5 expat success factors international HR managers should know about 

  November 21, 2019
There are several expat success factors that human resource departments can use to mitigate the chances of expat failure within an organisation:
Many companies will send employees to an office abroad when there is a significant business need like a competitor gaining market share or when opening a new manufacturing plant. However, it is important your business has longer term goals in mind for that employee too. In addition to managing the opening of the new plant can the expat assist in streamlining processes or training local professionals to increase the likelihood of long-term success?

Expat life is not for everyone. There are certain characteristics that make some employees more likely to succeed as an expat. When choosing potential candidates for an expat role consider:

  • Previous experience: have they previously lived and worked abroad successfully?
  • Language skills: do they speak the language of their destination country? 
  • Cultural adaptability: there are tools available that can help you to assess how able an employee may be to change their behaviour to fit into a different culture. This is likely to reduce culture shock and make their overall transition easier. 
  • Do they have the skills for the role? Ensure any candidates considered have demonstrated the kind of hard and soft skills that will be required on assignment.  

While these points are in no way exhaustive, they should certainly help when it comes to choosing the right person for an expat assignment 

One of the top causes of failure is the inability of an expat’s family’s to adjust to life in their new home. Therefore, it is critical that once an employee has been selected for the role, their family are considered. They may have a partner who will become a trailing spouse, children who need places at school or family that they care for in their home country who may need additional support. Often expats are reluctant to share personal concerns with their employer in case it is seen as a weakness. Reassure them this is not the case and that you want to help them settle into their new home in any way you can. Ensure pre-departure training makes provision for everyone who may move with the expat. 

Provide the candidate, and their family, with comprehensive pre-departure training. As a minimum it should cover:

  • Cultural awareness 
  • Information on their host country
  • Language training
  • Expectations around their role
  • Support available to them while abroad

Pre-assignment training can make or break an expat’s experience in their new role so it is worth ensuring it takes place over a number of weeks or months before departure. 

Last but by no means least is planning for returning expats. Do not run the risk of losing valuable employees and their knowledge of living and working abroad by not preparing for their return. Rates of turnover for returning expats can be as high as 25%. Challenges many returning expats face include:

  • Waiting too long for a permanent position when they return
  • Not taking their new skills into consideration when they return
  • Returning to junior or unsuitable roles

Companies that have the highest rates of expat retention following an assignment, take their return seriously. They have a plan and role for returning expats that allows them to use their global insight and experience effectively. 


Another way to help your employees succeed in expat roles is to ensure they have access to the healthcare they may need with international health insurance cover that includes an expat assistance programme offering emotional support during their time abroad.