How to redefine your career as a returning expat?

  • traveler with suitcase
Published on 2023-02-13 at 14:00 by Asaël Häzaq
Sometimes, after several years spent abroad, it's time for expats to return home. Even though it tends to be overlooked, planning your return is just as important as moving abroad. But how do you plan your career when returning to your home country? What should you look out for? Here are some tips.

Planning your return

The number one mistake for expats is to think that returning home requires no planning. Apart from the usual administrative procedures, such as the termination of a lease or some service subscription and notifying the authorities of your departure, amongst others, there are so many things to consider. Rid yourself of the belief that returning home does not require the same logistical preparation as your move abroad. Of course, the planning is not the same, as you won't be going to an unknown land. But at the end of the day, the principles are the same! Basically, you have to anticipate, prepare well, and adapt. It often takes several months to organize a move abroad, if only for visa issues. Similarly, the return home may require several months and the same sustained efforts.

In fact, beyond the usual local administrative procedures that must be taken care of before leaving, everything starts in the head, where planning is the key to any consideration. On the other hand, when you have got used to living abroad, returning home can be quite an upheaval. If not properly organized, it can generate stress, disappointment, and confusion. Take the time to look back on your experience abroad, both professionally and personally; this will allow you to envision your return more serenely. You should also keep in mind that returning home can be a new beginning for you, as you are no longer the same person you used to be before moving abroad.

Don't rush into finding a new job

The second most common mistake is to embark too quickly on a new professional adventure. Considering common misconceptions, an expatriate would be considered a superhero who is always on the move and thriving all the time. This would be the best way to pressure yourself even more, especially when you have to prove that your return is not a failure (why would it be?). Beware of overworking and getting into some burnout-prone activities. Even if you have matured your career during your stay abroad, take some time to unpack your bags and start getting used to living in your home country once again. This will also be a good way to have a better perspective and ensure you are moving in the right direction.

If you need to start all over again in your home country, it is crucial to wait. Your approach might be poorly understood, especially in these times of global crisis and uncertainty. Anyway, applying for a job as soon as you land without assessing your experience abroad, you risk missing out on your true professional objectives. While abroad, you have certainly acquired new skills and fulfilled new missions. These are all positive points to consider and incorporate into your CV.

This waiting period is also important for expats who are on an international transfer. The return to the company needs to be prepared beforehand, with a progressive reintegration program that generally includes internal training, introduction to new departments/colleagues, and more, developed by the company managers. However, in real life, the return is generally a brutal one that may seem to be unprepared and sometimes prove even more difficult for the ex-expats. Ideally, the homecoming should be organized with your superiors, even before leaving your host country. This can also be a way to quickly re-establish the link with the company back home.

Make a professional and personal self-assessment

Another mistake, directly related to the previous one, is to start looking for a job without proper professional and personal self-assessment. This essential step will help you get back on track with your home country's labor market and allow you to position yourself. Below are some questions you should put to yourself.

Personal assessment: 

  • What are my best memories from my expat experience? What are the worst memories?
  • With some hindsight, are these memories still as difficult to recall? 
  • Have my way of thinking and my actions changed?
  • Have I made new friends?
  • What was my typical day like?
  • Did I engage in any activities? Which ones? Did I like them?
  • Did I travel around my host country? Where did I go? Did I like it?
  • Who am I going home with? Have I met anyone during my stay abroad?
  • Am I sad or happy to return? Why do I want to go back home? 

Professional assessment:

  • What were the tasks I had to perform (job title)?
  • Was it a job I had previously done, or did I learn about the job in my host country?
  • What new tasks did I actually perform?
  • Did I enjoy these assignments?  
  • What was the atmosphere like at work?
  • What was the company culture like?
  • How was the work organization (working hours, etc.)? How did I like it?
  • Did I work in a team, in pairs, or independently?
  • What was the relationship like with my colleagues?
  • At work, what went well and what didn't? How did I react?
  • What did I learn at work? What skills did I acquire?
  • Was I trained? Did I acquire any new qualifications?
  • Did I improve my command of the local language?

Assess your skills

Similarly, taking a skills assessment progressively reconnects your career abroad and your future profession in your home country of return. Even if you are continuing your career back home, a skills assessment might help. For example, it might be useful if you no longer feel that you are a good fit for the position you held. 

A skills assessment is intended for anyone, including public and private sector employees and job seekers. While living abroad, expats may not always be aware of the latest news about sectors that are recruiting, economic growth statistics, unemployment rates, or training opportunities in their home country. The skills assessment allows you to take stock of your professional and personal competencies, determine your new motivation, and establish a new career plan or a new training program.

A skills assessment also enables you to upgrade your CV with the assignments that have helped you acquire hard skills (technical) or soft skills (interpersonal). In addition, it is sometimes possible for skills acquired abroad to be converted into a "diploma" in your home. For example, France has a system called "Validation des Acquis de l'Expérience (VAE)" which allows converting your acquired experience (at least one-year full-time) into professional certification. 

Allow yourself to take on new professional challenges 

Are you looking for a career change, or do you wish to start your own business? Are you seeking a new professional adventure in another country? Something that you might have dreamed of and that seemed impossible before your move abroad can actually happen once you've returned. The time taken to reflect can be the right opportunity to rejuvenate your career.

Stay in touch with your contacts

You may have attended professional or informal events and networks where you met colleagues, superiors, acquaintances, or friends. You may have benefited from the help of someone to get your job, join a network or make new contacts. Nurture your relationships whenever possible. You never know what the future may hold in stock.

Share, discuss, keep communication alive

All these steps have one primary purpose. It's all about exchanging ideas and talking to others. It is essential to put your experience abroad into words. It is also important to talk to the people you met or will meet in the future. However, former expats sometimes feel that they are ignored. In fact, they tend to think that everyone's life is going on without them, and no one seems to want to make room for them. If they talk about their professional successes abroad, they fear being considered arrogant, and if they talk about their difficulties, they fear being considered whiners. Yet, in any case, sharing your career stories is crucial to rebuild relationships and moving forward in a career.

Moving abroad is not simply a pause in one's life, but a phase of one's career that transforms beyond one's expectations—as such, returning home represents a new beginning. Share, discuss, talk, and listen to others. You are not the only one who has experienced great adventures. You may think that you will have nothing to discover when you return home, but this might not be true. Discuss with those who haven't left and get a feel of what's going on. Observe. Deep down, you are triggering some of the same processes set in motion when you first arrived abroad. If you feel lost, do not hesitate to reach out to others. Expat coaches can also assist you in preparing for your new professional adventure. Professionals in charge of skills assessment programs will also help you take stock of your situation. Allow yourself time to rediscover yourself in order to better shape your career. The return from expatriation is a real new beginning at all levels.