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How To Embrace International Assignments

By Lisa Burkard

We are a global economy. A recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers found a 50% increase in the number of workers taking on assignments outside of their home country within the next decade. The average length of the assignment is 18 months and women are predicted to make up over a quarter of these mobile workers by 2020. 

Are you ready to take on the challenges and opportunities of a global assignment? From my 30 years of experience in the global mobility industry, here’s what you need to know to make the most of it.


Proper Documentation. Secure the necessary travel documents and work authorizations.  In many countries, foreigners are required to obtain a work permit.  Documentation requirements and procedures are detailed, complicated, and subject to frequent change – you should begin the process well ahead of departure.


Taxes. As a U.S. citizen or permanent resident (i.e. green card holder), leaving the U.S. does not eliminate your U.S. tax obligations.  Income “sourced” in the U.S. such as investment income will continue to be subject to U.S. taxes.  Your earnings abroad will likely be taxed in your host country as well as in the U.S.  While tax treaties do exist between many countries to reduce the possibility of double taxation, you should consider engaging the services of a professional international tax consultant to ensure proper tax reporting and payment.


Medical Care. It is important to be well informed of the health conditions and quality of medical care in your country of assignment – particularly if you or a family member has a medical condition.  Get a full medical check-up before embarking on an international assignment.  Know before you move whether your existing health care insurance will provide adequate coverage abroad and what insurance coverage is available in your new host country.


Culture Shock. Regardless of your background or your country of assignment, you will experience some type of adjustment challenge.  Anxiety from unfamiliar customs and different languages, feelings of isolation or loneliness, family anxiety over new schools and meeting new friends – these are all completely normal emotions and should be anticipated.  To ease the adjustment, seek cross-cultural training and learn coping strategies such as networking with the expatriate community.


Have Fun. An international assignment can be an extremely enriching experience, both professionally and personally.  You will learn as much about yourself as you do about your “new home”. Your time abroad will go fast (too fast). Enjoy it!   

Lisa Burkard is a Board Member of Atlanta Women’s Network. She is Managing Director of Spectrum Group Consulting Services, an independent consulting firm assisting global companies with the design, implementation and management of their global mobility and international benefit strategies. Spectrum Group is proud to be a sponsor of AWN.


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