Last update on August 12, 2019

Is your employer assigning you to work abroad? Setting up a new life in a new city is exciting, but there are so many moving parts during an international move. A relocation agency will guide you through the process, whether it’s related to moving your belongings, buying a home, or sorting out immigration details.

When your company offers to transfer you to a new country, the prospect of a brand-new life in an exciting city is invigorating but overwhelming. It’s easy to imagine enjoying the sights, tastes, and sounds of your new home. On the other hand, it’s difficult to imagine the process of selling your home, packing your belongings, and resettling in a place where you don’t speak the language. But don’t fret! You’ll be relieved to learn that many employers hire a relocation agency to help handle all of the nitty-gritty details of your move, including submitting immigration paperwork, moving your belongings, finding housing, and sorting out pet relocation.

A relocation agency’s assistance is invaluable in smoothing the road to your new home. While the entire process of moving abroad will be a learning experience, here are a few lessons for working with a relocation firm.

Get off to a good start

Get your individual agent’s contact information, not just the agency’s. Introduce yourself early in your moving process and build a personal connection. You might even hear from them first, especially if they’re arranging the transport of your belongings or your initial look-and-see visit to your potential new home.

Start 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

Familiarize yourself with the duties of the relocation agency. That includes both from your company’s perspective and from the agent’s perspective. Get a copy of the written agreement stating the services you expect from the agency. Make sure the timeline for all of the moving parts to be completed is also clear.

If an important task isn’t completed — registering as a resident with the local authorities or converting your driver’s license, 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. You’ll have plenty of things to get done outside of working hours; this isn’t just about packing but also about contacting relevant authorities or services in the city you’re moving to. This is especially the case if you are to begin your job immediately upon arrival.

Find out which evenings and weekends your agent is available, and what hours they 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. Of course, they’re human, too; they’ll want you to settle in properly and comfortably.

Work out a plan with them and with your agent where a certain number of hours each week can be devoted to organizing your move. By devoting a pre-determined amount of time to things such as setting up bank accounts and meeting with real estate agents, your relocation agent can plan ahead and accomplish their tasks efficiently.

Plan ahead

Ask your agent in advance for an idea of the decisions you’ll need to make during your next meeting. Discuss the major decisions that you’ll be making with the rest of 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 kids needs their own bedroom.

Planning ahead also leaves you more time to pick your agent’s brain on the huge range of topics — such as international schools in your new home or getting a credit card — where you really need their advice.

Make yourself clear

Be clear and consistent with your requests and put them in writing. If you need a two-bedroom house within a certain price range, make your requirements clear to the agent. Do your best not to change your mind midway through the moving process; that way you’ll minimize the typical mistakes that homebuyers make while moving abroad.

You should also be clear about areas where you are more flexible. That way, your relocation agent can meet your needs while using their knowledge of the market to guide you.

Don’t step over the line

Respect the boundaries of the relocation agency. If your relocation agent is willing to visit apartments two evenings per week and all day on Saturday, respect their 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’re having a hard time finding a place to live. But keep in mind that they’re juggling several clients at once, all while having a personal life just like yourself.

If you’re moving from a place where working outside normal business hours is the norm, be aware that there may be cultural differences at work. While it might be common for you to stay late at the office in, say, Hong Kong or Toronto, don’t scold a relocation agent in Copenhagen for not dropping everything after sunset to answer your queries.

Be assertive

If you aren’t getting what you need from your relocation agency, ask for a change. If you and your agent aren’t communicating well (maybe the homes they’re showing you don’t meet your expectations or the lines of communication don’t feel very open), don’t hesitate to speak with your company’s human resources team about it.

You might be able to switch agents within the same relocation 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 employer. Some relocation agents contract only for a set amount of time; on the other hand, others work with you until all of the boxes on your to-do list are checked.

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 their contracted work period. This is another reason to pay attention to the relocation 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, they helped with some big family decisions!

Letting go can be especially difficult when you’ve relied on your agent to act as translator. The sooner you become independent, however, the sooner you’ll feel comfortable in your new home.

Say thank you

Acknowledge a job well done. Make sure you notify your human resources team and recommend the relocation agency (and specifically the agent) to others in your company who might be in the same position as you. Say thanks with a note and a small gift at the holidays.

It pays to keep in touch with your relocation agent. They know 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. As seasoned expats will tell you, your next move might happen sooner than you think. Won’t it be great to have help from a relocation agent you already trust?