Is the traditional French expat contract –whereby the whole family is relocated to an elegant villa, complete with housekeeper, company car, top notch schools for the kids, etc.– gradually disappearing? While this type of arrangement is increasingly rare, it has not completely disappeared. “Major corporations don’t always have the choice. The building of a new factory is often signed on the condition that in-house engineers lead the project.” explains the founding manager of RHExpat, Jorge Pietro Martin.

However, alongside this core component of classic three- to five-year expat assignments, new forms of international mobility are emerging. According to the international HR managers’ network Cercle Magellan, 80% of the companies recently surveyed say they have launched assignments that last only six to twelve months. Jorge Prieto Martin says this shift reflects an underlying current: companies with staff all over the world want to develop different types of mobility that will enable their local teams to handle major projects.


Cercle Magellan also reports that half of today’s international corporations are opting for local expatriation. Celia Dorlhac, the director of the network’s International Mobility Club and International Talent Management Club says, “This trend, which began about three years ago, reflects a clear quest to optimize costs.” So-called “lightweight expatriation” entails, for example, relocating an executive to another country while anchoring him/her with a local salary.

Naturally, there are some perks, ranging from travel expenses to moving expenses, a home and healthcare benefits but they are far from what used to be common practice. Promising candidates can still count on a “dual job market” in emerging economies where compensation packages are more advantageous for Westerners, especially French citizens. Not to mention the high pay available in Dubai and Hong Kong.

Among the increasingly agile versions of expatriation is “commuting”. More and more businesses are adopting this convenient shuttle system: 25% of those surveyed by Cercle Magellan plan to integrate this approach into their management next year. Employed and living in their home countries, commuters simply travel back and forth to one or more geographic area(s) on a weekly or monthly basis.

Another option that’s gaining in popularity as a way to hang onto the most talented young executives, especially Millennials who are looking to gain international experience in order to bolster their career potential, is called employee-initiated mobility. These positions are more cost efficient for companies because the employees keep their local contract and cover their own travel, lodging and healthcare costs.

Strengthening local teams

Short-term international assignments have also become a natural component of interim management. This approach allows companies to quickly mobilize top quality talent without the weight of relocating their whole family. “We identify the ideal interim professional for each assignment and ensure that s/he is on-site and operational within ten days of the request.” explains Valtus Partner, Aymeric Bas. “Certain countries require executives that can act like Swiss army knives, leveraging their intricate understanding of the local culture, work methods, social customs and unspoken rules along with solid experience reporting directly to the senior management of a multinational corporation.” Bas clarifies.

By way of example, he recently sent a CFO to South Africa to handle an important acquisition. This interim executive is conducting a thorough audit, consolidating the processes in place to facilitate more efficient reporting to the mother company and upskilling the local staff. The Valtus Partner notes that “In addition to ensuring the technical aspects of this assignment, he will also be coaching and mentoring the local teams.” Like the other forms of “lightweight” expatriation, interim management offers the advantage of removing the cumbersome phase of the employee’s reintegration when the assignment is over. This delicate transition has been coined the “impatriation syndrome” (or reverse culture shock).

The original version is available, in French, on Les Echos’ website