Working abroad: Expatriate challenges

An article on the challenges of the expatriate life-style.

Executives working abroad can find their work-life balance is very different from working in their home country.

The challenges of working abroad

Executives posted to foreign countries find their work-life balance is very different from working in their home country.  The expatriate lifestyle can be a wonderful well-paid opportunity to see a different side of life, both enjoyable and fascinating; however, until our own and our family’s emotional needs are addressed then these rewards can seem hollow and out of reach.

Working long hours and the obstacle different time zones can make keeping in touch with our families challenging and stressful.  Such separation can lead to concerns over family relationships and how much we are available to our children, spouses and parents, especially if they are aging, ill or nearing the end of their lives.

Even when things are going well at home and in our lives overseas, it can be difficult to share our daily life experiences and we may feel ‘left out’ of what is going on elsewhere.

In country, the barriers of language and culture can make working relationships difficult, potentially leading to feelings of isolation and lack of personal power.  Seemingly simple things like the unavailability of familiar foods can have a huge impact on our wellbeing.

If you have relocated with your partner, the stress of moving can be much greater on them, they may feel that their needs seem less important, compounded by the barriers of language, culture and distance.  Spousal support from companies can be limited, yet very useful assistance can include: help in finding a job, assistance to network with others, financial support for retraining or re-certification to work locally.

A study recently by an HR firm showed that over half of expatriates felt their life-balance was worse than colleagues back home, and that their company was not dedicated to improving it , ‘There are still a lot of companies that don’t really provide a lot of support to families’ (Siobhan Cummins MD of ORC Europe1).  Yet, the financial benefits to organisations of looking after the emotional wellbeing of staff working overseas can be huge and a highly effective investment.

Given the cost and commitment of our employers in relocating us, having second thoughts about work overseas, can carry a reluctance to ‘let them down’ and may leave us asking ‘What will be the impact on my career?’.

Being a woman has it’s unique differences in any culture it can present challenges whether perceiving ‘glass ceilings’ or dilemmas between parenthood and career.  The differences of being female can be further exacerbated in foreign culture where local taboos, religion, laws and misogyny may be far from accepted western norms.


CSM (2007).  Gardner, M.  The challenge of working abroad.  Retrieved on 28th Dec 2015 from http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0820/p13s04-wmgn.html?page=3.

Leave a Comment