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Repatriation – The Forgotten Frontier?

If you speak with any employee who is or has been an expatriate, or if you visit any expat website, you’ll discover why repatriation support is such an important element - although often forgotten - with overseas assignments.

Particularly in current economic climates, your business may be looking at a higher than average amount of repatriations. This puts a greater focus on how you repatriate, what your retention figures for those repatriated employees are, and what you can do to become more efficient with this part of the relocation process.

Coppergate has compiled these Top Five Tips to Ease Your Employees’ Repatriation:

1. Understand that it’s not just about arriving home.

The life they’ve created in the Host location(s) will need to be wrapped up. Amongst other things: deposits on properties will need collecting, school notices will need to be given, and utility providers organized to close accounts. There are a plethora of elements to be taken care of, and with the closure of one assignment and the stresses of returning to a place that might no longer feel like home, the support provided to assist with such elements will be gratefully received and put to good use.

Employees themselves can sometimes underestimate the need for support on the way back “home.” Don’t let them fall into this trap! If the support is on hand for all who return, they will see it as a company procedure rather than as something they “need.”

2. Don’t underestimate reverse culture shock.

What is Reverse Culture Shock? During an expatriate’s life away from home, two major changes occur:

  1. They change as a result of living in another country
  2. Life and people at home change and move on.

This problem can be enlarged because of the tendency to idealize the view of home and the expectation that things are the same as when they left them. Somehow life as it was gets frozen in their memory, turning the home into a foreign place when it is re-entered. You often hear expatriates comment: “What happened here?” or “I don't recognize this place and people anymore.” Friends and family left behind during the assignment sometimes feel that they have been left for often sunnier climates or larger homes – seeing all the frills of the expatriate lifestyle. This leads some returning expats to feel as though nobody cares about their life abroad. The expat may have stories they wish to share but might find them met with a lack of interest, or worse still, with jealousy.

3. Understand the stages of re-transitioning and what each means.

Confusion: it starts while still in a host location and is manifested by feelings of sadness for leaving, as well as euphoria for returning.

Expatriates will slowly detach from the life and people they got to know over the months and years, feeling sad for leaving the new friendships and places that, over time, became familiar. Sometimes these friendships can be quite strong and intense, as they meant so much in an environment where not much was familiar. Knowing that they may not see these people again could evoke feelings of grief.

The excitement for returning home is similar to the "honeymoon" phase of culture shock. Happiness is felt in anticipation of seeing family and friends.

Disorientation: as with any transition, there is a period for the expatriate of not having a clear sense of who they are and what to do. This phase starts shortly after arrival when they are not quite anchored in the "new" old environment. Returning expats often experience a realization that the overseas experience changed not only how they do things, but - more importantly - their perceptions, assumptions, and sense of "self."

Seeing family and friends evokes strong feelings of excitement. However, the friend’s and family’s excitement may not be as intense and as long lasting as that of the expatriate. Contrary to expectations, most people may start showing signs of disinterest in listening to their stories and experiences. They are ready to move on to some other topics, while expats still want to share their host-country adventures.

(Re)-adjustment: this phase is gradual, and it would be wrong to put a specific time limit on it. Statistically a six-month period is documented as being the turning point for both initial relocations and eventual repatriations.

4. Treat the employee’s re-entry into their “old” surroundings as you would a new employee’s.

In most companies, things don’t stay the same for long. Faces change, procedures evolve and even hardware that was familiar to the employee when they left might have been discarded. All of this can leave a repatriated employee feeling peculiar and in a no-man’s land of unfamiliarity with their surroundings, as if they’re not quite understanding it all, yet not a complete stranger.

A great way to avoid this is to put together an induction plan for the employee. This can last anywhere from a day to two weeks – depending on the level of employee, the job they are performing and how long they have been away. Have them meet the new people in the team, just as a complete newcomer would be afforded the opportunity to do. Make sure they understand any new procedures or equipment that’s in place so that they don’t feel unable to perform their duties, or worst still, feel as though they are unintelligent for not knowing what to do.

5. Provide educational counseling for any children within the expatriate’s family.

Although children are the most adaptable amongst the expatriate community, they are also the ones whose routine and future prospects can be most interrupted. Ensuring continued education is of key importance to their re-settlement, and that of the parents. Support provided by organizations such as School Choice International ( is vital and will assist the expatriate’s family in quickly settling and feeling back at home.

Imagine a hassle-free repatriation. Coppergate International provides relocation services for transferring employees into and around the U.S. and across the globe. Your transferees can stay productive and experience a seamless transition, while your staff knows that Coppergate is handling everything.

With Coppergate International, you’ll have nothing to worry about.
Contact us today.

In our next newsletter, we will be looking in more detail at how expatriates can personally prepare themselves for repatriation, avoiding the pitfalls they might not be expecting from their return.

Sources for this article include: Coppergate International, and

Why choose Coppergate International as your Expatriate service?
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Frequently asked questions - Find answers to questions you may have about the process of relocation
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