Expatriate success factor: Three personality traits to look for in your international assignee

Many of us think the ultimate expatriate success factor lies in our top talents. That’s why all too often, it is the brightest and most eager that are offered international assignments.

But all too often, they are not the most adaptable to the changes an international assignment delivers during the relocation process.

The stress of relocation will very quickly bring out the true personality traits of a person, and so often we, as relocation professionals, will see those who can cope with stress, and those who can’t – long before they are noticed around a boardroom table.

And if an international relocation fails, the company must contend with the consequences of such failure, which include both direct and indirect costs. According to research, direct costs encompass remuneration packages, relocation expenses, and compensation, while indirect costs entail damage to the company’s reputation and potential loss of sales.

So how can you, in a work environment, prepare an employee for an international assignment, or what can you look out for when interviewing them?


Related article:  Moving LGBTQ Employees


In the 10 years working with international relocations, we have supported everyone from C-Suite executives to medical doctors, university professors, buyers, accountants, policemen and everyone in between. The following traits make the best expatriate success factor.

What personality traits make the best expatriates?


Expatriate success factor is rooted in respect. Those who have been respectful firstly to their family, to their employee and to those who are doing the job of supporting them.  It might seem old fashioned but the employee, who actively involves their partner and family in their move, has a much smoother path.  I find these people also respect their employee – even if they are the CEO and think a budget is just a number. 

With respect comes consideration for everyone and if an employee respects others, it emits to the estate agent, the packers, the company accountant and everyone involved.  If you are interviewing someone for an international role, please, have dinner with the whole family, and see that everyone around the table is involved – even if it’s a game of eye-spy while you wait for the meals to arrive.

Team player, able to delegate and trust

Another expatriate success factor lies in being a team player. This is a bit like a football or rugby game when you pass the ball in the direction (delegate) to another team member, who you trust will be where they are supposed to be on the field. A relocation involving an employee who has acute “attention to detail” is often a recipe for disaster!

These employees thrive on knowing every detail, and when it gets close to moving day, this amount of information will overload them completely, as more information arrives like rapid fire.

We all know, moving house or even just cleaning out the laundry cupboard looks like an easy task until we start, right? It is the same with a move, from eight weeks out, it looks like you are in control, but those last 2 weeks are sheer torture for a person who needs to know every fine detail.

They really need to trust the process and the people around them who are experienced in the world of relocation. They need to delegate tasks early on and trust!


This is a tricky one, but people need to be realistic about what is ahead of them, and how this might change the way they currently do things. Every country is different, and compromise is inevitable.

A family or employee, who understands the nuances of the new country, can navigate the change with a much more enlightened viewpoint and acceptance comes easily.

Not only will they be faced with different cultures and habits, but also the mental rollercoaster that they travel often leaves people stunned! It is not unusual for the spouse to go through a period of sadness, usually about eight weeks after arrival, yet every time I meet up with a spouse who was not warned, they are surprised when we say “Oh that’s normal, the honeymoon is over!”

Families who are prepared for the emotions of a move, will get to this eightweek mark and say “Ah yes, I was told about this! It’s when I realise I’m not on a holiday anymore, this move is real, and all of these boxes need unpacking and everyone else is at work and school and I am alone and my friends back home are having a BBQ without me.

This is when they need support, coffee and maybe a new hobby.

“It is a fine line preparing someone for a move, making it sound exciting so they take the job, while also making them aware of the ‘not so exciting’ so their expectations are managed.”

How Personnel Relocations can help

A well-supported employee, who is armed with information at the relevant times, is off to the right start.  If nothing else, make sure they have a positive first impression, they will better handle the challenges if they are in a positive frame of mind.

Good luck with your selection, and if you need help thereafter, call on us. Together we can put their mind at ease, and help them through the relocation process.

Speaking from experience during my own moves, and the 100’s of people I have relocated, I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to the success of any move, that the family is involved, and they all make the right start.


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