Top 6 reasons for expatriate failure

6 common reasons that lead to expatriate failure

December 14, 2022 |

International assignments can be risky and costly ventures for organizations. In the event of an expatriate failure, the cost – both financially and culturally—can be significant.

Aside from the typical costs of setting up expatriates such as expat training, and relocation expenses, there are potentially high amounts associated with expatriate failure that the organization should acknowldege.

Understanding the true cost of a failed international assignment is essential for employers and their future expats’ global relocation.

Below you can find 6 of the most common causes of expatriate failure.

1. Lack of cultural awareness

A lack of cultural understanding can be one of the main reasons why expatriates fail to achieve success.

Cultural differences can create significant barriers for expats trying to adjust to life abroad. These may include disagreements with host country managers, language and communication gaps, and many others.

Furthermore, a lack of trust and acceptance is inevitable when foreigners lack knowledge and comprehension of local culture. Which in turn makes it more likely for expatriate failure to occur.

Tip | To increase their chances of success, future expats must learn about the new culture and surroundings. Additionally, HR professionals preparing employees for international assignments should consider offering cross-cultural training as part of the relocation package.

2. Poor communication

Poor communication between expatriates and their home HR or global mobility departments is a major contributing factor to expatriate failure.

Without transparency and accurate information, expatriates may not have enough resources to succeed abroad.

Additionally, with unclear communication and feedback, foreign employees struggle to grasp cultural differences, business and political contexts, or other variables that might affect expatriate performance.

Tip | Home HR teams must therefore make an effort to bridge the gap between expatriates abroad and employees back home. This will ensure expats receive ongoing progress reports and help in adjusting to their new environments.

3. Insufficient preparation and training

Moving expatriates overseas is an important undertaking, and expatriate failure becomes far more likely in cases of inadequate preparation.

Before sending expatriates on international assignments, employers need to ensure that they are properly equipped with an understanding of the host country’s language, culture and societal norms. Additionally, expats should have a comprehensive grasp of the region they will be living and working in. If these expectations are not met prior to departure, expatriates can expect to face obstacles while abroad. For this reason, it is essential that expat training must receive sufficient priority so expats can hit the ground running after their arrival.

Tip | Develop a pre-assignment training schedule, specifically created not only for the expatriate employees but also for their accompanying family members. They will get the chance to familiarize themselves with the host country they’re going to: the training may include intercultural training sessions, coaching sessions for spouses and kids, or basic and practical details on transportation, education services, and other essentials, etc.

This preparation is crucial in ensuring a smooth transition for everyone involved

4. Poor expatriate selection

Poor expat selection is one of the primary reasons expatriations fail to meet their objectives.

Without proper consideration of expatriates’ skills, motivations, and cultural competencies, many expats might fail. Lack of understanding of local culture and business practice, inadequate preparation, or mismatched skills with the job might cause a very poor ‘adjustment’ to the expatriation process. Leadership should take steps to ensure they choose expats that have the right qualifications and mindset to guarantee successful expatriation efforts on both an individual and organisational level.

Tip | A good way to prevent any future issues is by taking the time to seriously assess the candidates and make sure they are suitable for the specific assignments you have in mind. More than that, ensure not only that they have the right qualifications and skill set, but also have the ability to handle specific challenges for the job or for the location itself.

5. Insufficient support for partners

Expatriate failure due to lack of support for family back in the host country is an all-too-common obstacle in expatriation.

Challenges faced by expat families include limited recognition of education, language barriers, or conflicting cultural values. All these can contribute to expatriate failure if not adequately supported.

Most expat families need additional assistance with transitioning and establishing a sense of home again while abroad.

As such, employers should provide that essential support that increases the chances of expats remaining successful in their relocation.

Tip | Working expats and their employers should make sure the accompanying partners receive relevant support as well. Expats should make sure their partners came abroad with the right expectations for example. Immigration processes might be very complex and lengthy and there might be times when partners will have to live apart.

Moreover, expats can assist their spouses with finding support groups in the host country, or relevant volunteer or career opportunities.

6. Insufficient repatriation planning

Recent studies have shown that expatriate failure is often the direct result of poor repatriation planning. Organizations need to recognize the importance of announcing repatriation well before an assignment comes to end. This involves preparing the repatriates both practically and emotionally.

Expat success is dependent on the effectiveness of the repatriation process, as expats must adapt back to their home countries and culture while sustaining the enthusiasm they experienced abroad. Organizations that do not take this into account, will witness failed expatriations. More than that, they will incur high costs which they could have avoided.

Tip | The key to successful repatriation is to get started early and communicate on all levels. Companies should stress the importance of their expats’ insights, experiences and knowledge for ongoing organizational success. Keeping this in mind and using it as a motivator will help make sure that expats are engaged and excited about returning home.

Employers should also ensure that their repatriates have access to an adequate support system during this transitionary period – from career counselling services to networking opportunities and more – so they can hit the ground running when they land back at home.

Need assistance with your expatriate management processes? Get in touch with us! is the only SaaS-enabled marketplace in global mobility sector, and we partner with over 550 local and regional experts in immigration and visa, relocation, intercultural training, tax and social security. Our marketplace boasts over 50.000 active service offers in over 183 countries.

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