I am writing this week’s post from Moscow, Russia where I am spending a week consulting with a client on their new grad hiring programs. Over the last few years, my international consulting work has taken me away from Canada anywhere from 50-70% of any given month. I absolutely love the travel as it has allowed me to work in over 12 countries around the world from North America, Asia, Western Europe & Eastern Europe & allowed me to see so many beautiful places. Here are some of my tips for successful international business trips.
Visas: Check the country’s consulate website to determine if you need a visa to enter a country. Start this process EARLY as it is typically very time consuming
Payments: Your hotels should all be paid via credit card = easy to expense. You should ALWAYS have foreign currency cash with you for things like tips, taxis etc.
· Print ALL of your confirmations (handy when people don't speak English)
· Flights: When traveling internationally (especially to Europe) it is almost ½ price to book a round trip ticket versus a one way ticket. It is highly recommended to use a travel agent to book your flights with multiple destinations as they can make it a round trip versus a bunch of one-ways and can save you hundreds or even a thousand dollars. They also know the best international airlines to use.
· Hotels: If possible, use client hotels where they have a discounted corporate rate.
· If there are multiple airports, check with your client which is the closet to the hotel/office
· Check with your client to understand travel needs for that country (ice. Will they arrange a car/taxi from the airport for you as this is safer etc?)
· Make a plan on what you want to review with your client. Have a list of items to review to make the most of your time as you don’t see your client face to face very often! Save all supporting documents on your laptop, in an email & on a USB key. Computer problems often happen when you are around the world!
Doing your research/Knowing the Culture of the Country you are visiting:
· When you are in these countries on international business, it is important you do your research about local customs and business practices. Many of current business practices are influences by religions in countries (i.e.: Confucianism in China etc)
o Example: In China (and much of Asia), it is important to hold a business card with 2 hands to give it to a client. The Client will also accept it with 2 hands. You must have the card facing your client. If you are receiving a business card, you must read it and comment on their role or ask a question of clarification to show that you are acknowledging their role or title. This demonstrates respect.
· These are important things to know as it shows you understand their culture & thus are more likely to be successful in your consulting efforts.
Staying in Touch:
· Check with your clients and see if they can set you up on the internet in their office (they typically have to work with IT)
· Investigate if you can purchase a hotel room package that includes internet.
· Use SKYPE instead of using a hotel phone. Hotel phones (especially in Europe) are VERY expensive even for local calls.
· Ensure you plan out the # of business & casual days you have. Plan on wearing bottoms (pants/skirts) more than once with different tops to save on packing room. Ensure you check with your client about the office dress code.
· Ensure you check the electricity of the country(s) you are visiting & pack the proper converter and transformer. Not all countries are the same! For those women out there, know when to use a transformer or you will set your straighter on fire!
· I always put power bars/granola bars in my suitcase as when you are overcoming jet lag & traveling with a language barrier, it is nice to have snacks at hand
· Always pack a business outfit in your carryon in case your suitcase is delayed (glad I did this one on this trip as I needed it). Don’t forget shoes etc
Overall Tips & Tricks:
· Ensure you have a photocopy of your passport & the visa of the country you are visiting (if applicable) on you at all times. Only leave your passport at the hotel if you have a safe in your room or at the front desk
· If you like sightseeing, it is recommended you personally buy a guide book (Lonely Planet etc) or do online research on the city/country you are visiting so you know the sights to see. Try and plan at least 1-3 day of your trip to see the city. This will allow you to know the country better & relate better to your client
o It is also recommended to ask your client for advice on sightseeing. They will typically be pleased that you are planning some personal time to see their home country/city.
o Plan this BEFORE you go so you have time to build this into your itinerary. If you plan on staying 1 extra day of personal vacation time/1 night of a personal hotel – this is much cheaper than if you plan on coming back as that includes your whole plane fare!
· Try and plan an evening meal with your client to build that personal relationship. This is so important with international clients as you don’t get a lot of face time with them and need to make the most out of lunches during the day & an evening meal to build a personal relationship. Find common ground in casual conversation as well as discussion business.These are just a few of the things that I do to prepare myself to work in another country. I hope this post finds you well rested & well prepared for any international work you had ahead!
Here's a photo of me after 20+ hours of traveling yesterday when I went for a walk to the Red Square here in Moscow before a busy week of meetings. Don’t forget to take in the local sites - you never know if you will be back!