Pros and Cons of International Expat Assignment 

May 2022

Are you trying to work out if a short-term international assignment is for you? You may be considering applying for an opportunity or you may have an offer of an overseas role on the table, either way there’s a lot to think about. Making the decision to work overseas, even in the short-term, has the potential to have long-term repercussions for your life and career.

A short-term international assignment is the deployment of an employee overseas to complete a task usually within a period of three months to a year.


Short-term international assignments became popular early in the millennium as a means of addressing recruitment gaps, talent shortages and focusing on strategic global projects. Their popularity grew during the financial crises as a less expensive form of global mobility.


In the post-Covid world, SIAs are a means of offering increased flexibility to employees who want to gain some international experience without committing to the traditional three to five years overseas.


Like every decision in life, there are positives and potentially some challenges when it comes to moving abroad for work.

There are a lot of advantages to getting some international experience personally and professionally:
First and foremost it's an opportunity to work abroad, experiencing a different culture in and out of the workplace. Succeeding in a new culture is going to require flexibility, adaptability and excellent interpersonal skills. All useful in your future career.
You don’t need to be told that business is becoming increasingly global. It is one thing working from head office, managing projects in other countries but quite something else to experience it in person. You will understand the advantages, challenges, and differences in that market first-hand in a way it is difficult to while working remotely. 
Completing a short-term assignment while adapting to a new location will draw out your leadership qualities. Many businesses expressly use international assignments to develop employees who possess high leadership potential. All the experience you accrue during your assignment will provide you with a broader knowledge of how the business works internationally should you take on a leadership role when you return.

Working overseas will enable you to broaden your network. While completing a short-term expat assignment you are likely to work with:

·         Global mobility team

·         Human Resources/People Department

·         Senior Management

·         Colleagues at all levels in your new office

·         A new range of stakeholders

·         Customers in a different market

Of course, taking an international assignment also offers the opportunity to live and really get under the skin of life in another country. This is the ultimate travel experience. While working is likely to provide you with a lot of insight into your short-term home, you also have an opportunity to explore other areas at weekends or during holidays. 

Depending on where your short-term assignment is based it may provide an opportunity to learn a new language. You do not necessarily need to be fluent in a language for it to have positive benefits for your career.

Attempting to speak another language allows you to engage with colleagues in your short-term home in a more meaningful and immediate way. It has also been shown to have cognitive benefits too. People who speak more than one language have improved:

·         Critical thinking skills

·         Problem solving skills   

·         Memory

There are benefits to short-term assignments outside of work too. If your spouse or partner has a career of their own, there is the option for them to remain in your home country. While it may be a difficult decision in the short term and there will most likely be repercussions it does not post the challenge a three-to-five-year assignment might.
One of the most difficult things long-term expats with children face is finding the right school for their children. Taking a short-term assignment may alleviate this need as they may be able to stay at home while you work overseas and visit during holidays. 

Of course, any kind of change has potential negative side effects to be aware of too. What these are will depend on your circumstances, but some potential downsides may include:


1. Potential for interrupted career progression

Moving overseas may mean you are ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Depending on your company, not being around every day and difference in time zones may mean the good work you are doing is not as visible to centralised management. This isn’t always a difficulty, but it might be something to be aware of depending on your business. 


2. Pressure to deliver 

As a short-term assignee, you are likely to be under pressure to hit the ground running and achieve a lot in a short period of time. You are unlikely to have the luxury of spending the first few months settling in. There may be pressure on you to make changes quickly before you have had a chance to build relationships or get colleagues at a local level on board.


3. Culture shock

The risk of culture shock is even higher with short-term assignees because you may not have the same time to adjust as your long-term counterparts. Comprehensive pre-departure training is important, so you have as much information as possible about life in your temporary home. 


4. Expat loneliness

If you decide leaving family in your home country is the best option then there is a chance you may suffer from expat loneliness while you are away. Building new and maintaining existing relationships while overseas is really important. If you feel lonely , check whether your international health insurance has an expat assistance programme that provides you with access to a trained professional for assistance. 


5. Maintaining relationships at home

Your relationships with friends and family at home are important. Leaving may prove difficult but technology makes it easier than ever to stay in touch. 


6. Relationship issues

If you decide to take the assignment, your partner may have to remain at home for work or family commitments. This can impact your relationship. While you struggle with a new role in a new country, they are left carrying the emotional load at home and often completing all the tasks you used to help with. 


7. Repatriation

Do not underestimate the challenge of returning home once your assignment is complete. Particularly if you settled well and enjoyed the work. Changes may have happened in your home office that mean:

• You are not returning to the same role you left

• Goals and objectives may have changed since

• You may have to readjust your ways of working once again 


Agreeing to an international assignment is a big decision for a range of professional and personal reasons. We hope this will help you to work out what yours are so you can make the right decision for your circumstances. 


If you do decide to accept an assignment, don’t forget you will need international health insurance to access private healthcare should you need it while you are away.