Guest comment: How to survive an overseas placement

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Life as an expat banker will be much simpler if you go into it with your eyes open, says Griselle Cardozo of relocation specialist Reloglobe.

Until a few years ago, relocations were a relatively simple business. Banks selected their most career-oriented employees and got them to pack a few belongings and move with their family to the other side of the globe.

The relocations and international assignment business has come a long way since then. A combination of cost consciousness and the growing availability of highly skilled local staff, means assignments have become both shorter and more complex. With relocations also increasingly focused on the Middle East and Asia, the degree of employee commitment has also risen compared to the days when most overseas shifts involved time on Wall Street.

There are therefore several reasons why an overseas assignment can fail. Here's how to mitigate that risk:

· Prepare your family. Family concerns, especially spousal discontent, are one of the major reasons for failed assignments. According to a study conducted by GMAC in 2006, 67% of failed relocations were due to family, and particularly spousal, discontent. How keen will a family from the United States or the United Kingdom be to relocate to China, for example? Involve your spouse in the decision-making process as early as possible. And if they work, establish what their career prospects are likely to be in the new country. Some companies are even looking for ways to hire spouses.

· Make a 'look see' visit. Ideally, the preparation for this international assignment should begin eight to 12 months in advance (in most cases, this is a luxury!). It allows the expatriate and his or her family to comprehend what the move will involve. Within this interval, some banks are now offering employees and spouses a familiarization or 'look see' trip to the potential host country. This provides you with an opportunity to experience the country first hand, and can be vital in helping you decide whether you will be able to fit into the new culture.

· Get to grips with immigration formalities. The formalities of immigration are often assumed to be no more than a piece of paperwork. In fact, they can be a lot more onerous. For example, in countries like Singapore, unmarried partners are not automatically eligible for dependant immigration passes. Instead, they receive long-term visit passes, which do not permit them to work. This puts the partner in limbo and often leads to tremendous stress, which may be the cause of the couple returning to their home country.

· Be aware that repatriation can be as challenging as expatriation. Returning from time abroad, you'll need to adjust to the cultural and professional changes that have taken place in your home country. You will also need some clarity about your future career in your organization.

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