Many expats on the move will have access to a host country relocation agent who is retained to help with things like house-hunting, school visits and immigration formalities among other things. These are some of the most stressful aspects of moving and as a result the relationship between expat and relocation agent is often fraught with tension and difficulty. Here’s my list of 6 things I do to ensure that I get the best from my relocation agent.
1. I clarify with HR what services the relocation firm is contracted to provide. I’ve found that most relocation agents assume that I know what they are paid to help with and that if I don’t ask them to do something, it’s because I don’t need that service. I’ve also found that expats (myself included) are often not told what services their relocation agent is contracted to provide unless we specifically ask and often miss out on valuable post-move support as a result.
2. Find out how my relocation firm gets paid. In some countries relocation firms are paid by real estate agencies or have alliances with particular agencies. It’s not hard to imagine how that will affect their behaviour. I learned this lesson the hard way when I was househunting in Shanghai and noticed that our relocation agent was reluctant to take us to certain housing compounds. We discovered later that the relocation agent would be paid by the compound we moved into and not by my husband’s company (standard practice in Shanghai at the time). I may not be able to change how my relocation agent is paid but at least I understand what is motivating him or her and can work around it.
3. Before my house-hunting trip I find out what else I can take care of while I am visiting my new country. Can I take care of immigration formalities? Is it possible to open a bank account when I am there? And I make sure I ask my relocation agent well in advance so that appointments can be made if necessary. My rule of thumb – if I can do something on my house-hunting trip which will help me to hit the ground running when I move, then I’ll do it.
4. I find out if there are any key dates I need to know about. Are there deadlines for school applications or for submission of immigration forms? I also make sure that I understand the sequence of events so that I can plan properly. On one move, I discovered that neither sea shipment nor air shipment could be cleared until we received our visas a month later. I assumed that the air shipment would arrive straight away and had packed suitcases and luggage accordingly, leaving us without some of the things which would have made that first month much easier.
5. I research housing and schools before I go house-hunting. I use the internet and the advice of friends to educate myself on schools, residential areas, rents and amenities, just as I would if I was moving in my home country. As a result, I have a better idea of what I can expect and what I want and can offer my relocation agent more helpful and detailed input on what’s important for my family and can use my househunting time more efficiently.
6. Communicate clearly and review each step. Often my native language is a second language for my relocation agent, and communication between us will be taking place by phone or e-mail leaving lots of room for miscommunication or misunderstanding. At each juncture, I review action steps and make sure I understand who is responsible and by when.
As you can probably tell, I’ve developed most of these tips from experience. What have your experiences taught you about working with relocation agents? Please share your stories and your own tips.