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Expat Lifecycle: Employers Should  Note the Ups and Downs

Foreign assignees and international hires experience various ups and downs during their time abroad. Findings from the Expat Insider 2019 Business Edition reveal that these global employees really do need continued employer support and more specifically in terms of aspects relating to their personal life. If employers don't address these ups and downs during the expat lifecycle, failed foreign assignments and international talent loss could be the price they have to pay.

With core chapters on expats who moved abroad for work-related reasons, the report explores the relocation support they receive (and want), as well as their ease of settling in, happiness, and family setup while abroad. The report is based on the Expat Insider survey — one of the world’s largest (20,259 expats participated in 2019).

The Typical Foreign Assignee Lifecycle

InterNations Business Solutions Foreign Assignee Lifecycle

Data Findings on Foregin Assignees: Feeling at Home and Making Friends Are Pain Points

The survey findings reveal that most foreign assignees (60%) feel at home in their new country of residence. For 40% it took less than six months to feel at home abroad and for 32% it took between one and three years. However, their level of satisfaction with life abroad does not improve steadily over time. During the honeymoon phase, the first months after relocation when all aspects of life abroad are still new and exciting, satisfaction with life abroad is usually high. Nevertheless, foreign assignees have a decrease in satisfaction and an increase in dissatisfaction when the honeymoon phase is over and the daily routine kicks in — this is a critical phase for foreign assignees in terms of feeling settled and establishing personal support and social networks with locals and other expats.

This pattern applies to most factors in the survey about satisfaction with personal life abroad, including feeling at home in the local culture, making new friends, socializing and leisure activities, work-life balance, working hours, career prospects, and overall job satisfaction. The most significant difference is in terms of satisfaction with feeling at home in the local culture. In the period between six months and one year (directly after the honeymoon phase), the level of satisfaction decreases by six percentage points (from 55% to 49%) and dissatisfaction increases (from 22% to 33%). The overall satisfaction ratings only start improving in the period of being abroad between three and five years — steadily increasing as more years pass.

The survey data shows a similar pattern for another key factor — making new friends. Similarly, in the period between six months and one year (directly after the honeymoon phase), the level of satisfaction decreases by six percentage points (from 48% to 42%) and dissatisfaction increases by eight percentage points (from 30% to 38%). The overall satisfaction ratings for making new friends continue to fluctuate and only steadily increase after the five-year-mark.

A New Zealand female foreign assignee living in Japan doesn’t feel accepted as a foreigner. She states: “It’s very
difficult to integrate if you don’t speak the language and I feel like I am always being judged.” An Indian male living in the United Kingdom says: “I don’t find opportunities to meet people from my home country. Being far away from home is difficult.”

These survey findings could further indicate that having access to a social circle can help foreign assignees to really settle in and be satisfied throughout the expat lifecycle. According to the survey data, foreign assignees are generally more satisfied with career-related aspects than personal factors — also throughout the expat lifecycle. The overall ratings for professional factors, such as job security, overall job satisfaction, and career prospects are highest throughout the expat lifecycle with positive ratings all above 60%.

Furthermore, the overall satisfaction ratings of their relationship with their spouse is also high throughout the
expat lifecycle and predominantly increases as the years pass.

The survey results ultimately highlight that settling in abroad is not always easy. Foreign assignees require
support throughout the expat lifecycle. And they may need more well-rounded support that not only covers the
financial aspects of settling into life abroad, but also takes into account the personal needs of these expats and their families.

The Typical International Hire Lifecycle

InterNations Business Solutions International Hire Lifecycle

Data Findings on International Hires: Satisfaction Ratings Drop After the Honeymoon Phase

For all ten factors in the survey about satisfaction with life abroad, international hires have a decrease in satisfaction and an increase in dissatisfaction after the first six months. The honeymoon phase is a period in the expat lifecycle where satisfaction with life abroad is usually high. From the survey results, this is no different for international hires when comparing the first six months with the period between six months and one year.

The most significant differences are in terms of job security; making new friends, socializing and leisure activities; career prospects; and feeling at home in the local culture. Their financial situation is least impacted — where dissatisfaction increases and satisfaction decreases.

Even though international hires are more satisfied with career-related aspects than personal factors and the ratings for professional factors are higher, their feeling towards job security and career prospects are affected after the first six months. This could be because of inadequate onboarding at work, not feeling completely settled into their job, or that the actual position is not what they thought it would be.

The majority of issues, however, seem to be related to their social integration abroad — making friends, socializing and leisure activities, and feeling at home in the local culture. A Ukrainian female international hire living in Switzerland says: “It’s difficult to find friends.” A Swedish male living in Switzerland agrees: “I like my good financial situation, but it takes time to get local friends.”

For all ten factors, the overall satisfaction ratings improve in the period of one to three years, but they are still lower than in the honeymoon phase for the following: feeling at home in the local culture, making new friends, socializing and leisure activities, work-life balance, working hours, career prospects, job security, and overall job satisfaction. The only exceptions where the overall ratings in the period of one to three years are higher than in the honeymoon phase are their financial situation and relationship with their spouse.

This confirms the notion that settling in abroad is a process which takes time and that all aspects of settling into life abroad should be taken into account — both on a professional and personal level — and throughout the expat lifecycle.


About the Expat Insider 2019 Business Edition: The InterNations Expat Insider is one of the world’s largest surveys on life abroad — 20,259 expats took part. The Expat Insider 2019 Business Edition focuses specifically on global employees and their spouses — 10% of respondents were foreign assignees, 23% were international hires, and 7% were relocating spouses. Through detailed results, infographics, and expat quotes, the report provides insights that can assist global mobility and HR professionals in understanding the needs of expat employees better.

Expat Insider 2019 Business Edition

Expat Insider 2019 Business Edition

A Look At Global Talent Mobility Through Expat Eyes

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