Asia Pacific and Australasia: Easing the culture shock

The
key to a successful relocation of staff to the Asia Pacific region seems to lie
in good  preparation beforehand and
continued support while there, reports Robert de la Poer

With
the continuing expansion of business markets in the Asia Pacific region to
outside investment, a growing number of companies are choosing to relocate
employees overseas on a permanent basis. But expatriates in these countries
face a large number of obstacles and hidden costs, and it falls to the employer
to ensure that their needs are met at every possible stage if the move is to
prove successful.

The
vast majority of relocation consultants advise companies to offer their
employees a programme of training and coaching in what to expect once they have
reached their destination. There is a wide range of organisations which offer
such services in this country, such as training consultants Berlitz, which
offers extensive language and cross-cultural seminars and training courses.

According
to Charles West, clinical director at international assistance company
International SOS, expatriates are far less likely to suffer from culture shock
– disorientation and stress induced by the change in environment and lifestyle
– if they have been properly prepared. Since professional psychological help
can prove costly in some countries, and even hard to obtain in more remote
regions he advises that it is a wise precaution to take. Feelings of isolation
are also very common among expatriates, and can be further countered by
pre-departure classes in the native language and customs which will be
encountered.

The
difficulties and expenses which have to be met can vary enormously from country
to country and depend on the specific circumstances of the employee and their
assignment. The Asia Pacific region is enormously complex and diverse – a fact
which can often lead a company to underestimate the resources available in one
region or overestimate them in another. It is vital therefore to not only to
research the region well beforehand but also to ensure the expat and their
family are sufficiently well supported in that country throughout their stay
should an unexpected problem arise.

Relocated
staff will find often find huge differences in the way that they conduct even
minor aspects of their daily lives. Shopping, eating, security, travel and
hygiene practices may all need to be addressed according to the demands of
their new environment. Failure to do so could lead to a loss of productivity
and waste a large amount of time as they struggle to cope with the pressures of
living in an unfamiliar culture.

It
is common for businessmen and women in China and Hong Kong who do not wish to
travel on public transport, despite its comparative cheapness and efficiency,
to hire private cars and drivers rather than drive themselves. This is not an
excessive luxury, but a simple necessity, since road users in many Asia Pacific
countries are notoriously badly trained, and road accidents account for a large
percentage of the fatalities or serious injures which befall expatriates and
their families.

To
counter this hazard, and the difficulty of reading foreign language signs, an
experienced driver and well-maintained car will often provide the safest
solution.

Similarly,
in the less well developed countries, and particularly away from urban areas
which cater for international visitors, shopping and cooking can prove more of
a time-consuming liability than a simple chore. It is often considered necessary
therefore to hire domestic staff who know their way around local markets and
are aware of the best and most hygienic ways to prepare local food. However,
most Asia Pacific countries have strict laws in place concerning the employment
and entitlements of household staff which need to be carefully considered
before they are hired.

In
the past 10 years, relocation consultants have seen a rapid change in
expatriation patterns, which have further added to the costs and risks
associated with relocation. In the early 1990s, the majority of overseas
postings were taken up by men in their early twenties, who usually moved abroad
on their own.

More
recently this trend has changed, however, and the number of married expatriates
of both genders who have relocated with their families has increased rapidly,
raising the average age considerably. This has added a whole range of new
health care needs, such as paediatric, obstetrical and gynaecological care, as
well as extra security, housing, support and education costs.

As
the number of expatriated families living in the Asia Pacific region has
increased, risks to personal security have risen. Fortunately, serious crimes
against expat communities are still rare in the region, although warnings have
been issued in politically turbulent states such as Indonesia. However, with an
increasing number of lesser crimes such as muggings and theft taking place
against expat compounds, particularly in China, it has become common practice
in many to hire extra security guards to protect property, adding to overall
compound management fees.

The
Australasian countries could, in comparison, be seen to offer expatriates and
their families far fewer challenges than those in the Asia-Pacific region.
However, while there is no overt language barrier and the general standard of
living is usually seen as comparable to that in Europe, there are a few factors
that relocated employees will need to take into account. Not least of these is
the issue of  road safety in Australia,
which is generally considered by risk control consultants to be bad enough to
warrant employing an experienced driver.

Similarly,
travel costs and the availability of healthcare and education need to be
carefully considered when relocating a whole family due to the long distances
which need to be travelled from urban centres to the more remote regions.

No
matter which region employees are sent to, Avron Goldburg of international
relocation consultancy Cendant International Assignment Services, suggests that
the key to successful expatriation is a good knowledge of the local language,
culture and infrastructure. "The vast majority of employees relocated
abroad do not know what to expect when they arrive. Most of those who find they
cannot stay do so, not because they were given the wrong house to live in, but
because they were not prepared properly or supported once in the country.

"Relocation
costs can be kept to a minimum if proper research is undertaken on the
employees’ behalf before they leave and they are offered prompt assistance to
prevent a problem spiralling out of control."

Costs
in Asia Pacific

Prices
are comparable with those in Tokyo, Shanghai, Beijing and Kuala-Lumpur,
although they are expected to rise in China following the WTO deregulation later
this year. In less urbanised areas they are likely to be lower.

To
rent a 2 to 3-bedroom flat on Hong Kong Island costs between HK$42,000-80,000
(US$5,384-10,256) per month.

To
rent a 4-bedroom family house in Discovery Bay costs HK$40,000-50,000 (US$5,128-6,410)
per month, with a 24-hour ferry service to Hong Kong Island.

To
hire a full-time maid in Hong Kong costs from HK$3,750 (US$480) per month, but
employers are obliged also to cover their transport, medical, food
andaccommodation expenses.

To
hire a private driver and car in Hong Kong costs HK$200 (US$25) per hour, with
a four-hour minimum.  

To
hire a helicopter and pilot costs HK$10,800 (US$1,384) per hour.

To
attend the Hong Kong International School costs:    

Pre-school:  HK$51,250 (US$6,570) per year.
Secondary: HK$121,100 (US$15,526) per year.

Further
Information


Omni: www.omnimoving.com


Berlitz Training: www.berlitz.com


Cendant International Assignment Services: www.cendantias.com


Control Risks Group: www.crg.co.uk


Directmoving.com: www.directmoving.com


Expatriate Essentials: www.expat-essentials.com


International SOS: www.internationalsos.com


Morton Fraser Relocation: www.morton-fraser.com

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