There are many things to keep in mind when considering a job that requires frequent international travel. What impact will it have on your family life and how will you maintain balance? What cultural and behavioral practices should you take into consideration in foreign countries? And how should you prepare?
To help you through the process we sought advice from a professional who spends a good majority of his time on the road – or in the air as the case may be.
What advice do you have for someone thinking about taking a new job that requires a lot of international travel?
Traveling for fun once in awhile is one thing, while traveling regularly for work is another. In the latter, you have specific goals and objectives for your trip and you need to prepare for meetings and map out how to most effectively manage each business day.
To help make your upcoming business trip a smooth one, I first recommend that you clean up your email or chat messages backlog.
Second, document all of the following information in your calendaring tool:
- Meeting days and times – start times, estimated duration
- Meeting locations, distance, method of transportation, route and estimated transit times.
Lastly, consider the impact your trip can have on your personal life. If you’re single or an empty nester you may love the lifestyle, but if you’re recently married or have small kids, frequent business travel could take a toll. If you fall into the second category, I recommend discussing things with your wife/kids in a realistic way. Don’t be afraid to discuss the negative possible impacts the travel could have on everyone, not just yourself. I’ve seen a number of colleagues end up on their own because they didn’t have a realistic conversation about it.
What is different about business in the countries you work in vs. where you live? How can business professionals from both countries reach common ground?
I’m Portuguese and have lived in The Netherlands for the last nine years. I’ve worked for international companies and on global teams. Currently I’m responsible for building relationships with customers all across Europe and sometimes beyond. Based on my experience, there are two things I’d recommend you keep in mind about international business travel:
- Cultural awareness. Try to keep a good mindset on the importance of diversity and inclusiveness. Keep an open mind and be ready to adapt not only the way you come across to others but the way you develop your business proposal, the way you try to close a business deal and reset your expectations, when needed.
Why is this important?
Every country, even sometimes every region, has specific etiquette you should be aware of. For example, the Dutch are very direct and looking to quickly accomplish a goal or get to an agreement. On the flip side, Nordics are calculative and factual. And Southern European people bring a more emotional aspect to business. They also don’t mind taking their time to make important business decisions.
Lastly, in some Asian cultures, by matter of respect, they don’t like to formally tell you “no” to your face. You might be excited because you initially get cues associated with a “yes.” For example, you may receive a smile from a potential customer after you’ve presented your business offer, and you therefore may assume that you’ll soon close the deal. However, weeks later you find out that the customer was never actually interested.
In all of these scenarios, the question to ask yourself is, “how can we best cooperate?”
2. Etiquette. Make sure to study the culture and business etiquette for the country you plan to visit. If you don’t have colleagues in the country you’re traveling to, look for information and advice online. Popular information to note would include: habits, business culture and climate, gifting etiquette and common work schedules (office hours, timing of lunches, dinners and happy hours – all or some of which you might be expected to join). For engaging conversations it’s best to stay up on local news.
What are your best international travel tips?
Here’s what has helped me avoid surprises or forgetting key items:
- Prior to the trip, double-check that you have the hotel addresses, customer addresses, booking confirmations and phone numbers.
- Do a quick mental walkthrough of your agenda for each day of the trip
- Pack in advance. And if you can’t, at least build a pile of essentials in a single place, as not to forget anything.
- Check currency, passports and Visas (if applicable)
- Check in online in advance
- On the day of departure, arrive at the airport with ample time to spare. If you don’t, you’re at risk of missing flights/connections and/or experiencing flight overbooking.
Do you have anything else to share about international business experience?
Remember, you’re not a judge, jury or master of the truth. Observe, understand, absorb, respect.
Don’t expect to have your usual comforts with you (Example: a particular food, beer or Starbucks). Be open, be bold, have an accepting attitude.
Last piece of advice: don’t post photos to Facebook or other social media networks during your business trip. Even if it truly was a well-deserved break and inline with business principles, social media postings might not be well received by management, colleagues or future employers.