International business travel is more complicated than domestic travel. It requires you to spend more time planning before the trip and there are additional factors to take into account while you’re on the road. You don’t want to end up on the other side of the world in a bad situation due to poor planning. Here are my top tips for international business travel.
Know Before You Go
Double-Check Your Passport
You won’t get very far without it. When planning your trip, always make sure you have at least six months until your passport expires and that there are 2-4 blank pages—some countries won’t let you in otherwise. Also, make sure that your spouse, family and administrative assistant all have a photocopy of your passport in case something should go wrong. You should also keep your important identification information in your secure TripIt profile so you can easily access this information should you ever need it.
And, by all means, make sure you bring your passport with you to the airport. This seems like common sense, but it can be an easy thing to forget.
Share Your Itinerary
You should also share a copy of your travel itinerary with your family and co-workers. This is simple if you have them in your network on TripIt. It’s always good for people to know where you are.
Get Necessary Visas Early
In some countries, you can get visas on arrival, but for others (such as Brazil, China and Russia), you’ll need a visa for admission to the country. Some countries have special requirements to obtain a visa, such as a letter from a sponsor. Make sure you have this sorted out as soon as possible before your trip.
Learn the Local Culture
Spend a little time brushing up on the culture and customs, as well as reading a little news from the country. Inevitably, you’ll have to make some small talk with someone—a colleague, a customer or even a taxi driver—and it’s helpful to know something about local events.
Research Electrical Adapters
Being able to charge devices while on a business trip is critical. Because electrical outlets and currents vary, it’s important to have the appropriate adapters. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen someone arrive in a new country assuming that their hotel would be able to provide all the necessary adapters, only to find that there were none available.
Many countries use credit cards less often than you may be accustomed to. In the U.S., paying for a taxi with a credit card can be no problem. But in other countries, it may be much more difficult. At the airport, withdraw some of the local currency from an ATM to cover the taxi ride and other incidentals. Your company will likely have a policy that will allow you to take a cash advance up to a certain amount.
Get to Know the Area
When you check in at your hotel, ask for two things—a map and a business card. A local map will help you orient yourself in the city and will be useful for getting to meetings or if you have time for sightseeing. A hotel business card is also very valuable. If you get lost, you can show it to a local or a taxi driver, and they can help you find your way back to the hotel.
Your TripIt itinerary will have a map and your hotel address in it, but it’s always good to have a back up just in case.
Have a Plan B
Know what your emergency plans are if something goes wrong. Many companies have memberships to organizations that provide international evacuation or medical assistance in extreme situations, so having that contact information can be important. But also think about contingency plans for minor disturbances like local union strikes and political protests.
The country you’re traveling to will have a different water system than you’re used to and may have different standards when it comes to cleanliness, even in business hotels. Taking a few precautions can help prevent you from getting sick. Even if the locals tell you it is OK, never drink the water. Yes, the water in Germany is just fine from the tap. However, your body isn’t used to the different mineral content. So, even if you don’t have a problem with microbes, you could still have an upset stomach.
Try to avoid raw and uncooked anything—vegetables, meat or fish. Wash your hands frequently and use hand sanitizer. And carry a pack of wet wipes to cleanse your seat area on the airplane or surfaces in the hotel room.
Stay in Touch
If you work for a major company, your firm will likely provide an international voice and data plan on your mobile phone. However, if you travel infrequently or are roaming, be prepared for sticker shock. I once racked up a few hundred dollars in France on roaming by only sending a couple of text messages. Your mobile carrier can set you up on an appropriate plan to avoid situations like that. Alternatively, you can turn off your cellular connection and just connect through Wi-Fi hotspots.
The Benefits of Global Entry
On your return to the U.S., you’ll need to clear immigration and then customs. At some airports, this is a smooth process, while at others, you can expect hours-long lines and significant hassles. Save yourself the headaches and apply for Global Entry. This government program pre-clears you for admission to the U.S. and speeds you through the immigration and customs process. It’s worth every penny of the $100 fee.
Learn the Local Language
On the Internet, you’ll see a lot of advice that you need to learn the local language to the point of fluency to blend in—all before your next business trip. It’s probably unnecessary. It’s polite to pick up a handful of phrases (“hello,” “please” and “thank you”), and people will be appreciative that you made the effort. But learning more than that is probably impractical.
Sleep Adjustments and Jet Lag
Also, the Internet is full of a lot of advice on how to minimize sleep disruptions and jet lag. My favorite was the advice for traveling to Europe and the suggestion that I should move up my alarm clock each day for two months until I was on European time! This isn’t practical.
The best thing to do is to get a really good night’s sleep for the two nights before you leave. Then, try to sleep well on your overnight flight (to Europe or Asia), perhaps using a sleep mask and earplugs or taking a sleeping pill. Depending on where you’re going, you should expect to spend a long time traveling. You’re going to have sleep disruptions. You’re going to be tired. It happens. Try to make the best of it. If at all possible try to get there early before your big meeting or presentation to give yourself time to adjust.
Hopefully, these tips will help you on your next international business trip.