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Why Expat Assignments Fail


Expat assignments are not always successful. In fact, INSEAD quotes as high as 50% of expat assignments fail prematurely and can cost companies as high as $350,000. This can mean anything from the employee not performing up to par to the employee leaving the assignment early because they are unhappy with their working situation. These failures can be costly for companies and individuals alike, so it’s important to understand why some expat assignments fail so that you can avoid this fate yourself! Here are some common reasons why expat assignments fail.

Candidate Selection

The initial selection and subsequent offer to assign key staff to an overseas office has to be made carefully.  The individual might excel at his job locally but might lack the EQ and social skills to succeed in a foreign country.  Unless they have a track record of previous international assignments it is difficult to determine whether they will succeed in an international context. Very different for an individual as the decision to go abroad and the location they travel to rests entirely on them!


It’s a good idea to brush up on your foreign language skills before you go because it will help you fit in better and find local people who can help you out.

You have to be ready for some language barriers when you move abroad, but there are ways around them. You can ask locals what they think about your pronunciation and how close it is to their own dialects. That way, if someone doesn’t understand what you are saying (or vice versa), at least they know why! In the mid-long term, you will definitely acclimatize faster once you’ve started to pick up the local language. It will certainly boost your motivation when you can order a meal or give directions to a taxi driver.


The culture of your country, local office and city might be very different to back home. You’ve been exposed to a certain way of life for so long that it’s almost second nature to you. Your family may all speak the same language and share similar values, but different cultures have different ways of doing things.  Culture shock is especially prevalent among people from cultures that are very different from the one they move into; for example, if you’re moving from the United States to France (as an American), you may find that your new country’s culture takes some getting used to. What about to China or Vietnam for that matter- now that will definitely be a huge culture shock for someone from a western country.

If you move overseas then there are going to be many challenges ahead that will require patience, tolerance and understanding as well as flexibility so it’s important to learn as much as you can about your new host country and their way of life. Being open-minded and willing to accept things for how they are will go a long way when moving to a country with a different culture.

Finances & Costs of Living

Expat assignments can be expensive. It’s important to plan for this before you leave by saving up some money, or by considering ways of earning extra income. Many companies will pay for your relocation fees, but there will still be things you need to pay for such as flights, visa processing fees, and expats health insurance.

If you are making the move without the support of a large company behind you, it is even more critical you plan sufficiently and make sure the timing is absolutely right to expand your business or take the plunge with an overseas job offer.  Make sure you do your research and due diligence on your future employer.

In 2008 the global banking giant HSBC started their annual Expat Explorer survey to understand global costs relating to international assignees.  This not only ranked countries based on their costs of living but also on quality of life. It also digs much deeper into what impacts expat financial well-being like managing personal tax and retirement planning.  Some findings from the 2021 Survey below:-

  • 52% of expats find their finances difficult
  • 63% of expats have seen their disposable income increase since moving abroad
  • At 71%, Asia ranked as the highest region for optimism about the year ahead

Expats recommend living in Europe for expanding cultural horizons (42%) and stability (45%)

Health Issues

Health Related issues can be a major factor to expat assignments failing. Be it a major illness , or something as simple as food poisoning be sure to be prepared for the inevitable and ensure your family is well versed about what to do in a medical emergency. Just like at home make sure your kids know the drill and know all emergency numbers and what to do if they need help.

Food poisoning can happen anywhere—whether it’s a result of poor hygiene in restaurants or contaminated water supplies—and any tourist who has travelled abroad knows how quickly travel-related illnesses can ruin even the most carefully planned trip!

When seeking medical care aboard and finding the right assistance there are also many challenges. Ensuring you know which doctors or hospitals you will call during a medical emergency is something that is often overlooked.  By identifying medical providers as early as possible after arriving in your new home country you will avoid a lot of unnecessary headaches later.  Please refer to another article we wrote on Seeking Medical Care Aboard for further advice on this topic.

Depression and Mental Health

It’s important to remember that depression is a very real thing, particularly among expats. The reasons for this can vary, but they typically include loneliness, isolation and disconnection from family and friends. It may not be the most pleasant topic to think about, but it’s worth bringing up when discussing failure in overseas assignments.

Depression can be caused by a combination of factors:

  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Cultural differences (e.g., food)
  • Lack of support from co-workers or friends back home

Increased pressures from working in a foreign country and with the added expectations from home office will also impact your health.  From a well-being and a physical health perspective it’s important to ensure you maintain a healthy work-life balance

Family Support

You are about to embark on a wonderful journey, but the one thing that can derail it is family issues. Family is a big part of your life and leaving them behind is hard. Expat assignments can be very stressful on families, so it’s important to discuss how you will handle family issues when you are away from home before starting your new job. You should talk with your spouse about how he or she thinks the two of you will manage family issues when you’re apart from you’re extended family for long periods

Family members need to put their differences aside and focus on making sure that everyone has what they need while away from each other. To do this effectively, family members should have clearly defined roles in order to make sure all bases are covered while they are apart (i.e., the kids have someone who can help them with their homework and stay connected to their grandparents with regular calls back home).

Building Network of Friends

People who are relocating to a new country often find that they do not have the same interests as their new friends. They may also feel like outsiders because of the language barrier or cultural differences. You may end up feeling isolated and lonely, which could lead to you feeling homesick and wanting to return home before your assignment is over. Join sporting clubs, and associations organised by other foreigners and try to mix with locals as well as other expats to ensure you learn more about your new home country. Don’t fall into the trap of only mixing with people from your home country.

Conclusion:- Make it a rewarding and experience

The list of reasons why expat assignments fail is long. It’s not just about missing home and having a harder time adapting to culture shock. There are other factors that contribute as well, such what’s happening back at home with your family, geopolitics of your new country, and how well your family settles into their new life.

There are also personal reasons for failure – for example, if you’re not happy in your relationship or if you don’t have enough support from family and friends back home when you return after a long assignment abroad.

Even though the list of reasons doesn’t cover every reason, I hope this article helped shed some light on some common reasons why your expat assignment might fail – and what steps you can take to prevent it!