Your First Trip Overseas on International Business

Making Contacts

Many cultures outside of the U.S. work on the basis of relationships. People prefer to work with people they know. Therefore, a cold call is often not the best approach to meeting people and making contacts. If you know someone who is close to the firm that you desire to contact, it may be best to try to first meet your counterparts with the help of this connection. Working with an organization that can assist you with your initial contact can be ideal. Many of these third-party firms are industry-related and advertise frequently in local trade magazines. Other venues through which to meet potential contacts and clients are conferences and trade shows. Many of these shows are held in the United States and it is helpful if you do some pre-investigative work. Alternatively, it is worthwhile, and may be even more beneficial, to target a local trade conference in the region in which you desire to make contacts.

Entrepreneurs and large firms should both take advantage of the resources offered to U.S. firms by the Department of Commerce (www.ita.doc.gov). A trade mission is particularly valuable for small firms who do not already have a presence in the country of interest. A trade mission to a particular country is organized by your local department of commerce for the purpose of helping you establish business contacts there. Many trade missions have notable leaders such as the mayor of your city or the business leader of a major organization to help increase visibility for the group in the country. The cost of trade missions usually ranges from $2,000-$5,000 and includes the hotel, flight and appointments. The Department of Commerce also offers a great deal of expert help, free or for a nominal fee, to assist you in creating a business plan or developing export opportunities.

Once you have made contacts and collected business cards, follow up with a letter of thanks for these people’s time. Include a press kit, which explains your firm, its products and services, and your position in the firm. If you are planning to visit your potential business partners, request an appointment by letter or fax, if e-mail and phone are not options. Be specific in what you want to cover, who will be traveling with you, and a few suggested dates, then allow time for response to your request. Try to make these arrangements at least three weeks before you travel. You may need this much time to book hotels and flights anyway.

Researching the Firm

In order to be effective in international business it is important that you conduct a fair amount of research on the firms and the marketplace in which you desire to work. An excellent start is to pick up materials and meet distributors at a trade show. Many firms now have web sites on the Internet so it is a good idea to visit them as part of your preparation. There are credible commercial firms such as Dun and Bradstreet (www.dnb.com) that can provide various reports, such a credit report, on companies you might be interested in. If the firm is large, there is a good chance something will be in the files. If the firm has filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), you can access information at http://www.edgar.com

If the firm is small and does not have a U.S. office, it may be more difficult to gather information. Many companies outside of the U.S. are not required to file reports as American firms must do. Accounting practices vary worldwide, so it may be difficult to get information on some companies. If you are planning to visit a specific country, an excellent web site is http://www.tradeport.org which offers information on various countries, their key exports, current economic situation, etc., compiled from U.S. Department of Commerce data. In addition, try to talk to people who have worked with the companies you are contacting to get an idea of how they conduct business, their positive and negative points, and their management structure and decision-making process.

Creating an Agenda

Once you have made an appointment to meet with business people in another country, it is beneficial to propose an agenda to help your contacts understand what topics you intend to cover at your meeting. Many American businesswomen suggest that if you send an agenda in advance it helps clarify your position as the leader and an important participant in the business meeting. It also helps set the direction of the meeting and what you intend to accomplish.

A good agenda usually includes a statement of purpose and some idea of what you want to achieve at the meeting, as well as a list of participants who will attend and how they will contribute to the meeting. In some cultures agendas are not adhered to, because casual discussions used to build relationships are preferred before getting down to business. Other cultures follow agendas more rigidly, and your contacts will expect a fair amount of detail. Before the initial meeting, your proposed agenda may help to initiate a dialogue on what each party expects to cover at the meeting. Give your counterparts plenty of time to review your agenda and respond back with additions or alternative suggestions.

Business Cards

Business cards are very important in many cultures of the world. The information on the card helps identify who you are and your place within your organization. For women, this can help enhance credibility by showing that you are an important member of the firm and where you are in the firm’s hierarchy. Make sure you use a title that is well understood cross-culturally. For example, the titles Manager and Director are usually well understood, but titles such as Specialist may cause confusion.

If you have your business cards translated into the language of the country you are visiting before you go, make sure you select a translation firm that is adept with the local language, and then have the cards proofread by someone else who speaks the local language to ensure there are no translation mistakes. Alternatively, some business people prefer to wait until they arrive in the foreign country before they have their cards translated. Many hotels overseas have a business card translation service or can recommend a local firm. Some can translate and print cards in 24 hours, while others take a few days. Be sure to check before you go. Plan to bring a lot of business cards with you, particularly if you will be meeting large groups.

Travel to Your Business Destination

Gathering Information

If you have time, call the tourist boards of the countries you’ll be visiting and ask for maps and information on your destination. Major automobile clubs, such as AAA, also have touring books and maps by country for their members, and most libraries have travel books. Many Internet sites offer sightseeing information too. Once you’ve arrived, you’ll find that most hotels also have an English local guide and maps of the city you are visiting. You can usually get a local newspaper on the airplane to read up on the country, events, and local happenings. Most hotels offer local TV news stations and usually one is in English.

Passports and Visas

Travel to any country outside of the U.S. will require a passport. If you do not have a passport, make sure you allow yourself plenty of time to get one. You can find a passport center in your local phone book or by searching for passport applications on the World Wide Web. If you already have a passport, make sure it will not expire during the trip. Also be aware that some countries require that your passport be valid up to six months from the start date of your trip. For current information on how to get a passport and what you need for overseas travel go to [http://travel.state.gov/passport_services.html]

In addition to a passport, some countries will also require a visa. Visas allow you entry into a country for a specific period of time; they usually need to be renewed for continued visits. If you are not sure of the requirements of the country you’re planning to visit, check with the U.S. embassy or the foreign embassy in your area. Some agencies process passports and visas at the same time. Make sure you procure enough photos for your passport and visas, although some processing agencies will take photos for you. If you plan to have passport and visa photos taken on your own, determine in advance exactly what you’ll need – how many photos, what size, and what angles are required. For example, a visa photo may require partial side photography to expose your ear, whereas the passport photo is usually a frontal view. Also, certain countries, such as Brazil, may have different visa applications depending on what city in the U.S. you are from, and these requirements may change frequently. If you plan to travel in and out of the country several times during the course of your visit, be sure to get a visa allowing multiple visits. For current visa information go to: [http://travel.state.gov/foreignentryreqs.html]

Booking Your Flights

Be sure to ascertain flight availability, flight times, and rates to international destinations well in advance of your trip. Dates that are optimal for you may be holiday times for the people in the country you are planning to visit, and holiday seasons in some countries can last for weeks. This may make it difficult to reserve a flight for a specific date or time, and airline fares tend to increase during holiday seasons. If you are planning to travel to several countries within a particular region, such as Asia, Europe or Latin America, it is usually helpful to work with a travel agent who handles that region. The agent can help you with flight alternatives, hotel alliances, travel packages, and advance notice of special rates on commonly traveled flight paths.
Additional tips to keep in mind:

• If you are traveling to a country in a different time zone, make sure you check the flight arrival date and time to be sure you have sufficient time to arrive at your meetings. It is easy to make mistakes when traveling across time zones.

• Some travelers advise arriving the day before in order to adjust to significant time zone changes. You don’t want to fall asleep in the middle of a meeting.

• Make sure you reconfirm your flight 24 hours in advance. This should be done before each leg of the flight, particularly when you are outside the U.S. Flight times change frequently, and passengers are not always notified. Your hotel desk clerk or concierge – a hotel staff member who assists guests with luggage, messages, and tour reservations -- will usually do this for you if you are unfamiliar with the language.

Hotels

Book your hotel in advance; do not wait until you arrive to find a hotel. Choose a hotel close to your meeting place, since many cities have heavy traffic congestion and require extra travel time. If you can, stay in a major hotel in a populated area for safety reasons. When you travel to a major city you will most likely find a hotel chain that is locally owned, as well as a European hotel chain, an Asian hotel chain and an American hotel chain. Each chain will offer a different type of setting and services. If you are accustomed to the services of American hotels, consider staying in one, at least on your first trip. Many women advise that you stay in well known hotels in populated areas, preferably with staff at the door at night for extra safety.

Luggage

For many businesswomen, international travel means a new office in a new country each day. This may require traveling by car, train or plane to the next destination each evening. Most businesswomen agree that packing light is an absolute essential for business travel. It will save you packing time at the hotel, as well as a lot of time at the baggage claim counter in airports if you can avoid checking luggage. Also, in some countries you may find that your hotel room is on the third floor and there is no elevator and no porter. Having to carry a lot of luggage up three flights of stairs is no fun at all.

Bring easy-to-carry luggage that is not too bulky; luggage on wheels is helpful. If you plan to take trains and local planes, easy-to-lift luggage will help you with overhead storage. Stick to carry-on luggage if possible, but if you have to check your bags, make sure to pack a change of clothing and some toiletries in a carry-on bag, in case your luggage gets lost.
For other business executives, international travel may mean spending several weeks in one location before moving on to the next stop. To keep luggage minimal in this situation, packing considerations should include having enough variations in your wardrobe to keep your outfits fresh. Plan for some hand washing and dry cleaning during your trip.

General Packing Tips

• To help lighten your travel load, consider making a list, outlining in detail what you need, what you can discard along the way, and what you do not need to carry. For example, four- and five-star hotels usually provide a hair dryer, shampoo, soap and bath gels.

• Pack dark, versatile clothes that don’t wrinkle and can be easily layered.

• Stick to conservative color schemes, such as gray, navy, black, olive and brown. Try to have your clothes blend with each other so you can interchange them. It is best to avoid loud colors.

• Clothing will wrinkle if it is loosely packed. Factor this in when you are choosing a travel bag.

• Try layering your clothes with dry cleaning plastic bags, or hang them in a garment bag. This helps the clothes slide against each other and not wrinkle.

• If you are flying, ask to have your garment bag hung up if there is no space lay it out in the overhead bin. If you are driving, try to hang the garment bag or lay it flat in the back seat.

• If you are using a carry-on duffel bag, consider rolling your clothes, then hanging them up as soon as you arrive.

• If you are flying, put your toiletries in zip-tight plastic bags to help guard against leaks caused by pressure changes.

• Stick to carry-on luggage if possible. If you have to check your bags, make sure to pack a change of clothes and toiletries in your carry-on bag in case your luggage gets lost.

• If you have reading to do, consider making copies so that you can discard the materials along the way so your briefcase doesn’t get filled with paper, which adds extra weight. If you have magazines, rip out or copy the articles of interest, and leave the rest behind. Consider mailing home large quantities of business papers collected along the way.

• Bathrooms vary worldwide, as does the toilet tissue. Bring some of that too if you are fussy.

• Bring an electronic adapter kit good for several countries if you have electric items such as a hair dryer or electric razor. You can find these in most electronic and travel stores. In some hotels you may also be able to borrow them at the desk.

• Bring a small travel alarm clock, as many hotels don’t provide them.

• If you are traveling to areas with varying seasons, wear comfortable clothes in layers. Many businesses do not have air-conditioning or central heating. The buildings can get very hot in the summer or very cold in the winter.

• In cool, humid winter areas, wool suits, jackets, and dresses are best since wool soaks up moisture while keeping you warm. A light jacket or cardigan sweater is usually a good item to bring anywhere. For hot, humid areas, linen and cotton suits are most comfortable.

• For rainy regions, bring a raincoat and a folding umbrella. (Some business hotels also offer umbrellas for use by their guests).

Packing for a Week

For an average business trip of one week, most women agree that one suit (a jacket and matching skirt), a coordinating skirt or slacks, and several varied blouses should suffice. If your trip extends to two weeks, then you may want to add a blazer and an additional skirt or pair of slacks. Combinations of black and white (solids and patterns) are popular among businesswomen, as they are easy to coordinate with many colors of blouses. Good walking shoes are essential to manage the cobblestones, rough construction areas and train stations, as well as inclement weather. A leather briefcase can serve as a handbag. Pack minimal makeup and jewelry.

Other considerations:

• Be creative with your business attire. Use pants, skirts, blazers and suit jackets that can give you several different combinations with a minimal number of items. Change your look with blouses, scarves and other accessories.

• Consider bringing washable silk blouses if you do not think you will have time for dry cleaning during the visit or between destinations.

• Wear neutral-colored hosiery, limited jewelry and neutral makeup.

• Bring extra undergarments for hot and humid areas where you will perspire more. Plan to wash your smalls nightly (some women bring a small plastic bottle or packets of lingerie cleaner with them).

Flying Comfortably

Depending on where you are traveling from, the airplane trip overseas can be very long. If you will have time to check in to your hotel before your first meeting, then a light sweat suit and walking shoes may be your most comfortable attire for the flight. They will also come in handy if you have time later in the trip for an evening walk around some of the local sights. If you must head directly to a meeting after landing, consider wearing comfortable attire on board, then changing clothes in the airplane bathroom or in the airport when you arrive.

When planning your flight, also consider the following:

• Drink a lot of water, as flying is very dehydrating. Water will help reduce fatigue and headaches that can come with long flights.

• Eat lightly on the plane, and even the night before you fly, to help you adjust to a different meal schedule.

• Avoid alcohol on the plane. It is dehydrating and can throw off your sleep cycle.

• Wear loose clothing and try to stretch or walk around a few times while on board to improve your circulation and avoid leg cramps.

• Take off your shoes and wear a pair of socks while flying. Your feet will probably swell, and tight shoes will become uncomfortable.

• Clogging of the ears during descent and landing is a common problem on long flights. Chewing gum and yawning may provide relief. Quickly drinking carbonated water may help as well. Another approach is the Valsalva maneuver: Hold your nose and keep your mouth open, while gently blowing out with a few short breaths. This causes the ears to pop. Other recommendations include taking a decongestant pill or using a decongestant nasal spray.

• Using a saline nasal spray two hours before you take off and 15 minutes before you land will help you clear your breathing passages.

• If you wear contact lenses, bring a spare pair or, if you wear disposable lenses, bring extras, in addition to your glasses. You may find that contacts become dry in your eyes while you are on board the plane. It is best to take them out for the flight and wear glasses. If you do wear lenses during the flight, keep lubricating drops handy and use them frequently.

• Bring a neck pillow (most travel stores carry them) to help you sleep, especially if you have a center seat on the plane. Bring sleep masks (most airlines supply these) to create darkness. Keep eye drops, toothbrush and toothpaste, lip balm, eye cream (there are also re-hydrating eye patches), and a face toner in your purse to help you feel refreshed during the flight.

Currency

To avoid airport lines later, some travelers prefer to exchange enough money for the taxi ride to the hotel before they board their international flight. Others wait until they arrive and exchange money at one of the local bank stalls at the airport. Many airports have ATMs (Automatic Teller Machines) on site. Most travelers prefer to use ATMs as they offer the best currency exchange rates with the lowest administration fees.

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