Unpacking the shortcomings of Lifestyle Expatriation
Lifestyle Expatriates are often expat spouses in Dual-Career Couples, Third Culture Kids (TCK’s) and Gig Workers (or Digital Nomads as they tend to be called too). This is one driver of Global Mobility.

I have been a strong proponent of Global Mobility for years now and most readers and clients will know my general optimism towards it. This week I will be taking a critical look at the trend towards more Lifestyle expats and various shortcomings that need to be addressed. AIRINC (2019) confirms that 13% more companies now have an international one-way transfer policy (72% vs 59% in 2018). We also have to take into consideration here is that our populations are a lot more diverse than they used to be 10 years ago (Weinberger, 2019).

Let’s dive right in.

In recent years, we have come across a new source of mobility traffic. We can call this driver “lifestyle”. Through technology, economic crisis, and mobile mindsets, younger professionals are more willing to move to other countries to find work. The local-to-local hires from abroad are often “coming for love and staying for the job”. Locations with a high influx of foreigners due to low unemployment, high staff turnover and perceived high quality of living – such as Australia, Canada, Singapore, United Arab Emirates and Switzerland – attract professionals from many countries. The jobs require academic backgrounds and professional experience but can be filled by local staff, if the talent is available in the marketplace. There is, however, a downside to this trend. Not many professionals think about the long-term consequences of moving from one place to another. Social security is covered in a later chapter, as well as other potential issues that can arise for global mobility professionals.

Lifestyle expats are often expat spouses in Dual-Career Couples, Third Culture Kids (TCK’s) and Gig Workers (or Digital Nomads as they tend to be called too).

What’s in the packages?
Often the packages of lifestyle expats are limited. They have a local employment contract in the Host Country. Sometimes we support the immigration and relocation process. The company does not always offer international medical insurance or an international pension plan. In many cases, this is not because of bad intentions. Often, local HR staff has not considered the package and support as they have misconceptions about how these systems work globally.

So here are a few examples and tips to consider.

Going to the US? –  Do you face any Work and Residence Permit Restrictions?
In recent years I have heard a lot of complaints about the US immigration process among others. Protectionism has made it a more trying and difficult process in many countries. In Switzerland, too, we have more administration to tackle than before the bilateral agreement with the EU on free movement was accepted. You need to learn and understand the steps of the immigration process – for certain countries such as the US, you will need the help of a lawyer. Check if your spouse is allowed to work in the host country.

Going to Brazil? – Have you thought about your personal security?
In several countries in the world, you might face issues of personal safety. Brazil is one such country which has built a bad reputation over the years. It’s worth taking a look at your government security websites before moving to a new country. Additionally, once you are there, find out right away where your Embassy is in case of an emergency and get yourself registered with them.

Going to Europe? – Do you have social security in this particular European country?
Imagine if you will, that you move overseas with your spouse, you just find out that you are pregnant but you don’t have health insurance coverage yet in the new country, nor any type of social security. You might not have new coverage because insurance companies won’t accept you or they will increase their premiums significantly.

This leaves you stuck in a limbo where you are waiting for the lengthy assessments for private medical, social security and international pension to come through, while your spouse or yourself require the use of those facilities.

Going to the Middle East – Do you have any residence rights if you get fired?
The employment on a local contract poses a risk in many countries in the world as you might have to leave the country in case you lose your job. If you accept a contract in the Middle East, make sure that you understand your rights and obligations but also your residence permit status. Is it bound to your employment or financial security?

Going to China – Are you ready to face the pace and work 24/7?
Some countries have a different work ethic than others. Some countries are highly productive while others still have a lot of inefficient processes. You could move to a country like China and be surprised how many hours you are physically expected to be “at work”, in the office or even socializing with colleagues. The pace in fast-growing markets such as China could drain you or become stressful in the long run.

Going to India – Will you face tax issues and do you understand your package? 
As a local hire, you might have different legal implications to consider than an expat being sent by a company. If you are going to India, it is worth checking the kind of tax exposure you will face there and to really understand the package that you are offered.

Relocation Planning is left up to you
Many companies have not implemented a great process for hires from other countries. HR often works ad-hoc and as mentioned doesn’t understand all implications.
I once met an expat who moved to Switzerland around the New Year and didn’t have a place to stay when she arrived! Normally, the company could have provided temporary accommodation but that did not happen, the expat ended up having to figure things out on her own.

You somehow forgot that the host country has a different native language than English
Internations mentions that there are still many expats moving to another country without managing the host language to a workable level. I’m often surprised when clients complain about German being ‘so hard to learn’. Even if you can survive well in Switzerland without German, not speaking the language hinders you from integrating into a culture and entering the “circle of trust”.
How can Global Mobility help if they are not empowered and don’t have the staffing?

Increase the Scope, Team and have Global Mobility report to the CEO
What can be done to improve on these shortcomings? On an organizational level, I strongly feel that making Global Mobility a  function reporting to the CEO is the most logical path to positive consequences. Global Mobility activities need to include all sorts of cross-border activity including weekly commuters, International Business Travellers, International Hires and “Digital Nomads”.

It would allow for smarter, involved decisions regarding Global Mobility professionals as part of the company’s expert staff. Looking after the wellbeing of your international workforce is now considered essential to an organization’s success, there really is no justification for slacking off on that front.

Having the CEO directly involved with Global Mobility allows them to devise budgets and become the escalation point for critical hires and moves. Often, CEOs only hear about GM when things go pear-shaped and there is, for instance, a real life-and-death situation such as a terrorist attack or a tsunami – at times like these GM might not be able to get through to them because there are too many layers of organization between them.

Address the Package Issues through a Guideline
We should address the package issues and devise at least medical coverage, support with the immigration for expat and spouse, international pension, pay for the move and repatriation in case of redundancy and ensure the personal safety of the expat family.

Despite the tougher aspects of being involved in Lifestyle Expatriation, I still maintain my optimism. The Future of Global Mobility will see us rise to the level of other corporate functions and we will be able to support our diverse global clients even better than today.

Great strides have been made in recent years and I am certain that the coming days will see more positive resolutions to people’s pain points and enhance the expat experience.

Lastly, I’d like to mention that the third edition of The Global Mobility Workbook is coming together really nicely.  For a field evolving as rapidly as #GlobalMobility, revisions to the workbook are inevitable to continue being of value to professionals. This edition brings you many new chapters, thorough analyses on the Future of Work and a host of improvements.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Some HTML is allowed