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Definition of expatriate

An employee who is sent to live abroad for a defined time period. An expatriate is expected to relocate abroad, with or without family, for as short a period as six months to a year; typical expat assignments, however, are from two to five years long.

Organisations use expatriate assignments as a means to send key staff abroad for high-potential career development and to co-ordinate global lines of business, as well as transfer organisational knowledge, expand into new markets worldwide, and/or manage an international subsidiary. However, expatriate assignments can be costly endeavors for organizations due to special compensation packages, housing and relocation costs, pre-departure training, and so forth. Research has consistently shown that cross-cultural and family adjustment are factors that contribute to the effectiveness of the expatriate’s presence abroad.

For individuals, expatriate assignments represent opportunities and challenges both professionally and personally. The assignments provide the novelty and excitement of moving to another country and operating in a different cultural environment. They can also provide an opportunity to acquire new language skills, develop cultural understanding, and see new parts of the world. However, adjusting to a new country can prove challenging for expatriates and their families.


Family considerations are often cited as a driving reason for employees to decline an expatriate assignment, or for the failure of an expatriate to complete the assignment abroad.

However, employees may also be unsure how expatriate assignments fit into their overall career development and relate to intra-organisational career success. Fearing their organisational commitment might be put into question, an employee may find that family not wanting to relocate or stay abroad is perhaps a more convenient (and therefore more frequently cited) reason. In order to overcome hurdles of expatriate adjustment, organisations should encourage open and ongoing communication between managers, HR and potential candidates when assignments are first arranged, and then continue follow-up when the expatriate is on assignment. [1]