How to Have a Successful International Business Trip
Work trips abroad can be very informative and fun. I recently spent a week in Seoul, South Korea, interviewing different government officials, academics, and journalists about inter-Korean relations. It was a good learning experience because I’ve never been overseas before. Here are five things that will help ensure your travel goes smoothly.
1. Download the Right Apps
Every country has its own rules and quirks. For instance, South Korea has an old national security law regarding foreign navigation companies that prohibits you from using Google Maps. As you can imagine, this is immensely frustrating. But not to fear! As the saying goes, “there’s an app for that.”
South Korea’s Kakaomap app is just like Google Maps and will provide you real-time information on driving, walking, or using public transportation to your destination. Most countries have apps that are helpful when in-country, and it is a good idea to look into which ones you’ll need ahead of time. For instance, it would be a good idea to download apps for taxis, tourism, translation, and the weather.
2. Get International Calling Or a SIM Card
No mobile data means no maps, and no cell service means no ability to keep in touch with who you are meeting. That means you’ll need to see if you can get mobile data and cell service with whatever cell phone company you are using. If you are using MetroPCS like me, then that means that (a) you’re saving a lot of money and (b) you get what you pay for—which in this case is not much. MetroPCS has a global calling feature that lets you pay more for international calling while in the United States, but you can’t call back home to America from overseas. So, what I had to do to get mobile data and calling was to rent a SIM card. You can also do this if you don’t want to deal with your US cellular carrier. Thankfully SIM cards are usually available at the airports or in the city where you land. In my case, they were at kiosks run by Korea’s big telecom companies in Incheon airport.
Renting or buying a SIM card at the airport after you land will get your precious data flowing once again, and you could even rent a phone number too. Mobile data will let you access maps and also call folks back in the states via Whatsapp or a similar voice-over-internet program. That solves most of your problems, and you may or may not need international calling or an actual phone number while there. In my case, Whatsapp took care of my need to call colleagues or friends in America, but I deliberately rented a SIM card that came with a domestic South Korean number. That number had limited texts and minutes that I could top up, but an hour was enough for talking to the experts I was meeting in Seoul in case they weren’t as responsive over email.
Just make sure to find out ahead of time what kinds of SIM cards your phone will take and if your phone is unlocked.Finally, find out what companies are good to rent from and where they are located in the airport. If you do this, you’ll be all set to quickly get a SIM card when you land and have data before you leave for your hotel.
3. Print Out Your Schedule
On a whim, I printed out my schedule of interviewees and meeting places before I left for Seoul. This decision turned out to be vital when Google calendar decided to helpfully shift all of my dates and times to South Korean time. That automatic change was, in fact, the exact opposite of helpful as I had put them into my calendar at the correct Korean times to start with. As a result, all of my meetings were way off, and it would have been a pain to try and figure out their original times and dates. Instead, I just carried around the original paper schedule and followed that.
Moreover, it helps to have a paper copy of your business itinerary, in case you happen to have a lousy wi-fi or cellular connection. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case in Seoul, but because I relied on the paper schedule, I was also able to jot down notes or any adjustments.
4. Roll with the Changes
Adjusting your schedule is a reality that has to be accepted. My own business trip was put together largely on my own, with assistance from my supervisor and others. Unlike a conference where the agenda is set and someone else does the organizing, I was my own event planner. Furthermore, I had to constantly check my work email and Korean phone number to see if anyone needed to change meeting times.
Given how busy DC people are, you can imagine how occupied similar officials and researchers in other nations’ capitals can be. So be aware that a planned interview might fall through, that traffic could take longer than expected, or that someone might be unexpectedly free when you had written off meeting with them. It is part of the adventure, and you have to be ready to roll with the changes and make the most of your trip.
5. Carry Water and Snacks
Depending on how far you are traveling and how busy your schedule is, you’ll be hungry and thirsty—a lot. So do yourself a favor carry water and snacks. These two items will combat jet lag and feeling hangry when those two problems could otherwise threaten your game. Jet lag will prevent you from being 100% on it, but taking care of yourself and your basic human needs will make things easier. Don’t skip your meals, get plenty of sleep, and carry some refreshments. It will be one less thing to worry about when you’re rushing around a foreign city meeting with people.
These tips served me well and hopefully they will make your own foreign business trip a blast. Learn as much as you can, ask a ton of questions, and have fun!