Moving home: Repatriation

How to repatriate successfully

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As the challenges of repatriation are increasingly identified, here are tips for expats and organisations on managing a successful relocation back home.

Companies are becoming increasingly aware that repatriation remains one of the most challenging aspects of relocation.

Ninety-four percent of the respondents to the Global Relocation Trends 2012 survey, sponsored by Brookfield Global Relocation Services and the National Foreign Trade Council, said they discussed repatriation and re-entry issues with their employees. Around seventy percent 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, reverse culture shock continues to exist.

Additionally, the effects of the relocation process are different for each family member, as each person experiences the transition in his/her own manner and time. 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 return.
  • Create a 'transition' fund, 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.
  • Understand that it will take time, sometimes longer than expected, to settle into what was once a very familiar environment.
  • Consider creative ways to use your new skills and knowledge, such as assisting others through a similar relocation experience.
  • Be ready for a change in relationships. Your colleagues might be envious of your international experience and unsure of how you are different.

For returning family members:

  • Establish the optimal time for your family to relocate, especially concerning your children’s school schedule, and inform your company.
  • Manage your expectations and consider how they will be different for each member of the family.
  • 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.
  • Use technology to stay connected. Webcams, expatriate sites and chat rooms, instant and text messaging are excellent ways for family members to communicate, which eases the transition back home.
  • Hold a family meeting before relocating and create a list of each family member’s favourite and least favourite aspects of the country you are leaving. Once back home, review this list to avoid over-romanticising 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 programme for the entire family, addressing each family member’s needs.
  • Establish a mentoring programme 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 counselling to employees with accompanying spouses/partners.


Saskia Meckman, Cultural Awareness International / Expatica

Extracts taken from Coming home, MOBILITY magazine, July 2005. Reprinted with permission of Worldwide ERC.

Updated from 2005, 2009.

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3 Comments To This Article

  • wannagohome posted:

    on 8th October 2016, 17:32:11 - Reply

    Hi, I am a disabled pensioner and just want to go home due to never ending xenophobic harassment and gang stalking. If anyone has an idea how I can go about this, please let me know. After 33 years in this country, I will gladly say GOODBYE!!!

    [Moderator's note: You can also post questions on our Ask the Expert free service.]

  • carrico posted:

    on 14th August 2014, 15:18:13 - Reply

    Whoa, Lion. Sounds like you've been there/done that. Yes, lots of tricks employers can play legally. But 2 can play this game. I knew within months that it was very unlikely I could last 2 years in my first expat job. The central thing which kept me going was the knowledge that I would have to pay plane fares for me and my family back to home. Well, we survived even two Berlin (West) winters. And they paid for our tickets.
  • The Lion posted:

    on 2nd September 2009, 14:46:42 - Reply

    A well-intended article that fails to take into account two significant factors --

    1) the return to one's home country is typically NOT controlled by the expat, but by the employer. The international HR department of a certain well-known Dutch financial services giant had a practice of "forgetting" to renew leases for its expats when they expired after two years (the lease was in the employer's name). The expat (or, more typically,the trailing spouse) was surprised to find an "eviction notice" less than two months hence, and needed to initiate the process of repatriating (often without a well-thought-out plan for return).

    2) If one is a senior executive assigned to The Netherlands, the home country entity typically does not do a good job of career planning to determine into what role the executive will be slotted upon return (even if the "sudden eviction" in point #1, above, does not occur). As most organizational structures are pyramidical, one needs to know for what role are they being groomed upon their return. If you do not know that ahead of time, you are essentially on a "one way ticket" to do a job and then be RIFed upon return. The firm alluded to above lost over 90% of its U.S. expat employees within 1 year of retyurning to the States over the past 10 years.