What do you wish you had known before going on international assignment? We’ve collated the answers to this question from two years of expatriate surveys to reveal the five most common responses, so you can prepare your assignees for what lies ahead.
1. “I wish I’d known how expensive it is here”.
It’s no surprise that high cost of living is the issue that assignees most commonly say they wish they’d known about before going on assignment. Although assignees often perceive that their salary or COLA is inadequate, the reason why is rarely due to the cost of living index used in their salary calculation and more likely to be due to:
- Their shock at the prices of specific items or areas of expenditure, e.g. petrol or eating at restaurants, that are more expensive than at home, without acknowledging that other items are cheaper.
- The time it takes to adapt to local shops and brands and start shopping cost-effectively.
- Seeing prices rising at a faster rate than their COLA, without realising that prices are also rising at home, which narrows the difference between the two locations.
- Assignees considering the high cost of items like housing that their COLA is not intended to cover.
- Exchange rate fluctuations, where the assignee receives their COLA in home country currency and that currency devalues in comparison to the host country currency.
2. “I wish I’d known I wouldn’t be able to find…”
The second most common answer relates to the quality and availability of goods and services. Commonly expatriates will report that they can’t find particular types of food that they are used to, or that good quality clothing and shoes are not available in appropriate sizes. By knowing in advance what goods are in scarce supply in the location they are moving to, assignees can prepare by bringing stock with them from home where appropriate.
3.“I wish I’d known how long it would take to….”
Bureaucracy in one form or another is a source of great frustration for anyone moving to a new country. Many assignees complain about the length of time and long-winded procedures involved in obtaining residence permits and visas in particular, with driving licences, bank accounts and processes related to setting up home not far behind.
4.“I wish I’d known how difficult it would be to find the right house on my budget”
Managing expectations about the property an expatriate and their family can realistically expect to live in is key in managing successful assignments. Although assignees frequently complain about their housing budget, they may be used to and expect a size or style of property that simply doesn’t exist in the host location. Additional costs for service charges, housing taxes and legal fees can be considerable and should also be considered when setting budgets.
5. “I wish I’d known how dangerous it was to drive/how bad the traffic would be”
The traffic jams and dangerous standards of driving that are commonplace in many parts of the world can be incredibly frustrating and isolating for those used to driving themselves from A to B at home. Similarly, those used to travelling around their home city using an efficient public transport system can find it hard to adjust to a culture where driving is the only way to get around.
ECA’s Expatriate Services website provides International Assignment Guides and Country Profiles to help prepare potential assignees and their families for the realities of an international assignment and the specific challenges of living in their new country. Our Consultancy & Advisory team can also assist you with the application of ECA’s Cost of Living and Accommodation data and advise on communications to assignees. For more information, or to find out about how your assignees can take part in ECA surveys and feed back about living conditions in their location, please contact us.