April 06, 2021

The return from expatriation: what are the challenges?

International Mobility

The return from expatriation is often a challenge. How can you prepare it so that it takes place in the best conditions? Akteos offers you some keys.

The return from expatriation: what are the challenges?

Between 2 and 2.5 million French people live abroad, according to the Quai d'Orsay. According to the "Banque Transatlantique Expatriation Observatory 2020, in partnership with Opinionway and UFE", 93% of French expatriates are satisfied with their expatriation. So much so that the vast majority of them extend the duration of their mobility... or end up suspending their definitive return to France.

The French leave willingly, but return more rarely. The average length of stay at the beginning is 7 years, but the final length of stay is 20 years!

An initiation test

Expatriation is a real initiation ordeal, from a professional, family or personal point of view. Expatriation is undertaken for various reasons, conscious or unconscious, openly declared or unspoken. 25% of expatriates mention "love" as the main reason for leaving!

In all cases, the individual and his family are profoundly transformed. Their view of the world is modified, as is their personality. As a result, returning to France after international mobility, whether this return is voluntary (and even more so if it is not), is always a delicate stage. According to the 2011 report by the Expatriation Observatory, 42% of returning expatriates perceive the readjustment as a "difficult period".

Preparing to return means first of all integrating everything that was involved in the expatriation. This experience is indeed at the crossroads of multiple questions and problems: the need to reorganise one's professional life by capitalising on the latest skills acquired in order to take on new functions consistent with one's career path, the administrative hassles (finding one's health insurance card, driver's licence, etc.), with the paradoxical feeling of being a foreigner in one's own country.

The whole thing can be a real ordeal. We often speak of "reverse culture shock". The epinal image of the return of the "prodigal son" has been lost. We even sometimes talk about an "expatriate syndrome" on return. This process requires real readjustment work.

Managing the lag

More than two thirds of expatriates consider their host country to be more suitable professionally than France! On a personal level, returning to France with fresh eyes, a horizon broadened by the experience of living in another country where one has challenged one's beliefs, can lead to the realization that one may now have less in common with one's former friends and family...

To this possible impression of a gap with those who have not left, but who have experienced something else without us during this time, can be added other difficulties.  Living conditions are different and a real social life has to be rebuilt. If expatriation is perceived as an enriching episode by most expatriates, a return that is not well experienced can lead to the choice to leave as soon as possible!

A challenge for the company

The stakes are also high for the company. What happens to the added value of a successful experience abroad? Some reports estimate that between 30 and 40% of expatriates leave within a year of returning from an assignment (PwC study), thus causing the organisation to lose the knowledge acquired by the expatriate and which could not be transferred!

Situations naturally vary. An international mobility manager in an IT services company noted a return rate of almost 100%. Expatriate employees were not given any special treatment in their host country, mobility was standard and widespread, with no reward or recognition. In contrast, the same manager had observed a very low return rate at her previous employer in the luxury goods industry. Employees were rigorously selected for 'first class' expatriations ... and generally resented the loss of certain privileges on their return to 'real life' in France.

Listening to individual experiences

The question of anticipating the return of the employee and accompanying him or her is therefore of the utmost importance. Each expatriate has his own story. Philippe, a regional director who had spent 2 x 3 years in the French Overseas Departments and Territories, left his company 15 months after a return that was poorly anticipated by the organisation, with a strong feeling of waste on both sides! Some had not been able to offer him a position where his skills could be developed and the other was disappointed by this lack of anticipation and, above all, of support for his return.

Pierre, factory manager, 4 years in China: a departure that was nonetheless "cocooned" by the company but no support on return for him and his Chinese wife, a family in great emotional fragility and a problematic professional reintegration.

These individual experiences need to be heard. Ideally, they will be shared with others who have followed a similar and different path. Taking stock of one's motivations at the time of departure, one's hopes upon return, the losses and enrichments through experience, laying the foundations of an action plan for each person... all these elements cannot be improvised and deserve a professional approach.

This professional support can only be tailor-made. Its timing must be adapted (before the return, one month after arrival in France, etc.) and can also be extended for certain complex cases. The presence of the spouse (who will often have to justify a hole in his or her CV) will often be a plus. Loic, financial director of a large group (4 years in South-East Asia), needed the family background of his expatriation to be recognised by his employer. Marine, marketing and communication director (3 years in the United States and 4 years in Russia), felt that her company should show that it understood her situation. She needed to feel supported and recognised in the difficulties and challenges she might face on a professional and personal level.

Discovering another culture is a human experience that everyone should have. The departure is often carefully prepared: let's give the same attention to the return in order to adopt as soon as possible and in conscience a cruising rhythm in this new professional or family adventure!

Akteos website uses cookies to offer you a personalized browsing experience.

We have also published our data protection policy.

More information