Magazine article Insight on the News

More Americans Relocate in Widening Global Economy

Magazine article Insight on the News

More Americans Relocate in Widening Global Economy

Article excerpt

As Americans in the public and private sectors find themselves working abroad, they are turning to specialized agencies for help relocating and finding good schools and health care.

Attitude is everything to the Smiths. Last August, the family -- Kathryn, Stephen and their children, 10-year-old Alex and 8-year-old Adrie -- packed everything they owned and moved nearly 2,400 miles, from Arlington, Va., to Mexico City, after Stephen accepted a foreign assignment as a management consultant.

"Steph had been wanting to go overseas somewhere for a long time," Kathryn says. "He is the son of a foreign-service officer and is incredibly well-traveled. I, on the other hand, had been to Canada."

Kathryn knew the move would be a culture shock -- and it was -- but she now feels happy and settled. "I am actually amazed at how easy it was, compared to what I thought it would be. From what I've seen of Americans here who are or aren't successfully acclimated, attitude is the No. 1 thing. You need to want to be here."

Relocation is a fact of life for many employees in both the public and private sectors. Each year, thousands of Americans pull up their roots and cross land, sea and air to replant themselves in foreign soil. The State Department, which keeps a running tally of every man, woman and child registered with foreign embassies for purposes of crisis management, estimates that millions of U.S. citizens live abroad, although all are not registered.

But overseas assignments, even when welcome, disrupt lives, interrupting children's educational and social webs, suspending friendships and, in the case of the accompanying spouse, sacrificing satisfying careers. Although most employers now go to great lengths to ensure successful transitions, families ultimately are responsible for their own happiness.

As a managing editor at Craighead, a company that provides subscription based international-relocation information, Elizabeth Weiss has examined many of the issues relocating families face. "It's a complex situation, this relocation" she says. "And the more members of the family, the more complicated it is."

Cost, of course, is the first consideration. Relocating a home-owning employee requires, on average, $51,353, according to the Employee Relocation Council, a professional organization concerned with domestic and international employee transfer. Booz-Allen & Hamilton, Smith's employer, deter mines cost of living country by country to ensure free trade is fair trade.

"We use an international compensation consulting firm, which looks at the cost of living in a particular country and the cost of living in terms of housing relative to the employee's home base" says Barbara Lawson, manager of compensation, benefits and programs for Booz-Allen's worldwide technology business. "Then we form a plan based upon the cost of the new location. The plan will consist of cost-of-living differential and housing allowance if the cost is higher and housing isn't provided as part of the contract"

There are agencies to help families with financial and other matters. The State Department's Family Liaison Office (FLO) provides relocation services and support to more than 50 government agencies, ranging from the Foreign Commercial Service to the Internal Revenue Service to the Defense Intelligence Agency. "We look at a number of quality-of-life issues" FLO Director Faye Barnes says. One of those -- a big one -- is spousal employment overseas. "Because we have very intelligent officers, they marry very intelligent spouses who usually have a career and want to continue it"

Berlitz Cross-Cultural International, based in Princeton, N.J., is one in a burgeoning industry of companies that provide relocation-orientation services to corporate clients worldwide. Its menu selection includes global business training as well as a children's program called "Relocate & Communicate for Kids. …

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