Relocating overseas

November 16, 1990|By Sylvia Porter | Sylvia Porter,1990 Los Angeles Times Syndicate Times Mirror Square Los Angeles, Calif. 90053

If you are a manager for a major corporation, the odds are rising that within the coming decade you will be asked to relocate outside the United States.

Assigning you to a Common Market, Eastern Europe or Pacific Rim location will cost your employer heavily. You will need training and you and your family must be moved. Yet, the greatest complication may be a personal one: your ability to cope with life in a strange environment.

The Employee Relocation Council estimates that sending you overseas can cost a company as much as three times your salary. If you are a typical candidate for overseas service, you are a 41-year-old male with a salary in excess of $100,000. You are married with children approaching college age, and with property and investments in the United States.

Once overseas, you must find an appropriate place to live and adequate schools for your children. Your wife may want employment. The family will need a car. Your furniture and personal effects may require special handling. Insurance and estate plans may require revision.

These and many other details often are anticipated by the employer.

"But rarely do companies, even the more enlightened ones, think about financial services and U.S. obligations until funds are lost in transit, checks start to bounce and credit ratings are damaged," says Robert De Rosa, a vice president of Citibank.

Most executives assume their personal banking needs can be arranged easily after they arrive at their assigned destinations. Not so. In reality, says De Rosa, such banking matters as transferring U.S. funds or paying periodic obligations in the U.S. can be complicated. They may be routed through foreign banks and subjected to variations in foreign exchange rates.

The executive paying U.S. bills from overseas often finds that delays in the mail and confusion about his change of address may actually cause some of the bills to arrive after they are due. In these circumstances credit becomes unmanageable and the possibilities for distress are endless.

These problems would seem to be easy to solve. If an American tourist in need of cash can use his personal bankcard to access Cirrus or Plus ATMs throughout the world, personal banking services for expatriate Americans should be readily available. They are not, says De Rosa. To fill this void, New York's giant Citibank has introduced Personal Banking for Overseas Executives. The service, he says, is unique because it is available to all comers.

Other banks may accommodate high-net-worth customers by extending certain individual "private banking" privileges, says De Rosa, but none has a regularly available, constantly maintained system tailored to expatriate business people.

Subscribers can have money transferred both domestically and internationally. They may have U.S. bills paid accurately and on time, and they may also have access to mutual funds, foreign currency and discount brokerage services. Checking accounts are also available.

Soon you can expect other major banks to begin offering similar programs.

"When overseas executives are plagued by personal financial difficulties," says De Rosa, "productivity nose-dives and corporate personnel staff have to become personal bankers."

If troubled executives fail -- that is, if they cannot adapt to overseas working conditions -- the cost of failure to the employer is likely to be high. One survey finds that 35 percent of U.S. expatriates working in Japan do fail. The cost of that failure to their companies averages $155,000 per employee.

Whether your future is to work abroad or to have a role in other major changes coming in our society, it should be reassuring to know that it is characteristic of private enterprise to look for new markets. You know that some business will try to meet your needs.

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