Repatriation – Coming Home

On this page you’ll find:

‘Coming Home’ May Not Be As Easy As You Think

Most of those working overseas, on a first assignment, believe that repatriation is a ‘piece of cake’ – that once they’ve settled the practicalities of the move, it’s just a matter of falling back into ‘the old routine’. They look forward to seeing their friends and family again, and being ‘back on familiar turf’.

Ironically, many global careerists report that the culture shock that accompanies returning home, is greater than the culture shock of moving abroad. Why would that be?

Because things never stay the same . . .

  • You may have slowed down to accommodate the pace of life in the foreign culture that you are returning from.
  • The people you are coming back to – your friends and family have changed.
  • Even the laws of a country change.
  • Old familiar landmarks are torn down and new buildings are built.
  • You will notice many things you never noticed before, and your own culture may not be the way you remember it.

Your reaction to the stress brought on by this unexpected need to adjust to your home environment, may be shocking to your system. For more on this see Reverse Culture Shock

Repatriation – Transitioning Into Your Home Culture

Dr. Susan MacDonald, of the University of Calgary, talks in her research on repatriation, about 3 areas to focus on, when adjusting through Reverse Culture Shock into your Home Culture: Work Adjustment, Lifestyle Adjustment and Psychological Adjustment.


Other researchers refer to the sudden immersion phenomenon as a ‘cultural disorientation’ or ‘change shock’. They say what you are really doing is taking apart your own frame of reference and substituting another.

Possible Options

  • A return to the international arena – See ‘Culture Shock’
  • Leaving the company and finding suitable work in another workplace at home. This will require rephrasing your new overseas competencies into a form that the next employer can appreciate. Your career counselor or HR personnel can help with this.
  • Remaining within the same company, and developing a new professional network that will afford a better chance at future opportunities that come up within the organization.

There are lots of options available to you. Keeping an open mind will help.


Activities – Those activities that you were immersed in overseas may not be available at home. You may have to develop satisfying alternatives, and take deliberate steps to move into these new activities.

Relationships – Returnees who discover they have nothing in common with their old friends, may want to find new relationships. This may mean you’ll have to go through a conscious grieving process first, before you can move on. You will have to come to terms with this aspect of your return. It helps to realize that you are not alone in this, that it’s really not the fault of your friends or yourself. It’s simply a fact of life. Allowing yourself to go through the grieving process will make it a little easier, than going through it unconsciously, not knowing why you feel the way you do.

Lifestyle & Financial Considerations – This is often a real worry, since the standard of living overseas may have been much higher with maids, home care, child care, and public transportation easily available. Returning home may mean you have to consider: high taxation, purchase of a new home and vehicle(s), enrolling the kids in sports clubs, plus chauffeuring them around everywhere – to school and games after school, and of course, enduring those long commutes to work from the suburbs, in heavy traffic, not to mention doing one’s own housework, cooking and grocery shopping. Whew! Moving back home is not easy.

However, on the other side, there is more opportunity for religious, cultural and political expression in North America. More job opportunities for spouses to get out in the workplace. And the teens can now be free to work at MacDonalds, and make their own spending money. Ah, the good old American Dream!


The timing of your return plays an important role in easing the adjustment. If there is a choice of returning or not, and you are in control of the time of your return, and the kind of appointment you are returning to, then adaptation is made easier.

NOTE: At the thought of re-entering the North American rat race, some families decide to turn around and go back overseas. Only this time, having had experience, they become a little more selective of where they want to go. They feel more confident, more experienced, they now know what their needs are. And there’s a big world out there with many places to choose from.

You can see where pre-planning for repatriation while still overseas, would definitely bring these issues to light, and save a lot of aggravation. The goal is to implement as many strategies as possible, identify more opportunities and have a more flexible and positive attitude towards ‘Coming Home’.


Here are some useful strategies to employ before or upon your return.

  1. Goal Setting – to allow more purposefulness and intent into the process, along with setting up Action Plans to carry out these goals, is a great start.
  2. Pre-departure Planning – gives you more control over the return process, because you can maximize your choices.
  3. Look at the return to Canada as getting ready for another foreign assignment – give yourself permission to call on your previous experience. Remember the strategies you used in adapting to foreign countries.
  4. Maintaining an attitude of flexibility – a positive attitude, and patience are also frequently helpful for adjustment.
  5. Journaling – can be an effective way to cope with change, allowing for time to reflect through the writing process. It helps to record the changes you are going through, and the feelings that are coming up over the issues you are dealing with.
  6. Arranging to attend repatriation seminars (which are becoming more accessible through the internet) – or seeking out other ex-pats on expatriate forums are proactive measures, that allow you to have a different perspective, thus relieving pressure and stress. Take advantage of these helps.
  7. Seeing repatriation as a temporary or part-time solution – this keeps the options open for moving elsewhere, if the repatriation to home doesn’t work out, as you’d hoped.
  8. Being willing to take a job in another company – that means you have to look around and apply.
  9. Identifying the opportunities, positive experiences and learning outcomes, that come from a move back home – this nurtures a more positive attitude towards repatriation.


Enter into ‘Intentional Career Planning’ which encourages self-directedness and initiative in decision-making. When you take charge of your own process, it’s empowering. It becomes more purposeful and meaningful, because you are engaging in determining your own destiny.

It’s your life. And you can create your life the way you want it to be.
Here is how to do “Intentional Career Planning”.

  • Begin the job search process well in advance – watching for opportunities that come up in the company, before your return.
  • Update your resume, highlighting the competencies gained overseas and how these are an asset to the company.
  • Make it your business to be aware of policy changes, and professional expectations within the company.
  • Keep technical qualifications current, to broaden employment options upon return.
  • Work at keeping your professional network open with colleagues at home, by keeping in close contact.


  • If possible, retain real estate in your home country – this may not always be an option, if you are away for a number of years, and wish to declare non-resident status for taxation purposes. Check the regulations for your country.
  • Become involved in your home community upon return, by volunteering, or joining clubs, anything that would be personally fulfilling and pleasurable.
  • Socialize with other returnees – this allows you to develop realistic expectations about work and lifestyle.
  • Make an effort to be less critical, more patient and to look for the positive.
  • Realize everyone has changed, because nothing ever remains the same.


A successful repatriation is possible if the will is there to make it happen. And these strategies put the power back into your hands to make it happen. Your workplace may have an Employment Assistance Program which can offer you help in working through the unsettling aspects of your re-entry transition. But it’s not all about re-adjusting back into ‘the swing of things at home’.

The changes that have taken place in your mental, emotional and psychological make-up, and that of your immediate family, will continue to impact you, long down the road, and that needs to be valued and acknowledged for what it is.

You have been changed forever by your overseas’ adventures. This is a valuable gift that you have received, through your life experience. It’s also a bond that you will always share with your children, and with other expatriates who have spent time overseas, living in a foreign culture. You are not diminished in any way by this experience. This is something very special, that you and your family have achieved.

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