Death and taxes – the two unavoidable certainties in life. Well, frequent travelers may discover a very unpleasant tax bill waiting for them next time they return home as more and more countries are looking at tightening up the rules for short-term business visitors.
If you’ve spent more than 20 days in one country that’s not your home, you’re pretty close to being an STBV
Short-term Business Visitors (STBV)
STBVs are not a new phenomenon, but they are becoming more common, and are a challenge for global mobility teams to keep track of.
But it’s not just tax issues that STBV need to be aware of that could have a major impact on their willingness and ability to travel frequently for work.
First of all, what is a Short-term Business Visitor? This checklist might help you decide if you are one or are responsible for managing them:
- Do you travel frequently for work?
- Does the receptionist at a hotel in a foreign city recognize you when you check in?
- Do you take a suitcase to work with you at least twice a month?
- Do you frequently wake up unsure of which city you are in?
- Do you struggle to spend your air miles or to use your whole annual leave allowance?
- Do you often give the wrong destination when checking in at the airport?
If you’ve answered mostly yes, you should probably check your calendar and see just how many days you’ve been traveling this year. If you’ve spent more than 20 days in one country that’s not your home, you’re pretty close to being an STBV.
The rules are different for every country so it’s important to get professional tax advice before the arrest warrants are issued!
So, once you’ve sorted out your tax issues, what else should you be aware of?
1. Physical health
A lot of research has been done on the effects of air travel on our bodies. While there are very few real risks of serious illness, air travel does not have a beneficial effect on us. According to The Telegraph, some of the more common side effects are:
- You are more than one hundred times more likely to catch a cold
- The lower air pressure causes headaches and fatigue from mild oxygen deprivation
- During a three-hour flight, your body loses 1.5 liters of water causing dehydration
- Up to one-third of your taste buds become numb
When we travel, we need to listen to our bodies and make sure we take time to recover. Hydration and fresh air must be part of that recovery plan, as well as mild exercise. The long-term impact on your health is unclear, but if you don’t watch your health, it’s not just your performance that will suffer.
Going for Good: The Move to Localize Long-term Assignees
Global Mobility Trends – What to Look Out For in 2018
2. Mental health
Stress and depression are frequently linked to social isolation and fatigue. The STBV lifestyle may seem glamorous from the outside, but it causes tension in relationships, impacts social life and causes downtime.
The temptation to travel out on Sunday evening or back on Saturday morning means that weekends are shortened and time “offline” is reduced. We are social animals and need human companionship to be mentally healthy.
Research by the Behavioural Neurobiology Laboratory, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich suggests that our “social wellbeing” is dependent on our access to a social network (a real one, not a virtual one!).
Short-term Business Visitors may have many acquaintances, but few close confidantes or friends. Research from Umeå University in Sweden shows that people with a commute over 45 minutes are 40% more likely to divorce.
While there is no definitive data, it is likely that an STBV lifestyle is even less compatible with a long-term relationship.
A second stress factor is fatigue. Travel is tiring, crossing time zones is even more tiring; traveling when already tired and with little downtime between trips is exhausting. When we travel we leave home early and arrive late – our work day is not a 9 am to 5 pm but more likely 6 am to 10 pm.
People with a commute over 45 minutes are 40% more likely to divorce
It is essential that Short-term Business Visitors preserve the sanctity of the weekend and make time to build stable friendships outside of work. Employers too have a duty of care to protect the mental wellness of their employees and must provide support, emotional and psychological to those whose roles require regular travel.
3. Not all travel is necessary
Welcome to the Digital Generation. A Skype meeting, web conference or phone call can often replace travel. If you are traveling for just one day, ask yourself if the trip could be replaced with a video call. It won’t always be, but those who travel frequently often fall into the habit of traveling without evaluating other options. Most organizations are equipped to allow virtual callers to join face to face meetings, and with a few simple guidelines, there is no reason a virtual caller should have any less input than those physically present.
This more critical approach to travel has obvious environmental and financial implications. There are times when you do have to be present physically, but even one trip replaced by a call is a step in the right direction. Most employers have flexible policies allowing remote working, so it is no longer a surprise or out of the ordinary to dial into meetings. Take advantage of the technology and enjoy a week at home.
4. Not just tax – stay compliant
Short-term Business Visitors are a compliance headache for organizations. If you fall into this category, you need to know that you make the HR team work extra hard. Very few software systems can keep track of the number of visits you make, to which countries, for how long.
Short-term Business Visitors are a compliance headache for organizations
Identifying the local laws and regulations governing each of your visits requires a system that is complicated, prone to error and requires you to be pinpoint accurate in your reporting back to them.
It is rare to find any system that can look after all aspects of compliance, so be prepared to be patient with your HR team. Immigration rules are just as complicated for STBV as the tax guidelines, and professional help is just as expensive!
It is much easier to travel in our digital age. You can book a flight, hotel, and a meeting while in a taxi on the way to the airport. But we also live in a time of random terrorism, designed to cause the maximum impact.
As an STBV you are most vulnerable to being overlooked
One of the many important lessons learned from the 9/11 tragedy in the US was that organizations had to get better in knowing where employees were at any time. Terrorist events in Barcelona, London, Paris, and Brussels have reinforced the message that we aren’t there yet.
As an STBV you are most vulnerable to being overlooked. People are used to not seeing you in the office and are not surprised when you show as offline.
This is a responsibility you cannot afford to delegate. Ensure that your public calendar shows where you are at any given time. Tell people in your office where you’re going to be. If there’s a last-minute change of plan, let people know.
Make it easy for your colleagues to find you if they need to and keep your emergency contacts and next of kin details up to date.
6. Watercooler time
Short-term Business Visitors risk losing touch with what’s happening in the office and lose touch with office politics. They may overlook important changes in organizational structure or subtle changes in corporate philosophy as they move from location to location.
Keeping a sensible work/life balance means that social time with your colleagues is often reduced and your professional internal network suffers.
Short-term Business Visitors risk losing touch with what’s happening in the office and lose touch with office politics
This is particularly important in medium and smaller organizations where a small change can have a large impact. Are there rumors of an impending merger?
Is there a possible restructure? Is there a new product strategy? Office gossip, while it can be harmful, serves a very useful purpose of minimizing the impact of change.
As a STBV you need to manage your schedule so that you don’t lose your network and build in normal working time sitting at a desk and absorbing office culture. Done right, you end up with networks at home and in the offices, you visit – neglected you end up as the only one who doesn’t hear until it’s too late to change anything.
Short-term Business Visitors are the most mobile section of any organization, and yet are frequently those who have no formal intercultural preparation. A long-term assignee has access to intercultural training, but an STBV who visits three or four countries on a regular basis is rarely offered the opportunity to develop intercultural skills.
It is probably even more important for people who dip in and out of a culture to be aware of the key attitudes and values of those countries – they don’t have time to re-build a damaged relationship before they move on to the next country, so getting it right the first time is really important.
For those visiting many countries, a high-level overview of each combined with some in-depth intercultural skills is an essential addition to the traveler’s toolkit; those who have a limited number of countries should really spend time going deeper into those countries to really understand how to be more effective.
The numbers of Short-term Business Visitors have grown as organizations seek to reduce the cost of long-term assignments. This trend does not appear to be shrinking. In a war for talent, we need to look after every employee, and those valuable resources who carry our business into markets abroad are vulnerable.
There is a shared responsibility on the employer and on the traveler themselves to ensure that they are supported physically, emotionally, and legally.