ATD Blog

What Attracts Expatriates to Work Overseas?

Friday, August 25, 2017

The world is getting smaller. More and more organizations are expanding into new international markets as globalization continues to become a reality. Such global expansion requires people who are willing to be globally mobile. While we may understand some of the reasons that motivate expatriates to work internationally, it is not very clear how important the destination is to expatriates.

This is particularly important as some countries are much more reliant on foreign workers than others, such as countries within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

In a recent article published in Human Resource Development International, we explored the motivation and willingness of expatriates in the civil engineering industry, when considering employment opportunities in Qatar. Our study focussed on a particular group of expatriate workers, known as self-initiated expatriates (SIEs), defined as those who chose to find an overseas opportunity and relocate rather than being sent on an assignment by their existing employers.

The paper asked two research questions: 

  1. What are the different factors that affect SIEs’ considerations of overseas employment opportunities? 
  2. How does Qatar, as a proposed destination influence these factors?

Following research interviews with professionals originating from six different countries, all of whom worked within the engineering industry, the findings highlight several points that relate to the first research question:

  • The perception of a location’s infrastructure, such as living standards, climate, and local language, were very important considerations relating to destination. 
  • Individuals are concerned about the dependency on employment visas to remain overseas. 
  • The ability to save money is an attractive reason to relocate internationally. 
  • International work experience is considered as both beneficial and detrimental. 
  • The desire for adventure attracts individual to overseas employment. 
  • Previous experience of commuting internationally helps the settling-in process. 
  • Learning opportunity for accompanying family members are as important as for the expatriate.  
  • Lack of attachment to their home country can be a reason for individuals to explore overseas employment opportunities.

In response to the second research question, focussing on the findings that related to Qatar, the study found that as a location, Qatar was less attractive in consideration of the points listed above. For example, perception of infrastructure was a concern instead of an appeal to working in Qatar. Particular worries were raised about the quality of education and healthcare. Additionally, Qatar’s hot climate was off-putting for individuals.
Due to the huge number of construction projects ongoing in Qatar in preparation for hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the variety and prestige of project made Qatar an attractive place to work. Professional development and career progression, however, were not linked to the attraction of Qatar; only the variety of projects available.


In conclusion, it is apparent that sociocultural factors can overshadow the career development and progression opportunities typically associated with international work experience. Accordingly, organisations need to take this into account when developing policies and practices to recruit, development and retain expatriate workers.

Based on the findings, the following recommendations have been outlined for practitioners:

  • Be transparent about the realities of employment and career progression in the region, because potential recruits must understand the local employment framework. Nationalization agendas may prevent career progression of expatriate workers over national workers; thus, it is important to manage career expectations.
  • International relocation can be very stressful. As a result, develop relationships with local schools and clearly communicate the healthcare provision. This will allow potential expatriates to feel assured of the organization’s support and to focus on the international work experience.
  • Work closely with local representatives, and identify stakeholders and ambassadors to support expatriates’ integration to experiencing living and embracing local life.
  • Focus on non-technical skills, such as resilience, cultural intelligence, and so forth that expatriates are much more likely to develop rather than technical competence..

Reference: Ridgway, M., & Robson, F. (2015). Which factors influence self-initiated expatriates when considering employment opportunities in Qatar? Human Resource Development International.

Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series of articles research from the journals of the Academy of Human Resource Development (AHRD). In partnership with ATD, AHRD is committed to sharing useful research with the practitioner community.

About the Author

Maranda Ridgway is a senior lecturer in human resource management with a doctorate in business administration, currently working at Nottingham Business School, Nottingham Trent University. Prior to joining academia, she gained extensive strategic and operational human resource experience from a range of industries, including aviation, engineering consultancy, FMCG, financial services, hospitality, and retail. During her career, she spent five years in the United Arab Emirates, with management responsibility across the Gulf, India, Serbia, and Germany. She can be contacted at [email protected]

About the Author

Fiona Robson is the director of Roehampton Business School with a Ph.D. in human resource management. Prior to joining University of Roehampton, she was a principal lecturer (and teaching fellow) in human resource management at Newcastle Business School and international champion for business and management. She is a regular contributor to professional publications and has won funding from organizations such as UFHRD and ACAS. Prior to her academic career, she was the HR manager for a public sector organization.

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