When an employee is selected for an opportunity abroad, the company’s global mobility teams usually start by working hard to ensure things like suitable compensation, an efficient secondment structure, and starting the process for immigration formalities. While these are all extremely important steps, there is another aspect to consider when an employee is on their way to becoming an expat.

Over the last decade, it has been established that international assignments are driven by two things – the company’s requirements, and the assignee’s career objectives. From the assignee’s perspective, there may be many factors that motivate or hold them back from uprooting themselves and their families, and starting afresh in a new country, and so there arises the third consideration – the assignee and their family’s preparedness to do so. This is a vital consideration, and can set the tone for the entire time the employee may spend as an expat.

Based on our experience in working with expats as global mobility professionals, we have compiled a few suggestions that can help us prepare expats and get them excited about the adventure they are about to embark upon.

Pre-assignment discussion

The moment an international assignment is initiated, your expat professional will be bombarded with documentation requirements, applications for immigration, relocation formalities, etc. It would be helpful to schedule a one-on-one discussion with the relocating family. The discussion could broadly cover:

  • Host country compliance overview: There are certain compliances that may demand immediate attention on arrival, while some can be adhered to at leisure. Some are periodic, while others are one-time. Leaving the expat and their family to juggle tax, immigration. and social security compliances could overwhelm them and impact their productivity at work. Pre-arrival counselling can give them an overview of the entire compliance cycle for an assignment, and help them adhere to compliance requirements throughout their assignment.
  • Relocation specifications: In order to ensure a well-planned assignment, it’s important to take a note of the expat’s specific requirements, such as family members relocating along with the expat, their specific medical conditions, pet quarantine support, goods shipment or storage, and property sales/ management in their home country.
  • Impact on financial and family well-being: International assignments often lead to significant changes in compensation. It’s important for expats to fully comprehend the financial impact on their disposable income, and what this will be for their family. 

Dependent/ spouse orientation

An expat’s spouse is popularly called a ‘trailing’ spouse, but they are known to dislike this term. At Expat Orbit, we believe that expat spouses are affected the most deeply by such a move, and are often the greatest support an expat has during the process. Unfortunately, 45%[1] of companies around the world still don’t have any sort of spousal support programme in their global mobility policies.

In India, most expat spouses are issued a dependent visa (also known as an “X-Visa”) which does not permit them to work in India. After the initial excitement of moving to India settles, expat spouses are often disconcerted by the unfamiliar environment, new culture, and language barrier. If the global mobility team makes an effort to understand their expectations beforehand, they can help establish a supportive ecosystem for them in India, which goes a long way in ensuring the expat and their spouse’s happiness. 

  • Employment opportunities: Many times, expats spouses quit their jobs in their home countries before relocating. On the afore-mentioned X-Visa, they are not permitted to work, and it is nearly impossible to change their visa status after they arrive. As many as 30%[2] of companies worldwide acknowledge the lack of employment for a spouse negatively impacts an expat’s professional productivity. An unhappy spouse can quickly lead to mid-term repatriation. Global mobility professionals can help by understanding the expat spouse’s desire to continue working before they relocate. Then, if possible, they can help the spouse fill an internal vacancy, or find a suitable job in the new country.
  • Education opportunities: Sometimes, expat spouses may choose not to go back to work immediately, but to take the opportunity to study. For this, they may require a student visa. India has a variety of colleges and universities that offer courses for foreigners and expats. If someone is interested, global mobility professionals can suggest appropriate courses and help with the admission process. 
  • Connecting with other expats: Research shows that there are increased incidences of anxiety and depression in expat spouses due to isolation. Putting them in touch with other expat spouses would help them better prepare for the trip and align their expectations.
  • Assurance of support on arrivalOnce the expats and their spouses have settled down in India, it is essential for global mobility professionals to check in with them regularly and assure them of continued support. 

Children’s schooling

For 38%[3] of expat families, ensuring that their children are able to adjust in a new environment without any adverse effects on their education and personal growth is the top-most consideration. While India now has plenty of international schools, the school year and curriculum may differ from those in the expat’s home country. Besides provisioning for their education expenses and suggesting the best schools to them, it becomes important to guide expats on the best time to relocate with their families, in order to cause the least possible disruption to their children’s education. 

Cultural and language orientation

Normally, companies offer expats a cultural training session one or two months after they move. However, it is the weeks before and the first few weeks after relocation in which expats have to interact the most with Indians beyond their workplace – the relocation vendor, the cab driver at the airport, the real estate broker and so on. These interactions tend to cause anxiety. It would be immensely helpful if they are given a basic peek into Indian society, culture, mannerisms, and basic language before they begin the process of moving.

Primer to the city and country in general

Every expat has concerns about the city they are to call their new home. There is plenty of information on the internet, but for a country as diverse and dynamic as India, simply relying on media coverage and internet articles may instead end up confusing the expat.About 16%[4] of companies arrange a preliminary visit for senior expat employees. Understandably, providing this for all expats can become expensive. Companies can instead offer some reliable information about the city and the country to expats when they are offered the international assignment. This could include:

  •  A virtual tour of the host city
  • An account of the new city’s weather and climate, prevalent laws, political situation, and local culture. 
  • A packing guide that advises them on goods that are prohibited in the new country, what items they will need immediately upon arrival, and so on. 
  • Safety guidelines and important contact numbers.
  • The addresses and phone numbers of local grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants, and taxi services and useful apps that they can download

Summing it up

Well begun is half done, they say. These small steps of consideration can go a long way in making the expat and their family feel comfortable and motivated. It may require the investment of time, but the returns are in the form of higher workplace productivity and overall expat satisfaction.It’s the era of innovation in the global mobility industry, and MNCs should leverage the upcoming trend of digitisation and balance it with the quintessential in-person credibility to enhance their operational efficiency, while enabling a pleasant experience for their expats.

What according to you are the best ways to help expats and their families prepare for international assignments? Please do share your ideas in the comments below.  

Get in touch with Expat Orbit team for customised solutions for every step of your expat professional’s international experience.

Co-authored by Prateek Agarwal and Henna Vij, co-founders of Expat Orbit.


[1] 2019 – KPMG Global Mobility Survey 2019

[2] Santa-Fe Global Mobility Survey 2018

[3] Propelling India Mobility_Weichert Workforce Mobility

[4] 2019 – KPMG Global Mobility Survey