By Hannah Whittenly

International travel is more complex, and often more risky, than doing business in your own country. It can take more difficult preparation and a good deal of research before you can hope to do business successfully on foreign soil. Other cultures and languages present barriers just as surely as geographical boundaries, different legal issues, or political climates. Here are a few of the ways you can help protect employees operating overseas.

Prepare for Your Destination

Be sure all the necessary paperwork is ready well in advance of the departure date. This will include the proper visas and an updated passport for starters. Some countries will require a different visa for business people than they do for tourists. An outdated passport photo may also raise issues, so be sure yours is recent. You may also want to get any vaccinations that are required or recommended.

To learn about what’s involved in traveling from the US to any foreign destination, you can get advice from the State Department. It’s also a good idea to find out where the US Embassy is located, or how to get in touch with it, in the nation you’re visiting in case you run into problems.

Know the Culture

Besides satisfying regulations for both US customs and your host country, you’ll want a better understanding of the people you’ll be dealing with, both on the street and in the conference room. It’s important to understand the local culture and customs because you don’t want to spoil a productive visit by inadvertently offending anyone. This is bad both for you personally and for your business.

In Japan, for instance, it’s offensive to be late to a business meeting but not a social occasion. In the Middle East, it’s customary to precede business talk with a period of friendly chatter. Read up or take courses on both the proper business and social conduct for the country you’ll be visiting. That way, you know what to expect and how to react.

Learn the Language

Many people around the world speak English, especially companies that do much international business. In the same spirit, it’s to your advantage to learn as much of the host country’s native tongue in the time you have available. While it can take years to master a language, you can still cram in some basic lessons and as much conversational exchange as possible.

If you can’t find a tutor, you can always find tapes, CDs, audio files, videos, and interactive courses online. Immerse yourself in this language as much as possible, and practice what you’ve learned. Making a sincere effort to learn the language is not only a good gesture to your hosts, but will help you to catch more of what’s said.

Check Travel Advisories

The US State Department will also issue travel advisories to reflect the conditions in countries across the world. You don’t want to step off the plane in the middle of a war or a wave of anti-American feelings. Travel advisories are also issued for terrorist concerns, disease outbreaks, and natural disasters. They may also pertain specifically to certain regions or cities rather than the country as a whole.

Always think about your personal safety, even when there is a risk of offending someone. Consider booking private accommodations with a third-party service catering to corporate travelers. If you’re in England, for example, then you might want to look into some of the London corporate apartments. Keep in touch with someone back home to let them know where you’ll be and what you’ll be doing. They can alert authorities if you run into trouble.

Successful travel overseas requires some preparation. Coming home safe is even more important than landing a lucrative business deal.

Hannah Whittenly is a freelance writer and mother of two from Sacramento, CA. She enjoys kayaking and reading books by the lake.