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The repatriation challenge
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Repatriation isn’t just all about catching up with old friends and making a trip to that favorite cake shop you used to stop at every Friday evening. Many returning expatriates actually experience re-entry shock and find the whole readjusting process quite tough. Coping with career issues, long administrative to-do lists and that strange “not quite at home” feeling can be very challenging. Remember how you were planning everything down to the smallest detail before going abroad? Do the same thing the other way around!

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Career: getting back on track

When assignment abroad ends, returning expatriates often go back to their company’s headquarters but sometimes find their position to be not as it was. Also, if you had signed a local employment contract for instance, you might be going back home jobless.

Fitting back into the workplace

It’s been four years since you begun working abroad in one of your company’s subsidiaries. Your assignment was bound to come to an end. So here you are in your home country, trying to find your department and office door… If you have been away for a while, your job may seem very unfamiliar. You somehow keep running into new faces and aren’t able to tell who’s who anymore. Priorities have changed as well as your responsibilities. Besides, you had gotten used to a more win-win type of management. Your international experience has improved your professional skills, so where is the recognition you crave for? Managers and colleagues just keep giving you a “so what?” shrug. Could it be you simply no longer can fit in? During expatriation, you will change and so will your company.

To prevent strong disappointments, the golden rule is staying in touch during your time abroad. Don’t let everybody forget all about you: visit the headquarters now and then, keep your network alive, consult Human Resources to find out what career opportunities might be available for you when you get back…

Finding a job

A job might not be waiting for you in your home country: job seeking sometimes begins almost as soon as repatriation occurs. Maybe you’ve put your career at a standstill to follow your spouse and are still wondering how to make that four year gap in your resume not look awkward. Or let’s say your experience abroad made you eager for change and you’d like your career to take a new direction. Expatriation can lead to a great deal of questioning: you might not find your way back to work immediately.

Depending on your status abroad (seconded or expatriate), you might need to wonder about unemployment benefits:

  • Within the European Economic Area, unemployment benefits may be transferred from one country to another. You must apply for this transfer as soon as you get back (you have three months to do this).
  • Outside the European Economic Area, rules vary depending on the country. Before you even expatriate, you definitely need to find out what will happen if you go back home jobless.

Dealing with the paperwork

Maybe you forgot how tedious the administrative aspects of expatriation were. Preparing for repatriation will refresh your memory… Avoid last-minute panic by anticipating.

  • Make sure you will have proper health insurance when returning to your home country. Unless you are seconded by your employer, you usually are covered either by the local Social Security scheme in the country of expatriation or by private expatriate insurance throughout your stay abroad. Inside the European Economic Area, Social Security benefits may be transferred. Ask for the E 104 form before you leave. Transfers also can be possible between countries which have signed international Social Security agreements.
  • If you paid taxes abroad, ask for a tax final discharge before leaving.
  • Arrange for your children’s enrollment in school.
  • Plan money transfers. If you wish to keep an account abroad do bear in mind that in many countries, you must report all foreign bank accounts: check what the requirements are.

Readjusting to the home country

No, that strange cultural shock you might experience shortly after you headed home isn’t a jet lag symptom. A long experience abroad changes you and upon repatriation, you will sometimes feel like a foreigner in your own country. Just imagine spending five expat years in a rather poor country and suddenly going back to your rich home country: you just don’t see things quite in the same way anymore. Friends and family may not be that eager to hear you go on and on about your time abroad and their day-to-day concerns might seem shallow and boring to you. No use in feeling misunderstood or different: you and your peers simply have less in common. On top of this, you might simply find it difficult to step back into a slightly forgotten lifestyle.

So how can one prevent being hit by too strong a re-entry shock?

  • Stay in touch as much as you can with family and friends while abroad.
  • If possible, make a few trips to your home country during your expat period.
  • Share concerns with fellow expats who just repatriated or who are on the verge of doing so.
  • Begin thinking about the entire repatriation process well before it occurs.

Returnees frequently experience reverse homesickness: give yourself some time to readjust before considering purchasing a one-way ticket to the country you just left!

To find out more about repatriation:

Confused with all the paperwork? Check out the repatriation checklist on InterNations website

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