PREPARING FOR EXPATRIATION – Published on the 25/05/2022
Leaving for the unknown, meeting new people, sipping a cocktail on the beach… We are fascinated by the unfamiliar. Yet does this idyllic image really describe expatriation? We are also afraid of the unfamiliar. Will we settle into the new country properly? Is it selfish to take my family with me? Why should I step outside my comfort zone? Future expatriates ask themselves all these questions and more. For companies, sending their talents abroad is a new responsibility! Where to begin? How to reassure them? Welcome to the captivating world of international mobility!
As you know, living abroad isn’t all vacations and rest. There are demands and commitments. Do you know the saying you don’t get something for nothing? This is quite true when it comes to expatriation. Leaving your family, friends and even your work habits can be frightening. Yet once these initial fears and concerns are overcome, expatriation is generally a positive experience!
« Once these initial fears and concerns are overcome, expatriation is generally a positive experience ! »
Having a family may hinder mobility. If one person in a household is considering expatriation, the others will also have to find their place, or their own plan. A spouse may have to leave their job. Why not use this situation to embark on a new challenge? Learn a new language? Set up a business?
While life changes can be unsettling, they are also amazing driving forces that very often lead to golden opportunities! While family members may initially feel like the decision to move abroad is being “forced” on them, it is also an opportunity to strengthen family ties and to find shared interests. Help your family to accept the decision by being positive and forward-looking.
Ask them questions, find their own sources of motivation and, odds are, it will all go well. And if you are still feeling some reluctance, suggest an initial trip there to visit the destination and lay some foundations.
Don’t forget that you can also consider the opportunities provided by your company if you are leaving as part of a professional mobility assignment: intercultural training, language lessons, etc.
Many companies provide support for the families of their expatriate employees.
Are you single? Remember that you are doing this for you and that your friends and relatives will support you to the ends of the earth, even if they sometimes struggle to show you. Bear in mind that amazing technological advances will enable you to keep in touch with them, even from a distance. Plus, you will always have a chance to take some time off and travel “home” if you are homesick.
You hear a lot of things about the culture shock. As an experience, it varies in intensity, depending on where you are coming from and where you are going. Ways of thinking, local customs, curiosity and unexpected behaviors can surprise, and even unsettle. You are the foreigner here. It is up to you to put yourself in the shoes of the locals you meet.
This is nothing that can’t be overcome!
You will see your worldview change, and even broaden. You need to observe those around you. You may even have to control some gestures which seem trivial to you but are shocking in other cultures. There are many ways to get ready for these cultural differences: reading, discussions via Internet groups or with people who have moved there, expatriate forums, etc. Today, technology is a great advantage!
Search engines, while great sources of information, can also show you anything and everything. Be careful not to get sucked into the constant stream of information, to the point of an overload.
Filter, sort and compartmentalize. Focus on what you really need to know: geographic locations, key arrival details, trusted contacts, administrative formalities, health measures.
You don’t need to know everything immediately and sometimes it is better to be guided once there by the locals to enjoy the discovery more.
You can rely on our on-line country guides to give you a general overview of your future country of expatriation. For further information, we recommend blogs by expatriates who have already done what you are about to experience. Generally, they are written by people who are very open to conversation and, who knows, could even pass on their contacts to you.
You are moving to a country where you don’t speak the official language: that’s an obstacle! Should you speak the local language? Can you get by with English?
Don’t worry, the language barrier is not such a hurdle in most cases. English is spoken in many countries around the world and even though it is not used commonly in isolated rural areas or in some regions of the world, non-verbal communication is often a way of making yourself understood. Even if we don’t always speak the same language, very often we can get our point across with our hands.
When gestures don’t cut it, don’t forget that technology can come to the rescue once again! There is a profusion of on-line and even off-line translation tools to help you communicate in a restaurant, in the street or in any situation.
For the more motivated, language lessons remain the best way to integrate into a country. The added bonus is that it is good for your memory! On-line, in-person or hybrid: there are many packages available today to help you to learn in the best possible environment.
Starting lessons before leaving will help you to find some points of reference more quickly when you arrive. Careful: you may find you enjoy it and the locals will appreciate the effort you’ve put in!
Do you have employees requesting international mobility? You must also have a set of questions to ask.
While some companies are highly experienced in their employees’ mobility, others are just starting out with their international mobility policy. No need to panic, there are companies that will provide turnkey solutions and will manage your employees’ expatriation. You can also take care of it yourself.
Once the candidate has been selected, you must ask yourself some very important questions:
To delve further into your international mobility policy and to assist your employee as much as possible, you can also find out about intercultural training courses, settling back into the company upon their return and how to keep in touch with your employee during the expatriation assignment. Lastly, you will have to think about looking after family members if the employee decides to move abroad with them.
As an HR officer, your task is to create the most favorable and positive environment to assist your employee’s professional and personal development during this period.
Place the emphasis on communication! A departure information sheet, meetings and personalized monitoring, support from healthcare professionals where necessary: look after your employees, they will repay you well.
Skills development, a more open outlook, language abilities: don’t forget that you are developing your talents by sending them abroad!
There are so many ways you can help your employee before, during and after expatriation. Clarity and communication are the watchwords! Digital tools, information sheets, summary emails or video calls: all that matters is to sum up the information and give it to your employee in an accessible format.