Alternatives to using Expatriates

expat alternatives_moneyIn order to remain globally competitive, companies have to look at cost. Sending a mid-level executive expatriate may come with a price tag of $1,000,000 and more, so this decision usually isn't taken lightly. Before going into the costly and difficult process of selecting the right employee to be sent abroad, your company might want to consider using alternatives.

Solomon identified the following alternatives in 1998:

Short-term assignments / extended business travel arrangements

Instead of offering the usual three to five-year assignment stints abroad, companies could look at reducing the time to six months or a year, if the project allows. This practice usually goes hand-in-hand with single-status relocation, which means the expatriate will travel alone while the family stays behind. It will incur higher travel costs as the expat flies back to visit family more often, but relocation costs would be limited to one person and therefore significantly lower, as for example smaller accommodation is needed and no education expenses for relocating children have to be taken care of.

The advantages of introducing short-term assignments include a wider pool of candidates and the possible emergence of a global team network, where international companies can send employees around the globe within their different subsidiaries and departments more readily. Drawing on the international labor market and offering more employee a career opportunity by training them accordingly is another important aspect of any international HR strategy.


Solomon also mentions using communication technology to its fullest by holding teleconferences and using the Internet to cut down on long-distance business trips. With services like instant messaging, Skype and other voice or video conferencing software as the norm nowadays, this practice can be more or less effective depending on the country and the project you are working on. Personal contact and visits are indispensable when doing business in relationship-oriented cultures, and saving time by using technology to communicate and establish relationships may cost you more in the long run.

Another alternative, as I've mentioned before, would be:

One-Way expatriation / Localization

New assignees go abroad with the understanding that they are not under expatriate status, i.e. not expected to come back to the home country. Existing expatriates are taken off the home-country payroll and given local contracts. For many families this is a great solution, especially when they have been abroad for a while and developed strong ties to the host country.

According to Solomon, companies back in 1998 began to recognize that "the shift toward flexible assignment structures is clearly more cost-effective." For HR specialists today, this means more administrative effort, as every case is treated on its individual and specific merits. Finding middle ground by using general expatriation guidelines that apply to everyone and supplementing them with personalized support as needed is an ongoing challenge.

What are your experiences with expat alternatives? Have you been working on or receiving any one of the ones mentioned in this article? If you or your company know of other strategies used, please let us know by leaving a comment below.


Solomon, Charlene Marmer (1998) Today’s global mobility: short-term assignments and other solutions, Workforce, p12

Til next week, have a good one! Thanks to Shaik for the free pic.

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