Written for Expat Network by Kevin Melton, Sales and Marketing Director, AXA – Global Healthcare
Moving to a new location can be as daunting as it is exciting. Whether you’re moving 100, 1,000 or even 10,000 miles away, settling into a new area can be exhausting; not just the initial process of unpacking and acclimatising to your new environment, but also integrating. Not everyone handles change well, and for some who have the opportunity to relocate for work, upping sticks and moving can be a scary prospect, despite the opportunities it brings.
Whilst relocation support varies from one company to another, one thing is for sure; you can’t do a good job if you’re not happy, so how successfully you and your family settle in will set the tone for the assignment. In fact, we know from our own research that more international work assignments fail as a result of personal reasons than they do for commercial reasons, which highlights the importance of settling in well.
So, to help those who are planning to relocate shortly or are worried about the prospect of living away from home, we’ve put together our top five tips for a successful integration into a new area.
1. Prepare, prepare, prepare
Something that’s commonly overlooked is the importance of preparation. It’s never too early to start. Like delivering a big presentation, few of us can just walk in and make a success of it. The process takes work, research and planning, and there will inevitably be both ups and downs. It’s important to remember that this is completely natural though, so when challenges do arise, you will have plans in place to help overcome them.
Give yourself an advantage by finding out what the lifestyle in the country is like well before you get there, and learn from those who have already successfully integrated. Get to grips with local customs and most importantly, be realistic about whether you can live happily in this environment. If you can’t live your best life, or may struggle to express your attitudes and choices in your destination country, then maybe it’s not for you. Emotional wellbeing is crucial in making an overseas assignment a success, so don’t be afraid to flag potential hurdles to your employer.
It’s also key to plan beyond the first few weeks. Think about the type of things that you do routinely during a year, such as dental or medical appointments. Our research found that many expats will ignore their health until something goes wrong, but navigating a foreign healthcare system can be extremely difficult, especially if you can’t do so in your first language. So, where possible, make sure you have a health screening before you go. It can flag any underlying issues which may not otherwise be uncovered until it’s too late, and you can then prepare more thoroughly.
2. Get social
Putting yourself out there can seem like a mammoth task, especially for more introverted people. However, a successful integration relies on a strong support network, which means having people nearby when you need a pick-me-up.
Some employers might connect you with other expats or colleagues who are already in the country to help kick-start the process. Almost a fifth of companies we interviewed offer a mentor from the employee’s home country to help them find their feet. While this won’t be available to everyone, having someone to talk through your problems with, who also knows the situation you’re in, can be a real help.
3. Communicate, often
Communication is vital in all facets of work. So, even if you’re not in the same country as your line manager or Global Mobility Manager, don’t forget to check in with them regularly. Communication shouldn’t drop off after the first few weeks of the assignment; it should continue throughout and actually intensify as the project comes to an end. Colleagues can’t help you if they don’t know you have an issue, so flag anything that you’re struggling with, from technology problems hampering your productivity to a family illness.
If you you’re struggling with any aspect of your assignment, the chances are, it will translate into your work. Don’t be afraid to speak up, as giving your employer the opportunity to fix the situation is better for all parties. Sending employees to work abroad is a significant investment for most firms, so giving your employer feedback will enhance not only your experience, but that of others, too.
4. Ask for the support you need
Whilst working abroad can enrich your life experience, it does require a significant amount of emotional and financial investment. As such, most employers will offer competitive relocation packages to help support their employees as they settle in a new country.
For our World of Work report, we asked expats what benefits they valued most, and the results were stark. Housing support, international health insurance and funding for flights home were the most valued benefits, alongside education support for children and protection insurance. There is a clear trend for individuals to want comprehensive solutions that are flexible and make life easier for them as they travel around. When you’re offered the assignment, there’s no harm in negotiating with your employer to secure the benefits that matter the most to you, as ultimately, firms want to deliver a package that works for all parties.
5. Give yourself time
You’re not going to feel at home overnight. Just like moving from the country into a city, settling into a new home overseas will take some adjustment. In fact, Lloyds International has estimated that it takes up to two years for expats to feel truly at home. So, concentrate on the little things that will make you feel better, like organising regular calls with friends or family at home or signing up to regular exercise classes to help stay healthy. Try and establish a routine that lets you balance your work-life whilst integrating into the local lifestyle.
Ultimately, when moving abroad, it’s important to go in with your eyes wide open. Then, when you do face a challenging situation, you’ll be more resilient. By knowing what awaits, you’ll be much more open to the new experiences and able to make the most of your time.