How to prepare expats for foreign assignment

August 1, 2019
An expat assignment is particularly challenging for a first timer. They may not have worked abroad before and it may be their first time away from family and friends. This, coupled with a challenging new role, can be too much for an inexperienced expatriate to handle. Fortunately, HR can play an important role in setting a first time expatriate up for success:

Preparing expatriates for foreign assignment begins as early as the selection process. Research by Cut-e shows the ability to excel at a role may not be enough for expat success. The most accomplished new expats have a range of soft skills including:


  • Emotional stability
  • Sensitivity to other cultures
  • Better than average interpersonal skills
  • Demonstrated flexibility
  • Resilience

Ensure candidates demonstrate these and similar traits with practical examples at interview stage.


Preparation is key when any employee is moving abroad to work. Global HR can support the employee by developing thorough pre-assignment training. This should help:


  • Anticipate potential challenges
  • Develop strategies to overcome them
  • Better understand societal and business norms
  • Understand the overarching goal of their overseas assignment

This is particularly useful for those working abroad for the first time. Ideally pre-departure training covers topics like:


  • Cultural training
  • Local language skills
  • Information on the host country

Having a mentor in their home and host office will help a new expatriate prepare and succeed in their new role. Ideally both mentors should have previous international experience so they can share insight. Harvard Business Review suggests expat mentors ensure the employee is a good fit for the role from the company’s perspective. They can also assist Human Resources and the management team in overseeing the overall process.


One of the leading causes of expat failure is the unhappiness of an expat’s spouse or family. Ensure the expat and their family has practical support from HR in the destination country. This should cover elements like:


  • Finding a place to live
  • Setting up a bank account
  • International Health Insurance
  • Enrolling children in school
  • How the tax system works  

Interviews with expats in Personnel Today highlighted the importance of information, contacts, and processes fitting together, so settling in is easy.


International HR teams have many draws on their time but remaining in regular contact with expats is also important for success. Contact could take the form of a quarterly questionnaire that highlights the pros and cons of the expat experience. The response will highlight any potential issues and hopefully allow your team to find a solution before they become too serious.

Managing new expats is a challenge but we hope these five steps are a starting point to success.  If your contact with your team working abroad throws up questions on
international health insurance or healthcare in their new home, get in touch. We are happy to help.