Supporting Expats and their mental health

Advice for employers and their employees

Moving overseas for work provides an exciting career move and certainly provides an adventure in a new city. Despite this, expats can feel overwhelmed when having to quickly adjust to cultures, languages and new work responsibilities, heightened by the physical absence of family/ friends.

It is therefore important that both the employee and employer take responsibility for mental health. See tips below for employees and employers.

1. Making the right decision

Expatriate life isn’t for everyone so make sure to weigh up all options to ensure it is the right decision.


  • • Speak to other expats
  • • Be honest about any anxieties you have and speak to HR for advice


  • • Screen employees for their suitability for an overseas assignment 
  • • Introduce employees to other expats within the company
  • • Make sure the employee has all his/her questions answered

2. Preparing for the move

A 2016 survey of 5,000 people (Aetna) revealed that only 6% of expats worried about mental health before relocating. This can seriously under prepare employees for any upcoming challenges.


  • • Understand your risks and how to detect feelings of loneliness, stress, anxiety and depression.
  • • As independent as you may be, the physical absence of family and support networks can be hard, so make sure you can still access support whilst on assignment
  • • Culture-shock can be an unexpected and overwhelming experience. Before you go research traditions, activities, history, etiquette, politics and certainly learn the language. Being open-minded and respectful of your new culture will help you settle in quicker.
  • • Keep an open mind and be flexible when it comes to business culture. Learn what’s appropriate, speak to other expats, colleagues, HR and even LinkedIn contacts for advice.
  • • There is no better way to fit in than speaking the language. Take a course before you leave and keep this up by practicing as much with the locals as possible. 


  • • Shift corporate attitudes on mental health - take responsibility and tackle the stigma. Allow employees to feel supported as the better mental well-being of staff has a profound link to productivity and lowered absences.
  • • Offer cultural courses to help the employee prepare and be respectful in their new environment. This will help them adjust to their new surroundings quicker.
  • • Offer languages classes – this will be welcomed support and means they can interact with their co-workers, make friends much more readily, and integrate into the local culture quicker.
  • • Inform staff about managing their mental health and provide skills, such as preventative and coping behavioural techniques. This will improves knowledge and attitudes towards mental health and provide the knowledge for them to strive in their new environment.


3. Adjusting to life as an expat & accessing support


  • • There is more to your assignment success than being great at your job - be aware that your interpersonal skills become even more important when you aren't fluent in the local language or are unaware of certain cultural nuances.
  • • Communication is a huge party of sociability and so speaking the language will help you feel less of an outsider and able to better connect with people around you.
  • • Immerse yourself in the culture and make the most out of the experience and opportunities. Remember not to overdo it.
  • • Don’t rely on social networks as a form of communication – this does not replace personal interactions. Make the effort to stay in touch with people who care about you.


  • • Provide an environment where employees feel supported
  • • Ensure the company is able to tackle problems as they arise and provide support
  • • Offer employee assistance programmes and/or in-country support
  • E.g. telephone support, someone who understands their culture and speaks their language
  • • Offer full confidentiality / anonymous support – knowing their employer won't find out will help the employee ask for help, without fear of stigma and judgment in the workplace


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