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Returning home after living abroad: how to repatriate successfully

As exciting as repatriation can be, returning home after living abroad can be difficult for the entire family. How can individuals and their employers help ease the transition back home?

Returning home after living abroad

By Expatica

Updated 29-2-2024

Companies are becoming increasingly aware that repatriation remains one of the most challenging aspects of relocation. 94% of the respondents to the 2021 Global Relocation Trends Survey said they discussed repatriation and re-entry issues with their employees. Around 70% said their company had a written policy for repatriation. Yet, despite great efforts by both the company and the expatriate to discuss the relocation openly, returning home after living abroad remains difficult.

The effects of relocation are different for each family member, as each person experiences the transition in their own way. As with all other aspects of international relocation, the earlier you plan, evaluate, and manage this phase, the more satisfying the experience will be. HR managers should use this opportunity to continue learning about intercultural interactions, whether this means educating your company, your friends, or your extended family.

Tips for a successful repatriation

For the expat

  • Seek a mentor once you have accepted the overseas position. This person’s role is to keep you informed, assist in your career path, and aid your visibility within the company while you are away and when you’re returning home after living abroad.
  • Create a transition fund. This is a secure amount that will allow for hidden costs that occur during your transition back home.
  • Expect your values and beliefs to have changed. Do not expect your old colleagues, friends, and family to immediately understand you or your new experiences.
  • Practice communicating your newly-acquired values and beliefs to those in your home country. Demonstrate your new leadership style with an open mind.
  • Understand that it will take time to settle into what was once a very familiar environment. This process will take longer than expected.
  • Consider creative ways to use your new skills and knowledge. This could be assisting others through a similar relocation experience.
  • Be ready for a change in relationships. Your colleagues might in fact be envious of your international experience and unsure of how you are different.

For returning family members

  • Secure an optimal amount time for your family to relocate. This is especially important for your children’s school schedule. Inform your company that you’ll be doing this.
  • Manage your expectations. Consider how the expectations will be different for each member of the family as they are returning home after living abroad.
  • Identify and focus on the positive aspects of the relocation.
  • Allow time to re-establish family contacts and friendships. Keep in mind that you might no longer interact in the same way since family and friends cannot fully comprehend what you and your family have experienced.
  • Expect that you may have missed significant occasions while living abroad. This cannot be helped; close family and friends should understand this.
  • Use technology to stay connected. Webcams, social media, and instant messaging are excellent ways for family members to communicate, which eases the transition back home.
  • Hold a family meeting before relocating. Create a list of each family member’s favorite and least favorite aspects of the country you are leaving. Once back home, review this list to avoid over-romanticizing your experiences abroad.

For the employer

  • Before sending an employee on a global assignment, consider how to use their newly acquired culture- and market-specific skills during the early phases of the selection process.
  • Create a repatriation contract to clarify the expatriate’s future within the company and his/her job on return.
  • Provide an intercultural repatriation program for the entire family, addressing each family member’s needs.
  • Establish a mentoring program to inform expatriates of company policies and events while on global assignments. Keep them connected and provide a support system.
  • Offer a company orientation for your returning expatriates addressing changes that have taken place during their absence, including shifts in policy and strategy.
  • Demonstrate appreciation towards your returning expatriates upon their return.
  • Provide spousal career counseling to employees with accompanying spouses or partners.