An expatriate assignment occurs when a company's employee goes overseas to work for a period of time. This is a very complex situation, especially when the employee has a family to consider. In fact, family issues and cost are the two biggest problems with expatriate assignments.
Let's think about family issues first. Even if an employee has only a short-term expatriate assignment, one that lasts for only three months to a year, that employee will have to think about providing for their family in the interim. With a short-term assignment, the family usually does not accompany the employee, but this means the employee and, if applicable, their partner may have to think about childcare issues, provisions for visits home, and all kinds of other issues that come up when one family member is out of the country for a long period of time.
If the employee accepts a long-term expatriate assignment, usually the family relocates as well, and this can involve a whole range of challenges, including finding housing, schools, and childcare in a new country, as well as a job for the employee's partner.
We can see that one of the solutions to family concerns is actually short-term expatriate assignments. While there are still complexities in these, the family does not relocate but remains settled at home in regular housing, schools, and jobs.
Another major issue with expatriate assignments is cost. Along with the employee's regular wages, the company must foot the bills for housing, transportation, school vouchers (if school-age family members relocate as well), cost of living increases, travel home, communications, and further training. This can end up quite expensive indeed for either a short- or long-term assignment.
While many of these costs are unavoidable if the company must send an employee overseas, the company should think carefully about whether or not such an assignment is truly necessary. With the increased ability to work remotely these days, expatriate assignments may be less necessary or at least can be of a shorter duration, which would cut costs significantly.