How to work with a relocation agency
Having a relocation agent to help you move abroad is a great help, but there are certain things to consider. We tell you how to get the most out of the deal.
When my husband and I agreed to follow his new job from our home in the US to a brand new life in Europe, we were excited but overwhelmed.
It was easy to imagine enjoying the sights, tastes and sounds of our new home, but it was hard to imagine the process of selling our house, packing our belongings and resettling in a place where we didn't speak the language.
We were relieved to learn that his company had hired a relocation firm to help us handle all the details, including submitting immigration paperwork, moving our belongings, and finding housing.
The agency's assistance was invaluable in smoothing the road to our new home.
While the entire moving process was a learning experience, here are a few of the lessons we learned about working with a relocation firm:
Get off to a good start
Get your agent's (not just the agency's) contact information and introduce yourself early in your moving process. You might even hear from him/her first, especially if (s)he will arrange the transport of your belongings or your initial "look-and-see" visit to your potential new home.
Begin the relationship on a positive note; your agent will, in many ways, set the tone of your move, especially if you haven't yet learned the language in the country where you will live.
Know the scope of the arrangement
Familiarise yourself with the relocation agent's duties, both from your company's perspective and from the agent's perspective. Get a copy of the written agreement stating the services the agency is expected to perform for you and the timeline.
If an important task isn't completed — registering as a resident with the local authorities, or converting your driver's licence, for example — you, not your agent, will pay the consequences.
Find out when they're available
Get a clear idea of how and when it is appropriate to contact your agent. Many duties must be completed outside of working hours, especially if you are to begin your job immediately upon arrival.
Find out which evenings and weekends your agent is available, and what hours (s)he can be reached by mobile phone.
Put the move first
Make your move a priority among your family and in your workplace. Your boss most likely wants you to start working hard the minute you sit down at your new desk, but (s)he also wants you to settle in and find a place to live.
Work out a plan with her/him and with your agent where a certain number of hours each week can be devoted to your move. By devoting a pre-determined amount of time to things such as setting up bank accounts and meeting with car dealers, your agent can plan ahead and accomplish his tasks efficiently.
Ask your agent in advance for an idea of the decisions you'll need to make at your next meeting with him/her, and discuss them with your family.
Your meetings will move much more quickly and comfortably if you and your spouse have already discussed whether you prefer separate bank accounts or whether each of your twins needs his own bedroom.
This also leaves you more time to pick your agent's brain on topics — such as local school systems or parking issues — where you really need his/her advice.
Make yourself clear
Be clear and consistent with your requests and put them in writing. If you must have a two-bedroom house in a certain price range, make it clear to your agent that these are your minimum requirements and do your best not to change your mind midway through the moving process.
Also be clear about areas where you are more flexible — you would like two bathrooms, but you could live with one — so your agent can meet your needs while using his/her knowledge of the market to guide you.
Don't step over the line
Respect your agent's boundaries. If (s)he is willing to visit apartments two evenings per week and all day on Saturday, respect his/her decision to switch off the mobile phone and get away from work on Sundays.
This can be a difficult guideline to follow, especially if you are having a hard time finding a place to live, or if your oven suddenly stops working on a Sunday afternoon. But keep in mind that (s)he is probably juggling several clients and must make time for home life as well.
If you are moving from a place where working outside normal business hours is the norm (the US, for example), be aware that there may be different cultural expectations in your new home.
If you aren't getting what you need, ask for a change. If you and your agent aren't communicating — the homes (s)he is showing you don't fit your minimum expectations, or (s)he hasn't responded to your phone calls within a day or two — talk with your company's Human Resources staff.
You might be able to switch agents within the same agency, or move to another agency altogether.
Check the schedule
What if it's time to bid your agent farewell, but your move isn't complete? Discuss your options with your agent and your HR office.
Some agents contract only for a set amount of time, others will work with you until all the boxes on your to-do list are checked, now matter how long it takes.
If there are good reasons for the delay that aren't your fault — a rental contract fell through at the last minute or your sea shipment was delayed at customs — the agent might be flexible and continue past his/her contracted work period.
This is another reason to pay attention to the agency's contract at the outset.
Know when it's time to let go
It is easy to get attached to your relocation agent; after all, (s)he has helped with some big family decisions!
Letting go can be especially difficult when you have relied on your agent to act as translator. The sooner you become independent, however, the sooner you will feel comfortable in your new home.
Say thank you
Acknowledge a job well done. If (s)he's done a good job, make sure you notify your HR office and recommend him/her to others in your company who might be relocating. Say thanks with a note and a small gift at the holidays.
It pays to keep in touch with your agent; (s)he knows who is on the move, who has a car for sale, who is looking for a language tutor, even families who might provide playmates for your kids!
And, as seasoned expats can tell you, your next move might happen sooner than you think. Won't it be great to have help from an agent you already trust?
Blythe Butler / Expatica
Blythe Butler is a freelance writer who lives in Bavaria, Germany, and writes about about her adventures at theblythespirit.com.
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Updated from 2006.
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