Avoid Expat Failure: You are not alone – By Deborah Dahab

by | Dec 7, 2023 | Moving Abroad

To say that moving abroad is a major life-event is an understatement. Everything in your life as you know it will change, your address, the foods you eat, the water you drink, the language you speak.

You might have to sacrifice a lot for this international move, leaving family and friends, relationships you’ve spent a lifetime building. You will probably have many expenses from packing and shipping to visa fees and destination paperwork. I think it’s fair to say that you are undertaking an enormous investment financially, emotionally, physically, and energetically.

Being successful in this life adventure is the goal, but there are many people who find the adjustment in a new country quite difficult. I understand these obstacles to cultural adjustment all too well. Years ago, when I first moved to Portugal, I felt completely out of place and unhappy. The move took an enormous toll on my life, and yet I didn’t have a clue as to why I was miserable or how to make positive changes.

When I began my master’s degree in intercultural psychologist, I decided to research the statistics on expat failure. I wanted to understand why some people like myself found it difficult to adjust to a new country. In my studies, I came across these statistics. Up to 40% of international assignments in corporate settings failed. Expat failure is defined by employees on international assignments, returning to their home country before the end of the project.

For the companies sponsoring these moves, the cost of each employee failure is estimated at approximately USD $300,000. The statistics and financial costs are mind blowing, which do not even consider the emotional hardships of the employees and their families.

These findings led me to think about the expats who finds themselves unhappy and unproductive but complete their overseas’ assignment. In my opinion, I think these percentages are much higher and probably double the failure rate. And again, the human factor, the human cost of the emotional and mental distress of the employees and families are tremendous.

It’s important to understand why these people have been unsuccessful. According to the study, the most prevalent reason for the high failure rates came from the inability for employees and their families to adjust to the local culture and environment. Granted, this report studied corporate settings and many people move abroad on their own. However, based on my experience working with expat clients for the past nine years, these discoveries are even more relevant.

When we move abroad, we bear the financial burden. We are responsible for all our decisions, and we alone deal with the consequences. We need to do all we can to reduce our risks and increase our chances of success.

Finish this sentence: We Are Moving For…

I don’t mean a list of all the reasons why you are moving. Make a statement of what you want to accomplish. What are your goals? How do you want to live your life in this new country? Create your unique definition of what success means for you and your family.

Use this as a measuring stick to help you evaluate your first year abroad and beyond. Being clear on your We Are Moving For will get you through the rough patches, because you’ll know which goals are important for you to accomplish and the purpose behind this life-changing decision.


Culture training alone is not enough

Yes, learning about a new culture is important. We all must learn the rules of our new countries, but just knowing something doesn’t change our emotions, behaviors, or attitudes.

I had a client who knew that people in his new country were usually late for appointments.

He knew that it was socially acceptable to be fifteen minutes late for a meeting. But every time someone arrived late, he found himself annoyed and affected the way he behaved towards others; he felt that it negatively impacted his overall sense of well-being. To adjust your cultural lens and better adapt to the different cultural norms you need to understand your own biases.

Doing this emotional training will help change your emotions, behaviors, and attitudes towards a new culture.

Most importantly prepare

Benjamin Franklin once said, ‘If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.’ I couldn’t agree more. But here’s the truth you just can’t prepare paperwork and logistics. Prepare yourself emotionally, physically, and mentally. Moving abroad can be stressful, exciting, overwhelming, and frustrating, all at the same time.

You don’t need to do this all on your own. There are free resources like my series of YouTube videos and Facebook group that offers support and connection. To have a successful transition, understand there will be hard times, but know there are many resources available to help with the cultural adjustment.

My work is all about helping you and other expats and immigrants prepare for your move abroad. I am here to support you and increase your chances of success, however you define success.

You can sign up for my free online International Relocation Course here. This practical-minded course is filled with information for your move abroad.

Please feel free to contact me with questions and information about courses and 1:1 sessions. I look forward to working with you and your family.

PS: Ready to take your move abroad to the next level? Join the Expat Journey Program and replace guesswork with a framework and get everything done.


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