How to successfully onboard international employees

What are the best ways to onboard international workers? Hiring foreign talent can be extremely beneficial to your organisation, particularly if you’re hiring scarce skill sets. But to get the most out of your hires, you need to ensure their first few weeks are carefully planned with a seamless onboarding process. A recent study showed 70% of employees were more likely to stay with a company for more than 3 years if there was a strong onboarding process in place. So if you plan on flying in new talent, start by assessing how you’re onboarding your international employees to ensure you retain them!

Below you’ll find our guide to the best onboarding practices for international employees.

  • What is the purpose of onboarding?
  • What is international onboarding?
  • The 4 pillars of the onboarding process
  • Best practices for onboarding international employees

What is the purpose of onboarding?

Onboarding is the process of initiating new employees into a company. Depending on the role, it usually lasts anywhere from 1 day to a few weeks (or even a few months in some cases). The aim of the onboarding process is to integrate new employees into the business, and help them understand the business’ way of working and the company’s expectations of them. The onboarding process will usually contain a combination of HR presentations, reading through documentation and watching training videos.

What is international onboarding?

International onboarding ticks all the same boxes as regular onboarding, such as employee orientation, compliance, introductions and job training, but it also goes one step further to integrate foreign employees into a new culture. An international onboarding process will be sensitive to cultural differences and will aim to acclimatise the new employee to the new country as quickly as possible.

The 4 pillars of the onboarding process

The onboarding process should account for 4 areas: orientation, job training, culture and introductions.


The orientation phase of onboarding is all about showing your new hires how things work within your company and will often be the same for each employee. This includes a tour, reviewing work contracts and company policies, compliance training and setting up IT systems etc.

Job training

Job training will, of course, vary depending on the role. This process could last for a week or for several months. Job training could consist of shadowing, group training, or on-the-job learning but should always be structured.


It’s essential to integrate your new hires into the company culture as part of the onboarding experience. To give your new employees the best chance of success, your program should ensure it incorporates culture rather than just focusing on the more practical elements like job training and contracts.


The best onboarding programs stretch beyond the employee’s first few weeks and initial training. They have processes in place to track the employee’s progress and provide ongoing support to ensure the employee is happy and performing to the best of their ability.

Best practices for onboarding international employees 

Use these tips to create the best onboarding experience for your international hires.

1. Use professional translation services

When hiring international talent, you may need to translate your onboarding paperwork. Clarify the employee’s preferred language, and ensure you hire a professional translation company to complete the work. Don’t rely on free online translators like Google translate. You can guarantee this will contain errors which, in turn, will reflect poorly on your company.

2. Send an itinerary in advance

Sending your international employees an itinerary before they start work is a great way to prepare them for their first weeks in your company. The itinerary should detail any documentation that’s required (visas, residence permits etc), a schedule for the onboarding process, and any other useful pieces of information like the dress code, and whether there is a canteen on site.

3. Review your onboarding paperwork

As part of your onboarding documents, you’ll want to ensure that all of the content covered in the onboarding is accessible to the employee in the onboarding paperwork. This allows them to reference it at a later date, or digest it in their own time. The paperwork could consist of an employee handbook, work contracts and training manuals.

4. Compile a list of FAQs

As part of your onboarding paperwork, you may want to include an FAQ section. This could be included as part of the employee handbook.

Sample onboarding FAQs
  • What times are the breaks?
  • How do I book annual leave?
  • Who do I notify if I am sick?
  • Where can I park?
  • What do I do if I lose/forget my login details?

5. Digitise your onboarding documents

A robust onboarding experience will ensure all onboarding documents are available digitally for ease of use. In the age of remote working, digitising your onboarding process as much as possible is essential. Not only will this simplify the process of hiring remote workers, but international employees will be able to access onboarding documentation online before setting foot in your country.

6. Be aware about cultural differences

If you’re hiring many international employees, it may be useful for your HR team to familiarise themselves with cultural differences in the workplace. To help ease the transition into a new working culture, the onboarding team can point out these differences as part of the onboarding process. Cultural differences may include customs, such as greeting people. Equally, it may be necessary to point out the communication style in your country. For example, in Germany, colleagues tend to communicate very directly without space for small talk, which could be mistaken for rudeness by somebody from a country where pleasantries are more commonplace.

7. Create a helpful city guide

Go the extra mile for your international employees by adding a city guide into the onboarding paperwork to help them get orientated. This could contain useful information about the transport system, parking, emergency numbers and local hospitals. Although this isn’t technically your responsibility, it’s a great way to make newcomers feel welcome and supported.

8. Showcase your company culture

Company culture is an important step in the onboarding experience. It’s not just a simple matter of leaving new employees to notice and absorb the company culture for themselves. Your onboarding team should educate your new workers on your culture, and your onboarding paperwork should also include a section about your company values, culture etc.

9. Meet the team

Meeting the team is an integral part of any onboarding process, but is often overlooked by many. To help your new employees feel welcome, schedule a dedicated time for them to formally meet their colleagues, and briefly explain what everyone’s role is within the team.

10. Synchronise hires

When hiring multiple team members, do your best to align the start dates rather than staggering them. Not only will this save you time as an organisation, but the new employee will have peers to go through the onboarding experience with. This makes integration a much easier and less lonely process.

11. Implement a buddy system

Buddy systems are a fantastic way to integrate new employees into your company. The system should be structured and should clearly outline exactly what the buddy is responsible for. Be sure to allocate a buddy who has been in the company for at least 12 months and who is able to speak the new worker’s language.

12. Set clear expectations

The onboarding process should be used to set clear expectations. By the end of the onboarding program, new employees should know exactly what is expected of them after 30 days, 3 months and 6 months in the business. Be sure to specify any targets and let them know how and when the probation period is assessed.

13. Schedule check-in points

Schedule regular 1:1 meetings where the employee has the opportunity to ask any questions in private. It’s best to arrange the first meeting at the end of the first week. Even after the onboarding process has technically finished, it’s advised to schedule multiple check-in points either with a member of the onboarding team or the line manager. This will create a platform to discuss any issues and track progress, and will help the business to retain new hires.

Hiring without borders

lthough hiring international employees can be a more complicated process than hiring locally, being able to hire and retain international talent will ultimately add value to your business. The foundation to successful international hiring, however, is to ensure your company has invested in its onboarding process to create a seamless and culturally sensitive program that supports your new workers until they are fully independent and flourishing.

Are you looking for a career move to Germany, or looking to discuss your international hiring needs? Here at GR4, we’re experienced in placing tech professionals into the German startup market. To discuss our available opportunities, speak with one of our advisors today.

Download a copy of our comprehensive relocation guide here

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