Going overseas for business
On any given day there's 1000s of Australians successfully doing business overseas. Most business trips go well, and the traveller comes home safe and well. However, not all.
Doing business overseas carries risks. Especially in unfamiliar cultures, and destinations where our advice level is raised.
It's important you know the risks, and what you can do to reduce them. Explore this page for information about:
- key risks for business travellers
- planning advice before you go
- Looking after your safety while you're away
- what to do when things go wrong
- where to get help
This page is for Australians planning to travel overseas to do business. If you're already travelling and need help, see what to do when things go wrong.
Key risks for business travellers
All travel carries risk, even short-term travel to familiar overseas locations for meetings and conferences. Consider both financial risks for your business, and safety risks for employees.
Criminals often target Australian business travellers. This includes terrorists. Business travellers are also at risk from unrest, natural disasters and disease. Before you go, understand the risks in your destination
- Terrorism. In recent years, terrorist attacks on locations such as hotels, airports and transport infrastructure, offices, residential compounds and production facilities have killed and injured foreigners.
- Piracy. Pirates target commercial tankers and cargo vessels, especially around the horn of Africa.
- Kidnapping. Criminals have kidnapped Australian business travellers. The risk of kidnapping in some destinations remains high.
- Demonstrations. Avoid all protests, demonstrations and rallies. Even peaceful events can turn violent without warning.
- Severe weather. If you choose to travel to a destination during a season when severe weather is likely, be prepared. This can affect flights and public transport.
- Natural disasters. Find out what natural disasters are common in your destination. Know what you can do to be prepared.
- Health. Every destination has different health risks, do your research before you go.
Before you go, check the current safety risks in your destination. Also see our information and advice on staying safe and avoiding danger.
- Fraud can be a problem in some countries. Australian businesses can be targeted by criminals in their international operations.
- Extortion. Because you represent your business when you travel, criminals and others may seek to exploit you. Extortion and blackmail occur within the corporate sector of some countries.
- Scammers. Some scammers target Australian businesses, especially small business. See our advice on avoiding scams.
- Intellectual property. Cyber-crime and other threats to the information security of businesses operating overseas are a growing problem, including for Australian businesses.
Legal and cultural risks
- Bribery and facilitation payments. Bribery is against the law in Australia, even if you do it overseas. It's illegal in most destinations.
- Gifts. Some cultures expect it, others see it as a form of bribery.
- Alcohol. A common ingredient in many business deals around the world. However, in some destinations it's illegal or frowned upon.
- Saving face. Business people in some cultures don't take well to some conversations when other people are around. They may feel ashamed and embarrassed if they feel someone has made them look foolish.
- Sanctions. It may be illegal to do business in some countries. Check if there's sanctions in place before you go.
- Dual nationals. A number of Australian dual nationals have become involved in commercial disputes that have resulted in criminal charges. Some countries do not recognise dual nationality and dual nationals may not be allowed access to Australian consular services if they are arrested or jailed.
- Arrest and jail. Some commercial disputes can lead to your arrest. This could include bounced cheques, paying bills late or not paying a bill at all – even if it's because you're disputing it.
Learn more about foreign bribery by Australians (Attorney-General’s Department) and avoiding legal issues and risks (Austrade). Read more information on United Nations and bilateral sanctions currently in force (DFAT).
Planning tips for business travellers
- Research your destination
- Passport and visas
- Get travel insurance
- Update your vaccinations
- Have effective risk management in place
- Prepare an emergency response plan
- Organise personal security
1. Research your destination
What to find out before you go
- Visa requirements. Check the visa requirements of all the destinations you may live in or visit. Remember to also check those countries you transit through on your way to your final destination.
- Product samples and equipment. There may be other special entry or exit information for business travellers. If you're taking product samples or specialised equipment, you may have to pay import tax on it. Or, prove that you're not 'importing' it and plan to take it back with you.
- Safety risks. Information on the risks you may face and precautions you can take while travelling. Including terrorism, piracy, kidnapping and scams.
- Laws. This includes local laws on bribery and facilitation payments. Even a small gift may be considered a bribe. Local laws and penalties, including ones that may appear harsh by Australian standards, apply to you.
- Customs. Know how the locals do business. Learn about handshakes, ceremonies, bows and other aspects of doing business there. Understand there can be different rules for women and LGBTI travellers.
- Read fact sheets for countries and regions (DFAT)
- Read useful information on market conditions and specific business risks by country (Austrade).
- Business and Government Liaison Unit (ASIO), especially for terrorist and other safety risks.
2. Organise passports and visas
- Passport validity. Make sure it has at least 6 months validity. Otherwise, they may not let you in.
- Business visas. Get the right visa for what you're doing. Many countries won't let you do any form of business on a tourist visa. Even if it's just a meeting. Learn more about visas.
- Travel history. Think about where you've been. If you have a stamp in your passport from somewhere your destination is at odds with, border agents may question you about it.
3. Get travel insurance
- Personal policies. You must declare you're travelling for business.
- Business policies. For employees. Your workplace may have a policy that covers you when you travel.
4. Preventative health for business travellers
- Vaccinations. See your doctor at least 8 weeks before departing and find out what vaccinations you may need.
- Infectious diseases. When you go overseas, you may be exposed to a wide range of infectious diseases. Before you go, learn about the health risks in your destination.
5. Effective risk management practices
Businesses should adopt an 'all hazards' approach by considering the widest range of potential risks to your activities overseas. This must consider risks to the business, you and other employees.
- Procedures. Put in place effective risk management procedures for all overseas travel, even short-term travel to locations considered low-threat.
- Threat profile. Understand the threat profile of all travel destinations and establish effective ways of monitoring and mitigating these risks.
- Emergency plans. Prepare crisis and emergency plans. Ensure they're regularly rehearsed, validated and understood by all staff.
Learn more about risk management for Australian businesses (Austrade).
6. Prepare an emergency response plan
At a minimum, employers should focus on the following aspects of their response to an emergency involving their staff deployed overseas:
- know where employees are at any given time whilst overseas
- have in place alternative means of contacting staff deployed overseas in the event of a breakdown in local communication networks
- know how to contact and support the next of kin and other family of staff overseas
- have plans in place for delivery of routine and emergency medical services to all staff overseas
- have in place plans to facilitate the travel of staff to the nearest safe location
Employers should ensure that all emergency plans are capable of being implemented independently and with a minimum involvement of others.
The Australian Government is limited in how and when it can help overseas. Especially in high risk destinations. It's important to understand our limits. Know how and when we can help, read the Consular Services Charter.
7. Personal security
If you're travelling somewhere dangerous, get personal security advice. You may need to engage a private security firm to help keep you safe overseas.
Before you go, read the current security risks in your destination. Check the advice level. If we say 'Do not travel', then don't go. No matter how good your personal security is, your risk of serious injury or death is high.
In addition, ASIO's Business and Government Liaison Unit website provides a range of specialised advice on protective security measures for Australian companies operating overseas, particularly in high threat environments.
Staying safe when overseas
Your responsibility as an employee
Employees working overseas have a critical role to play in ensuring a high level of preparedness for a crisis or emergency, including by:
- being aware of relevant travel management plans, risk assessments and contingency/emergency plans;
- ensuring adequate supplies of fuel, food and water are on hand at residences and other accommodation to survive the duration of any crisis or emergency;
- ensuring that vehicles are properly maintained and fuel tanks regularly topped up;
- communicating information on changing safety and security circumstances to managers.
How to stay informed
A range of resources exist to assist business in understanding the threat environment. These include:
- Travel advisories for each destination, including information on crime, civil unrest and terrorist attacks that could affect Australian traveller;
- media reports on crime and violent incidents;
- warnings issued by local governments or law enforcement agencies on possible attacks and threat levels;
- aggregated historical data on terrorist attacks occurring throughout the world, such as the Global Terrorism Database and the US State Department's Annual Report on Terrorism
As part of the risk management process, employers should evaluate and monitor the threat profile of the country that their employees are to travel to, and should put in place security measures to effectively mitigate these risks.
Detailed information on physical security measures are available on the website of ASIO's Business Liaison Unit.
What to do when things go wrong
Sometimes travel doesn't go as planned, be prepared and read our advice on what to do when things go wrong overseas.
- Victim of a crime. If you, or someone you know, is a victim of a crime overseas, you may need urgent support. Know what to do if you have been assaulted, robbed or mugged, sexually assaulted or scammed overseas.
- Terrorist incident. Terrorism remains a threat to Australians living and travelling overseas. Many terrorist groups have demonstrated the intent and capability to undertake attacks, including against Australian interests.
- Someone has been kidnapped. Kidnapping is a crime. Report all crimes to the local authorities. The Australian Government works closely with the government of the country in which the kidnapping has taken place, where possible. The Australian Government does not make payments or concessions to kidnappers.
- Severe weather incident. Seek help from local authorities. Emergency services in most destinations have processes in place for severe weather incidents.
- Natural disaster. Follow local news. Listen for updates about the natural disaster. Especially warnings about the likelihood of aftershocks, tsunamis or civil unrest.
If we declare a crisis, we can help through a formal crisis response. We'll activate a crisis page on Smartraveller. It will provide current information and advice on the situation and what you should do.
Where to get help overseas
When you're overseas, you won't have access to the support systems you're accustomed to in Australia. You'll need to seek support locally there, and from friends, family and your travel insurer.
- Contact local emergency services. We publish local contact numbers in the travel advisory for each destination.
- Contact your friends and family. They may not be able to help you on the ground, however they may be able to help change your travel plans and talk to your insurer.
- Contact your travel insurer. Most travel insurers have 24-hour emergency hotlines you can call from overseas. If you're covered, they may provide logistical support, as well as financial.
In some circumstances, the Australian Government can help. In most cases, you must exhaust all other avenues before seeking consular assistance.
It's important to understand our limits. Know how and when we can help, read the Consular Services Charter.
- Travel advisory for your destination. Advice level.
- See our general advice for living and working overseas.
- See our information and advice on reducing the risk of kidnapping and piracy.
- See our advice on terrorism worldwide.
- Choose the right travel insurance that covers your health when things go wrong.
- Learn about vaccinations and preventative health measures you can take.
- See our advice on reducing the risk of sexual assault, muggings and scams.
- You may be subject to the death penalty if you're arrested or jailed.
- See our advice on what to do when things go wrong.
- Learn more about risk management for Australian businesses (Austrade).
Read the guide for Australian exporters visiting the market (Austrade).
- Read useful information on market conditions and specific business risks by country (Austrade).
- Security advice for Australian businesses from the Business and Government Liaison Unit (ASIO).
- Read the travel insurance buyers guide and reviews (CHOICE).
- See travel health information and travel health advice (Department of Health).
Information for Australians going overseas for surrogacy. Learn about types of arrangements, laws, citizenship and visas.