Failed International Assignments: Causes of 40% Failure Rate

February 19, 2024 |

International assignments have long been recognized as a key component of global expansion for corporations. However, a little-known but concerning fact is that the failure rate of expatriates on foreign assignments has remained consistently high at 40% over the past 40 years. This statistic should give pause to organizations before they embark on such assignments, as the costs of failure can be significant.

In this article, we will explore the reasons behind the high failure rate of international assignments and discuss the core elements that impact the success of assignees. By understanding these factors, Global Mobility Managers can provide the necessary support to prevent their assignees from becoming part of this statistic.

The Challenges of International Assignments

International companies are increasingly realizing that expatriate employees require significant support to successfully complete their assignments. The cost of failure is high, with the average expat assignment costing around $311,000 per year. To mitigate this risk and ensure the well-being of their employees, organizations must address the following challenges:

1. Intercultural Immersion

One of the key challenges faced by expatriates is adapting to a new culture and environment. It goes beyond superficial differences and requires a deeper understanding of the host country’s customs, values, and communication styles. For example, an assignee may be fluent in English and familiar with American culture through movies and TV shows. However, this does not guarantee their ability to navigate the nuances of American work culture and effectively communicate with colleagues.

To address this challenge, Global Mobility Managers must provide intercultural immersion and training to assignees during their initial months on the job. This can include cultural orientation programs, language classes, and mentorship from local employees who can help them navigate the cultural landscape.

2. Flexible Training and Support

Each assignee is unique and brings different skills, experiences, and motivations to their international assignment. A one-size-fits-all approach to training and support is insufficient. Global Mobility Managers should provide ongoing one-on-one sessions with assignees to assess their progress, address any challenges, and ensure they are adapting well to the new cultural environment.

Flexible training programs should be tailored to the specific needs of each assignee, taking into account their personality, temperament, and value systems. This personalized approach can help assignees feel valued and supported, increasing their chances of success.

3. Family Support

The well-being and adjustment of an assignee’s family members play a crucial role in their overall success. Whether the assignee’s family accompanies them on the assignment or remains in their home country, their support and well-being directly impact the assignee’s performance.

Global Mobility Managers must ensure that assignees’ families have access to resources and support networks. This can include assistance with housing, healthcare, schooling, and community integration. Communication between the assignee and their family should be encouraged and facilitated to maintain a strong support system.

The Reasons Behind Expat Assignment Failure

According to a report cited by Talent Management and HR, the five main reasons for expatriate assignment failure are:

1. Poor Candidate Selection

Choosing the right candidate for an international assignment is crucial. Without a track record of success, it is challenging to identify the qualities that lead to successful expat assignments. Global Mobility Managers must carefully assess candidates based on soft skills such as flexibility, self-reliance, tolerance, and adaptability to change.

2. Lack of Local Support

The local branch of the company in the host country plays a vital role in supporting newly arrived assignees. Insufficient support from the local team can lead to feelings of isolation and hinder the assignee’s ability to perform their duties effectively. Global Mobility Managers should ensure that assignees have access to a strong support network in the host country.

3. Disconnection from Home Country

Maintaining a connection with colleagues and work life back home is essential for assignees. It helps them maintain a balanced view of their role within the global organization and prepares them for repatriation. Global Mobility Managers should encourage regular communication between assignees and their home office to foster a sense of belonging and prevent feelings of isolation.

4. Domestic Difficulties

Assignees may face challenges on the domestic front, including issues with family members, financial pressures, or difficulties adapting to a new lifestyle. These challenges are often not openly shared with the company, making them difficult to identify and address. Global Mobility Managers should encourage open communication and provide resources to support assignees and their families.

5. Failure to Plan

Effective planning is crucial for the success of international assignments. Assignees need sufficient time to prepare mentally and practically for their overseas assignment, and organizations must ensure they have the necessary infrastructure in place to support them. Global Mobility Managers should facilitate pre-deployment programs, including cross-cultural training and language classes, to ensure assignees are well-prepared.

Preparing Employees for International Assignments

To increase the chances of a successful international assignment, Global Mobility Managers should focus on the following preparation strategies:

1. Careful Employee Selection

Success in a domestic role does not guarantee success in an international assignment. Global Mobility Managers must consider soft skills, cultural adaptability, and the ability to handle change and ambiguity when selecting candidates. Assessing these qualities can help identify individuals who are more likely to succeed in a new environment.

2. Pre-Deployment Programs

Providing comprehensive pre-deployment programs is crucial for the success of international assignments. These programs should include cross-cultural training, language classes, and orientation sessions to familiarize assignees with the host country’s culture, customs, and business practices. Financial support should also be provided to cover relocation expenses and ensure a smooth transition.

3. Ongoing Support

Proactive and ongoing support is essential for the success of international assignments. Global Mobility Managers should regularly check in with assignees to address any challenges, provide guidance, and ensure they have the resources they need to perform their duties effectively. This support can include access to mentorship programs, cultural integration activities, and assistance with personal and family-related matters.

4. Repatriation Planning

Repatriation is often overlooked but plays a critical role in the success of international assignments. Assignees need time to prepare for their return to their home country, both personally and professionally. Global Mobility Managers should assist in this process by providing career transition support, networking opportunities, and guidance on reintegrating into the home office.

The Benefits of International Assignments

Despite the challenges, international assignments offer numerous benefits for both companies and employees. These advantages include:

Advantages for Companies

  • Expansion into new and existing markets: By deploying talented employees abroad, companies can strengthen their global influence and revenue streams.
  • Development of top talent: International experience helps train employees for leadership and managerial roles, fostering their professional growth.
  • Streamlined operations: Sending an existing employee abroad can help expedite decision-making processes and streamline operations in foreign markets.
  • Acquisition of new perspectives: Assignees bring back fresh perspectives, ideas, and business practices from their international assignments, enriching the company’s culture and practices.

Advantages for Employees

  • Career progression opportunities: International assignments often open doors for career advancement and promotion within the company.
  • Increased compensation: Many international assignments come with attractive salary packages and additional benefits.
  • Personal and professional growth: Assignees gain valuable experiences, cultural insights, and language skills that enhance their professional capabilities.
  • Exposure to new cultures and traditions: Living and working in a different country exposes assignees to diverse cultures, customs, and ways of doing business.


Understanding the reasons behind the high failure rate of international assignments is crucial for organizations to improve their success rates. By addressing the challenges faced by assignees and providing comprehensive support, Global Mobility Managers can increase the likelihood of successful international assignments. This includes selecting the right candidates, offering pre-deployment programs, providing ongoing support, and planning for repatriation. Despite the potential challenges, international assignments offer significant benefits for both companies and employees, making them a valuable tool for global expansion and talent development.

Remember, a well-prepared and supported assignee is more likely to thrive in their international assignment, contributing to the success of both the company and themselves. With careful planning and ongoing support, organizations can overcome the high failure rate and ensure the success of their international assignments.

Related posts

global mobility costs
Europe Processing Delays Expected During July-August Holiday Period
  • Strategies to Balance Costs for Global Mobility
    Strategies to Balance Costs for Global Mobility

    July 4, 2024

  • Europe Processing Delays Expected During July-August Holiday Period
    Europe Processing Delays Expected During July-August Holiday Period

    July 4, 2024

  • Canada Introduces Cap for Family Reunification Applications in Quebec
    Canada Introduces Cap for Family Reunification Applications in Quebec

    July 4, 2024