Category Archives: Expat Lifestyle
DIgital Nomads

Contrary to what many might think, the term Digital Nomad isn’t an invention of the 21st century. The word, in fact, was first introduced in the homonym book “Digital Nomad” published by Wiley in 1997.

However, up until recently, people tended to connect this denomination with names of fancy Facebook groups where a small number of privileged and tech professionals were allowed. This is because until ten years ago, the typical graduate who entered the workplace would be shown their desk and be tied to it thereafter. If on the one hand, a few digital-first companies were already offering the possibility to work flexible hours and/or from home, on the other hand most employees could not even dream of working from a paradisiac location ten thousands miles away from the company’s office.

Nowadays, digital nomads are becoming a trend. In Global Mobility we speak of “Virtual Assignees” and “Digital Nomads” now as new assignment types. Millennials, are going to make up 75% of the global workforce by 2025, according to Inc.

In fact, in 2015, flexible remote work was already the top priority for Millennials and 85 percent expressed their preference for telecommuting 100 percent of the time (Flexjobs survey).

With this data at hand, it’s easy to see that we’re dealing here with a real new breed and not anymore a restricted circle of tech-savvy gurus. And at this point, it’s also easy to predict that the rise of this category of workers will obviously also have a strong impact on Global Mobility policies. 

The Six Points You Need to Make Sure to Check

Fatima is a young and determined woman who works as a freelancer. She has recently moved to Switzerland from where she continues to work, and she calls herself a Digital Nomad. If, like her, you too are a Digital Nomad and you’re about to or have just moved to Switzerland, this article might enlighten you on some fundamental technical issues that you need to be aware of in the Helvetic Confederation.

Despite this article being Swiss-specific, these points are worth considering wherever in the world you’re dreaming to live, either temporarily or permanently.  

This is an offer an overview of risks we see frequently. For deeper advice on your personal situation I recommend that you seek advice from specialists in the individual areas. I’m happy to introduce you to these specialists in Switzerland.

1 – Labor Law 

The labor law that applies to your case changes significantly whether you are classified as self-employed or employed. In Switzerland, being self-employed means that you work on your behalf, you are independent, and you assume the financial risk. You may decide on the type of company you build.

You will need your own infrastructure, you draw up invoices in your own name, you assume the risk of collection and you work out your taxes. Additionally, you decide on your organization and your method of working. You may outsource work to third parties and you work for more than one client. Based on this employed/self-employed differentiation, the aspects concerning your work permit vary as well.

It is as well possible that, due to different legislations across countries, the Swiss labor inspection authorities could qualify you as an employee of your current “employer” or “client”. This can happen even when in your country of origin your status is of self-employed or freelancer. If this should happen to you, you will need to provide various further documents to the competent authorities. 

Based on your host country you really need to familiarize yourself with the local employment law as well especially if you are planning to hire other people into your business.

2 – Immigration Law

If you share with Fatima the typical Digital Nomad spirit, you will probably travel often. Even during Corona-times, you will most likely travel more frequently than a traditionally employed person. For this reason, it’s important that you have the correct permits to enter the countries and actually work there. 

If you’re an EU / EFTA national not yet residing in Switzerland and working there over eight days per calendar year, you will need both a residence and work permit. If you only work here up to 90 days per calendar year your employer will have to register you via the online registration procedure. Usually, the permission will be given. However, you can then really only work here for 90 days in a calendar year. 

As a “third-country national”, you have to be aware that work visas are limited to quotas and they are therefore not so easy to obtain.  You are not allowed to work in Switzerland while on a tourist visa. You don’t want to get into trouble with the Swiss authorities.

The permits that allow you to work in Switzerland are L, B, C, and G. They have different purposes and durations. If you want to read more details about the characteristics of each permit, check our resources at the bottom. As an expat spouse you generally have the approval when you receive a B-permit. With the L-permit there is often a restriction.

Do you feel confused? Trust me, it’s normal. That’s why it’s always best to get advice from an Immigration Specialist. I suggest you contact Sonia Meier  of BecomeLocal

Special Digital Nomad Visas

You might be up-to-date already, but in case you didn’t know it, some forward-thinking countries have already introduced specific visas for Digital Nomads!

These visas are not for any Digital Nomads and every country has listed its own requirements and benefits, but it is worth it to check them out. Up to today, the countries that offer this opportunity are Barbados, Georgia, Estonia, Bermuda and Thailand, while Croatia is next in line. Check out our resources below if you want to find out more about the topic! 

With the Digital Nomad trend on the rise, Fatima wishes that Switzerland too will have this specific type of visa in the future, simplifying the bureaucratic burden she needs to go through.

3 – Personal Tax

Based on the Swiss federal tax law, you become a tax resident after living and working in Switzerland for a continuous period of 30 days, or after 90 days without earning any income. 

In Switzerland, you are responsible for paying your taxes. You are taxed only on the income generated in Switzerland and not on your worldwide income. This is regardless of whether you’re self-employed or not and it does not depend on whether you receive a one-time payment or a regular salary. 

It’s important that you learn to differentiate between your turnover and a potential salary that you are paying out to yourself. My most important advice is that you either find a good accountant like Joerg Blaettler of Winston Wolf or you learn accounting with a basic software such as Bexio.

4 – Corporate Tax

If you work for an international company without an office in Switzerland, be aware that your presence could create a “Permanent Establishment” for the company. This means that the company might have to pay corporate tax. If you decide that you want to keep  working from Switzerland, you should discuss this with them beforehand. 

If you own your own company and this is registered outside Switzerland, corporate tax issues could become even trickier, and you might incur in double taxation. Depending on the countries involved, treaties have their own specific clauses and you will have to look at your particular situation. 

5 – Social Security

For Digital Nomads like you and Fatima, it can become challenging to ensure at least basic insurance for retirement, disability or unemployment because social security is generally connected to the country of employment. 

The first thing you need to know is that Swiss social security is based on three pillars that I am going to briefly explain here. The first pillar is the basic insurance (old-age, survivors’, disability, and unemployment insurance): this is mandatory if you are a resident and earning an income in Switzerland.

If you are self-employed, you need to pay the full contribution through a self-declaration made to the authorities. If you don’t do this, the authorities will estimate and claim the contribution, and you incur a fine. 

Let’s focus on the pension scheme. When you reach the official retirement age, and if you’ve contributed for at least one year, you gain the right to claim the retirement annuity. Please keep in mind that the annuity is limited and calculated based on the years of contributions.

The second pillar is the employee’s pension scheme. This is mandatory and it covers the same risks as the first pillar, but it’s provided by the employer instead of the State. 

The third pillar is additional, private savings that you’re free to undertake or not, depending on your preferences.

And if you have a foreign employer? 

If you have a foreign employer who has the rights to apply for a certificate of coverage, they might be exempted from Swiss social security. If not, the foreign employer might have the obligation to register in Switzerland and seek for a first and second pillar solution for you while you’re based in Switzerland. 

6 – Health and Accident Insurance

As a Swiss resident, Fatima needs to have mandatory health insurance in Switzerland. She’s entering her third month in the country and her time to stipulate one is almost over. You have, in fact, up to 90 days to sign your health insurance contract from the moment you set foot in the country.

All health insurers in Switzerland provide the same benefits under basic insurance. However, if you want to be covered for other needs such as better hospital accommodation, legal assistance and so on, you need to add a voluntary supplemental insurance. 

In Switzerland, each person must pay health insurance premiums. The premiums are independent of the individual’s income but vary depending on age, residence and health insurer, so you are free to choose the health insurance company with which you wish to take out basic insurance.

If you move to Switzerland but still work in an EU/EFTA country, you must be insured in the country where your employer is based. This also applies if you are self-employed. In this case, it is not possible for you to purchase health insurance in Switzerland. If you feel lost and need guidance in making the right choice for yourself, we personally advise that you contact Ralph Endres of ExpatPartners or Domenico Bilotta at Helsana

As you figured out already, there’s a lot on the list of items that you need to take into account when deciding to work as a Digital Nomad for Switzerland. Having a clear vision of how everything works isn’t easy, especially if you need to understand bureaucracy in a language that you don’t speak well. This is why we always recommend that you reach out to a trusted expert in the field. If Fatima worked it out, you can certainly do it too! And remember it will be worth it, Switzerland ranks number 1 in the world for quality of life! 

Kind regards 

Angie Weinberger

Definitions

Digital Nomad

Online dictionaries such as Investopedia.com or Urbandictionary.com define Digital Nomads as individuals who are independent from their location by performing their work using “new” technologies, i.e. deriving their income by working remotely. A Digital Nomad is not required to commute to the employers’ office / headquarters to be physically present, as telecommuting is their preferred way of working. The typical digital nomad can be found in a myriad of locations, including using public co-working spaces, a home office or travelling around the globe.

Permanent Establishment (PE)

According to the OECD, it is a fixed place of business through which the business of an enterprise is wholly or partly carried on. The term includes a place of management: a branch, an office, a factory, a workshop, a mine, an oil or gas well, a quarry or any other place of extraction of natural resources. A building site or construction site could also be a Permanent Establishment. However, tax authorities are adapting beyond this traditional definition. Overseas contractors, International Business Travelers (IBT), warehouse space, digital activities and so on could also create a PE.

Resources 

Giving back
Working from this hotel in Dubai? A dream coming true for us digital nomads.

If you need to make a self-employment declaration and you don’t know where to start from,  you can check these resources out: 

Social Security in Switzerland

https://www.ahv-iv.ch/p/2.02.d

https://www.svazurich.ch/pdf/Checkliste_se.pdf

https://www.svazurich.ch/internet/de/home/private/arbeitssituation/selbstaendig.html

How to Develop Your Business

Here is a lot of general business advice from us. We can discuss this further. Please email Angie for a first consultation.

https://globalpeopletransitions.com/GlobalMobility/growme/

https://globalpeopletransitions.com/GlobalMobility/solopreneur/

https://globalpeopletransitions.com/GlobalMobility/global-entrepreneurs

World-Class Copywriting Courses

Ash Ambirge – The Middle Finger Project

Best Course on Building Digital Courses

Amy Porterfield

Best Podcast on Building a Global Expat Lifestyle

Sundae Schneider Bean

Dominic’s Advice for Swiss Compliance for Digital Nomads

https://feibv.nl/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Dominic-Suter-MasterCourse-Human-Resources-and-Global-Mobility-Master-Paper-FINAL.pdf 

Details about the characteristics of the various Swiss work permits: https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/work-permits/29191706 

More about Digital Nomads and immigration into Switzerland: https://newlandchase.com/digital-nomads-is-immigration-law-keeping-up-to-the-hype/ 

The guidelines published by the Small and Medium Enterprises (SME)

Other Countries

More information on the application procedure, supporting documents and the requirements to obtain a Digital Nomad visa in the countries that offer this: 

Barbados: 

https://www.fragomen.com/insights/alerts/12-month-remote-work-visa-introduced

Georgia: 

The application process is not yet up and running yet but the government is updating their website

Estonia:

https://e-resident.gov.ee/nomadvisa/ 

Thailand:

The SMART visa program is not only but also for Digital Nomads.

Bermuda:

Apply for their Work from Bermuda visa visit https://forms.gov.bm/work-from-bermuda/Apply

Hotel Des Finances

As we already mentioned in previous posts “Digital Nomads” are the new black in Global Mobility.  A survey from MBO partners revealed that, only in the US, 4.8 citizens identify as Digital Nomads, while in the UK, the Trades Union Congress calculated that remote workers grew by almost 250,000 between 2005 and 2015. While in one of their Facebook Groups like FEMALE DIGITAL NOMADS I sometimes come across horror stories of visa issues, assaults and taxation issues

The idea of working from a beach in Croatia, a hut in Estonia or below palms in the Bermudas seems an attractive vision for Millenials. However, even trying to log-in to my G-Hangout from South Tyrole or sometimes even Germany can bring down that fantasy castle (in which I also look 20 years younger, have 20 kilos less and my nails are always immaculately painted red).

Despite being almost 50, I aspire to become a Digital Nomad as well so I thought I should dig deeper into what that actually means. We therefore present a series on the topic. 

  • Part 1 deals with the mindset you need to run a “Company of One”,
  • Part 2 explains the technical Global Mobility aspects of being a “Digital Nomad”,
  • Part 3 focuses on one method to become more productive which is the Kanban-style.

Paul Jarvis is one of my favourite creators. I read his “Sunday Dispatches”. I love his online course Chimpessentials, which taught me almost everything you are seeing on the Global People Club Sandwich and which also encouraged me to continue writing to you on a weekly basis by email in the age of social media.

I ordered several of his artistic books already. The latest book “Company of One” was a special delight. Okay, I might be crushing a bit on Paul J. He has an amazing voice too.  However, you really should read the book and follow him. Paul is one of the creators who runs a business from an island in Canada and is very successful with it.

I finally got confirmation that all I had done over the last 10 years as an entrepreneur was not completely wrong. No, instead of founding a “scalable startup” I had founded a “company of one”. And I believe that scaling is possible in my business. However, if I want to continue to stay aligned with my mission of bringing the human touch back into Global Mobility, I cannot scale, automate and robotize everything.

“Au contraire…” (you need to say this with a glass of Rosé in your hand), I really believe that Paul Jarvis hit the nail right in. There are companies who can and should stay small because otherwise they might lose their special “umpf”. And you know what I noticed? This is not a question of what kind of business you have right now. It’s more about where you are heading. If you are dreaming about leading a digital nomad life where you can live in the Italian countryside near a vineyard, spend the summer on Long Island, the winter in Kashmir and a lot more time in between with your elderly family members…then my friend you need to start to take action now.

When I decided to go fully digital in 2018 I knew that I would need to take a few side turns and that this will not happen from one day to another. What I hadn’t anticipated though was that I actually am quite old-school and that I prefer human interaction over online interaction. 

I also noticed that the more I work online (and COVID-19 has brought this to an extreme – online and at home 100% of my work time – ), the more I feel a need to write stuff on post-it notes and use paper to organize myself. For example, I used a Kindle a few years ago. This year during my vacation I had it with me but I preferred to read paper-books. I journal in a diary and I only use my laptops for calls and managing my business. When I now have to present I even print the presentation before because I don’t seem to see enough detail on my laptop.

However, the main idea to have a digital business that I could run from anywhere has been magnified by the corona crisis. Still, the main reason that keeps me in one city right now is my professional network and that a basic income needs to be made every month.

I think Paul is right. Obviously, it depends on your business model and if you are a creator, an artist or a programmer.  I love the creative part of my business but over the last few years I also always had to have enough “billable” time to make a living in one of the most expensive cities in the world. 

My friends in corporate are all wealthier now than I am and I have doubted myself a lot and I’m still not sure how I will manage to survive during my retirement. You might think now that I’m exaggerating and maybe you think that it can’t be that difficult with all my contacts and all the income streams that I have created. You might be right. 

However, I live in a very security-oriented environment and I also come from a family which was poor after the second world war so I have to practice to shake off this insecurity-poverty-story.

For me, the best way to get out of that spiral is through continuous education and ongoing learning. I notice that I am growing when I am implementing new technology or improving programs or just see faster progress with my clients because I could show them a hack. I buy into organic growth because it allows me to maintain my quality standards. In the corporate world I often see a lot of back and forth and low quality products. This is not what I want to create with my team.

How much income is enough?

As I’ve been following Paul’s work for a while I have been asking myself the “enough” question a lot. You probably heard me say this before but my relationship with money completely changed when I became an entrepreneur. I would say that I need only 60% of the monthly income that I needed when I was employed. The main reason, aside from lowering my base costs, is that I feel a lot more satisfied with my life since I started my business. 

Helping you directly through writing, coaching and training makes me happy.

Paul Jarvis asks three questions:

  • How much is enough?
  • How will I know when I got there?
  • What will change if I do?

He explains how he maintains a minimalist lifestyle and how this helps him to save and reinvest while also allowing him to take extended offline periods over the summer and winter. I’m working on getting better at taking these longer breaks as well.

I translated this into ongoing questions on what I would like to achieve financially in my business and when we are there it will help to have a buffer as well. My minimum income is 60k CHF gross. This allows me to survive, not necessarily thrive and the minimum turnover for that is around 140k CHF. You might need to calculate this for yourself but interestingly enough the minimum salary is exactly what has been determined as a substance for people living in Switzerland. 

I usually say that you should have 100k CHF in the bank before starting a business full-time. At the time I started mine, I needed this buffer to get through the first few years. Later on, I would find regular income mainly through consulting projects, interim mandates and classroom lectures or workshops. 

Now, these are usually onsite so they won’t fit a long-term digital nomad strategy. So for me the last question is easily answered: Once I have enough income to stop working onsite in consulting projects and I have a buffer for hard times I will be able to move around more in the world.

How can you digitize even further?

I think it is important that you go through your idea or your current offering and check if you can offer the same service remotely or not. For example if you are a consultant or coach, you might find it easy to digitize your sessions with clients by offering an online course or coaching via ZOOM.

However, if you lecture or run brainstorming sessions it might take more effort to change these sessions to online sessions. Or if you sell actual products, you might need a warehouse or similar production facilities. If you identify those you can start to think about replacing those income sources with digital income streams. You should consider active and passive income. 

Most of you will probably have either no business yet, or a business that could be a “Company of One”. In order for you to become a “Digital Nomad” you need to solve a lot more issues than if you just stayed in your home country. Assuming that you are an expat or expat spouse in Switzerland we will show you next week five technical aspects that you will need to consider if you want to become a digital nomad and run a location-independent business.

For now, I would start with the question of determining whether you want to have a home base and where that should be. I think that you probably also need a “home base”, a place you can call “home” and return to. This will also be relevant for taxation purposes. Your business needs a home as well.

Then I want you to start thinking like a CEO. If you are thinking about starting a company of one, I would suggest that we have a coaching conversation. Let’s have a 15-minute chat to see where you are at right now.

Resources 

https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/high-salaries-aren-t-what-they-seem-in-switzerland/45810010#.XzoYb0AgLTc.whatsapp

https://ofone.co/

https://www.audible.de/pd/Company-of-One-Hoerbuch/B07KFLTK58?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIxd7U_aWW6wIVyAJ7Ch3tsAcnEAAYASAAEgKb5PD_BwE&source_code=GAWOR12604212090BN&ipRedirectOverride=true&ef_id=XP4aQwAAAEgLUl39:20200812182957:s

https://www.investopedia.com/terms/d/digital-nomad.asp

https://tandemnomads.com/podcast/tn75-how-to-legally-set-up-portable-business/

https://www.mbopartners.com/state-of-independence/research-trends-digital-nomads/

https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/home-working-fifth-over-last-decade-tuc-analysis-reveals

References

Jarvis, P. (2019): Company of One.

hiremeexpress

 

How was your week? Are you starting to feel the cheery holiday atmosphere? That nice blanket of snow I found Friday morning sure did jumpstart that magical feeling for me! Christmas lights and snow always bring an enchanted mood to Zurich, and after a week away at our RockMeRetreat, I feel even more present than usual and less anxious about the daily tasks. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still concerned about the state of the world, the health of my loved ones, and all the fatigue I hear from clients and colleagues. However, in this state of presence, with renewed energy and this joyous state of mind, it is a lot easier to focus my energy on what is really important.

Presence is important as we are constantly pulled in so many directions, and “energy flows where our attention goes” (Robbins, T n.d., para. 2).

I would like to share with you a small confession: Before I launched my business and when I started to blog I had a tendency to spend a lot of time on social media. There was a time when my family was concerned that I was getting addicted to Facebook or Twitter. Luckily, I got over this by developing healthy ways of interacting with social media. However, last week during our RockMeRetreat I enjoyed not engaging for a few days and now I feel ready for the online world again.


If you are like me you can hardly survive a day without your smartphones anymore, let alone access your bank account, google account, or any account for that matter.
When we are offline or have low batteries, it creates feelings of anxiety. I have an ongoing experiment where I am trying to increase my productivity and get more done by using less and fewer resources (money, paper, time, people). I would like to summarize the learning for you and you might want to follow me in this experiment. In my Mastermind Group, we are all considering getting a paper planner again because we feel that our digital tools are just not doing all the tricks. I also feel that often paper gives me a higher sense of security than an app. Obviously, I am trying to reduce paper where it is not needed but there are areas where paper just beats digital tools.

1 – Start with an Inbox List


To write this I started an inbox list I am regularly checking. The list became very long. I am not even sure I finished it yet. I’m not surprised that I am occasionally concerned about inbox anxiety. Once you have completed your inbox list, review my simplification principles and check which ones apply to you. Once you have completed your list review my simplification principles and check which ones apply to you. 

2 – Develop Your Simplification Principles


Here are examples of your simplification principles.

  • People over Robots! Any personal message is better than an automated response.
  • Move from DIGITAL to ANALOGUE on purpose. Use paper strategically.
  • Delete unused apps from your smartphone.
  • Turn your phone off from 9 PM to 6 AM. Give it a space for the night outside of the bedroom. (You will still hear the alarm!)
  • Use Post-it for visualizing what is important to you. The idea is One thought, one post-it.
  • Say “No, thank you…” or “yes, if…” to any proposal for meetings, work, and tasks right away. Commit fast and decline fast. Don’t ponder on decisions forever.
  • When asked for meetings give two time-slot options only.
  • Always set a deadline by when another person should come back to you.
  • Wear black most of the time. On Wednesdays add a color. Stop ironing during a pandemic.
  • If you don’t know what to wear because you don’t know if the occasion is formal or not, wear a black suit.
  • Choose your social media channels wisely. You probably have more than necessary.

3 – Write your 2021 Accomplishment List


Go through the RockMeApp archive and review all that you have accomplished in 2021. For those who are not on our RockMeApp, go through your daily planner or your journal: I’m sure you have accomplished more than you realize in your professional, as well as in your personal life. Check if there are open items that you wish to close within the next two workweeks.

4 – Participate in our Online Workshops


I bet you’re wondering how participating in our online workshop is going to simplify your life? HireMeExpress is not just a course, it’s a group of people wanting to evolve on the Swiss job market. Global People Transitions is a community of people with connections always willing to give a helping hand.
There are many advantages to joining our online workshops: this group offers the opportunity to meet others who are in a similar situation, looking for a job. Together, you will acquire and exchange knowledge, practice networking techniques, give each other feedback. The shared journey offers you peer support, fresh points of view, encouragement through collaborative work. Personal and professional development is not always easy, but these online workshops will help you grow confident, are motivating, make the journey less lonely, and give you the keys to make it easier. Who knows! you might even meet people who can introduce you to someone who knows someone… You might even make long-term friendships!
To simplify your life in 2022, start right away with a few simple changes like getting rid of the apps you are not using (or shouldn’t use), go back to analog, where it’s relevant, think of your achievements and reflect on what you want to achieve in the upcoming year, and think of the HireMeExpress program if one of your goals for next year is looking for a new job in Switzerland! You won’t regret it!

Please join us and celebrate your accomplishments and let’s practice what we preach. Let’s build even more personal connections this December, make friends, work on our fame and improve our finances. I look forward to seeing you on 1 December in our first free workshop.

Workshop 1: Partnering Masters – Building Effective Relationships (FRIENDS)

Wednesday, 1 December from 17:00 PM CET till 18:00 PM CET

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Workshop 2: Powerful Missions – Having a Voice in a Sea of Noise (FAME)

Thursday, 9 December from 17:00 PM CET till 18:00 PM CET

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Workshop 3: Persisting Mindsets – Designing Work to Support a Global Lifestyle  (& Gluehweinparty)(FINANCES)

Wednesday, 15 December from 17:00 PM CET till 18:30 PM CET

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All dates and updates will be shared if you sign up on our #HireMeExpress list. Please sign up here by SATURDAY to get further updates and our 19 FRESH RESUME CHECKPOINTS.

The Global Mobility Workbook

We have been living in a world dominated by political, economic, and environmental uncertainty for many years now. However, the past two years have been particularly exceptional and tough for most of us. The global health crisis caused by Covid-19 has brought the entire planet to its knees. The pandemic impacted all aspects of life and radically changed the way we work. The world of Global Mobility has not been spared. Considering the extent of the impact caused by the pandemic, it doesn’t take a fortune teller to foresee that Global Mobility teams will have to deal with the blow of the crisis in the years to come.

However, it’s not all bad news! We need to think positively and see the good in all situations. For example, the crisis showed that Global Mobility teams continue to be incredibly resilient and are constantly coming up with immediate and particularly creative solutions to face issues that arise overnight. Imagine the difficulty of having to suddenly repatriate an expat (or an expat family) who was temporarily on holiday in a third country and remains stuck there without any other assistance. Or the complexity of finding a quick solution for someone who was about to go on assignment but suddenly had to postpone their departure, despite all their household goods having already been shipped to the host location. The following section will briefly outline the top eight Global Mobility (GM) trends to watch in 2021.

1 – Diversify the Assignment Types in Your Guidelines

A constantly changing and diverse population like today’s requires closer alignment between mobility types and support levels and more flexibility and agility. Since the 1990s, the mobility types have evolved enormously from only having long-term or short-term assignments. In the 2000s, new types of assignments emerged, such as the rotator, the international transfer, the globalist, and the commuter. Then, the 2010s saw the rise of business travelers, international new hires and domestic relocations. In the present decade, we will see the assignment type evolve and diversify further with new possibilities like the “flexpat”, the virtual roles, the contingent workers, remote working, and other future mobility options we haven’t thought about. Predictably, there will be more variety in the range of mobility locations as well. The “global approach,” which Global Mobility has seen increasing over time, will become the leading type of move. 

Even though Long-Term Assignments (LTAs) remain an important and widely used relocation model, it is also true that the deployment of shorter and more flexible approaches, such as Short-Term Assignments (STAs), business trips, immersive experiences, and commuter models, are constantly gaining traction (Deloitte, 2019). The Global Assignment Policies and Practices Survey from KPMG (2020) confirm the same trend, with survey participants expecting to rely the upcoming five years more on STAs (46%), Commuter (52%), and Permanent Transfers (52%). On the other hand, 44% of respondents expect a reduction in the use of traditional LTAs, and 42% believe that it will remain the same. The diversification of assignment types directly brings us to the next trend; the need for flexibility. 

2 – Become More Flexible in Dealing With the Needs of a Diverse Workforce

Flexibility has dominated HR headlines for several years. It continues to be a trending topic, driven by several factors such as a constantly changing expat population and assignment types, employee expectations, modern technologies, and tools. This trend has also been driven lately by the unexpected global halt caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, as it has been a severe stress test of flexible policies and has raised essential questions in the flexibility debate (Mercer, 2021a). 

For a GM program to be successful, it needs to work well both for the organization and the expats. But having a policy both flexible and defined enough to be used as the foundation for any mobility scenario is a big challenge even for the most evolved GM programs, as data from Mercer’s 2019 Flexible Mobility Policies Survey report.

The expat population is changing. Nowadays, a more diverse population than ever is embarking on International Assignments. Employees are more diverse in cultural backgrounds, family situation, age, gender, etc. It is impossible to address all the needs of these various groups in a one-size-fits-all policy.

A more diverse workforce equals a larger variety of individual assignees’ expectations, with the result that a proposition might be very attractive for one employee while not being appealing at all for another. This is clearly pinpointed by the 2018 How Global Mobility is Responding to New Dilemmas Survey: expectations from millennial generation employees are impacting mobility programs for 43% of surveyed companies, while the aging workforce has 36% of companies re-evaluating their program policies.

The need for flexibility is clear, and organizations have come to understand its importance as 65% of respondents of the AIRINC Mobility Outlook Survey 2021 (MOS) believe that demand for flexibility from the business will increase. Furthermore, 33% of respondents state that increasing flexibility within policies is their top priority to focus on in the next couple of years. The survey also shows that the number of policies that companies support increased each year, with an average amount of 4.5 policies in 2017 to 6.2 in 2021. 

Flexibility is needed to cater to individual needs. According to the Mercer 2019 Flexible Mobility Policies Survey, the most popular policy elements for which the participants introduced flexibility are family-related: housing, spousal support, child education, and home leave tickets are all items that can help improve the Expat Experience while on assignment.

However, with the crisis, the importance of duty of care over excessive flexibility was acknowledged: policies should not be made flexible if they are essential for the wellbeing of employees. Flexible policies have prepared some companies to deal more efficiently with urgent repatriations and unforeseen mobility scenarios. Other companies adopting flexible policies have found them inapplicable and inappropriate in the context of urgency. 

3 – Expect more Balance in Dual-Career Expat Couples 

Dual-Career Expat couples have been a topic in GM for the past years. The 2017 Worldwide Survey of International Assignment Policies & Practices (WIAPP) survey report pinpointed dual-career/family-related issues and cost as the main barriers to mobility. Similarly, the expected advantages of a flexible mobility program were also closely related to these issues. Also, the report published by Crown (2019) highlights the same problem. But if this is not a new phenomenon, why is it considered a trend to watch in 2021?

Because nowadays many more households, globally, rely on two salaries. This means that when an employee is asked to take on an international assignment, the economic impact on the family is more significant than it used to be. Consequently, an increasing number of companies are struggling with the challenges posed by the dual-career demographic and are in search of creative solutions. According to the report published by Crown in 2020, dual-career couples are more the norm, and often the accompanying partner has left a career for the move. Interestingly, research also shows that often, the expat partner has the most challenging time adjusting. Lack of spousal/partner career support is, according to the latest AIRINC MOS (2021), even among the top five reasons why assignments fail. 

To deal with the dual-career factor, companies have put in place several strategies. Many have put in place policies to support split families, offering more frequent home leave. However, this is generally limited to 12-24 months, after which the employee runs a higher risk of suffering from burnout with a negative impact on work productivity as well. Another solution is the increase of commuter assignments, especially across the EU, where distances are limited. The downside of this could be that the commuter status will impact the employee and their family and the team’s morale in the home and host location after some time. Another strategy, the one for which we advocate, is putting Expat Spouse support at the core of GM policies. The most standard support comes in the form of reimbursements for job search assistance, professional affiliations, and credential maintenance.

4 – Facilitate and Organize “Virtual Assignments”

The first trend highlighting the continuous diversification of GM also encompasses a higher number of Virtual Assignments. Differently than managers who oversee a region or frequent Business Travelers who might occasionally be involved in operations abroad from remote, a virtual assignee does remotely the same job as an assignee who has relocated to the host country. Virtual Assignments have been the breakout topic since the pandemic (Crown, 2021). The COVID-19 crisis is changing all the debate around the possibilities of working from home and Virtual Assignments. Never in history have so many employees worked remotely to guarantee essential business continuity. Virtual Assignments also raise a lot of new questions. 

Virtual mobility does not necessarily imply that employees remain in the home country while being responsible for operations in other locations. It allows expats to ‘’work from anywhere’’, meaning that employees can also work in a third country of choice (not the home country or the location benefiting from the task performed). This possibility enables expats to become digital nomads as they are no longer bound to a specific location. Implementing a more significant number of Virtual Assignments also means acknowledging and accepting that working arrangements are changing fast in response to technology, generational changes, and sudden business disruptions. 

Of course, there are limits to this as well. The most obvious of which is that not all jobs can be performed remotely, which is also one of the reasons why virtual mobility will not replace traditional mobility. Tax and compliance issues can pose a risk too. The company having no existing operations and not wishing to have a permanent establishment in the location where the employee would like to be based is another possible barrier to Virtual Assignments. Some organizations are also concerned that Virtual Assignments could hinder company culture and teamwork, with the risk for the employee to feel like a perpetual outsider. The final point worth considering is that cost saving is not necessarily automatic. In some cases, the assignee wants to live in a high-cost country where sending them will cost the company much more (Mercer, 2021b). 

It is now easier to see how the popularity of virtual mobility is closely related to the increase of a more dispersed international workforce. As companies upgrade their technology and become more agile, they could decide to assign projects and tasks to mobile people rather than moving defined jobs as such. In other words, instead of trying to fit assignees into predefined boxes, the aim is to manage a diverse workforce in a more fluid and coordinated way (Mercer, 2021d). 

Moving jobs to people instead of moving people to jobs will not substitute the traditional way of thinking GM, but it is one more tool companies can use in their global operations. We live in an era where recruitment is not limited by geography, and hiring can occur in any global location to fill open positions. As organizations gradually embrace best practices to manage a distributed international workforce, it will be essential for Global Mobility teams to adapt to a new way of thinking and learn to implement Virtual Assignments successfully. 

5 – Expand Your Skills and Become More Agile 

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, multi-skilling is “the practice of training employees to do several different things, or of using employees who can do several different things,” or, in other words, the ability to master a wide range of skills relevant for different types of functions and jobs. Research from Hershbein and Khan (2018) provides broad-based evidence of how firms demand even more upskilling from workers when the local economy suffers a recession. Thus, this practice will likely be even more helpful in the aftermath of the crisis, when more agility is required in all business areas. 

The “future of work” (#FoW) is skill-driven, and the expansion of the gig economy brings proof to the statement. Since organizations are becoming flattered and more digital, corporate positions or job titles will not matter as much as skills and the capacity to update and renew these skills. Mercer listed a series of skills that GM professionals should acquire to thrive under these conditions. Below is a summary. 

Now more than ever, global mobility teams are asked to be advisers to the business and help anticipate risks and compliance issues. Mobility professionals should function as bridges between departments and geographies and serve as facilitators to coordinate arising matters. One possibility is that the mobility functions will be gradually more oriented towards consultancy. In one sentence, Global Mobility teams need to master compliance issues.

Ensuring that the basics are in place in terms of metrics and cost tracking will be essential, but what will make a difference for HR professionals is turning the results of newly developed metrics into concrete suggestions to improve people management.

It is also fundamental that mobility professionals speak the same language as general management and finance departments, linking mobility with compelling business cases.

Another crucial point Global Mobility teams need to bring to the top of their agendas is developing the ability to be good storytellers. Explaining the bigger story behind talent mobility and to what extent employees’ tasks relate (even distantly) to the overall economy and the society’s well-being is a differentiator. Storytelling is also about clearly summarizing the mobility program policy’s main principles or what the very mobility program entails. 

Today we live in an unprecedented abundance of information. The crucial issue is determining which data are true and relevant and interpreting them to draw appropriate conclusions for the business. GM professionals also have a role to play in the digitalization of companies. They need to familiarize themselves with the concepts and technologies revolving around AI and develop statistical and technology literacy.

Now that companies diversify more and more their compensation approaches, GM professionals need to dig deeper into Expat base pay, benefits, short-term and long-term incentives to have a more comprehensive financial understanding of the implications of an international move. It’s time to broaden reward skills. 

6 – Consider Adding “Human Touch” 

The days when careers were only about moving up the ladder are forgone. Nowadays, it’s about moving across the structure and the expat experience (KPMG, 2021). For employees, this results in a heightened focus on wellbeing, development, and recognition. At the same time, expats have started perceiving the mobility experience differently: They once used to see compensation as the primary incentive for global relocations but now tend to value providing validation on both a personal and professional level. Nowadays, the global workforce is attracted and motivated by a more personalized, agile, and holistic experience. Therefore, adding the human touch is needed which predictably results in a better relationship between employees and employers.

Employers picked up this trend and refer to it as improving “employee experience.” 47% of respondents of the AIRINC MOS 2021 mentioned this as a top priority to focus on in the upcoming years. However, it would be unfair to deny that it is too often difficult to prioritize employee experience if teams are too busy focusing on the many operational aspects of the mobility program. A well-designed human-centric global mobility program does not simply consider individual employee needs but also considers all the people involved. 

If you wish to embrace the human touch in your global mobility program, you successfully should focus on the following four core aspects:

  • Operational Support. Structure of operations and satisfaction with external vendors.
  • Financial Welfare. Rewards, benefits, and other types of support provided to the employee. 
  • Professional Engagement. Successful integration into the host location and career progression.
  • Expat well-being. Employee resilience and focus outside of work life.

The COVID-19 crisis has particularly highlighted the very last aspect of the above list, expat well-being. According to Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends, 80% of the respondents identified well-being as an important priority for their organization’s success over the next 12-18 months, making it this year’s top trend. Yet, only 12% feel “very ready” to address this issue, showing a clear “readiness gap.” Expat well-being does not stop at healthcare considerations and should not only be prioritized during emergencies. Expat well-being should also entail social, emotional, and financial aspects. Those are natural aspects in which highly mobile employees are automatically more at risk. Factors such as stress, mental health, family and financial issues, and demotivation or failed assignments should put the mobility team on full alert. We need to get back to providing a service that is essentially a human experience. Especially, to improve the expat’s well-being it is extremely important that they have contact with people from inside and outside the company to which they can talk to. 

Undoubtedly, the current crisis pushes companies to accelerate their strategies to ameliorate expat well-being, potentially enabling a better work-life balance. There are plenty of good reasons to make investments to improve well-being: Burnout impacts employee retention, employees with higher well-being are more likely to feel engaged at work and recommend their organizations, and to some extent, well-being drives organizational performance (Deloitte, 2020).

7 – Deal with Harder Immigration Compliance 

Even before this global pandemic, the waiting time organizations had to face before holding all the authorizations required for an employee to travel abroad for business was becoming increasingly longer. The quicker visa to obtain, that for short-term business travels, are not intended for productive work or long-term assignments. Many countries are enforcing measures more actively against illegal employment. A growing number of employees have to pay pricey fines, and some even undergo criminal punishments. 

Problems only increase when the employee is accompanied by their spouse who travels on a holiday visa and then tries to find a job in the new host country or get a local driver’s license. 

Undoubtedly, the unexpected crisis caused by the widespread presence of COVID-19 has made immigration compliance and timelines for assignments even more complicated for organizations wanting to send their employees abroad, repatriate or transfer them to a third country. Also, companies might be losing key talent now that the job market is picking up if they had to wait for their assignments, sitting on packed suitcases for more than a year.

In a world where business travel, secondments, and overseas relocations are routine, the resulting level of disruption caused by the restrictions on movement that governments set in place to combat the spread of the pandemic is unprecedented. With companies working hard to prioritize their staff’s well-being, another whole set of legal challenges arise. In such a rapidly changing scenario, some mobile employees might remain stranded in their host country or a transit country or even risk overstaying their visas. Some of the measures that governments around the world are enacting are temporary, but others could have a more negative effect on business in the near future. 

  1. Entry restrictions and an increased number of admission criteria for citizens of certain countries, including bans on some high-risk locations.
  2. Heightened eligibility criteria and application requirements where visas are issued, including suspension of visa waiver agreements and more detailed document requirements for new applications.
  3. Longer lead times for applications and discrimination in the selection leading to class systems of vaccinated versus non-vaccinated applicants.

8 – Embrace Digital Innovation

In the past 24 months, many organizations have focused on digitization (moving to more digital formats) and digitalization (strategically shifting to digital processes and activities) of the mobility function. Many consider technological breakouts to be a megatrend. One of the biggest challenges is to incorporate technology into the business in a way that adds value to the company and its employees. One positive example of digitalization is reporting assignees through an intuitive HR system and tracking assignees through security apps such as the International SOS assistance app.

Companies’ level of ‘digital engagement’ depends on how “digitally mature” their global mobility programs already are. Some might be just ‘exploring digital,’ using robotics to carry out simple and repetitive tasks, while others might be already ‘becoming digital’ with a formal digital strategy set in place. 

Mobility functions are already experiencing success where automation is implemented to perform tasks that humans would generally be assigned, such as ending routine emails or copying and pasting information from public or private sources. In turn, workers are given higher-value tasks for the benefit of the mobility function. By adopting and introducing those techniques into existing processes, GM teams will focus on diminishing costs, increasing productivity by improving operational efficiency, and retaining talent. Some of the latest HR systems like Success Factors or Workday offer basic workflow functions for international assignments but cannot yet run the full process with all the external vendors involved. Data needs to be shifted from the HR System to the vendor platform but an integrated solution has to be found to do this efficiently while still respecting GDPR and Data Security.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology is another interesting use of AI in the field. It is already being used to speed up administrative/transactional processes in mobility functions. Equally important is that automation can also reveal itself as crucial in reducing hierarchical thinking. If you want to read more about this topic then this article on our blog might be of interest to you. 

Core office technologies such as telephone, word processing platforms, and email have already evolved to expand connected and collaborative working possibilities. Expats can now access the latest information, join video conferences, share and work on the same documents or workspace at their convenience, from a device and location of their choice. It is a great aid tool for managing assignee package creation. It makes it possible for Global Mobility teams to stay in close communication with their assignees abroad. 

As for Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR and VR, respectively), they can transform the employee’s onboarding experience into the organization or allow them to meet and collaborate with colleagues in other countries. Additionally, it can be used to virtually recreate cities to immerse oneself in the new environment before deciding to move there.

According to Deloitte (2020), AI is projected to add US$13 trillion to the global economy over the next decade. It is no wonder that in their 2020 Global Human Capital Trends Survey, 70% of the respondents stated that their organizations were exploring or using AI to some extent. At this point, the question is not whether AI will affect jobs but rather how. Reducing costs by replacing the workforce with AI technology is not the only viable path: 60% of the surveyed organizations use AI to assist rather than replace workers. 

By using smart devices to predict, detect and prevent risks in moving people around the globe, AI is already helping organizations go beyond traditional ways of managing the global workforce. With the massive increase of the data volume available to organizations, the emergence of advanced AI-based algorithms, and the growing availability of data scientists, systems become increasingly self-managing and potentially self-defending against risks.  

For regular updates on Global Mobility you can order “The Global Mobility Workbook (Third Edition)” via your favorite bookseller and sign up to our readership here:

https://globalpeopletransitions.com/become-a-reader-of-the-global-people-club-sandwich/

If you wish to bulk order please contact our team here.

https://www.angieweinberger.ch/gmwb/

References 

Websites

Dictionary.cambridge.org. (2021). multi-skilling. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/multi-skilling

Mercer. (2021a). Global mobility policy flexibility in practice. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/Insights/article/Global-mobility-policy-flexibility-in-practice 

Mercer. (2021b).The rise of virtual assignments. (2021). Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/insights/article/the-rise-of-virtual-assignments 

Mercer. (2021c). Upskilling the Mobility Function. (2021). Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/Insights/article/Upskilling-the-Mobility-Function 

Mercer. (2021d). Talent mobility: looking ahead. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/Insights/article/Talent-mobility-looking-ahead

Books and Reports

AIRINC. (2021). Mobility Outlook Survey 2021. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://www.air-inc.com/mobility-outlook-survey-2021/ 

Crown. (2019). Big Global Mobility Trends to Watch in 2019. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://www.crownworldmobility.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Big-global-mobility-trends-to-watch-in-2019-CWM.pdf 

Crown. (2020). Big Global Mobility Trends to Watch in 2020. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://www.crownworldmobility.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Big-global-mobility-trends-to-watch-in-2020-CWM.pdf 

Crown. (2021). Five Standout Talent Mobility Trends for 2021. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from  https://www.crownworldmobility.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/5-standout-talent-mobility-trends-for-2021_digital-CWM.pdf

Deloitte. (2019). ’Global Workforce Insight 2019.’ Deloitte. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/ch/Documents/tax/deloitte-ch-Back-to-the-future-global-workforce.pdf

Deloitte. (2020). ‘2020 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends Survey. Deloitte.’ Deloitte. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/insights/us/articles/us43244_human-capital-trends-2020/us43244_human-capital-trends-2020/di_hc-trends-2020.pdf 

FIDI. (2019). ‘2020 Vision: A Focus on Next Year’s Trends.’ FIDI Global Alliance. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://www.fidi.org/blog/2020-vision-focus-next-years-trends 

Hershbein, B. and Khan, L. B. (2018). ‘Do Recessions Accelerate Routine-Biased Technological Change? Evidence from Vacancy Postings.’ American Economic Review. Vol. 108, no. 7, pp. 1737-72. Retrieved May 27, 2020, from https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/aer.20161570

KPMG. (2020). Global Assignment Policies and Practices Survey. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://assets.kpmg/content/dam/kpmg/xx/pdf/2020/10/gapp-2020-survey-web.pdf

KPMG. (2021). Global Mobility Forecast: Trends in Risk, Talent and Digital. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://assets.kpmg/content/dam/kpmg/xx/pdf/2021/02/global-mobility-forecast-trends-in-risk-talent-and-digital.pdf 

Mercer. (2017). Worldwide Survey of International Assignment Policies and Practices. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://www.imercer.com/products/WorldwideIAPP

Mercer, (2019). ‘Flexible Mobility Policies Survey.’ Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/solutions/data-solutions/policies-and-practices-surveys/flexible-mobility-policies-survey

PWC. (2016). Women of the World: Aligning Gender Diversity and International Mobility in Financial Services. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/financial-services/assets/women-of-the-world.pdf 

More Sources

Baker McKenzie. (2019). ‘The Global Employer: Focus on Global Immigration and Mobility.’ Baker McKenzie. Retrieved May 27, 2020, from https://www.bakermckenzie.com/en-/media/files/insight/publications/2019/12/the-global-employer-focus-on-immigration-and-mobility_041219.pdf

Beck, P., Eisenhut, P. and Thomas, L. (2018). „Fokus Arbeitsmarkt: Fit für die Zukunft?”. Stiftung Zukunft.li. Retrieved 28 May, 2020, from https://www.stiftungzukunft.li/publikationen/fokus-arbeitsmart-fit-fuer-die-zukunft 

Bertolino, M. (2020). ‘How Covid-19 Is Disrupting Immigration Policies and Worker Mobility: A Tracker’. Ernst and Young. Retrieved May 28, 2020, from https://www.ey.com/en_gl/tax/how-covid-19-is-disrupting-immigration-policies-and-worker-mobility-a-tracker

Hauri, D., Eisenhut, P., and Lorenz T. (2016). „Knacknuss Wachstum und Zuwanderung: Hintergründe und Zusammenhänge.” Stiftung Zukunft.li. Retrieved 28 May, 2020, from Knacknuss Wachstum und Zuwanderung

Robb, A., Frewin, K. and Jagger, P. (2017a). ‘Global Workforce Trends: The Impact of the Digital Age on Global Mobility.’ Deloitte. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/uk/Documents/tax/deloitte-uk-global-mobility-trends-latest.PDF 

Robb, A., Frewin, K. and Jagger, P. (2017b). ‘Global Workforce : Digital Innovation in Mobility.’ Deloitte. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/fi/Documents/tax/deloitte-uk-digital-innovation-in-mobility.pd 

Talking

You might be facing a unique set of challenges right now. Acclimatizing to a new locale, new cultural norms and social practices, ever-changing pandemic rules, children with identity issues, an injury, or an elderly relative, who just fell down a third time and needed to be hospitalized. 

These challenges bring with them additional levels of stress and dealing with them every day inevitably results in mental exhaustion, especially if you cannot be there in person and have to support through WhatsApp calls.

You might also downplay your own mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion or worse, ignore them altogether. That’s because as new members of the workplace or community, you don’t want to be seen as the “constant victim”. You might end up overworking and taking on too many responsibilities to show your “worth” and you’re not looking after yourself enough.

This can result in weight fluctuations, feeling drained or listless, and being unable to get out of bed. If any or all of those descriptions apply to you or to a family member, then this discussion would help you understand better what is going on. 

The Expat Experience

The “Expat Experience (XX)” involves working longer hours, adjusting to the rules and culture of the host country, trying to build a new circle of friends, and retaining some semblance of social life. You notice that things that were commonplace in your home country, perhaps easier access to medication or specific types of food, are way harder in the new country and add to the stress that is already near peak levels due to the recent move.

Stress is something we all have to manage but for you, stress is experienced more frequently and from a broader range of sources. It starts with the “small” things – handing over your previous work, clearing your office space out for the move, and saying goodbye to people you love or grew accustomed to.

For you, it only gets more complicated from there. There is a new language and an entire culture built around it that needs to be understood, people to interact with, transport networks to figure out, and more. Remember, all this is happening in conjunction with everyday obligations like cooking and cleaning, spending time with family, calling your relatives or parents in your home country.

You can see why the statistics skew in favor of you facing more burnouts, and the negative impact on personal and professional life that they bring.

Culture Shock 

Early on during an assignment, a large portion of you suffers from “culture shock” or cultural adjustment. The impact of these often manifests as symptoms similar to mild depression – feelings of isolation and helplessness, oversleeping and lethargy (or even the opposite: insomnia and lethargy), mood swings, and unexplained body aches. Homesickness adds to the symptoms, which combined with the fact that you might be new to your role makes things even tougher. It could also be that you don’t have a job or occupation just yet and feel that an important part of your identity is suddenly missing.

In this high-stress, emotional scenario, you often turn to the wrong things for management: substance abuse in the form of drugs or alcohol. 

I usually prescribe these seven easy-to-implement steps for helping your body with cultural adjustment.

  1. Implement a Daily Mission Walk. The focus here is not on high-impact training, but rather on consistency. Go for a short walk and make it a staple of your daily routine. Motivate yourself by small missions such as taking the dog for a walk, recycling the glass bottles, getting bread or flowers, buying groceries without the car, dropping a few items off at the local Brockenhaus (or Salvation Army).
  2. Plan a Digital Detox. This one is not easy, as you end up losing contact with your family and friends back home, but it is well established that overuse of social media and technology has a high impact on stress levels. A weekend of digital detox will help you regain focus and have some time to think and reflect. I usually try to stay away from social media for 24 hours over the weekend. During the RockMeRetreat we are practicing to stay away from media for several days.
  3. Practice PMR or a similar Relaxation Method. Work through Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) every day after lunch or before you go to sleep. Start with videos you can find on YouTube or buy CDs and audios from Medical Doctors such as Dr. Beth Salcedo (English) or Dr. Stephan Frucht (German).
  4. Start Meditating 5 Minutes a Day. Practicing active meditation is also a good idea. I created this video to get you started. There are many more detailed videos on how to do this out there. I’m teaching active meditation at the RockMeRetreat.
  5. Combine your first coffee with a morning meditation. You can also start your day with a short morning meditation such as this one. I try to combine my first coffee with a short meditation.
  6. Start a Journal. Journalling is a great method to deal with your mind and emotions. If it feels like a lot of work, try a bullet journal first.
  7. Join one of our Group Programs. Having a support group to help through any kind of transition is useful. With the current BANI world out there I would advise that you always build a support network fast and have a person you can trust and speak to about your challenges regularly.

Reverse Culture Shock

The hope that you would only experience culture shock once when you start an assignment is dashed by the revelation that by the end of that assignment, particularly if it was several years long, the same people experience a similar shock on returning home.

Also dubbed “re-entry shock”, the scenario is pretty similar to the original culture shock. After 5 or more years, the friend’s group, support networks, and even the workplace have all evolved and changed, while your memories and knowledge stopped at the point where they moved away. You find yourself in a similar boat as when you arrived in the host country all those years ago.

Reverse culture shock has not received the attention it deserves until now, but Vanessa Paisley’s “5-V Repatriation Model” is a great starting point to learn more about it.

When You Need Help From a Therapist

Coaching is not always the best solution, especially if symptoms have been persisting for a long time or were previously undiagnosed, perhaps even in the home country.  Should I identify that your symptoms are beyond what we deem “normal cultural adjustment” I will advise you to seek out professional help. 

The symptoms of depression are complex and vary, but have devastating long-term impacts on a person. 

If you are experiencing changes in sleep patterns, appetite, weight and mood swings, or any combination of symptoms listed on the link, please reach out immediately.

It is not easy to admit, whether to loved ones or even ourselves when things are tough. If you are feeling symptoms of culture shock, the first and by far the most important step is to honestly identify and acknowledge that you are not well. 

Without that acknowledgment, the treatment and healing can not begin. Also, asking for help can be shameful. Start with asking us for help by emailing romee@globalpeopletransitions.com for a first 25-Minute Call with me. 

We would also once again like to invite you to join our preparatory free workshops in advance of the RockMeRetreat and for anyone who would like to get to know our work with Expats, Expat Partners, Global Nomads, and Scientists better.