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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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Six characteristics of a successful expatriate


Six characteristics of a successful expatriate

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When selecting a potential expatriate, corporations should look at competencies as well as personality and character traits of the employee. Pucik and Saba (1998) define expatriate managers as "an executive who is able to assume a leadership position fulfilling international assignments across countries and cultures." To start us off, here are the skills according to the "The 21st-Century Expatriate Manager Profile" by Howard (1992): Skills

  • Multidimensional Perspective
  • Proficiency in Line Management
  • Prudent Decision-Making Skills
  • Resourcefulness
  • Ability as Team Builder

Managerial Implications / Core Skills

  • Extensive multi-product, multi-industry, multi-functional, multi-company, multi-country and multi-environment experience
  • Track record in successfully operating a strategic business unit(s) and/or a series of major overseas projects
  • Competence and proven track record in making the right strategic decisions
  • Skillful in getting himself or herself known and accepted in the host country's political hierarchy
  • Adept in bringing a culturally diverse working group together to accomplish the major mission and objective of the organization

Augmented Skills

  • Computer Literacy
  • Comfortable exchanging strategic information electronically
  • Prudent Negotiating Skills
  • Proven track record in conducting successful strategic business negotiations in multicultural environment
  • Ability as a Change Agent
  • Proven track record in successfully initiating and implementing strategic organizational change
  • Visionary Skills
  • Quick to recognize and respond to strategic business opportunities and potential political and economic upheavals in the host country
  • Effective delegation skills
  • Proven track record in participative management style and ability to delegate

If these skills are still valid in today's selection and need developing for a certain candidate, they can be improved through targeted coaching.

Rothwell (1992) heads our list of six characteristics successful expatriates possess. He defined

1. "international knowledge"

as "general knowledge about the world and global economy; national information about conditions in a specific country; and business understanding of strategy, process, and leadership style."

Black and Gregersen (1999) found in their research that companies differ in how they assess candidates, while looking for the following characteristics:

2. "a drive to communicate,"

which includes not being afraid to use rudimentary foreign language skills and being embarrassed.

3. A "broad-based sociability,"

which allows expatriates to move out of close expatriate circles and form ties with all kinds of locals.

4. "Cultural Flexibility" and

5. "Cosmopolitan Orientation,"

which both describe the open mind an expatriate needs to have when experimenting with different cultures, understanding and practicing them. The final characteristic they mention is

6. the "collaborative negotiation style."

Expatriates need to be aware of the 'do's and don'ts' of international negotiation. For example, people coming from a low context culture like the Germans and Scandinavians appreciate explicit and clear forms of communication, whereas high context cultures, like Spain, divulge less information officially but tend to be better informed than their counterparts anyway due to informal networks (Leeds et al, 1994).

These findings were publicized over 10 years ago. Do  you still believe in choosing expatriates based on personality characteristics and past performance? How does your company choose international assignees? Which training programs are in place to allow potential candidates to bridge the gap and obtain necessary qualifications? Thank you for leaving your comments below!


Black, J. Stewart and Gregersen, Hal B. (1999) The right way to manage expats, Harvard Business Review

Leeds, Christopher, Kirkbride, Paul S. and Durcan, Jim (1994) Human Resource Management in Europe: Perspectives for the 1990s, London Routledge

Pucik, Vladimir and Saba, Tania (1998) Selecting and developing the global vs. the expatriate manager: a review of the state-of-the-art, Human Resource Planning

Rothwell, S (1992) The development of the international manager, Personnel Management

Til next week, when we'll talk a little bit more about candidate selection, have a good one!

Image by Boris Lechaftois, Flickr, Creative Commons License