If you secure, or are trying to secure, overseas business, what do you need to consider when sending your contractors, your employees, or even just yourself abroad?
Clearly, some countries have travel risks, and many have business travel customs that you need to know about. So, how do you prepare your employees for a safe and smooth trip (and bring back the business)?The first step is to ensure your employee is able to travel:
- Do they need notice to do so? (because of family commitments for example)
- Are they willing to travel if there are any ‘risks’ in the country they’ll visit? You need to consider if it would be unreasonable of them to refuse to travel
- What would you do if they refused to travel? You may need to consider their contractual terms.
Then there are more serious things to consider. In a 2016 study by Kelton Global for the Holiday Inn chain (the Small Business Traveller Study), it was found, unsurprisingly, that small companies find arranging business travel more time consuming and expensive than larger companies.
Larger organisations will often have a global mobility/business policy and a dedicated department to handle all the various issues. Plus, they usually have company-wide travel insurance and subscribe to immigration management schemes.
Important factors small businesses need to consider
For some countries, visas can take several months to process, and some have quarterly or annual quotas on the number of visas they'll issue.
Business visas generally (but check for each country) allow employees to:
- Participate in business meetings/interviews
- Attend conferences or seminars
- Attend trade fairs for promotional work
- Discuss and negotiate contracts with prospective clients
- Conduct fact-finding missions to establish the size and requirements of projects
Usually, visas are available from the country’s consulate in the UK, but some countries will require you to purchase these on arrival. Immigration requirements and the penalties for non-compliance vary from country to country - and ignorance won't be a defence.
Ensure they have their accommodation details with them when they enter the country.
Check UK government advice about country-specific risks (safety and security including wars, exclusion zones, terrorism, and natural disasters).
Check their advice about local laws and customs, health situations (e.g. epidemics) and health insurance, money and currency. The World Health Organisation also has advice specific to each country – ensure they have any vaccinations or medication that's needed to visit that country. You may need help with foreign exchange transactions if visits will be frequent.
Ensure they’re covered by business travel and medical insurance for the period they’re away (which covers any pre-existing conditions they may have). Check with your insurance providers in case their advice changes about any health issues in that country (so your policy isn’t invalidated).
Be aware of what’s illegal in the country they’re visiting (e.g. drugs and alcohol), what constitutes sexually offensive behaviour, sex/sexual identity issues, laws relating to firearms and weapons, and what else may be frowned upon by local custom, including involvement in local politics and religion. Be aware of what is and isn’t allowed through customs in that country (including medical prescriptions and medication that’s allowed in the UK). Imprisonment for breaking local laws (and at the extreme, the death penalty) is clearly best avoided.
Informing your employee
Ensure the employees contract and/or letter advising them of their travel abroad makes it clear they must abide by not only their UK contractual requirements, but also the local in-country laws, culture, and customs while they're there. Putting employees at unnecessary risk may make you, the employer, liable as you're still responsible for their safety when they're travelling on business outside of the UK. If they take unnecessary risks when you've advised them not to, this may limit your liability.
Advise the traveller on the procedures they should follow in the event of any emergency. Also, let them know who to contact in the country (embassy, consulate, and emergency contact) and back in the UK should they need assistance – this could include something simple like losing a passport or more extreme problems such as crime. Ensure you’ve an exit strategy for your employee in place. Consider whether you need to arrange regular check-in appointments with someone back in the UK.
Consider business etiquette in the country. What’s acceptable and what’s a complete no-no? This could include dress, introductions, gestures, business styles, diet, religious customs, how politeness is expressed, etc. Business working days and hours may also vary from the UK. Also consider whether they need to know the language.
Consider the travel requirements in the country and also the services available there – what types of transport are available (reliable car hire etc.)? What are the local driving practices? Will they need local support if they don’t speak the language or know their way around? Consider what will happen if the outward or return travel plans are affected by unforeseen events (for example, if they’re stranded abroad, they’ll need accommodation, food/drink, and a safe means of transport home) and how this impacts on your business back in the UK while they’re absent.
If the trip is for a longer period of time, are there relocation and tax implications? The process of acquiring a visa will generally be much longer, and require much more paperwork (which may need to be translated into the host country’s own language).
Once the employee has arrived in the country, they may need to register for a variety of reasons – social security / health, obligations under local and national law, tax systems, ID cards, registering with the local council, opening bank accounts, and so on.
Be aware of the risks
Clearly, the above won't apply to all travel scenarios, but it pays to be aware of the possible implications of sending contractors, employees, or yourself abroad. You may also want to brush up on our advice about lone-working in the UK.
Happy planning and safe travelling!
If you are an employer and need ongoing professional help with any staff/freelance issues then talk to Lesley at The HR Kiosk – a Human Resources Consultancy for small businesses – our fees are low to reflect the pressures on small businesses and you can hire us for as much time as you need.
Please note that the advice given on this website and by our advisors is guidance only and cannot be taken as an authoritative or current interpretation of the law. It can also not be seen as specific advice for individual cases. Please also note that there are differences in legislation in Northern Ireland.