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Expat Living in Brazil: A Cultural Profile

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

Brazil is the largest and most diverse country in South America. Although its history parallels that of other Latin American nations, there are important differences that have resulted in the unique culture and mindset of the Brazilian people. For one, it is a Portuguese nation, which sets it apart from the Spanish influences in neighboring countries. In addition, many of the races and cultures that settled in Brazil have intermarried. Nearly half of all Brazilians can trace their heritage to a mixture of European, Indian and African blood. The result is one of the most friendly, fun-loving and expressive cultures in the world. Following are some key themes that are helpful to understanding the people of Brazil.

Love me, love my family

Although the family is an important part of life in most Latin American countries, it is especially so in Brazil. Brazilians often refer to their parantela or extended family, and even ancestors are commonly included in this grouping.

Members of the extended family are usually very involved in each other’s lives. Grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles provide emotional support, as well as tangible help when needed. Relatives often live in the same neighborhoods, and leave their doors open for one another. This strong family network not only provides a sense of stability in people’s lives, it also impacts the Brazilian perspective on the world.

The influence of personalism

Since the Brazilian concept of family carries over into other areas of life, nothing of any real importance is accomplished in business without the influence of personal relationships.

Just as families congregate, so do business executives. Managers commonly gather at the end of the day for conversation over coffee. Business deals are often negotiated only after a personal relationship has been developed between the principals. In fact, an individual’s power may be more the result of his personal authority than his job title. Even in the decision-making process, subjective feelings and personal relationships often play a more important role than objective facts.

A hierarchical society

As is true in most Latin American nations, Brazilians respect hierarchical relationships, and their society is structured along the lines of economic class and social status.

Most organizations also adhere to a strict hierarchy, and decisions are often centralized. Authority is seldom diffused and Brazilians look to individuals for leadership. In most instances, it is considered disrespectful to break the chain of hierarchy.

Such hierarchical values are typical in countries with a Catholic heritage, since people have been conditioned to respect the authority of priests and bishops. In Brazil, plantation owners, a common feature of the country’s colonial history, further strengthened these values by providing yet another instance where the general population relied on the authority of individuals.

A focus on the here and now

Brazilians focus on the present, something outsiders may misconstrue as laziness. This is especially true when it results in projects or activities being put off until “tomorrow.” A more precise interpretation is that the Brazilian realizes there is a tomorrow. Since he can always do tomorrow what he doesn’t get done today, he takes full advantage of the present, and relationships almost always take precedence over the clock.

Brazilians are also apt to change plans or leave tasks until the last minute, which has led to an emphasis on quick solutions and urgent decision-making. They take interruptions in stride and don’t always feel compelled to be on time; unlike their counterparts elsewhere in the world, Brazilians are not noted for their punctuality.

No way out

Brazil’s rigid hierarchies and emphasis on the present time, have produced a trait known as jeitinho, which literally means “little way around” and refers to the adaptability of Brazilians. In a culture where last-minute decisions are as common as the extensive bureaucracies and regulations, people have learned to be flexible. Jeitinho is the way in which Brazilians adjust to the needs of the moment.

Making the most of maleness

Machismo is a distinguishing characteristic of most Latin American countries and Brazil is no exception. Whether through sexual, combative or intellectual accomplishments, males feel obligated to prove themselves worthy of being men. As a result, they often feel the need to dominate other people or situations.

However, Brazil — along with Costa Rica and Chile — is less concerned with machismo than some other Latin American nations. Overall, expats will find that the Brazilian inclination to be considerate and avoid confrontation puts a softer edge on its hierarchical society.

 

Expatriate Ranks Grow Despite High Costs

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Despite high costs, a majority (64%) of US and Canadian firms with international operations sent more employees to work abroad in the past two years, a trend that is likely to continue as business becomes even more globalized, according to a survey by international benefits consultant Foster Higgins.

The survey queried US and Canadian employers on the full range of expatriate benefits policies — from allowances and tax issues, to home leave and language training. It found that while 64% of the companies surveyed sent more employees on expatriate assignment, nearly one-third (32%) said such assignments cost too much. Many companies (34%) also said their expatriate compensation and benefits policies have been cut back in recent years in an effort to manage costs.

“Employers are taking important steps to manage the potentially high costs of expatriate programs,” said Bob Braddick, a principal with Foster Higgins. “They’re making sure that their benefit programs aren’t excessively rich, and that each expatriate assignment fulfills a clear set of business objectives.”

According to the survey, the average employer spends about two and one-half times as much on an expatriate employee as it would to hire a citizen of the host country (a local national). One reason is that most assignments go to high- or mid-level employees. The cost differential can be smaller or greater, depending on the country. For example, respondents spent 23% more, on average, to send an employee to Holland and 283% more to send one to Korea, compared with the cost of hiring a local national.

Formal policies

Most (85%) multinational employers have adopted a formal policy for the uniform treatment of all expatriates. Among these companies, 84% say their compensation and benefit objective is to “make the employee whole”; only 8% say their aim is to reward the employee for taking an expatriate assignment. Even fewer (3%) say they are trying to match or exceed competitors’ benefits. And while almost all respondents (95%) say that expatriates are subject to US tax equalization, only 19% say tax equalization is provided on a spouse’s income.

When international assignments are intended to last less than a year, expatriates normally continue coverage under their home country compensation and benefit plans, while those on permanent assignment usually participate in the plans of the host country. Practice varies widely for expatriates on assignments lasting two to five years; in some cases, such employees are covered by a separate program.

Almost all surveyed employers (93%) pay an allowance if the cost of goods and services is higher in the host country than in the home country. This allowance is typically adjusted when the exchange rate changes significantly. The average allowance reported by survey respondents ranges from 10% for employees on assignment in Australia to 50% for expatriates in Japan.

More than nine in ten respondents (93%) provide a housing allowance. More than half (58%) pay a hardship allowance (averaging 15% of pay) in countries where living conditions are extremely uncomfortable or dangerous. Most employers (76%) reimburse expatriates for the extra cost of providing an education for their children comparable to that available in the home country (22% of pay, on average).

Cost control strategies

One cost-control strategy is “destination pricing,” whereby expatriates are paid as citizens of the host country and have limited special allowances or tax protection. Although only a small number of surveyed employers (11%) currently use destination pricing, one-fourth said they may consider it in the future.

Another strategy is outsourcing the administration of benefit and compensation programs for expatriates. While only a handful (8%) of respondents say they currently do so, almost one-third (32%) said they may consider it in the future. Under outsourcing arrangements, only policy-setting, strategy, and program design are handled by internal staff, with an outside vendor handling all administrative functions.

 

Expat Candidate Selection: Improving Success, Limiting Failure

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Too often, selection of candidates for an international assignment is a reaction to an urgent need, a “gut” feeling about an employee, or an afterthought.

Your top executive has outpaced his rivals at headquarters in New Jersey. “Innovative,” “fearless,” “quick to adapt,” “a real leader” — all words his managers, colleagues and associates use to describe him. He’s the perfect guy for the start-up the company has planned in Malaysia. Offered a generous relocation package, he and his family are quick to accept the assignment, which his wife describes as “the perfect opportunity.” She has wanted to kick back for awhile and return to the interest of her college days: Landscape photography. The kids are just as excited, having learned about Malaysia from the Carmen San diego computer game and TV show.

The first six months of reports are glowing. The executive is a logistics genius. He has set up a network of new clients. He has forged contacts within the government, become accepted by local leadership, and won contracts that offer surprising and unanticipated link-ups with the company’s European affiliates.

But then, suddenly, just when it’s time to solidify business, you get a series of increasingly urgent messages that end, cryptically, “We’re coming home.”

The costs of relocation are up in smoke, the new contacts have vanished, you’ll have to recoup the lost ground right away.

What went wrong? And what do you do now?

Without the luxury of being able to conduct a long search to replace your executive, you call a panic-driven meeting of top managers from across the country. A list of names is bandied about half-heartedly. There are candidates with international experience, candidates with logistical brilliance, and candidates who have a reputation for solving emergencies. But it isn’t until late one night, when all seems lost, that the obvious choice emerges.

Here’s a candidate, fluent in two languages, who received her undergraduate degree in American studies, is unencumbered by a spouse and children, and is eager to gain international business experience.

After a year in Malaysia, she makes candidate #1 look like chump change. Her managerial abilities alone have helped you organize the local leadership into a force so coherent you’ll be able to use them for training throughout Asia. She understands the Malaysian infrastructure and is constantly being asked by other companies in the region for consultation and advice.

Think of all the time and money you wasted on the first candidate! Why didn’t you choose her in the first place?

Selection of candidates for international business assignments is too often a reaction to a disaster or an urgent need, a “gut” feeling about an employee, or an afterthought. Being unsystematic results in: Failed assignments in the form of early returns, lower productivity, and missing qualified candidates who are often working right under your nose.

The criteria for a successful international assignment can vary. Success comes about when:

  • The individual’s values coincide with the particular culture of her company
  • The values of the individual and the company strike a chord with the host country where the international assignment will be taking place
  • The individual has enough self-knowledge to understand what it will take to make the assignment work

 

But what tests are going to give you the information you need to choose the right candidate? You can give tests that will assess an individual’s level of intellect, personality functioning, cognitive ability, depression, anxiety, interests and aptitude. But what test can predict how our candidate will react to bugs in the tropics? What test can measure how the candidates family resolves conflicts? What test determines the reaction of the candidate’s spouse to crummy local schools?

The single most elegant way to assess candidates for international selection remains the structured interview. When cross-validated by two independent interviewers, the information you gain about a candidate — likes and dislikes, needs and limits, threshold for frustration, abilities to conform to new cultures — is invaluable.

Equally important: Companies are beginning to adopt a proactive stance to the task of candidate selection. Why wait for that phone call that says, “I’m outta here?” Why scramble through 96 hellish hours to find a quick replacement in order to safeguard your company’s reputation for stability?

Candidate selection, through a series of interviews, is being used to develop pools of qualified international employees who, like rapid-deployment personnel, can be tapped as resources for assignments. Interviews to select candidates are also used to:

  • Provide more information about a candidate already chosen by the company for the assignment

 

  • Help choose the candidate best-qualified from an existing pool of employees

 

  • Determine what a group of candidates needs to make the assignment work for them

 

Increasingly, in a global economy, companies are recognizing that selection of candidates for international assignment must be done systematically. Pseudo-scientific jargon, “gut” feelings, and panicked reactions have led to failed assignments, and a failure to recognize and tap resources that may be looking right at you.

How will you know for sure?

 

American expat employees want more time at home.

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From Briefcases to Baseball

Men and women today want more time for themselves and their families — and they’re willing to sacrifice pay and hours to get it, according to a survey by the staffing services firm Robert Half International.

On average, survey respondents say they would cut back by as much as 21%, a sharp increase over the results from a similar survey conducted in 1989.

Here is the breakdown by gender:

  • Men say they would reduce their hours and salary an average 18% to acquire more flexibility, up from 11% in 1989.

 

  • Female respondents continue to be more willing than men to reduce their hours and salary in favor of more personal time. They would scale back hours and pay an average 23%, compared to 14% seven years ago.

Survey respondents were also asked if they would give up rapid career advancement for more family or personal time. More than three quarters (76%) said yes, a slight decline from the response of 78% in 1989.

“As more working parents step off the career “fast-track” and seek greater fulfillment in their personal lives, employers will need to respond with a more flexible work environment,” says Robert Half Chairman and CEO Max Messmer.

He advises firms who are considering adopting more flexible work programs to do so gradually. “Before making sweeping, company-wide changes, explore a few options to determine which of them are most effective for everyone involved.”

Messmer says more professionals are achieving a balance between career and family by working as temporaries, contract employees and part-timers, which allows for greater flexibility in scheduling hours.

Supporting the trend are statistics released from the National Association of Temporary and Staffing Services, which show an increase in the number of professionals choosing careers as temporaries. In 1995, there were 2.16 million temporaries in the US workforce, up 10% over the previous year, and nearly double the number five years ago.


It’s a Family Affair: When both spouses are working

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What goes on behind closed doors in the homes of America’s workforce may be a private affair, but it’s having a major impact on the nation’s employers.

When his daughter became seriously ill last summer, Steve Sanders turned down a major job promotion so he could be by her side. It was a move that cost him thousands in lost perks and wages. There’s no question Sanders’ presence there was warranted; any caring parent would have done the same. But in a larger sense, his decision to let his career take a back seat mirrors an emerging trend in corporate America today – that of putting the family first.

Part of what’s driving this trend is simply a desire to spend more time with the family. A recent study by the Merck Family Fund shows that American workers are “growing tired of the battle for the almighty dollar.” Seventy percent say they want more balance between home and work, and are willing to earn less in order to get it.

An even stronger catalyst, however, is that employees today have little choice but to focus on the family. Workers juggling the demands of two-income households, aging parents, and young children have precious little time or patience to deal with anything else – and increasingly that includes dealing with a relocation. In fact, more and more employees today cite family issues as their primary reason for turning down a move.

At a time when business opportunities may be around the corner or around the world, companies need employees who are willing and able to move. Wise employers are realizing that the well-being of their employees’ families is far more than just a “soft” issue, it has a direct impact on their bottom line.

When both spouses are working

Between 1979 and 1992, the number of women in the workforce grew twice as fast as the number of men, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By 1994, more than half the 54 million married couples in the US had both partners in the workforce.

A joint study by the University of Tennessee and the Right Associates reveals some interesting facts about these couples. The majority are well educated; seventy percent of couples with two college graduates also have two working spouses. Not only are these couples more likely to work, they earn more while working. They are also the most likely candidates for relocation.

But the marriage of relocation and two-income families is hardly one of wedded bliss. Forty-two percent of dual-career employees who relocated said they experienced a significant drop in their standard of living following the move. Spouses who were able to find work in the new location earned considerably less than in their previous positions. And only 20 percent received any job-finding assistance from their spouses’ employers.

Daycare dilemmas

As the number of dual-income couples continues to increase, so does the demand for child care. More than half of women with children under the age of six now work outside the home, according to the Labor Department. By the end of the century, women will comprise approximately two-thirds of new workers, and the majority (75 percent) will become pregnant during their working years.

Fifty-one percent of the companies responding to the Employee Relocation Council’s 1995 Relocation Trends Survey say their employees have expressed concern about the availability of suitable childcare in the new location. And rightfully so. Quality daycare is in scarce supply in this country, and those fortunate enough to find it also find it has a hefty price tag. Daycare for two children runs as high as $7,800 a year, according to the US Census Bureau, and it can cost twice that in locations such as Boston and New York.

But for the relocating family with children, finding daycare is only half the problem. Children whose families relocate often are at greater risk for emotional, behavioral and school problems than children whose families have never moved, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Those who have moved three or more times have 60 percent greater odds of repeating a grade, and 80 percent greater odds of being expelled or suspended.

Today, more than a third of American children have moved once or twice, and 39 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 17 have relocated three or more times during their lifetime.

Blessed are the caregivers . . .

On the other end of the spectrum, baby boomers’ parents are getting older – and living longer – escalating the need for quality eldercare. A study by Duke University and the University of Denmark found that American men who turned 80 in 1987 were expected to live another seven years. Women’s life expectancies were even longer.

Due to rising health costs, nearly eight in ten disabled elderly people now live outside health care institutions, according to American Demographics magazine. The majority rely entirely on their spouses and children for care, a trend that promises to continue. Research from the Families and Work Institute shows that forty percent of workers expect to be responsible for their aging parents within the next five years. In most cases, those providing the care will be women.

Dual-income couples who have elderly parents residing with them will find relocation particularly difficult to manage, financially and otherwise. Nine out of ten women surveyed by the Whirlpool Foundation and the Families Institute of New York said they are responsible for the family’s caregiving. Of these, fifty-five percent also contribute at least half the family’s income.

Not surprisingly, 63 percent of the companies responding to E-R-C’s 1995 study said the availability of eldercare is a concern for their relocating employees. Almost half said employees are concerned about the quality and affordability of elder care in the new location, and 56 percent said employees worry about the impact of moving an elderly relative away from a familiar network of family and friends.

Of the employees who expressed eldercare concerns, three fourths said these concerns were a “somewhat” or “very important” factor in their decision to relocate. Fifty-nine percent of responding companies said such concerns also play an important role in the family’s ability to adjust in the new location.

Meeting the challenge

These are hard times for employers, who must somehow keep their employees mobile without increasing corporate costs. But in the innovative tradition of America, they are finding new ways to meet the challenge.

As part of a progressive spouse assistance program launched last January, Dow Chemical Company introduced the Entrepreneurial Feature for self-employed partners. Within certain guidelines, Dow pays for the partner to establish a new business in the destination location, including start-up costs and lost income.

Boston-based Work/Family Directions, one of the nation’s largest providers of resource and referral services, saw its client list for eldercare services grow from one company covering 200,000 employees in 1988 to 60 clients and over 2 million employees today.

A survey of its clients also revealed a significant increase over the last several years in the number companies providing formal flexibility policies. Such policies offer employees a number of options for balancing work and home, including part-time jobs, flextime, job-sharing, and telecommuting. The study also noted a sizable increase in the number of on-site and near-site childcare centers.

In what is perhaps the biggest initiative to date, twenty-one of the nation’s largest employers are pumping $100 million into the American Business Collaborative for Quality Dependent Care, a six-year effort to improve child and eldercare for their employees. The second phase of a smaller effort launched in 1992, it includes 1000 projects in 31 states and the District of Columbia.

“Investing in programs that improve the quality of life for US workers pays off on the bottom line,” says Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich. “Workers who are successful in balancing work and family are also the most successful workers.”

 

Homeowners’ Tax Burden Highest in New York City Area

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Tax Burden for Renters Varies Widely Depending on Location

A middle-income family of four, who rents rather than owns a home, pays more money to the government
in the form of taxes if they live in the greater Louisville, Kentucky area, than anywhere else in the U.S.

“If you’re a renter, and you take into account your total tax liability including federal, state, and local income taxes, FICA (social security), sales tax, and ad valorem taxes, you have less disposable income if you live and work in the Louisville area than elsewhere,” says Art Balicki, director, client operations at Runzheimer International.

According to a recent Runzheimer analysis, a family of four with an annual income of $60,000 living in the suburbs with the working spouse commuting into Louisville to work, pays an average of $15,311 in annual taxes, or 25.5% of annual income, after taking personal exemptions and allowable deductions (see table below).

Other high tax areas include greater Washington, DC, where this suburban family pays $15,193, or 25.3% of income; Philadelphia, with a tax burden of $14,717, or 24.5%; and Honolulu at $14,543, or 24.2%.

For the renter, Anchorage, Alaska is the best place to live from a tax standpoint. In the 49th state, you pay only $10,145 in taxes, or 16.9% of income. In Manchester, New Hampshire you pay only $10,316, or 17.2%; Miami, $11,021, or 18.4%; and Casper, Wyoming, $11,171, or 18.6%.

So why is Louisville so high? “A high state income tax and steep local wage taxes of more than $1,300 per year (many metro areas are zero), combined with a sales tax of 6% plus an ad valorem tax on vehicles, all add up to the highest tax liability in the land,” says Balicki. In the Runzheimer analysis, the standard federal tax deduction of $7,350 was used rather than itemized deductions for all locations because “in all cases the tax liability was less using the standard deduction.”

A quick analysis of other locations shows that the District of Columbia has a higher “state” income tax than any of the 50 states; residents of the nation’s capital pay $4,512 per year. In the Philadelphia area, wage earners pay the highest local wage tax, 4.3% for non-Philadelphia residents who commute into the city. Hawaii boasts a state income tax of 10% for those whose taxable income is more than $41,000 per year.

At the other end of the scale, Anchorage has no state, local, or sales taxes. “That’s zero, as in pay nothing,” emphasizes Balicki, “one of several reasons why folks are attracted to this northern climate.” New Hampshire is the only other state with no state, local, or sales tax (except for passive income), according to the Runzheimer analysis.

Balicki draws attention to the differences in tax liability according to whether you own a home or rent. “For example, for the homeowner, Milwaukee is the third highest most heavily taxed area for the 50-state analysis, but if you rent Milwaukee ranks 27th. There may also be higher or lower taxes for different localities within each state.”

50-State (plus Washington, DC) Tax Analysis for the Renter
(ranked high to low by total annual taxes)
Income: $60,000; Family Size: 4; Residence: Renter
State Location Total Annual Taxes Taxes as Percent of Income
1. Louisville, KY $15,311 25.5%
2. Washington, DC 15,193 25.3
3. Philadelphia, PA 14,717 24.5
4. Honolulu, HI 14,543 24.2
5. Little Rock, AR 14,513 24.2
6. Birmingham, AL 14,511 24.2
7. Tulsa, OK 14,462 24.1
8. Baltimore, MD 14,386 24.0
9. Charlotte, NC 14,382 24.0
10. St. Louis, MO 14,319 23.9
11. Portland, OR 14,228 23.7
12. Kansas City, KS 14,205 23.7
13. Cleveland, OH 14,161 23.6
14. Salt Lake City, UT 14,161 23.6
15. Atlanta, GA 14,144 23.6
16. Billings, MT 14,076 23.5
17. Richmond, VA 14,057 23.4
18. Charleston, SC 13,987 23.3
19. New York, NY 13,914 23.2
20. Jackson, MS 13,783 23.0
21. Boise, ID 13,765 22.9
22. Charleston, WV 13,756 22.9
23. Minneapolis, MN 13,565 22.6
24. Portland, ME 13,539 22.6
25. Des Moines, IA 13,528 22.6
26. Detroit, MI 13,501 22.5
27. Milwaukee, WI 13,469 22.5
28. Indianapolis, IN 13,390 22.3
29. Omaha, NE 13,343 22.2
30. Boston, MA 13,318 22.2
31. Wilmington, DE 13,147 21.9
32. Albuquerque, NM 13,135 21.9
33. Los Angeles, CA 13,099 21.8
34. New Orleans, LA 12,989 21.7
35. Denver, CO 12,901 21.5
36. Providence, RI 12,743 21.2
37. Chicago, IL 12,638 21.2
38. Phoenix, AZ 12,588 21.0
39. Stamford, CT 12,249 20.4
40. Burlington, VT 11,777 19.6
41. Seattle, WA 11,725 19.5
42. Las Vegas, NV 11,560 19.3
43. Nashville, TN 11,541 19.2
44. Bergen County, NJ 11,443 19.1
45. Fargo, ND 11,324 18.9
46. Dallas, TX 11,222 18.7
47. Sioux Falls, SD 11,185 18.6
48. Casper, WY 11,171 18.6
49. Miami, FL 11,021 18.4
50. Manchester, NH 10,316 17.2
51. Anchorage, AK 10,145 16.9

In the table above, total tax liability has been determined for the renter. Areas researched are suburban communities surrounding each metropolitan area where families earning $60,000 annual income reside. An annual rental of $14,640, or $1,220 per month, is used in all locations.

Federal Tax: Federal tax is based upon the most current tax formulas. Taxes are calculated twice using both itemized and standard deductions. For itemized deductions, a passive income and miscellaneous deduction amount are used. Passive income is from savings interest, dividends, capital gains, etc. The amount is $1,816. Miscellaneous is for charitable contributions and financing expenses. The amount is $1,273. Other deductions are for state, local, and ad valorem taxes. In the table above, a standard deduction of $7,350 is used since the tax liability is less for the renter at this income bracket.

State Tax: Taxes are calculated twice using both itemized and standard deductions. The liability most favorable to the taxpayer is used. For itemized deductions, some states allow for a renter credit and this credit is based on the same amount at all locations.

Local Wage Tax: Local wage taxes are calculated based upon the work site and community of residence. The work site is considered to be the major city in each location. This local wage tax is either the local city or county liability.

FICA: FICA, or social security tax, is included in all totals. The amount is $4,590.

Ad Valorem Tax: Many states impose an ad valorem tax for the registration of family vehicles. It is often called a wheel tax, property tax, or vehicle tax. It is based upon the same value vehicles in all locations. Vehicles used are a late-model full-sized car, and a 4-year-old model.

Sales Tax: Based upon the same volume of identical goods & services purchased annually by a family of four earning $60,000. The cost of these goods & services will vary by location. Both state and local sales taxes are calculated.

 

Living in the United Kingdom: A Cultural Profile

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Although we share many similarities with our “cousins” across the way, expats will discover some subtle, but distinct, differences as well.

Many people liken the United Kingdom to the United States because of these two nations’ historical links, but there actually are some subtle, yet important, differences between their cultures.

Class consciousness

One of the more distinguishing characteristics of British society is class consciousness. Today, the old nobility shares the highest echelon of society with the most powerful government and business leaders. Many of these individuals are from wealthy families and have been educated at the best schools, thus forming a self-perpetuating “old boy” network.

Class separation is a very real part of the British mind — and what class a Briton is in may be very obvious to another Briton, sometimes solely on the basis of their language. The upper class, for example, speaks what is considered a more refined version of English. Also, many families only socialize with others of the same class.

Hierarchy vs. Egalitarianism

Although the British monarchy has no real power, it remains symbolic of a structured, aristocratic lifestyle. The fact that the monarchy exists alongside a democratic government is somewhat representative of the tension in Britain between a hierarchical society and a more egalitarian one. Power in the UK tends to be more centralized, in spite of the fact that the British developed the idea of democracy.

Government power is centralized at the national level, with no British equivalent to US state governments or Canadian provinces. In business, power concentrates in the upper levels, and middle managers often have little decision-making authority. Surprisingly, for a diverse nation that believes in equal rights, the British place disproportionate emphasis on family and educational background.

A different slant on individuality

Individuality is as important to the British as it is to Americans. On American soil, however, an individualist refers to a self-made, independent person; the British use the term to describe a distinctive or eccentric personality. Since social mobility is more difficult for the British, the concept of the self-made individual that’s so much a part of the American mind does not exist.

One concept of individualism the British do share with Americans is the belief that each person has individual needs and rights. This differs from other cultures, such as those in Asia, where community or family needs take precedence over an individual’s needs. The British system of law also emphasizes the individual. And, as in the US, young people are taught to be responsible for themselves. Many students attend boarding schools, have part-time jobs, and are encouraged to travel on their own.

Polite, formal and humorous

The British are known to be polite and courteous, almost to a fault. When inconvenienced by a missed deadline or bad service, for example, they may make a polite comment and leave it at that. Although they may very well be upset, they are not in the habit of showing it. Despite their tendency toward polite behavior, however, the British are neither indirect nor ambiguous. On the contrary, they can be quite honest in their opinions; they are merely more subtle in how they go about it.

The British are also known for their often dry sense of humor. Comedy is a national pastime, and much of the humor is directed inward: no one is better than the British at poking fun at themselves.

English insularity

Perhaps it is the inevitable result of living in an island nation, but the British tend to be an insular people. They don’t like to think of themselves as European, seeing that as a designation for residents of the continent. Their insularity typically extends to their private lives, as well. They are not given to talking about themselves at great length, and are unlikely to casually invite visitors into their homes. Like their counterparts in America, many British citizens speak only English.

Negotiating with the British

When it comes to business negotiations, the British are similar to Americans, in that they share the same concerns for bottom-line profits and short-term results. There are, however, some important differences in style.

In terms of communication, the British are direct in the sense of being honest about their opinions, but less direct in the way they voice them. They emphasize courtesy, formality and tact, and since they seldom show their true emotions, it may be difficult to read their responses. The British are also innately cautious. Their culture values security and leans toward the status quo. When making decisions, they process information a bit differently than do Americans. In keeping with their cautious nature, they prefer to examine concrete precedents. Americans, on the other hand, are generally more comfortable using data to speculate a conclusion.

 

Expat Short-term Assignments on the Rise in International Business

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Short-term expatriate assignments are growing in popularity at America’s multinationals, according to a new survey by Organization Resources Counselors (ORC). The 1996 Worldwide Survey of International Assignment Policies and Practices, polled multinational oganizations based in North America, Europe and Asia. It found that 14% of the 67,600 expatriates represented in the survey are currently on short-term assignments.

Short-term assignments are defined as usually lasting longer than a month but less than a year. Two-thirds of survey respondents define such assignments as lasting no more than 12 months; a quarter say such assignments last up to six months.

As business continues to erase borders around the globe, multinationals need to impart corporate culture to local staff and develop international expertise in expatriate managers. ORC Vice President of International Compensation Services Geoffrey Latta says, “Depending on circumstances, the short-term assignment may be an ideal way to meet business objectives efficiently and cost effectively.”

More than three-quarters of the companies responding to the survey distinguish terms and conditions for short-term assignments from those typically used for business trips or longer assignments. To eliminate the need for elaborate expense reporting or full-blown expatriate allowances, employers may provide specially constructed compensation packages built around certain assumptions.

For example, since the employee’s family often remains at home, the employee’s permanent household and associated expenses are maintained in the home country. For this reason, a portion of the base salary is delivered at home to support the home-country household. Expats ususally receive a leased car and furnished housing, including kitchen facilities, at the assignment location. The expatriate does not have to procure large appliances, or eat every meal in a restaurant, so allowances can be tailored to reflect these conditions.

 

Relocating to Bucharest – A City on the Mend

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To be certain, Bucharest is still a city on the mend, but its inhabitants, the proud and determined Romanians, seemed destined to succeed in restoring the city to its original standing.

After almost half a century under communist dictatorship, Romania emerged once again as a free nation following a country-wide revolution in December 1989. In the years since, the country has undergone profound, and often difficult, political and economic change in its evolution to a democratic, free-market entity. Progress, while painstakingly slow and unmanageable at times, has, nonetheless, been steady.

Bucharest, the country’s capital, is also its principal cultural and commercial city, and a major center for industry. It lies on the Dambovita River, a tributary of the Danube, in the south of Romania, and is home to more than 2 million people.

The city suffered immensely at the hands of Ceausecu regime. Ceausecu’s policy of mass urbanization brought about the widespread destruction of many of the city’s cathedrals, churches, hospitals and homes.

Bucharest today ranks high on the hardship scale. Housing, when available, is expensive and the quality poor by Western standards. Power outages are common and may be prolonged during winter months. Everyday items are in rare supply, and when available, they are costly. Although many items can be ordered from an international supply house, they can be quite expensive. Supplies in local stores are unreliable, and there’s little choice in brands. In addition, locally grown food can be of poor quality. Expats will want to bring with them ample supplies of such items as vitamins, cosmetics, shampoo, toothpaste, toilet tissue, and bed linens. Other hard-to-come-by items include paperback books, and children’s books, toys and games.

Clothing in Romania is also below Western standards, so expats will want to arrive prepared. Warm clothing is needed during winter months, and light-weight clothing for summer. Dry-cleaning facilities are available, but are of poor quality, so the more washable wear expats bring, the better.

According to the US Department of State, medical care in the country is also limited and basic medical supplies are in severe shortage. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for services. Supplementary insurance with specific overseas coverage — including provision for medical evacuation by air — is recommended.

Credit and charge cards are not widely used in Romania, although they are accepted at some hotels and restaurants, and at airline offices in the country. Most hotels and travel services offer a Eurocheque cash advance service, but expats should be prepared to settle their accounts in cash. There are no restrictions on the amount of foreign currency expats can bring into or exchange in Romania, but Romanian currency can’t be taken out of the country. Typically, employers will split an expatriate’s salary, sending part of the salary to a US account to cover home expenses, and giving the rest to the expat as salary.

At work and home

Romanian, a Romance language resembling Italian, is spoken throughout the country. German and Hungarian are also spoken in some areas, particularly in Transylvania. Although Romanian is still widely used in business, the use of English is growing. Even so, a knowledge of Romanian is greatly appreciated by the locals.

Like all the Romance peoples, Romanians are courteous and amiable. Because of their years under communist rule they may be less forthcoming at first than people in other regions in the area. However, once one gets to know them, they are generally friendly and have a keen sense of humor.

Romanians take a formal approach to business. Appointments are required and punctuality is key — even if the hosts are occasionally late. Professional titles are also important, and expats should use these when addressing their Romanian business partners. Expats will also want to bring along an ample supply of business cards that reflect their own professional standing.

Business dress, on the other hand, is more relaxed. Men typically wear a jacket and tie, while women don dresses or skirts.

Outside of work, Romanian life is more informal. Casual dress is acceptable, but as is true in most foreign locations, conservative dress is best.

Getting around town

Expatriates are not allowed to purchase a car in Romania. They can, however, import one. Although they will be required to pay a temporary duty for this privilege — usually equivalent to the value of the car — this will be refunded to them when they depart the country.

Romania’s main roads are in fairly good condition, but its secondary roads can be rough in places. Traffic drives on the right.

Expats should be aware of and adhere to posted speed limits while driving as police can enforce on-the-spot fines for speeding offenses. They should also refrain from driving after drinking any amount of alcohol — a very serious offense in Romania. It is also illegal to allow children under 12 to ride in the front seat, or to sound a car horn in large towns.

Public bus transport is available in Romania’s main towns. Tickets are inexpensive, but must be purchased before boarding. While buses run frequently, most are extremely crowded.

Bucharest also maintains an underground railway system with three lines covering various parts of the city. The system operates from 5:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Coins rather than tickets are used to board, and fares are inexpensive by Western standards.

Staying in touch

Post offices in the country are open from 7:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. on Sunday. Expats can purchase stamps at the post office as well as in bookshops, hotels and tobacco shops. Air mail from Bucharest to European destinations typically takes three days or more, and can take as long as 10 days from locations outside the city. Surface mail takes as long as 3-4 weeks to reach its destination. Air mail to the States usually arrives within 5 or more days. When writing addresses in Romania, expats should remember that the number comes after the street name.

International telephone communications are fairly good, although sometimes subject to delays due to power outages. International Direct Dialing is available going into Romania, but outgoing calls require an operator. Domestic phone service is currently being updated, but is still relatively poor in quality.

Keeping an eye on crime

The US Department of State (DOS) reports that crimes against tourists — mugging, pickpocketing, and confidence scams by black-market money changes — are a growing problem in Romania. Organized groups of thieves and pickpockets operate in the train stations, and on trains and buses in major cities. A number of thefts have occurred on overnight trains, including thefts from passengers in closed compartments. Street crime is rising in Bucharest, although physical assaults of any kind are still rare. Money exchange scams have grown rather sophisticated, and may involve individuals posing as plainclothes police who approach the potential victim, flash a badge, and ask for his or her wallet or passport.

Leisure time activities

Although Bucharest ranks on the higher end of the hardship scale, expats will find there are a number of leisure-time activities in the city and surrounding areas. These include skiing and hiking in the mountains, and sunning on the beaches of the Black Sea. Romania also boasts fine architecture, numerous museums and galleries, folk festivals, a national philharmonic orchestra, ballet, opera, and theater. Clubs for expatriates are also available, with swimming, tennis, squash and gymnasiums.

 

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