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Expats know intimately well the pains of moving. I’ve mentioned before how a popular 2020 survey revealed that the majority of people said moving was the number one most stressful life event. It beat out divorce, switching careers, even becoming a parent.
Especially for those on rotating assignments, these par-for-the-course relocation challenges are usually numbed by the excitement of a new destination. But for many expats, eventually, the music stops, sometimes mid-song, and you’re suddenly facing the disappointment curve of reentry.
Fired after 15 years of loyalty, unrenewed contract, even planned resignation or retirement sends you into repatriation mode. Just like Cinderella, the ball is over, and even if you don’t want to or aren’t ready, you must scramble to get back by midnight or turn into a pumpkin while in transit.
For the second part of our series that answers tough questions expats love to avoid, we’re tackling the often-dreaded topic of repatriation. And it’s my pleasure to have decorated global mobility coach Angela Weinberger join us to share her expert tips for an intelligent reentry strategy.
Angie’s an author, a lecturer, the owner of Global People Transitions, and a member of Expat Coach Coalition. She has 25 years of international human resources experience, which includes creating high-performing teams and supporting minority expats looking to generate income in their host country.
To say that Angie really, really gets it would be an understatement. In addition to her vast professional knowledge, Angie’s also lived and worked in multiple countries while navigating a bicultural relationship. She brings back the human touch to complex global mobility subject matter.
What You’ll Learn in this Episode:
- How to network with your future in mind
- Don’t be cheap when hiring these professionals
- A psychological contract & setting clear expectations
- What you must negotiate in your assignment letter
- The benefits of starting something new after 55
Listen to the Full Episode
Close 2021 by saying you became a part of something amazing. Angie is a prime example of the high-caliber professionals that we’ve united to form one dream team. This is your LAST CALL for Expat Coach Coalition, so get off the fence and join us right here.
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Podcast: Play in new window | Download
Featured on the Show:
- Global Life in the Hard Resource Roundup
- Expat Coach Coalition
- Angie Weinberger – Global People Transitions
- Global Career Workbook
- The Global Mobility Workbook
- The Global People Club Sandwich
- Sundae’s Facebook Business Page – Sundae Schneider-Bean LLC
Catch These Podcasts / Articles:
We’re delighted by our nomination to the global Top 25 Expat Podcasts!
Full Episode Transcript:
Hello. It is 7:00 am in New York, 1:00 pm in Johannesburg, and 6:00 pm in Bangkok. Welcome to the Expat Happy Hour. This is Sundae Schneider-Bean from www.sundaebean.com. I am a solution-orientated coach and intercultural strategist for individuals and organizations. I am on a mission to help you adapt and succeed when living abroad and get you through any life transition.
You might fall into one of three categories when it comes to how you got into living a globally mobile life:
- Maybe it is a way of life, your parents paraded you around the world, continent after continent, so you just sought out a similar life.
- Maybe you fell in love, and moved across the world to be with that special someone
- Maybe you or your partner consciously said YES to a life abroad for career reasons but also because it matched your values of cultural learning and adventure.
Of course there are more categories, but for the third group, the word REPATRIATION feels more like a threat than returning, quote, home. Just the thought of it sends chills up your spin.
“What do you mean end this life of living abroad?”
“How dare you suggest we need to stop living the only life we know as a family?!”
REPATRIATION – and, “What if we have to?” falls into one of the tough questions expats love to avoid.
Last week we kicked off our three-part series on tough questions expats love to avoid. In EP252: Expat Power Couples with Yvonne Quahe, we asked, “Whose Career Is it? Yours, Mine or Ours?”
In this week’s episode we explore the question: What if we “have to” repatriate?
Angela Weinberger from Global People Transitions joins us to get answers. This conversation was originally featured inside my private Facebook community, Expats on Purpose – but it was so good, I wanted to share it with everyone. Stick around and learn:
- Why EVERYONE needs a repatriation plan (even if it’s the last thing on your mind)
- What you need in place in case it happens before you are ready
- The good news if you are “forced” to retire early or are hungry to make a shift later in life
Sundae: So before we dive in, I’m going to tell you a little bit about Angie for those of you who might not know her, she is a Global Mobility Coach and she has over a decade of experience, 25 years in international human resources, over a decade coaching and she specialized in global mobility for Germany and Switzerland. More about Angie, she supports minority expats looking for income in the host country and those looking to build high-performing global virtual teams. Both of which are challenging in the Swiss and German context. I know from living there myself. She has a long long list of qualifications, including being part of Expat Coach Coalition and as a licensed facilitator of Adapt and Succeed Abroad. So welcome Angie, here with us today.
Angie: Thanks so much for inviting me to the show again Sundae.
Sundae: So, I am excited. One of the things I love about Angie is, she’s so committed to bringing the human touch back to global mobility. For those of you who have been moved abroad through an organization, you know, that might be what’s missing based on your experience. She’s got a very down-to-earth writing style, you might recognize her from her books called the Global Career Workbook, or the Global Mobility Workbook. It takes really complex topics and they’re so easy to digest and actually fun to read. So that’s one thing I really appreciate about Angie and she is really recognized in Europe as a consultant and lecturer for global mobility and intercultural management. She’s also lived and worked abroad in the UK and Australia, and India, is in a bi-national or bicultural relationship. So in other words, she really, really gets it. So Angie you chose among all of the things that you’ve got deep experience on, repatriation today. Tell us. Why is that the topic that you felt close to your heart to speak about?
Angie: Now Sundae, you might not know this, but it’s one of the reasons why I actually started my company.
Sundae: Oh, I didn’t know that.
Angie: Yeah, because I always felt when working inside the corporate world in global mobility that there’s some missing link between talent management, the needs of the individual expats and their families and their careers. And it often boils down and becomes really evident in the repatriation process. Maybe not so much while the expat family is still abroad, but in the repatriation process, what often happens, there’s either no roll left for the person to return to or the company offers them a severance package. Or there is a role, but it’s usually a disappointment.
Sundae: Which is actually counterintuitive, because many people think if I take this role abroad, it’s going to be a great opportunity and it’s going to skyrocket my career. So you’re inside the industry. You see this all the time. You heard it here first. So pay attention, right? You’ve got four topics that you wanted to offer today around this topic. Based on your experience. I’m going to give the floor to you and have you get started.
Angie: Yeah. So let me just dive into what I think is the most important critical aspect here to understand for every expat. When I do briefings, I still work in the field occasionally, and when I do briefings with expats, I always tell them that you need to own your own career. No employer will take care of your career. It’s your responsibility and you have your own brand. And, no matter whether you have worked with the company for 30 years or five, you need to be sure that you know where you’re heading and where your next role is going to be. And what your next role is going to be.
Sundae: So, how do you do that? What do you recommend they do?
Angie: It sounds pretty simple, but it’s actually not so simple in practice. So, we usually recommend that you have a repatriation plan. Or, if you’re one of those global nomads that we see more and more that you have at least what we call a transition plan. Assume that you already have the next role that you want to achieve in mind. When you plan your career, when you plan your learning. And when you think about, “Okay, where do I want to go next?” We actually have a tool that facilitates that in our company and a transition plan can be something very basic, it could be a one pager, but I think it’s really important that you as the expat, you really make sure, okay, you think about your next role, you think about the skills that you need to have the expertise that you need to develop the experience that you need to further. But also most importantly, that you network, yeah, so that you actually have a realistic chance to get that role for example, back in headquarters or wherever you have been coming from.
Sundae: Right! Because it’s often out of sight out of mind.
Angie: Yeah, and unfortunately, those two initial scenarios, I was talking about no role back at home severance package, repatriating for early retirement at like 55 has become quite normal. So let’s talk about Paul, for example, director of a global bank. He worked in Asia for 15 years, returning home. Maybe there’s a job for him in another company, but within his own company, he’s probably not going to find an equivalent. As you said, the career needs are met. So I think, first of all, you also need to think about, “Okay, what kind of role am I expecting when I come back?”
As you said, we call that the psychological contract. There is a psychological contract. It’s not always written down, what we’re expecting of our employer, what we associate with going abroad, while we do that, how we are motivated. And here, I think the recommendation is, make sure this is explicitly written down somewhere. It’s in your file because as we know the pace of change is becoming crazy. Companies restructure all the time. The people that were in headquarters, for example, when you were sent abroad three years ago, they’ve all gone. So make sure that at least this repatriation plan is on file and that you regularly, usually, you get a home leave every year. When you do your home leave, you go to the headquarters. You meet your sponsors. You meet the people who If you followed the sponsor that was responsible when you were sent out and that you update this contract.
Sundae: That’s wonderful. I have never heard anybody talk about that before, but what I have experienced is watching top level leaders lose their position at 50-plus and then go back home when they’re like, “Oh, what are we gonna do with her kids in college now that we don’t have,” right? It puts the entire family in a spin and then you feel betrayed because you have 15 years of loyalty in your company and you feel like you’re almost kicked out of the door. This is a way to navigate that.
Angie: Another thing, in addition to the transition plan. I always recommend it to anybody anyway, but update your CV regularly. Don’t start with your CV when you’re 55, update it regularly, have a LinkedIn profile, learn networking, start networking earlier, own your brand. Yeah. Own your career, own your brand.
Angie: So I think this is key. Then I mean we talked about psychological contract, but what a lot of people underestimate is also the re-entry shock that they experience when returning back. It’s not all milk and honey when you come back to your home country. Psychologically, we know that, you know, while you’re abroad you start to paint this home country in the rosiest pictures. You get this land of milk and honey, a vision of your home country.
They don’t have support anymore like they used to have. There’s a lot of things that slowly eat into this valley of tears into this disappointment curve. And if it’s often harder returning home, then going abroad in the first instance.
Sundae: Right? Right. and you’ve also changed while you’re abroad and you want to re-integrate seamlessly, but there’s a discrepancy between who you’ve become and who you were when you left. So that’s a huge adaptation. Period. This is really Important and I just want to, I want to emphasize that for everybody who’s watching this idea of owning your brand and getting prepared, DO NOT OVERLOOK THIS. Because this is what will make the difference from a secure transition in terms of your finances or your career and a psychologically more stable transition for your entire family. Really important. What else should people think about when they have repatriation somewhere in their future?
Angie: So let’s assume, you have these psychological topics under control. You also have your transition plan, you feel like you’re owning your career, updated your CV, etc. Another topic that I think would really help if you already negotiated a repatriation package in your assignment letter.
Angie: Especially if there’s no return guarantee. So in Europe, usually we have to give our expats a return guarantee for social security reasons, but for example, in the U.S., in the UK, it’s not common, you’re off the payroll and it’s hiring at will. So if you could at least try to negotiate the case when your stand abroad ends, that you will get a repatriation package. Most policies actually have repatriation packages, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that your employer will just give it to you freely. Now, I think it’s really important that you add this into your assignment letter.
Sundae: Right? And you don’t want to have to try to figure this out in a sense of panic at the very end if something changes and new people, new relationships and corporate are there. I love that idea. That’s a great tip.
Angie: Yeah and you also have to think about logistics, and you want to work with professionals. Obviously, there’s so much stress with the move. You really want to use a professional moving company. We’ve just seen some data on LinkedIn around people trying to organize their own moves. A lot of people say they would never do it again because it’s so stressful. And I’m really convinced you can’t really be cheap here. Don’t try to save money on these kinds of aspects. Work with professionals, accredited companies by Fede, for example. Do not let all of these platforms thinking, create a situation where maybe your goods get lost at sea and then you don’t have insurance and things like that. So really important to work with professionals. Same obviously is true for immigration. Imagine our friend Paul, having been abroad for so many years, he got married to someone from the host country and their kids, they have a different nationality or they have a dual nationality. But what a lot of people don’t think about, for example, when you return to Switzerland with your partner from a different culture, husband, wife, they have to have a certain amount of– or a certain language requirement. So it is actually expected that they speak German or French at B2 level, or B1 level.
Sundae: And that takes years, that takes years —
Angie: It takes a long time. And no matter whether that makes sense or not. But there’s a few things like that that really make the immigration for your spouse difficult. And what I’m increasingly frustrated about, I’m sorry to say that bluntly but a lot of my colleagues in HR, they don’t really understand that. Yeah, because they have always lived in the same country. For them it’s like, “Why would we even care about their partners? This is their personal decision. Their personal issue.” And I think, “No, no, we need to take care of their partners.”
And if the partner has a different nationality, and if there’s a challenge with bringing the partner back to the home country, we should be supporting. This is not widespread thinking, this is not widespread knowledge. That’s why you probably will need to invest in an immigration support. If you haven’t negotiated that with your company.
Sundae: So this is exactly the reason why having a relationship with someone like you, who has deep experience in global mobility makes sense. Because what I’m also hearing is that if that couple had heard about this two years before they repatriated, they could start working in the immigration. They can get their partner in language classes. So it will actually curb the transition and make it more smooth, but if it’s eight weeks before you fly out, then we’re in a totally different dynamic. That’s really important.
Angie: Yeah, and let’s assume, you are ready for early retirement. You might be 55 now, but maybe your partner is younger than you are, and then they will also need a job. They might need spousal career support or any kind of support so that they land a job in your home country. So, I think there are a lot of things to consider around planning. But as I said already, just work with the professionals and also make sure that you negotiate a good package for your repatriation. Especially if the company offers you a severance package. And I guess that leads me to the final point I thought would be really important, Sundae, to mention just from experience. Many expats, even if they have been abroad for many years, they still have a misconception about the tax systems and how double taxation treaties work. That’s usually because they get tax support. So usually, you have an external tax provider and they give them support. And for example, if you negotiate a severance package with your employer or if you have been part of an international pension plan and the pension plan pays out all of your funds at a certain point in time, plan this carefully and really make sure that you’re not disadvantaged because of the move back to the home country. Plan this carefully with a tax consultant and make sure that you really understand the ins and outs of this taxation on these payments. Because it could be that you assume something about it, and it’s totally incorrect.
Sundae: Right? Right.
Angie: This is a story I hear also from colleagues, from friends. And yeah, I really think you could avoid these kinds of situations, if you had a good consultation before.
Sundae: Right? And people might be hesitant to invest in a professional because it’s expensive but I’m guessing it’s more expensive to not do diligent.
Angie: Oh, yeah, totally.
Sundae: Wow. There’s so much here, Angie, and I want to just download everything that you know about global mobility, but this is already a huge amount for people to benefit from, just that alone. I’m recommending people who have listened to really take this seriously because what you’ve shared, I always see on the other end, but from the pain perspective, right? Don’t do that. And then in my coaching process, I watch the reality of what that means. And that’s why I just know how important you’re saying is because I know what happens when you don’t.
Angie: Yeah, generally I would say I’m sometimes surprised with what kind of naive thinking our HR colleagues send people on international assignments. And I can really only advise people to check everything carefully. I mean, I’m not perfect. I’ve made mistakes in my career as well. And when I was a junior HR consultant, I probably also gave some incorrect advice, 20 years back, but I really think people don’t do this out of bad intentions or something. It’s just, as I said, they’re often a lot of misconceptions. And the tax and social security and immigration law are very difficult to grasp. If you think about the globe. So it’s a profession that is completely underestimated often. And if you think you know, this is just common sense, but it’s usually not common sense. It’s usually exactly the other way around, which is why we say it’s rocket science, our field.
And Sundae, I also wanted to share a few hope stories.
Sundae: Yes, please.
Angie: I was thinking. Yeah, so obviously, people have a lot of reasons now within the pandemic to repatriate, to take care of elder relatives. And a lot of people are also thinking about after this long stretch now that we had where we couldn’t see family etc to take a long vacation for example, in the summer, which I think is an excellent idea to see the families, to see go back to the more at headquarters, but also to build personal relationships again. But I also hear from expats who are getting sort of at the end of their assignment and they’re saying, “Look, the next thing I’m going to do. I’m going to move into a different career. I’m 58. I’ve just started a PhD program. I want to become a teacher at a university level.” So they are already thinking about the next step and it’s never too late to change your career and start something new, or just start a consulting business, or their partner starts their own business. So I think, also the beauty of leveraging your expat experience to build on something and build something new and work in a new environment, even if you’re like 55 plus, I think, that makes so much sense. And, I really think this is such a wonderful experience to have. So, it’s really important to think about how can I use it to the best of my life,
Sundae: Right? Repatriation isn’t the end. It could be the beginning of something really, really amazing.
Angie: Yeah, exactly.
Sundae: So thank you so much for your time today. It’s amazing. And I just want to shout it from the rooftops for people. So I really appreciate your contribution today. It was wonderful.
Angie: Thank you so much Sundae,
So there you have it. A wake up call to have a repatriation plan on the books, even if it is the furthest thing from your mind. Straight talk on the sometimes annoying or expensive aspects that need to be considered, but will save you mountains of money, time and headache later, and a ray of hope about what is possible for expected or unexpected changes later in your career.
Make sure to join us next week where we answer a third question we ALL love to avoid when it comes to the realities of expat life.
You’ve been listening to Expat Happy Hour with Sundae Schneider-Bean. Thank you for listening. I will leave you with the words from British author Terry Pratchett: “Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
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