A good relocation depends on your negotiation skills

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You live in London and you've just been offered two jobs: one in Paris and the other in Milan. The jobs pay the same, but the firm in Milan offers relocation benefits, while the one in Paris does not. How hard will your wallet be hit if you take the job without relocation benefits?

Whether it's a big-ticket item like selling your existing home and buying another in the destination country, or the little ticket-items like paying a deposit to get telephone service, relocation costs quickly add up. That's why it's so important to negotiate for the biggest relocation package you can get when you're considering taking an out-of-country position.

European companies aren't particularly creative when it comes to solving relocation challenges because most companies move fewer than 25 people a year, says Ellie Sullivan, SCRP, director of consulting services for Weichert Relocation Resources, Inc., a US firm that recently surveyed about 50 international firms about their relocation policies.

"That [25 moves per annum] is not a critical enough mass of employees to create programs that overcome reluctance to relocate," she explains. Another problem the survey uncovered: pensions differ from country to country and it can be difficult to sort out what the employee and employer must pay in the home and host countries.

Cross-country isn't easy, either

Even when you're staying in the same country, relocation can be a costly headache. Des McKell, senior relationship manager for Cendant Mobility's UK relocation services, says most organizations offer these intra-UK relocation benefits to new hires:

  • Estate agent fees
  • Survey costs
  • Household good shipping
  • Stamp duty when purchasing a home
  • Legal fees

"That said, you will find that these costs will often be capped and in many cases, the use of suppliers restricted to pre-approved panels of suppliers who will offer the corporation a competitive fee and agreed service standards," McKell says.

When baby's not happy, nobody's happy

While most European companies cover the basics, they don't offer the relocation frills that you'd get if you were working for an American firm. If you've got a spouse and children tagging along on your move, your employer is going to ship your household goods to the new country but won't be as likely to make your family happy they're being shipped, too.

The Weichert survey found 100% of companies pay for household goods shipment, but only 60% provide spouse or partner assistance. And if you want to take Rover, get out your wallet. Only 9% of companies pay for pet passports.

What do companies typically provide?

  • About 90% offer help with immigration and travel documents, pay for temporary housing, ship household goods, pay for a preview/home-finding trip, pay something toward housing and offer help with tax issues.
  • You'll get help with repatriation from 85% and language instruction from 80% of companies.
  • About three-quarters of companies offer cost-of-living differentials and help settling in the destination country.
  • Other benefits cited by companies include leave and time off for long-term assignments (65%); immunisation and physical examinations (61%); spousal/partner assistance (52%) and management of your home while you're on assignment (48%).

No ask, no get

If the traditional expatriate package isn't going to work for you, speak up, Sullivan says. Ask for some form of an in-lieu-of allowance. "For instance, in lieu of return visits to the home country, you could ask to use that allowance for legal fees to cover the cost of getting a work permit for your spouse or return trips for children going to university in another country," she says.

McKell adds that there are some basic facts to consider when thinking about relocation or joining a new organisation. First, corporate policies are no longer constructed to provide a way of making money. "The policy will be designed to protect the existing employee from incurring costs associated with the move (wherever possible) but not allowing them to financially benefit. Financial equalisation is the key," he says.

Second, organizations generally save the best packages for current, rather than new, employees. "If support is offered [to a new hire], it is likely to be far less than an existing employee and highly unlikely to include a guaranteed home sale programme, additional mortgage support or indeed a relocation allowance," McKell says.

There is good news, however. The higher you move up the corporate ladder, the better the relocation benefits get. So even if you don't get a deluxe moving package this time around, if you work hard and smart, you may get it the next go-round.

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