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What’s a Corporate Expat?(And Why You Should Become One)

In recent years, people have moved overseas (aka become an expat) for a variety of reasons. However, one of the most common reasons historically has been because of a corporate opportunity. That is, individuals and their families relocate because an employer sent them abroad or they on their own identified opportunities where they can use their skills internationally. In this post, we will focus on explaining just what a corporate expat is, how to become one and the benefits and challenges

What is A Corporate Expat?

Corporate expats (sometimes known as business expats) are individuals who are generally sent on professional assignment to work in another country, usually because of their specialized skills and knowledge.  They typically are abroad for a specified time to run a project, program, division or more.  These individuals are often in management or leadership positions. 

Often, corporate expats are employed by a multinational company and work in the private sector. This can be represented with a variety of industries from engineering to medicine to tech.  These expats may stay in their host country for a period as short as under 2 years or may stay for many years beyond that. 

What Are The Benefits?

There are plenty of benefits to taking your professional career abroad. 

Boost international experience: Depending on your career goals, taking an international assignment can leverage your professional credentials. Besides the technical skills you might gain in your field, you might also improve your soft skills such as building better cross-cultural communication skills that are beneficial in any field. 

Learn different ways of doing business: Doing business differs  by location and countries. Some places are very communal in their approach while others expect more independent, self-initiative. There’s no right or wrong, just work in a place. Working outside of your comfort zone can make you more agile in a variety of workplace cultures.

Managing international teams: In today’s globalized world, being able to work with different people and personalities is important. You can bolster your leadership skills as you learn how to lead in a culture different from yours. You get an up close understanding of how to navigate your management or leadership skills to work with the local staff. Later on, that expertise may come in handy when you return home and want to help your employer better work with staff on cross regional/cross unit projects. 

More money/benefits: If you have a specialized skill, you might find that you’re in-demand. Many people choose to be corporate expats, because they can make more money working abroad. They might also get benefits that include free or subsidized housing, discounted car payments, educational allowances for dependents or more that aren’t available in their home country.

What Are The Challenges?

With each foreign assignment, there are challenges. It is important for you to know them up front, so you can plan how to address them, should they arise. Here are some of the typical reasons.

Cultural/language barriers: Being in a new culture can be an awesome experience. It can be a trying one. Trying to learn new customs, languages, and social norms might be overwhelming, especially the more different culture from those you are familiar with. 

Career interruptions: Believe it or not, an international move can disrupt your career. Whenever you step outside of the typical, it may take you off the standard path for success in your career. You may have to make unanticipated professional pivots to meet your goals.

Disconnected from home office: Being abroad might have you feeling siloed or separated from your home office. You may miss key events or opportunities that could help you leverage your careers in the future. It may also be that your networking opportunities will look different.  

Family concerns: While you may move for a career, it doesn’t mean there won’t be family issues. If you are moving with a partner and dependents, they are moving abroad often without the built in work that the working partner has in the office. They have to build relationships and a life in an unfamiliar space and that can be difficult. 

Work Cultural Inflexibilities: Your host work culture might be radically different from what you are accustomed to and that can make the adjustment hard. If you find it difficult to work in your host environment, this can lead to frustration and stress, and impact the whole experience.

So How Do You Become A Corporate Expat?

Black corporate expat in office leaning against door with
Image: iStock

Option #1: Request An International Transfer from Your Current Company:

If you are working for a company that has a multinational presence, you may want to find out the process of being assigned to a different location.  You have the advantage of already working for the company and this might make it an easy possibility.  You will need to talk to your manager about options of working in your department abroad. You may also have to consider switching to another unit. Either way, anticipate having conversations with your current unit, the unit you’re hoping to transfer into and human resources to make sure the pieces work.


Option #2: Transfer Jobs (While In Your Home Country) to a Company In Your Industry that has International Locations: 

If you can’t find any international opportunities within your existing company, you may have to make a change. You can find companies within your area of expertise or industry that have opportunities globally. As you start to apply and interview, you can ask about the possibilities of being posted in an international location.

Option #3: Apply directly to Foreign Country Job Postings In Your Industry: 

You can also apply for jobs in your industry in the country of your choice directly. This means you limit your job search to a specific country and apply for opportunities in that country. Depending on the business, you may be considered an international hire (that is someone hired from outside of the country) or not. 

If you are considered an international hire, you might be entitled to a compensation structure that differs from someone hired locally. But remember, this depends on the business and just because you are coming from a foreign country, does not mean you’ll receive expat-style benefits.

The Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Become A Corporate Expat

If you are thinking of pursuing a corporate assignment, you may want to ask the following questions:

Does an international assignment make sense for my career?

Is it the right move for you…(AND your family/dependents, if applicable)? Will my partner/dependents thrive during this move?

What type of support  will I receive from my employer to ensure the transition is smooth?

What is the compensation and benefits package? Does it meet both your needs and expectations? Does it align with my financial goals?

If you are a professional looking for a change, the opportunities may exist for you to take your career abroad.  With some research and asking the right questions, you just might be able to find the right role overseas for you. 

Further Resources

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