Do you have what it takes to be a good expat?

Living the life of an expatriate can have various reasons.  People become expats as a lifestyle choice, or because it is a professional requirement for them. Some go abroad because they have an adventurous spirit, others need to be convinced, or even gently nudged to live and work in another country and culture.

While the number of expats around the world appears to be continuously increasing, not everybody who embarks on a professional journey to foreign lands is always cut out for the experience. In fact, too many return prematurely. To be successful as an expat you need to have certain qualities and characteristics. Some of these skills can be acquired via training and coaching programs.

Other factors influencing an international assignment lie within the expats themselves. Certain personality traits tend to be a good indicator whether someone is able to manage the transition well. I recently stumbled upon a blog post by FeedbacQ (inspired by “Lost in Cheeseland“), which breaks down the great and not so great elements of expat DNA.

Have a look at the infographic below and tell me what you think. Do you have the right DNA to be successful as an expat? Are there aspects missing? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.


ch (April'14).2Christian is a cultural trainer, coach, and consultant with extensive experience in working with multinational companies and especially in developing global leaders. He is the founder and owner of Höferle Consulting, where he leads a team of dedicated training, destination services, and expat support specialists. Christian works with global organizations (or those who are going global) to help their employees oversome cultural differences. Typically he only uses the word “normal” in quotation marks and he is an advocate for helping people understand the why of behaviors – not just the dos & don’ts. Find out more about Christian and follow him on Twitter. You can also see him, listen to him, and experience his work – just invite him! Or sign up for the Höferle Consulting newsletter.


9 thoughts on “Do you have what it takes to be a good expat?

  1. I certainly aggree with the Expat DNA charts. You don’t move to another country trying to change things but rather to be changed. You start with what attracted you into moving in the first place and being observant and involved enough to find your niche and local friendships. The reward is a higher quality of life and finally a feeling of belonging.

  2. Well, as a serial expat of 20+ years I think there is no such thing as good or bad expat DNA, it all depends on your personal experience, your phase in life and in your career, having kids still at home and most of all the country you are living in. I had all the good “expat DNA” when I was living in developed countries like Japan, USA or in European cities but living in Russia requires different skills. You certainly don’t want to become local, drinking Vodka too much or spending your nights in “local bars”. You can’t ignore that most people outside Moscow are very poor and you still have to be careful of what you are saying as there is no such thing as free speech there. Being with other expats helped me tremendously when I arrived in Moscow last year not knowing the language and the Cyrillic alphabet. I could become independent, taking the subway and stating to shop in local markets thanks to my expat friends.They recommended a good Russian teacher able to explain the grammar in French as it is much closer than English, somehow similar to German. Having -30C and snow until May is as challenging as learning the language and here again I would not recommend to follow the local custom of taking a bath in the middle of winter in the Moskva river to celebrate the Orthodox Epiphany….and so on. I don’t complain at all, I think living in Moscow is a fantastic experience but would not recommend to follow the locals in many ways for example for healthcare or schools. For local food you have the choice of spending a fortune like the local multibillionaires (in Euros) or having food poisoning
    With love from Russia!

  3. It’s hard to disagree on this one… I would perhaps add “international media literacy” to Infographic 1 – taking everything one has learned in their home countries media about the destination country with a grain of salt.

    Perhaps I am overly sensitive, due to some insights into the subject matter, but I think this is even more important for expats from countries where poorly informed, but strongly opinionated journalists tend to celebrate decades-old cliches and stereotypes when covering the destination country.

    Expats from such countries, in my personal experience, tend to believe they know everything there is to know about thenew country, so why bother learning something new?

    Perhaps, “great Expat DNA” already includes a strain for “media unlearning.” Or, perhaps, we have to apply some bio engineering. Need positive energy and the power to shape your expat life? Change to a healthier media diet!

    Like, – check out Southeast Schnitzel over breakfast 😉

  4. I would add that you need to build your social capital. Building trusting relationships with natives can go a very long way in helping you assimilate. From a business perspective this is key. Find a mentor(s) that can provide constructive feedback on how you should approach situations and people. If your cultural style is very different from that of your expat country work with your mentors and have them provide feedback on your adapted style to see how it has/will resonate.

  5. Thanks to all of you who left comments.
    Allow me to clarify: There is no such thing as a “perfect expat” – however, there can be a mindset among foreign assignment employees that will prevent them from being successful expats.
    Being a “Negative Nancy” (to use a very US-centric reference – google it), constantly comparing home culture with host culture, or adopting an “us vs. them” attitude will set expats up for failure.
    Our minds are like parachutes. They work best when open.

  6. Pingback: The 5 biggest lies about expats and life abroad | Southeast Schnitzel

  7. Pingback: My life as a Moat: Denver Broncos Country in Barcelona | More Like a Moat

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