Managing Expatriate Assignments: Letters of Assignment

International assignments are highly complex — more so than employers and their assignees often realize — and there are numerous factors that can lead to assignment failure. While some can’t be avoided, others can, particularly if the company clearly spells out the assignment’s terms and conditions ahead of time in letters of assignment (LOA). An LOA, also one of the documents typically required to obtain visas and work/residence permits, is agreed to and signed by the company and assignee before deployment. It benefits and protects both parties by outlining not only the assignment’s key provisions (housing, compensation, benefits, etc.), but any other applicable details as well. In doing so, and articulating what the company will and will not pay for, an LOA can also minimize exception requests and contain assignment costs. This white paper describes the various types of LOAs and the most common LOA components; it also includes a sample.

“When asked to take over the regional accounting manager position at his company’s Beijing office, Ryan immediately agreed. This was the opportunity he’d been hoping for – both a promotion and an international assignment. The previous manager had abruptly quit, the company was in a bind, and Ryan seemed like the logical choice. He’d been to the office several times and spoke Mandarin.

He was quickly dispatched and all went well, at least initially. Several weeks into the assignment, however, Ryan realized it hadn’t been well planned. He was still struggling to find suitable housing, as no formal housing budget had been set, and learned he was in country under the wrong visa (business vs. work). He also wasn’t sure when he’d be able to take home leave, as this had never been discussed.

After talking with other expats, Ryan saw that he’d put himself in a bind, as he’d never signed any letters of assignment (LOA). This, a document that outlines the specific terms, conditions, and benefits associated with an assignment, is typically agreed to and signed by the company and employee before deployment.”