HR – Do you have an expat in your HR department?

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“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand. ” A Chinese proverb”
This proverb could not be more true when understanding the life of an expat.

In two out of the four schools my children have attended the above proverb has been hanging on the wall. It makes sense and when putting my hands on the keyboard to write this post, it sprung to mind.



Because it sums up the point of this post.

That it is easier for us to comply with things if we ́ve walked the talk ourselves.

There are many elements to be able to fully comply and understand the extend of an expatriation. Not only the practicalities. Even more so the emotional side of it.

This is best done by having someone in your HR department that have been – or are – an expatriate him/herself.



Look at the difference between these two people:

Poul is 28 and well ahead in his HR career. He is single and are spending his time working, being with his friends and family, traveling, attending to his hobby and his religion. He has lived in the same city his entire life.

Now, Paul have been given the task to expatriate the head of marketing (We call her Angela) from A to B. An exciting task covering everything from logistics, time mapping, contractual work and making sure that a replacement for Angela is found.

It is Angela´s second expatriation.

Angela is 45, married and has 3 children aged 5, 8 and 11. Angela is dynamic and has a rich cultural life and understanding. Her children and husband are very active. They are all attending sport clubs. Angela and her husband place high value on a healthy and sporty lifestyle. They also spend a lot of time being involved in their children’s school.

Angela and her family are from UK and are currently being expatiated from Denmark to China. Her first expatriation was from UK to Denmark. They lived in Denmark for 4 years.

As you can see from the above, the differences between Paul and Angela are many.


During the contractual work, Poul find Angela to be very difficult on several things:


  • She is asking for her husband’s phone bill to be covered
  • She is requesting that a third party prepare the house they are living in now for handover
  • She is asking for her kids to have 3 instead of 2 yearly trips to their home country.

You find these request unreasonable and provoking and thinks that she is spoiled.

“She is already paid so much, and at the same time as climbing the career ladder she gets to explore the world. Why can her husband not just prep the house for handover? and the extra trip for the kids – what is that all about?”

I understand Poul´s thoughts very well. I also understand Angela very well. The missing bridge between Paul and Angela is identified in the lack of experience.

The doing. The living it. The feeling it. It is that simple!

I believe my point is made. However, you may think that her requests are unreasonable too, so let´s look at why they are not.



Her requests are very valid in this case.

Looking at the phone bill expenses. She and her family are moving to China. The expenses for calling home to UK will be significant.


The expenses for her husband not to be able to call his home turf – for whatever reason he needs to do so – is potentially very much bigger. For the company.

How and why?


  • He may struggle with all the changes. In this case, tapping into known territory can be hugely stress reducing. Mind you, he has no one to trust in the beginning
  • He may need a second opinion on something medical – this is best done in your own language
  • He most definitely needs to stay connected with friends and family at home for obvious reasons.

If her cannot stay connected, reduce his tress and/or get peace of mind on a medical issue, guess who he is calling to unload on? Angela.

Angele is likely buried in work and exhausted as it is. If her hometurf is requiring a lot from her as well her drive, energy and mood is steady declining.


Under performing, errors, missed opportunity and burn out for the expatriated employee, due to stress at home, can end up being a far bigger expense for the company – as opposed to paying the phone bill for her husband.


Why I find Angela ́s two other requests valid and reasonable?

I cover that in my workshop “Prepare yourself & your team”  You can also download my E-book with loads of Expat insight for free right here

 Thank you for reading along.


Kia – Expat Advisor

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. קמגרה

    Everything is very open with a precise clarification of the challenges. It was really informative. Your website is useful. Thanks for sharing!

    1. kia

      Thank you very much for your kind message 🙂

    1. kia

      That sounds great, thank you.

  2. Im more than happy to discover this web site. I want to to thank you for ones time for this wonderful read!! I definitely enjoyed every bit of it and I have you saved as a favorite to look at new stuff in your site.

    1. kia

      Thank you for your positive and lovely feedback. Indeed I will keep writing about expats and the eco system around it.

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