected to determine what cultural adaptations they will need to make. This ensures they are as effective in the target country as they are in their own backyard.

For example, Joe is a trainer about to implement a new performance management system at his company’s Tokyo subsidiary. The design he uses back home in the US involves brainstorming, individual participation, and self-initiative. If he doesn’t hear there is a problem with the content, and receives adequate nonverbal feedback (head nodding, eye contact, etc.), he assumes everyone agrees with him.

Based on the cultural differences between the two countries, what are the adjustments he might want to make to ensure his effectiveness in Japan? Three possibilities that come to mind are:

  • Work style – Japanese employees prefer to work in groups, sharing the task or exercise with others;
  • Feedback process – Due to their low-risk nature, issues of hierarchy, and the need to “save face,” Japanese seminar participants are unlikely to offer Joe their opinions, particularly if their supervisor also happens to be in the room with them;
  • Communication style – In Japan, it is rude to maintain eye contact with a superior, (in this case, Joe), who is “deserving of respect.” In fact, if participants were to look Joe steadily in the eye, they would be conveying the message that they considered themselves his equal.

Based on these cultural differences, Joe must redesign his seminar so he can achieve the same bottom-line goals as in the US.

Choosing a cross-cultural trainer

If your cross-cultural training program does not address these three core areas, you may want to reevaluate your service provider. Four questions to consider when choosing a cross-cultural trainer are:

  • Does the trainer have extensive experience living overseas?
  • Does the trainer have an advanced degree in intercultural training?
  • Has the individual been trained as a trainer? Does he or she have education in instructional design?
  • Does the trainer have significant business experience, either in-house or as a consultant?

Without these core skills, you risk hiring individuals who lack the credentials necessary to add significant value to your company. Ultimately, cross-cultural firms should be required to link their training effectiveness to your employees’ performance results.

You might also take a look at successful expatriate assignments at your or peers’ companies, and isolate the key factors contributing to their success. You’ll likely find that:

  • The accompanying partner and children thrived, not just survived;
  • Housing and other logistical details were addressed and resolved to the family’s satisfaction;
  • Language acquisition took place before and during the initial states of the assignment and continued at a reasonable pace throughout the sojourn;
  • The employee achieved bottom-line business objectives to the satisfaction — and even admiration — of headquarters management.

None of these events happened by accident. The long hours HR directors put into the management of an overseas assignment attest to that. But along with the global relocation department’s efforts, a quality cross-cultural program is vital if employees and their families are to succeed in the new culture. Only with the right program in place will employees achieve the performance levels necessary to meet the corporation’s bottom-line business objectives.

 

Australia: a favorite location for US expats – Making the move.

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Whether it’s the koalas, the kangaroos, or simply the beauty of this unique country, Australia is a favorite location for US expats.

When many Americans think of Australia, they envision a land of enchantment. A land where vast countrysides and cattle ranches coincide with rich forests and sprawling beaches. A place where a pioneering, innovative spirit is somehow at harmony with the friendly, laid-back personality of the people.

All of this is true, and Australia beckons people around the world to enjoy its natural beauties and leisurely lifestyle. But it is also a country with growing prowess as a business center for many global companies, and chances are good your expats will one day relocate there.

When they do, they’ll find they have more in common with Australians than they may think.

Australia and the US are both nations of immigrants. We also share a common heritage of British rule. English is the country’s official language, although Asian languages and others are also taught in secondary schools and universities.

But while we share strong similarities in behavior, there are also many differences – in speech, manner, and business style – that your expats need to be aware of.

Australians at work and play

Australians are known for their outgoing ways, personal warmth and informality, and use first names from the start of an acquaintance. In Melbourne and Sydney, people are concerned with being dressed correctly. Typically, business suits are the norm at work. Elsewhere, however, things are a little more relaxed. In Brisbane, for example, business suits are worn only for initial meetings.

Like their counterparts in the US, Australians appreciate humor, although Americans may find their humor has a bit more “bite” than they are used to at home. Australians, on the other hand, often find Americans too serious. These differences are exemplified during times of stress: Americans grow more serious, while Australians use humor to lighten things up.

The Australian lifestyle is relatively simple and uncomplicated, and there is little compulsion to “keep up with the Joneses.” Most people consider themselves middle class, yet often enjoy a higher standard of living than in the US, since the costs of housing and eating out are less.

Social connections are often the basis for business, and establishing relationships with clients is key. Australians, as a whole, are not very mobile, and often reside in the town or city where they grew up. As a result, social connections are quite extensive.

Unions have a strong presence in the Australian workforce. Over half the nation’s employees are union members, and The Australian Council of Trade Unions is a powerful organization dedicated to protecting the jobs and high wages of its members.

Women are beginning to take a more active role in the workplace. In fact, a recent study found that 37% of middle managers are women. As is still true in the US, however, few hold senior management positions, and there is a very solid glass ceiling in place.

Where the expats are

Sydney and Melbourne are home to the majority of foreign business enterprises, but international activity takes place as far west as Karratha, in the middle of the desert. Overall, there is good quality housing available for expatriates in the cities and suburbs. As in most other parts of the world, however, expats rent rather than buy.

Personal security is quite high, and people tend to feel very safe in Australia. The country also maintains an excellent health system. Other than a high incidence of skin cancer in the country – likely due to the amount of time Aussies spend outside – there are few health risks to concern expatriates.

Following are some of the most popular locations for expatriates:

Melbourne

The capital of Victoria, Melbourne sits at the annex of Port Phillip Bay on the Yarra River. The city boasts many beautiful parks and gardens. Expats will also find excellent sports and shopping facilities, both in the city center and its suburbs.

Toorak/South Yarra

Popular with young business couples, singles and families, Toorak and South Yarra are lively Melbourne suburbs with many late night cafes, wine bars and restaurants. Expats will find apartment buildings as well as single family homes, some of which are quite luxurious. Both areas are within easy commuting distance of the city, and both have excellent private schools.

Hawthorn/Kew

An attractive, well-situated area with many parks and beautiful landscapes, Hawthorn/Kew is easily accessible from the Melbourne business district. Commuting by train, car, or tram takes from 15 to 25 minutes. The area has many grand Victorian and Edwardian private homes, as well as town houses, semi-detached and single-family homes. There are also some stately “mansions” with swimming pools and tennis courts available for rent, although these are quite costly and not the expatriate norm.

Brighton

Brighton has the atmosphere of a seaside village and possesses excellent recreational facilities. Commuting time to the Melbourne business district is 25 to 30 minutes by bus or train, and approximately 20 to 45 minutes by car. The area has a variety of Victorian and Edwardian houses available for rent, as well as garden apartments, semi-detached and private homes. Real estate near the beach is the most desirable. Quality state and private schools are in abundance.

Sydney

The capital of New South Wales, Sydney is the largest – and oldest – Australian city. Due to its age, parts of the city are poorly laid-out, making driving difficult. However, public transportation to the suburbs is quite good. Areas popular among expatriates include Mosman, Neutral Bay and Cremore, all located near downtown Sydney. Apartment buildings with beautiful harbor views, and semi-detached and detached houses are available for rent. There is also an international school and several private schools within easy access.

Pymble, Roseville, Lindfield, St. Ives and Wahroonga are also popular spots for expatriates, and have many attractive single-family homes. Public transportation is quite good, and the international school is just 5 miles from the residential area.

Other favorable expat locations include Darling Point, Rose Double Pay, Paddington, Bellevue Hill, Point Piper, Vaucluse and Woolahra. The area boasts Sydney’s most exclusive homes, and apartments as well as private homes are available for rent. Although an international school is within easy access, the area is not as family oriented as others.

Adelaide

Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, is a well-landscaped city surrounded by parks. Beaches, and many fashionable shopping centers, theaters, night clubs and art galleries are only a short distance away. North Adelaide and City have excellent transportation, a selection of private homes and garden apartments for rent, and several public and private schools.

Perth

Perth is the capital of Western Australia, and is quite cosmopolitan due to the recent immigration of Italians, Greeks, Slavs, Chinese and Vietnamese. South Perth is especially appealing to expats. Most people live in rented apartments, and many properties have grand views over the water. Nedlands is also quite popular, and is within access of the city center and local schools.

Brisbane

Australia’s third largest urban center and one of its largest ports, Brisbane is prospering due to its proximity to Pacific Rim markets. The fastest-growing region of the country, it welcomes 50,000 migrants a year from Australia and abroad. The average family dwelling is a single-story house on a quarter acre of land, and often a swimming pool. Cars are necessary for getting around, but fine shopping facilities, parks, theaters and beaches are within easy access.

Ascot and Hamilton are the city’s most prestigious residential suburbs, with large homes available on tree-lined avenues. The area is within easy access to the airport, race tracks, shopping and hospitals. Although public transportation is excellent, there are no international or American schools in the area.

At home down under

From the beauty of its landscapes and cosmopolitan cities, to the easygoing nature of its people, Australia has many assets to warm the hearts of American expatriates. Most find that in no time at all, they are feeling quite at home in the land “down under.”