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Repatriation – the unexpected relocation challenge

Updated 29 Jan 2010

Relocation planning typically focuses on the initial move overseas and managing life abroad. The often-overlooked issue is returning 'home'.

Expatriates are usually so excited and busy trying to acclimate to the foreign culture and having to manage their new lives, that returning home is furthest from their thoughts. However, many articles have been written about how returning home can be much harder than adjusting to a foreign culture.

This phenomenon is primarily because most people assume returning will take them to a familiar lifestyle and environment, and if they give much thought at all to this stage, they believe everything will fall into place when that distant time arrives.

Repatriation, the final adjustment in the overseas relocation process, does not have to be a negative experience – if it is well planned. Successful repatriation strategies involve a three-step process:

  1. Keeping informed of home country changes while on assignment,

  2. Rebuilding friendships and networking upon arrival “home” and

  3. Utilizing knowledge and skills attained throughout the overseas assignment. In some countries there are organizations such as American Wives Clubs that offer transition seminars, and if one is available, be sure to take advantage of it. 

Before moving home

Consider the personality traits, skills and attitudes that you found were useful in adjusting to the foreign culture. These will again prove valuable during repatriation. In addition:

  • Learn about recent home country trends like attire, pastimes and sayings

  • Involve the family in a dialogue about each other’s hopes, fears and expectations and how they can be managed

  • Focus on the positive aspects about returning home, such as enjoying former friends and activities and having more time with relatives

  • Learn about the current culture/climate and people in the 'home' city

  • If returning to the community where the family lived before moving abroad, recognise that people and friends will have changed and/or moved in the family’s absence

  • Have repatriation moving allowances, including house hunting time and benefits verified

Arriving home

Plan to rebuild friendships. Former friends may feel ill at ease talking to their now worldly friend who has lived and travelled in other countries. Conscientiously intersperse references to life overseas with activities and interests that have a commonality with friends and colleagues at home. A few more tips:

  • Share information about the international experience/location with colleagues, schools and community groups

  • Be patient with the transition

  • Be a good listener

  • Consult a repatriation counsellor who can assist the family in expressing their feelings about the change if they need to work through some challenges

  • Retain overseas friendships

  • Network with other expatriates who can offer tips about what worked for them. These individuals may also be helpful in recommending doctors, schools, child-care facilities and other services.

On the job

Consider ways to incorporate skills and information learned overseas into home country job efforts. Value colleagues’ opinions and efforts, and try not to plunge in and make quick changes, compare the overseas office to the home office or continually talk about the wonderful overseas personnel. Offer to be a mentor to a colleague or family moving overseas.

Planning the move

Expatriates need to know when they are moving home so they can coordinate the purchase of a home, register children in school and possibly locate a position for a working spouse. The timing can depend on whether or not the employee’s overseas job is completed, and if not, when their successor will be available.

Making the most of the experience

Re-entry to a home country after living in another requires forethought and planning, both personally and professionally. By taking a few precautions, families can experience a positive and productive transition into their former home. Everyone needs to remind themselves of what they have gained from the overseas experience and how they can put that knowledge and experience to use in the best possible way in the home country.

Expatriates will have become more flexible, knowledgeable, adaptable and tolerant. International experiences provide new perspectives and will surely benefit them for the rest of their lives. Repatriation shock and feelings of being out of step with a once familiar home environment will eventually pass. Upon moving back to a home country, it is important to get involved, join a club, volunteer services and put one’s experiences to use in a positive manner.

About the author:

Beverly D. Roman of BR Anchor Publishing, Jacksonville, FL, has written over 30 domestic and international relocation books. Contact her at For more information, visit the website

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