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Your first trip overseas on International business
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 ,000-,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 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 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 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
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.
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.
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.
• 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).
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.
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.
• In general, most travelers advise that you use your credit cards as much as possible because they offer the best currency exchange rates. In some countries you can use credit cards to pay for your taxi rides. Check at the airport.
• Use the ATM to get cash when you are in foreign countries. They are now popular in most major cities, offer a current exchange rate, and charge a minor transaction fee. They usually offer better rates than the hotels. Make sure you use an ATM that is in a safe, populated location such as the airport or a major shopping center.
• Exchanging currency can be a challenge when you are traveling to several countries in quick succession. Coins are usually not exchanged back into U.S. currency, so you could be left with a lot of change on your return. Try to use all your coins before you leave each country. The sundry counter at the airport is a good place to purchase gum, mints, books, snack foods and souvenirs.
Americans tend to tip more liberally than other nationalities. In fact many cultures don’t understand why a tip is necessary at all. Why would you give extra money for just doing your job? Views of tipping are changing however. I was recently in Singapore, a country where tipping is traditionally not expected, and had a hotel porter hanging around for a tip trying to do extra services for me such as fluffing pillows, hanging my clothes, opening the drapes, getting ice. However, in another case I once had a tip handed back to me in disgust by a Japanese taxi driver. It is usually best to check with your hotel concierge on the local protocol and the current guidelines on tipping.
In some countries an automatic tip or service charge is added to restaurant bills. This is popular in Europe. Make sure you check your bill to see if a charge has been added. This service charge can be as high as 15 or 20% in some countries. To make it more confusing, some establishments add a service charge to your bill and add a line on the bill for an extra tip. Most advise that the extra tip would only be expected if exceptional service was provided.
Traveling with your Portable Computer
When I traveled to Milan, Italy for the first time, I was very excited about what this great city of fashion would be like. I selected a hotel in the downtown area so that I could be near all the sites and hotspots. However, I neglected to check on whether the hotel had a data line in the room or a business center where I could hook up my PC to get e-mail. I was unpleasantly surprised to learn that the hotel had neither. Consequently, I had to review my e-mail every night while sitting in the bathtub after detaching a phone outlet in the bathroom – it was the only way I could get an outbound dial tone. (Atlanta, Georgia)
The portable computer has become a staple for many business travelers. If you are planning to travel with yours, here are some things to check before you go:
• Check with your hotel in advance to find out whether your room will have a data line and a telephone line so you can plug in your computer and use the phone at the same time. Some hotels now even offer in-room personal computers, so you can just bring the diskettes you’ll need.
• If you work for a large firm, make sure you get all necessary phone numbers and set-up information in advance. Print out phone numbers for multiple cities and locations that you might possibly be in.
• If you work for a small firm, or you own your own firm, call your ISP (Internet Service Provider) before you go and make sure they have international connections and phone numbers where you are traveling. Some do not.
• Make sure you pack all the items to need create an international connection, such as a small screwdriver, adaptor jacks and security password cards.
• Check your e-mail (electronic mail) software package. Some will allow you to put in your own phone calling card. This will be less expensive than using the hotel phone line.
• Make sure you test your connection before you go. It is worth the long distance call to ensure that a connection can be made.
• Make sure you bring all necessary files with you and have them loaded on the portable computer before you go.
• You will be required to pass your computer through the carry-on baggage x-ray scanner at the airport. The x-ray machine will not harm your disk drive, although some travelers still prefer to carry their floppy diskettes around the machine and hand them to the security agent for review.
• Expect to be stopped at the airport by security. You may be asked to power up your computer to ensure that it is not a bomb. Make sure the computer has enough battery charge to do this.
• Keep your eye on the portable computer while on the belt lest someone picks it up in error or intended theft.
• If you plan to work on the plane, remember that you will not be allowed to power up until the airplane is at cruising altitude and you will need to turn your computer off during the airplane descent.
• Bring extra batteries if you plan to work on the plane and in case you need extras while you are on the road.
• Check to see if your portable computer has an international power supply so that you can plug in to various outlets. Bring adapters for the different countries you will visit.
Some pointers to keep in mind while telephoning in other countries:
• If you plan to bring a phone charge card when you travel, check the access numbers with your carrier before you go.
• Hotels will usually have instructions in the room on how to make a long distance call.
• It is usually cheaper to use your phone cards than the hotel phone.
• It might be possible for you to use your cell phone when traveling overseas. Check with the consulate, embassy or telecommunications provider in advance to find out if you can. You may be required to register your cell phone upon entry to the country.
• You may be able to rent a cell phone in the country you are visiting.
• If you are phoning your international counterpart, remember to introduce yourself by stating your name, title and company. If a receptionist answers the phone, ask by name for the individual you are trying to reach.
• Learn enough of the country’s language to be able to ask for the person by name in the local language. The person answering the phone may not speak English.
• Keep phone conversations courteous but short and to the point.
• As with person-to-person communications, give the person on the other end of the line your undivided attention. Do not hold an outside conversation, eat, or do other things while you are on the phone. This is usually obvious to the other party, and it may be interpreted as a lack of interest or respect.
• If you must look up information or find a report, tell your party that you will call back, rather than having the person wait while you go through your files.
• If you are holding a telephone meeting, have the agenda in front of you to keep your call on track.
• Make your own phone calls. It is best to contact the person directly instead of through an intermediary. You will come across as more personal and sincere this way.
• Call for a reason. Your international contacts are busy. Keep to the point so they won’t feel you are keeping them from their work.
• Before you end the call, repeat and summarize the points made during the conversation to be sure both sides understand each other’s position. Also, thank the person for his or her time and make a positive statement, such as saying how informative the call was.
• If you are disconnected, call back immediately. Phone disconnections are relatively frequent during international calls.
• If you are using a personal answering machine instead of company voicemail, be sure your greeting is professional and without music or other background noise.
• Many firms do not use answering machines or voicemail and still consider it alienating. Be aware that an international caller may not choose to leave a message on your machine.
Business people in other countries may prefer to conduct part of their business via e-mail (electronic mail). E-mail saves time and money, and is an easier method of communication than the phone. It also provides back-up documentation of communication exchanges. Before assuming that any one method is preferred, be sure to inquire about how your foreign associates prefer to communicate.
If you are using e-mail with foreign associates:
• Start your e-mails with a friendly salutation and end with a friendly closing.
• Include the date in the e-mail and use a signature. Most e-mail packages provide a signature option which allows you to automatically send your name, title, phone number, fax and cell phone numbers, web-site address, e-mail information and mailing address on the bottom of every e-mail you send. This provides current business card information with each correspondence.
• The subject line of the e-mail should indicate the topic of the message. Change the subject line if the topic changes so both sides can keep track of the correspondence and can refer quickly back to an e-mail.
• Write in a concise style, but be friendly. Most people prefer short, easy-to-read e-mails over lengthy ones that may cause eye fatigue.
• Don’t use slang, send critical messages, or confusing text.
• Don’t put your text in all capital letters; this may be interpreted as SHOUTING.
• If you do not get a response to your e-mail, call first before you send repeated messages. Phone lines and servers are down more frequently in foreign countries and e-mails are not transmitted as quickly as in the U.S.
• Respond as quickly to an e-mail inquiry as you would to a phone call.
• Some American businesswomen suggest using initials when working with men in foreign countries who they have not met yet. They feel that men automatically assume that they are working with other men in business and will converse more openly about business if they assume they are working with a man.
• Other women suggest that you should sign your name in full, with your title, as your title will take precedence over gender in international business.
Good Things to Know
The 24-Hour Clock
Most countries outside of the U.S. use the 24-hour clock. Each hour in this clock is referred to in “100’s” so 1:00 a.m. = 100 hours, and this continues to noon which is 1200 hours. Then 1:00 p.m. becomes 1300 hours. An easy way to figure out time is to deduct 12 from the time to convert it back into U.S. terms. So 1800 hours would be 18-12 or 6 p.m.
To convert a Fahrenheit temperature reading to the Celsius (or “Centigrade”) scale, subtract 32, then divide by 1.8. To convert Celsius into Fahrenheit, multiply the Celsius temperature by 1.8, then add 32. A quicker and easier way to make approximate conversions is to subtract 30 from Fahrenheit, and divide by 2 to get Celsius, or to double the Celsius temperature, and add 30 to get Fahrenheit. It’s close enough.
Metric System Conversions
1 mile = 1.609 kilometers (km)
1 kilometer = 0.621 mile
1 yard = 0.914 meter (m)
1 meter = 1.094 yards
1 foot = 0.305 meter (m)
1 meter = 3.281 feet
1 inch = 2.54 centimeters (cm)
1 centimeter = 0.39 inch
1 pound = 0.453 kilogram (kg)
1 kilogram = 2.205 pounds
1 U.S. gallon = 3.785 liters (L)
1 liter = 0.264 U.S. gallon
1 imperial gallon = 4.545 liters
1 liter = 0.22 imperial gallon
For a quick, approximate conversion from kilometers to miles: halve the kilometers, then add 10% of the original number. For example:
74 km / 2 = 37
37 + 7.4 = 44.4 miles
Another way is to multiply the kilometers by 60%. For example:
74km x 0.60 = 44.4 miles
About the Author: Tracey Wilen is Author at http://www.globalwomen.biz/