by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | June 01, 2010

Cultural considerations aside, when heading overseas, planners need to keep several key elements at the top of their to-do lists.

• Travel visas. Get started early on the process, because some countries may need to see a meeting registration for each attendee; others require an in-person interview, and the paperwork can be mind-boggling. "It can take months, particularly when you are working with attendees coming from one country and attending a conference in another country, and the entire event is being put on by a third country," says Konda Sterrett, CMP, international registration and housing manager for Evanston, Ill.-based Rotary International.

• Tax requirements. "You need to explore the tax implications of the country you are going to, because it can end up being a sizeable line item that can break the budget," warns L.J. Williams, RI's manager of international meetings. "We make that part of our feasibility study when we are looking at a destination." Taxable areas include hotel rooms, registration and venue rental. Williams suggests starting with the DMO or tourism office. Even if they don't have all the details, they can at least recommend a government entity with the know-how.

• Currency. There are several options for planners to consider: Lock in an exchange rate at the time of each contract; make all payments by credit card, which determines rate at a specific point but also can include a foreign transaction fee; or, establish a local account in the destination country and funnel all payments through it. The ideal solution, says Eli Gorin, CMP, president of Aventura, Fla.-based gMeetings Inc. and Train2Meet, "will depend on the location you are going to and the size of your program." Planners who choose to pay by credit card should keep in mind that "American Express is not as popular abroad as it is in the U.S., so have another card handy," Gorin notes.

• Shipping and customs.
Language barriers, constantly changing paperwork requirements, restrictions on inbound cargo, and layers of policy and bureaucratic red tape are a constant source of shipping delays and customs holdups. "One way to avoid the stress is to have your shipping company on-site at your event, taking control of your customs needs," says Paul Griggs, founder of Vancouver-based Events on the Move, a customs brokerage and international freight forwarding company that works exclusively within the meetings industry. If that's not a budget option, adds Griggs, "use a freight forwarder that has offices in both the country from which you are shipping and the one to which you are shipping, to help ensure things go smoothly."

• Security and crisis planning. "Talk about security. You absolutely need to know the chain of command in place where you are holding an event in case of an emergency," says Shari Pontillo, CMP, RI's associate division manager and interim logistics manager for the international meetings team. She recommends that planners get the name and contact information for essential responders for medical, police and fire issues and coordinate them with the event's contingency plan. "No one is going to be offended because they are asked to prove how prepared they are," says Pontillo. "I'd bet they want you to know exactly how well prepared they are to handle a crisis."