International Relocation (Helping Employees Move Overseas)


  • 13 minute read
  • Last updated: 13th November 2019

Relocating to a new area can be a mentally, emotionally and physically challenging experience for an employee. International relocation is an especially daunting prospect where the employee may need to contend with cultural differences, language barriers and local orientation problems, in addition to the usual challenges involved in moving home.

This article covers:

To ensure your employee’s international relocation is a success, there are a number of steps employers can take to provide practical support during the move that can ease their transition into the new working environment. This international relocation support may include:

  • Practical and financial assistance with finding accommodation
  • Travel planning
  • Immigration and visa applications
  • Local orientation and information on the local area
  • Culture and language training
  • Spousal employment assistance and other family support
  • Introduction to the expatriate community

While employers may be deterred by the costs that this provision of support may incur, they should keep in mind that comprehensive relocation support can help to improve return on the relocation investment. If the move runs smoothly and your employee settles well and feels comfortable in their new environment, they are more likely to be productive and successful in their new role. Employers should also remember that they have a duty of care towards their employees. Should poor planning and logistical support result in material loss, emotional distress or physical harm for your employee, you could be held financially and legally responsible.

International relocation training

Preparing for your employee’s international relocation should begin with setting out a written agreement and discussing the terms of that agreement in a meeting with your employee. Good communication is essential to make sure they have realistic expectations and can take full advantage of the support on offer. This will also give them the opportunity to raise any questions or concerns they may have that are not covered in your international relocation policy.

Unlike most national relocations, international relocation support most go beyond basic logistics. Even if your employee is moving to a predominantly English-speaking country with a culture like that of the UK, they will need some cultural training to help them transition to their new life overseas. Key points to consider include:
Language training
If English is not widely spoken in the new location, your employee should be given some language training before they move abroad.  The ability to build a rapport with new colleagues and to settle into the new environment is greatly improved where the employee understands and is able to communicate in the local language, at the very least with basic spoken and written phrases that will allow them to navigate, make small talk, purchase essentials such as food and services, and discuss their work with colleagues.
Cultural training
Familiarising your employee with the culture and customs of their new environment is essential, as it will enable them to form social connections, avoid causing offence and enjoy their experience working abroad. When considering cultural awareness training, keep in mind the following questions:

  • Are there different national holidays?
  • Are there expectations regarding the way men and women dress?
  • Are there customs and mannerisms which the employee must learn?
  • What are the polite social norms?
  • Are there any cultural and religious sensitivities which could lead them to inadvertently cause offence?

Even when the employee is relocating to a location culturally similar to their home country, cultural training should not be underestimated in helping to avoid culture shock and equipping the employee – and their family – to acclimatise. For example, knowledge of subtle differences in the way people conduct themselves, colloquial dialect (slang terms, greetings etc.), local cuisine and community history can support the employee in approaching their new environment aware and understanding of local ways.
Local laws
Consider whether there are differences in laws between the UK and your employee’s destination country. For instance:

  • Are road signs, traffic lights and road markings different?
  • Are there rules concerning drinking alcohol and smoking in public spaces?
  • How are breaches of the law typically dealt with?
  • Are there specific laws or rules relating to women and same-sex couples?

Relocating employees should be supported in understanding any significant legal differences between the two countries to avoid embarrassment or issues with law enforcement.
Tax briefing
You have the responsibility to ensure your employee understands how their tax and National Insurance obligations will be affected by the move. Consider the following when planning a tax briefing:

  • Will the employee be liable to pay tax in the new country?
  • Will the employee still be liable to pay tax and National Insurance in the UK?
  • Who will be responsible for making these contributions (you, or the employee)?
  • Will the employee need to pay tax on the international relocation benefits and financial support they receive during the move?


Visiting the new location

Allowing the employee to visit the new destination is highly recommended, if it can be arranged prior to their official relocation.

Local orientation can help ensure your employee is familiar with their new place of work, and the local amenities, facilities and activities available to them in their new community. A helpful tactic is to provide a local area information pack as a reference with information such as where to access important services such as healthcare, banking and travel.

Practical support during international relocation

Any employee relocation programme – whether national or international – should include practical support with moving home. This includes support with finding temporary accommodation or a new home, and with the move process itself, either placing belongings into storage or moving to the new destination.

International relocation is inherently more complex than national relocation and therefore must involve additional forms of practical support. For instance, consider whether your employee will need assistance with the following:

  • Obtaining a work visa. The type of visa your employee needs will depend on a number of factors, such as the employee’s nationality, their intended role in the new location, the employee’s immigration history and the duration of their international relocation. For example, an employee relocating abroad for six months to a year would likely need a different visa to an employee whose contract will last at least three years.
  • Finding accommodation. This may involve covering fees and making arrangements on behalf of the employee. If you will be placing them in temporary accommodation while they search for their own home, make sure they know the correct procedure for renting property in their new country of residence.
  • Obtaining health insurance. Most UK nationals working abroad require health insurance cover to access medical services. If this is not something you will arrange for the employee, make sure they know how to arrange health insurance themselves.


Additional international relocation support

When building a plan for international relocation support, employers should account for everything your employee will need to do to hit the ground the running within their new environment. Avoiding delays, issues and barriers to settling in can help improve the employee’s workplace performance and focus on the commercial objectives of the relocation. This means giving consideration to the day-to-day needs, at least for the initial settling-in phase, while also setting out guidelines for emergencies and unexpected events. Adjusting to life in a new country and being unable to access basic services in an unfamiliar country can be extremely distressing and could leave your employee in a dangerous situation.

Employers can provide support in these areas by making arrangements on the employee’s behalf or offering practical training and written materials, to help the employee manage challenges on their own. Keep in mind the following:
Relocating family members
Critical to the success of international relocations will be the impact of the move on the employee’s family. If their spouse, partner or children are to join them overseas, employers should consider extending training and support provisions to the family members. The employee is more likely to perform in their new role if they are not distracted with concerns about their loved ones settling in. This may involve supporting with language training or helping the spouse with finding local employment.
Personal banking
What procedure must your employee follow to open a bank account in their new location? Consider whether the employee will need help with translation when speaking with bank staff. Make sure the employee knows which forms of identification are required to open an account.
Accessing healthcare
Make sure your employee knows how to access basic healthcare while working abroad. Consider whether they will need to register with a doctor, dentist, optician or another medical professional; does their health insurance limit them to using certain providers? It is also important that your employee knows how to deal with injuries and medical emergencies, should either event occur during their time abroad.
Make sure the employee knows how to get around their new city or town of residence. If they will be relying on public transport, make sure they know where local stations are and that they have access to timetables written in English. Should your employee wish to have their own transport, find out how they should go about purchasing or hiring a vehicle and make sure they understand the road tax and licensing requirements.
Utility providers
Will the employee need to arrange heating, electricity and water supplies to their new home? Employers may wish to ease their employee’s international relocation by making these arrangements for them. You must also ensure your employee knows whom to speak to should they have any issues with these services while working abroad.

Need assistance?

No two international relocations present the same set of challenges. DavidsonMorris are experienced global mobility specialists, with expertise in supporting employers with international relocations. We understand the difficulties of moving personnel overseas, and the need to balance cost control with ensuring employees and their families are sufficiently supported to ensure focus on the commercial aim of the relocation.

If you have a question or need advice on any aspect of relocating personnel overseas, contact us.


Founder and Managing Director Anne Morris is a fully qualified solicitor and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

She is a recognised by Legal 500 and Chambers as a legal expert and delivers Board-level advice on business migration and compliance risk management as well as overseeing the firm’s development of new client propositions and delivery of cost and time efficient processing of applications.

Anne is an active public speaker, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

About DavidsonMorris

As employer solutions lawyers, DavidsonMorris offers a complete and cost-effective capability to meet employers’ needs across UK immigration and employment law, HR and global mobility.

Led by Anne Morris, one of the UK’s preeminent immigration lawyers, and with rankings in The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners, we’re a multi-disciplinary team helping organisations to meet their people objectives, while reducing legal risk and nurturing workforce relations.

Legal Disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct at the time of writing, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

Contact DavidsonMorris
Get in touch with DavidsonMorris for general enquiries, feedback and requests for information.
Sign up to our award winning newsletters!
Find us on: