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Sending employees & contractors abroad on business: What employers need to consider

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 for your employees to have 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 will visit? (and 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 study by Kelton Global for the Holiday Inn chain in March/April 2016 (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

Business visas

For some countries, visas can take several months to process, and some have quarterly or annual quotas on the number of visas they will 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 will not be a defence.

Entry requirements

Ensure they have details of their accommodation with them when they enter the country.

Specific risks

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 (for example, 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 is needed to visit that country. You may need help with foreign exchange transactions if visits will be frequent.

Travel insurance

Ensure they are covered by business travel and medical insurance for the period they are 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).

Illegal items

Be aware of what is illegal in the country they are visiting (e.g. drugs and alcohol), what is 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 is not allowed in and out of customs in that country (including any medical prescriptions and medication that is 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 are there. Putting employees at unnecessary risk may make you, the employer, liable as you are still responsible for their safety when they are travelling on business outside of the UK. If they take unnecessary risks when you have advised them not to, this may limit your liability.

Emergency procedures

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 – this could include something simple like losing a passport and petty crime, to more extreme problems. Ensure you have an exit strategy for your employee in place. And consider whether you need to arrange regular check-in appointments with someone back in the UK.

Business etiquette

Consider business etiquette in the country. What is acceptable and what is a complete no-no? This could include dress, introductions, gestures and 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.

Travel requirements

Consider the travel requirements in the country and also the services available there – the types of transport available (reliable car hire, etc), local driving practices. Will they need local support if they don’t speak the language or it’s their first time there? 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 are absent.

Other implications

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 at 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.


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