Global Risks Reduced

International Business Doesn’t Have to Be Risky

By By Mona Clayton, CFE, CPA

My passport was in order. No visa was necessary. And although a safety advisory had been issued to U.S. citizens heading to this small Latin American country, security had been arranged to accompany me from the moment I arrived at the airport. I had reviewed many documents and felt mentally prepared for the assignment – determine whether the foreign subsidiary of a U.S. corporation was misappropriating company funds.

Picture this as a welcoming scene: No lines painted on the roads, no pay phones on the street corners, military police with big guns posted at the airport, and a hotel room with a window facing a shanty town. I suddenly felt not-so well prepared. My only comfort was the security team that escorted me wherever I needed to go.

When traveling to other countries under potentially adverse situations, never underestimate the value of having security. (This may not be true for all foreign engagements, but I’ve found it to be beneficial during my assignments in Latin America.) If local management is under the microscope, chances are they don’t want you there. You’re invading their turf and they likely have connections that could make your life miserable or even put it in danger.

There were other factors I didn’t foresee either, such as a lack of what many of us would consider everyday technology and supplies – photocopiers, reliable telephone service, fax machines, or even an extension cord to set up equipment “in the field.” There also was a language barrier, of course, which impeded matters, not just with the actual business at hand, but also with the everyday routines of living abroad. (My Spanish was limited when I arrived in Latin America. It made even simple tasks, such as ordering lunch, difficult.)

Being aware of and prepared for issues like personal safety, office supply needs, technology, and language barriers will help you adapt more smoothly to a foreign environment. However, I’ve found even more important is understanding the business culture of the country you’re visiting. This will greatly assist you in knowing how to approach an investigation and how to deal with authorities, suspects, informants, and business associates n that country. Some of the cultural issues you may encounter are:

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