Being an expat on a foreign posting can be rewarding, not just in terms of financial returns, but also in terms of cultural and professional enrichment as well.
However, it does get tough, and there is always the ever-present possibility of a premature end to the posting if things don’t go as they should.
Here are some common reasons expat professionals in particular may fail in their goals:
They do not have an explicit mission in mind
If neither the expat nor the organisation that sponsored the expat have any explicit goals in mind, this can lead to a loss of purpose, which makes it difficult for the expat to justify their challenges in their host country.
It can also lead to expats making decisions that may not be in line with their best interests, as far as long-term success is concerned. Without an explicit mission or set of goals, they may instead opt for actions that bring short-term success professionally, or short-term happiness personally. The lack of goals may also lead to financial insecurity for the expat shortly after their return from their posting, as they may not have actually planned on investing their income, instead spending it on frivolous things and experiences.
They are not able to meet their host country’s challenges
Whether it’s governmental red tape, difficulties obtaining decent housing, or simply an inability to understand the culture of the host country, these small challenges have the tendency to add up and overwhelm expats who are unprepared to deal with them. This can result in expats prematurely opting to leave their host country.
Expats may encounter problems with their family
Family problems can easily derail their focus on their job, and the inability to resolve these issues is a problem especially present in the expat community. This is especially true for expats who are unable to take their families with them, but can affect even single expats as well.
Expats who leave their families behind while they’re on assignment run a high risk of having marital issues – not just due to the indiscretions of their spouses, but also due to the boredom and isolation that often occurs on long foreign assignments. Single expats may also be unable to attend family reunions or take care of sick parents at short notice, which can also lead to strained relationships over time.
There was insufficient preparation for the move
Any long-term move to a different country requires ample time if it is to be a success. Many expats leave their home country without considering if they should sell or rent out any of their possessions, or without realising that they are behind on their obligations. They may not know what to do with their pets, or if they should have their car shipped to their new home. Many have discovered they’re still auto-paying for their gym membership back home, or that they left their house heater on for months, resulting in an enormous electric bill when they come back.
Anyone planning to move away from their home country has a long list of loose ends to tie up, and perhaps the most important of these has to do with their health insurance. Regular insurance plans don’t normally have coverage that follows you outside your home country, so it’s best to invest in international health insurance from a specialised company like Now Health International, so that you’re protected wherever you’re posted.
They did not have sufficient social support
Being an expat can be lonely, and it’s absolutely crucial they are able to set up a routine that allows for sufficient socialisation.
It is the obligation of the organisation that sends the expat abroad to either provide some social support in terms of hardship pay, housing with other employees and similar services, or at the very least set an expectation that the expat may not receive it. Likewise, it’s normally in the best interest of the expat to try to find friends on and off the worksite, among both locals and expats.
The expat feels isolated from their home culture
Culture shock hits some people harder than others. If the host culture is particularly alien, or if the expat lacks preparation or the aptitude for adjusting, they may find it difficult to meet their goals, leading to a failure in the posting.
The expat overseas needs to find ways to be able to stay in touch with their home culture on a regular basis – especially if there is a full expectation that they will return home at some point in the future. If they do expect to return home, the expat should always set aside some time to ensure they are up-to-date with current events at home to ensure they do suffer severe reverse culture shock upon their term ending.