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AEB Conference: “Bringing Expats to Moscow”

he Association of European Businesses’ conference on 7 October attracted an impressive cast list. Speakers covered the real estate, relocation, manufacturing, distribution, retail, finance/banking, legal, and education sectors. Russian HR managers, responsible for foreign staff and families sat with expats who have walked the walk and are here and thriving. Eighty delegates represented the breadth of international business in Moscow, and joined in enthusiastically.

AEB has 600 members, and organizes a hundred events a year. This was the fourth of its kind after a gap during crisis hit 2009. It was organised by the indefatigable Irina Aksenova and David Gilmartin, of Troika Relocations. The Marriot Tverskaya did us proud with an excellent venue, refreshments and a fine buffet. In good business get-togethers as much work is done over coffee and lunch as in the hall. The atmosphere was bubbly.

The first session dealt with housing and schooling – dominant issues for every migrant family. On the panel were Four Squares and Mayfair, IBM, Volvo and The English International School. Mike and Marina gave detailed and quantitative pictures of the complexity and change in the housing market. There have been huge fluctuations, an almighty dip, geographical and category changes. The eternal bugbears of traffic congestion, air quality and daily frustrations were aired. From the employer’s perspective, Varvara and Natalia ’s expositions of the complexities of managing foreign staff across several cities was fascinating. Headmaster Ross emphasised the breadth of choice of schooling, local and international, kindergarten, junior and senior, that makes Moscow a far more attractive posting than some other distant cities, and the importance of looking after children as individuals and people in their own early ‘career paths’, not as family appendages.

Next, welfare and family practicalities. The HR and family specialists melded analysis with personal experiences. Key statistic: 2/3 of all ‘failing’ postings here are because the spouse fails to settle. Diligent corporations like Nestle and Japan Tobacco work hard to get their workers and families ready for Moscow, and look after them here. Lynn and Larisa offered us similar messages in contrasting styles. The lessons, pitfalls, imperatives and anecdotes were greatly appreciated. Much scratching of pens could be heard. Claire Geddes wore four hats: ‘trailing spouse’, mother, consultant with Intermark and mentor for expats. Her virtuoso performance demonstrated the need for spouses and families to be as busy and valued as the one with the job. Many have suspended their own careers to come to Moscow, and need interesting challenges.

Echoing the first session, the importance of choices, prior planning, on-site support and keeping families together was emphasised by all speakers.

In the afternoon, legal and technical matters were examined, mostly in Russian, and packed with detail. Alexei from Visa Delight, Tim from Deutsche Bank, Maria from Intermark and Julia from Pepeliaev Group explained the intricacies of the ever changing rules on visa and residence, with particular focus on the chameleon-like but elusive ‘highly-qualified foreign specialist’. These exotic beasts may presumably be any colour, provided they are covered in blue stamps.

Executive summary: Valuable experience shared. A stimulus to improving expertise. An affirmation of the problems and the joys of living and working in Moscow. An excellent advertisement for AEB. A day well spent.

Next meeting in February: working breakfast on working in nearby regions. More at

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