A First-Timer’s Guide for Overseas Business Travel

It’s your time: Your boss is finally sending you overseas to meet with clients. You’ve traveled a bit before — but somehow, your senior trip to London doesn’t feel like it’s adequately prepared you for doing business in the foreign office.

So while you’re busy preparing your presentation and making sure that you have the right adaptors for your electronic items, don’t overlook a few other important tasks to get you ready to head overseas.

Get Your Paperwork Up-to-Date
The airport security line or foreign customs checkpoint is not the place to discover that your passport expired six months ago or that you need a visa to conduct business in your destination country. Some countries, like Brazil, India, China and United Arab Emirates (all common destinations for business travelers) requires visas for all American visitors regardless of the purpose of travel, so confirm the requirements in advance.

Determine Safety Issues
While you may not want to think about the possibility of things going awry while you’re visiting overseas, you must consider your personal safety. You may be required to travel places for work that you wouldn’t necessarily choose for yourself, and therefore, you need to be aware of what’s happening in your destinations. Check the U.S. State Department travel alerts website to determine whether there is anything you need to be aware of, and sign up for alerts and information to be notified if anything occurs while you’re in-country. You should also provide the State Department with your contact information and travel details, so they can notify you personally and provide assistance in an emergency.

Get a Satellite Phone
Many business travelers overlook satellite phones when headed overseas, thinking that their personal cellular phones will be adequate for staying in touch. However, network compatibility conflicts and expensive airtime charges can turn your personal phone from a convenience into an expensive headache. Explore your sat phone coverage and rental options before you leave; you might find that a phone that will work wherever you happen to be to be a more cost-effective option than a standard cell phone.

Learn Culture and Protocol
Many a business deal has gone down in flames because someone inadvertently offended a colleague overseas. Common gestures, expressions and behaviors that wouldn’t even garner a raised eyebrow in the U.S. can be deeply offensive overseas, so take some time to learn protocol basics before boarding the plane. If you don’t already know the language, learn a few common words and phrases – especially the slang terms in English speaking countries. Certain words that aren’t offensive in America are considered slang – or even profane –overseas.

Pack Carefully
Even if you’re planning to be out of the country for a week or longer, you don’t want to show up with an overweight suitcase that you have to drag through an airport — especially if your hosts are sending a driver or other assistance to the airport. Practice traveling light; look online for a tutorial on how to maximize your packing space, and aim to get everything you need into your carry-on luggage. This will both save time at the airport and prevent the need to go out and purchase a new suit (or worse, show up in your rumbled traveling clothes) when you arrive.

Keep in mind, though, that some airlines are more strictly enforcing rules regarding the size of carry-on luggage. Check your airline’s allowances before you fly to ensure that your carry-on suitcase isn’t too large; if it is you may be forced to check your bag after all.

Dress Professionally
It might be tempting to don your comfiest clothes for your flight, especially an overnight flight, but resist that temptation. Your clients or co-workers may be meeting you at your destination, and trudging off the plane in sweats won’t make the best impression. Business casual is usually your best bet: Carry a blazer or jacket that you can put on when you arrive to look more professional if necessary.

Prepare Physically
If jet lag has you falling asleep in an important meeting, or if you get sick thanks to unfamiliar foods or a run-down immune system, you aren’t going to make the best impression on your colleagues. In the weeks leading up to your trip, get plenty of rest, eat a healthy diet and drink lots of water to ensure you’re in peak health when you travel. Carry hand sanitizer to help ward off germs, and when you board the plane, direct the overhead air vents away from you to help keep airborne viruses from landing right where you don’t want them.

Enjoy the Experience
While you may not get the chance to experience many of the sights of your destination, if you can, take a few hours to play tourist. Ask your hosts questions about their country and for recommendations on places you should see. If you’ve never visited a country before, be complimentary and show interest; you may be surprised at how your hosts open up to you — and you may even get yourself a tour guide or dinner companions.

Traveling overseas is often one of the most exciting parts of any job, so if you have the opportunity to do so, make the most of it and take steps to avoid appearing naïve or unprepared. Someday, you’ll be showing the newbie the ropes of business travel.

Posted by Steve Manley