Moving to an Overseas City for Business?

How to decide where to live in a foreign location

  By: Ann Dinsdale, GMS - Senior Vice President - Client Services


Couples moving in london You’re asked by your company to move from San Francisco to take up a position in the London branch.  You’ve visited London before but don’t have a clue what area of the city you should choose to live in.  Colleagues give you conflicting advice that only makes you more confused.  And on top of that, your spouse is not all that sure that living in London is such a great idea.  What should you do?

Well, I would advise you to ask your employer to arrange a “look-see” trip – sometimes referred to as an orientation or “pre-home finding & orientation” visit – to London.  Providing you with this opportunity to see what it would be like to live in the new city makes sense from both party’s points of you.  It will give you and your partner a good idea of what it will be like living there – the type of home you’ll get for your rental budget in different parts of town and so much more!

And from the employer’s point of view, it will give the company the chance to find out if you and your partner are likely to be happy living in the new work location.  If you’re not going to be happy, it’s better that the company finds that out now rather than risk a failed assignment and all the wasted costs that go along with an abortive relocation.

For this article, I’ve chosen the example of a relocation from San Francisco to London but the points I make here equally apply to any move from any city in the world to any other.

So let’s put ourselves in the shoes of Karen and Andrew. Karen is an HR professional for an international bank and is being asked to move from San Francisco to London.  She has only visited London once before on vacation and has little knowledge of the city.  Her partner Andrew, a lawyer, is concerned that neither of them has any friends or family in the UK to help them get settled.  He’s less worried about his career because his law firm in San Francisco has told him that there’s a place for him in their London office.

Karen and Andrew suspect that moving to London might be a very good career move for them both.  But how will they like living there?  They’ve not heard great things about the quality of rental properties.  Apparently, commuting can be difficult and does it really rain all the time?!  They have a ton of questions and they’d really like to get some independent advice.

That’s what so good about the global bank that Karen works for.  As one of their budding HR stars, Karen knows that the bank will be prepared to send Andrew and her to London on a pre-reporting trip.  The bank will cover the costs and will retain a professional relocation firm to arrange and manage a guided orientation tour for the couple which will address every question they have about living in London.

At this stage in most cases the employee will already have decided to accept the relocation and so the trip is more about deciding in what area of the city they should focus on finding a rental home.  But in other cases, it will help a couple decide whether the move abroad will work for them.  This latter situation is often applicable when a key new hire is deciding whether to accept a job offer that involves moving overseas.

For our example of the transfer from San Francisco to London, let’s think about some of the aspects that the relocation firm will address on this “look-see” trip as part and parcel of providing pre-home finding & orientation assistance

  • What are the burning questions that Karen & Andrew have?

An initial conversation with the relocation expert responsible for managing the look-see trip will focus on their burning, top-of-mind questions.  This conversation should take place sufficiently in advance of their arrival in London to allow the relocation firm to prepare the best possible orientation for the couple.  The relocation expert will, beyond their burning questions, probe for other issues that they may not have even started to consider.  They will be asked about their lifestyle in San Francisco, their commute, their home and so on.

  • What type of area & rental home do they see themselves living in during their time in London?

London is a vast city.  Before embarking on a rental search, it’s necessary to decide on a search area.  The escorted orientation tour will involve the couple being shown different types of rental home in different locations so they can decide where they want to live.  Clearly, their rental budget will have a large bearing on this decision.

  • What other lifestyle needs & interests to they have?

Although it’s a major factor, there’s more to life than the type of rental home you’ll live in.  What do they enjoy doing?  Where and when do they shop?  What sports do they enjoy?  What restaurants?  Do they enjoy the theatre?  The answers to these questions will determine what the local relocation consultant shows them (and tells them about) as part of their orientation.

Andrew has expressed concerns about how the couple will find new friends.  We will suggest a number of groups that the couple can get involved in and all sorts of resources that other couples have found hugely helpful in this regard.

And it’s important to accentuate the benefits of living in the new city.  A major benefit of living in London is the rich history and culture that you can explore – not only on your doorstep either!  Gorgeous cities like Rome, Venice, Paris and Berlin, to name but a fraction of them, are only a short flight away.  They can hop over to the Austrian Tyrol for a weekend’s skiing or hire a self-drive boat on the French canals!  The opportunities that will be open to them are endless but they may not think of them if they are not pointed out!

  • What residual concerns to they have about living in the new city?

At the end of the trip, the relocation expert will probe for any remaining concerns that Karen and Andrew may have.  This discussion will give important clues as to the couple’s intentions and the likely success of this transfer.  If this move isn’t going to work, it’s vital for both parties to face up to the fact at this early stage.  A failure will be costly for both the business and the couple.  But in most cases, any residual concerns can be addressed successfully.

The team at Saunders 1865 – The VIP Relocation Company – we’ve been arranging and conducting orientation tours in global cities for more than 30 years.  Our exquisite preparation and thoroughly professional approach help businesses successfully move their talent internationally.  For a free consultation with one of our relocation experts use this contact form or call +44 20 7590 2700  Let’s get the conversation started!

We have been extremely pleased with Saunders 1865 work so far in both connecting to prospective schools for our girls and home searches. Saunders 165 team was EXCELLENT - very knowledgable and informative without being intrusive.


Rebecca Cass, Massachusetts