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What the Winter Games can teach us about extended business travel

February 9, 2018 6:00:00 AM EST | By: Melanie Klaschka

Winter games and extended business travel

Today, a very special ceremony marks the opening of the 2018 Winter Games. Athletes from all over the globe will gather in South Korea to represent their countries and compete for gold.

While the world prepares to watch these incredible athletes, many consider the years of practice and dedication each team has put in to represent their country.

Fewer realize the time, energy and effort behind the travel to South Korea. As a mobility professional, you may have more insight into that process. Many of the challenges that companies face when sending extended business travelers and short-term assignees to new countries are the same the athletes and their teams encounter during their travel to the Winter Games.

Athletes often arrive weeks, or even months, before the games to acclimate to the customs, culture and environment of the host country. This is similar to the timeframe a short-term assignee visits a country, which can vary from 30 days to less than one year, but often falls between three to six months. Some athletes arrive only days before the Games, similar to an extended business traveler, whose stay is typically a minimum of 10 consecutive days.

Although the athletes for the 2018 Winter Games are all traveling to South Korea, and your business travelers likely fly all over the globe, both parties must be properly prepared for their trips with the right visa, equipment, housing, cultural training, emergency training and tax information.

How to get where you’re going

Immigration laws are often confusing because they vary for short-term travel by location and length of stay. What is straightforward is that without following proper procedures, your company can risk your employees being denied entry to the country, and your company and your employees may be subject to fines for non-compliance.

For the 2018 Winter Games, athletes and other officials are permitted to enter Korea visa-free for up to 90 days as long as they hold an Olympic Identity and Accreditation Card (OIAC), according to our immigration partner Fragomen.

Kenneth Lau, Partner at Fragomen, Singapore said “Visa-free entry is permitted even if the OIAC holders are nationals of visa-required countries. For other ordinary foreign travelers coming into South Korea on matters relating to the [Winter Games], generally the Korean immigration authorities have not adopted any new immigration benefits for such foreigners, and their visits would continue to be regulated under the existing immigration rules.”

For extended business travelers and short-term assignees, it’s important for your company to research the proper visa and immigration requirements, or work with a trusted global mobility partner to verify you have proper documentation before sending an employee on a trip to another country.

Transporting important goods

As you can imagine, athletes like bobsledders have a lot of gear. Transporting their equipment for the Winter Games presents unique challenges because it is too large to carry on the plane, but too valuable to risk loss or damage by checking it with luggage.

Director of International Business Development at Suddath Chris Jenkins said, “[When considering international transportation options] there have been special allowances made for sports related activities. However, you are still required to present an inventory, airway bill, destination address and a local contact person. On average, the transport time for air freight takes 10 to 15 days and according to South Korean authorities, air shipments must arrive by February 4 in order to clear customs and be delivered by February 8 – the opening of the games.”

You may find similar issues with your businesses travelers and short-term assignees. Travelers who go for more than a few weeks often require additional luggage. This luggage doesn’t necessarily make sense to travel with the employees.

It may make the most financial sense to send important goods via air transport, which takes less time than sea transport, so it arrives with enough time for your employees to use during their short-term stay. Also, make sure to work with a relocation team that understands the import and export laws of a country in addition to making sure you time the arrival correctly.

Home away from home

Traditionally, hotels are used during travel as a warm place to rest your head after a long day. While both athletes and business travelers may be accustomed to long days, they often have different housing wants and needs.

Athletes require access to a full kitchen because of their strict diet and nutrition needs, so living in a hotel is not an ideal scenario. Serviced apartments are a great alternative to hotels. These apartments are typically fully furnished and provide hotel-like amenities such as room service, a fitness center, a laundry room and a rec room.

“Serviced apartments in Asia operate like hotels where front desk/concierge services, [and food and beverage] services are a norm. The main difference are the rooms. Instead of the standard hotel rooms, the rooms are apartment styles that will consist of a kitchenette and living area. Serviced apartments in Asia are widely used for all travelers on short- and long-term stays,” said Katie Lim, Director, Global Solutions at Synergy Global Housing.

While expense is one drawback of longer hotel stays, your company may choose alternative housing, such as serviced apartments, because it eliminates the inconvenience of your employee needing to check out and in to avoid establishing residency and provides employees with more opportunity for community involvement.

Learning the culture

Cultural differences are often overlooked when sending someone to a new country for a short time.

Although the Winter Games includes athletes from all over the world, it is still a sign of respect for them to understand and abide by cultural norms of the host country. Cathy Heyne, Managing Director, LivingAbroad, said a team traveling to South Korea should be briefed on certain cultural aspects of the area.

“[In South Korea travelers should] use full names and titles when addressing fellow compatriots and pay special mind to the established hierarchies in order to provide the appropriate amount of respect.”

Heyne added other important conventions, including local cuisines, greetings, social and business customs and concepts of order and time, are vital information that will contribute to the success of an assignment.

As a company, you want to make sure you’re investing in cultural training even for your extended business travelers and short-term assignees. These travelers have very limited time to adapt and acclimate to a new area, so starting this training before the trip begins can be beneficial.

Duty of care

Another key aspect of traveling outside our comfort zone is safety and security. Duty of care is defined as a legal obligation which is imposed on an individual or business requiring adherence to a standard of reasonable care while performing any acts that could foreseeably harm another.

For the Winter Games, the threat in South Korea is low.

“The overall assessment of threats to the competition is low,” said TC Williams, Vice President of Sales at UnitedHealthcare Global. “Opportunistic crime is the primary concern for travelers to the event. Demonstrations and protests occur regularly in cities across South Korea and have the potential to affect the security environment. Tensions on the Korean Peninsula remain high due to repeated North Korean missile and weapons testing; however, there is no indication that this tension will significantly affect the security environment during the games. South Korea is a low-threat location for terrorist activity; nevertheless, the South Korean government intends to implement heightened security measures -- including the establishment of an ‘Anti-Terror Safety Operations Center’ -- to ensure security at competition venues.”

Duty of Care has become a hot-button issue with global mobility and travel professionals, as well as senior leadership and management within organizations. Companies should have a risk assessment and security alert system for travelers at any level to help make sure employees are aware of their surroundings and know what to do in case of emergency.

Tackling taxes

If you are traveling abroad, even for a short period of time, you may be required to file tax returns or even have tax responsibility. Failure to properly file or pay taxes can have serious financial consequences.

If an athlete wins the gold, they typically earn a modest stipend for bringing home a medal. It’s usually paid by their home country – but does that count as earnings accrued in the host country? And how does the team account for other expenses accrued on this trip?

There can be just as much confusion when your employee is traveling for a business trip or short-term assignment. While consulting with a tax advisor is the best approach for ensuring global compliance, many companies struggle with providing the relevant compensation and expense data required for tax service providers to perform the necessary due diligence. Relocation companies can play a critical role in gathering this information for organizations to manage global compliance risk.

“Coordinating with a tax service provider is made easier by ensuring your business has complete and accurate raw source data (in the appropriate currencies) to assess global compliance obligations,” said Barbara Hodgdon, Vice President Compensation, Lexicon®  Relocation. “Lexicon Relocation's global compensation team can provide comprehensive and valuable customized reports for companies to proactively manage risk from both a corporate and individual employee perspective.” 

Power in partnerships

As a full-scale relocation company, Lexicon Relocation has the tools and resources to help you and your employees make short-term travel simple. We partner with the best in the business to take the guesswork out of immigration and taxes, while helping you find the best housing, transportation and cultural training available.

Special thanks for contributing to our article:

Whether you are a Fortune 500 company or a growing start-up, our solutions are  specific to each and every customer.Contact us today to learn more about  Lexicon Relocation’s unique approach to managing extended business traveler  policies.

Topics: international short-term assignments, immigration, tax implications, short-term assignments, culture, duty of care, extended business travelers, logistics

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