An expatriate assignment becomes a success when several factors at different points of time are taken into consideration: in advance before the assignee leaves, during the assignment abroad and when returning to the old environment.
Preparation before leaving
The expatriate’s organisation should begin to prepare well before the assignee leaves and is a costly undertaking if the expatriate has to return earlier than planned.
The strategic decision to send an employee to support the development of expanding business operations or manage foreign operations is complex and expensive. Not only is the organization investing in a specific skill set transfer expatriation also has a significant impact on human resources and other areas such as taxes, finances and salary remuneration. Additionally, HR need to consider whether the employee is suited to the new culture or requires support to adapt and integrate. Before the person assigned to the new location can accept their new position, it is critical that they consider the impact of the assignment on themselves, their family and their lifestyle.
Several factors are important in this part of the process:
- Looking for new accommodation is essential to feeling at home.
- If families have to relocate then schooling, language acquisition and financial aspects should be understood and carefully reviewed.
- An expatriate often needs an expert to deal with the apartment search, negotiating lease agreements, connection of water, gas or electricity utilities.
- If they have a pet there may be a quarantine period and finding a good vet is important.
- Opening a bank account and having the right insurances are critical decisions as is finding a cleaner or chauffeur (advisable in some countries).
- Purchasing furniture and or a car will require local knowledge and language skills.
Tip: To support the personal decision-making process not only good consultation is beneficial - a scouting trip to the new location is strongly advised.
During the assignment
It takes time to adjust to new routines, but these can also be exciting. Understanding how culture shock appears is half the battle to fighting and learning to deal with it. The first symptoms may occur shortly after arriving – feelings of uncertainty, fear, tiredness or simply painful homesickness may lead to lowered work performance.
In the new environment many things are very different. Culture shock happens gradually and affects different members of the family in various ways over different time periods. During this transition period comparisons between your old home and the new one are inevitable so homesickness is common. However, after gaining some understanding of the new culture and becoming familiar with local conditions the expatriate and family often develop a sense of accomplishment and pleasure. In the latter stages of cultural integration it becomes easier to understand which positive and negative aspects the culture offers and to adapt flexibly.
There may even be advantages such as having more privileges in the new environment such as servants, a big household or a higher standard of living.
Preparation to leave and re-entry to the old environment
Not to be underestimated, re-entry often means culture shock, but of a different kind. You and your family may have changed, but old friends and family have not. And, things may no longer be the same in your home country or at work.
Returning to your old environment is partially the reverse process involving contract termination for leases and rental agreements, schools, insurances and bank services. The apartment may need renovation or repairs, utilities need to be terminated and local legal or tax authorities informed. Again, specialist support is essential and can make the process less complicated.
What’s the benefit?
Whatever the reasons for expatriation, it is often a fantastic opportunity for the company to grow and develop a truly diverse organisation. Returned expatriates have a deepened understanding of how things work elsewhere and can spread their knowledge within the company to further improve communication or business opportunities. For the expatriates and their families it is a wonderful opportunity to grow personally, to gain cultural insights and experiences and to develop international friendships.
Merle & Sheppard can support your expatriates with various services, such as
If you are an expatriate, or about to become one, please find more useful information at: https://www.expatriates.com/