Adam DeSanges Nov 16, 2023 9:52:10 AM 22 min read

What is an Expat? Understanding the Role and Impact on Your Business

The movement of skilled professionals across borders continually reshapes global business. Central to this is comprehending exactly what an expat is and their significant influence within this arena. According to the 2022 World Migration Report, approximately 281 million people were contributing to the economies of their host countries. This figure highlights expatriates' critical impact on the growth and dynamism of global business, marking them as key players in the international market's expansion and interconnectivity.

An 'expat', in international commerce, refers to a professional who resides temporarily or permanently in a country other than their origin, typically to fulfil a particular employment contract or business objective. While seemingly straightforward, this term encompasses a diverse spectrum of individuals, from corporate executives on international assignments to entrepreneurs seeking to tap into new markets. The intricacies of this definition will be unpacked further as we delve deeper into the subject matter.

This blog post aims to serve as a powerful resource for business owners and stakeholders, shedding light on expats' strategic role in the global business ecosystem. It will explore not only the contributions these global citizens make to international commerce but also the financial considerations and implications of deploying expatriate talent. Business leaders will find valuable insights into how expats can be leveraged for competitive advantage and the nuances of managing the financial aspects of expatriate assignments.

What Is an Expat?

The term 'expat' is derived from the Latin term 'expatriatus', which historically referred to someone who has stepped out of their fatherland. In the contemporary business lexicon, an expat is typically a professional who has moved to a foreign country to work, often bringing a specific skill set in demand. 

Unlike migrants, who may relocate for various reasons, including economic betterment, family reunification, or asylum, expats usually move at the behest of their employer or to pursue predefined professional goals. They also differ from remote workers, who may operate from any location without physically integrating into a foreign business environment.


The Evolution of Expatriate Roles

The role of expatriates has undergone a significant transformation over the years, mirroring the evolution of global business itself. In the past, expats were often senior managers sent abroad to oversee foreign branches or to transfer knowledge to subsidiary operations. 

Today, the expat profile is more diverse, ranging from young professionals seeking international experience to seasoned experts driving global strategy. The digital revolution has further expanded the expat's role, enabling them to operate as global nodes of expertise, connecting dots across international markets and cultural boundaries.


Imagining Expats in Action

Consider the case of Maria, a seasoned digital marketing strategist from Spain, who moved to Indonesia to help a burgeoning e-commerce company scale its operations across Southeast Asia. Her expertise in navigating complex digital marketing space and her ability to tailor strategies to diverse consumer bases resulted in a 50% increase in the company's market share within a year.

On another continent, Manuel, a German with extensive experience in renewable energy, relocated to Kenya. Tasked with leading a project to expand solar energy solutions to rural areas, his leadership not only propelled the company to the forefront of the green energy sector in East Africa but also contributed significantly to local economies and the global fight against climate change.

These fictional scenarios exemplify the unique value expats can bring to the table: an infusion of skills, a fresh perspective to solve complex problems, and the ability to act as bridges between their home and host countries, fostering a synergy that drives business growth and innovation.


The Strategic Role of Expats in Business Expansion

The strategic deployment of expatriates is critical in the tapestry of global business expansion. Expats serve as pivotal agents in executing international strategies, offering on-the-ground insights that are invaluable for companies looking to scale beyond their domestic borders. Their role is multifaceted, encompassing market analysis, strategy implementation, and, often, the subtle art of cultural diplomacy.

Here, we’ll look into the nuanced roles expatriates play in bridging markets and cultures and their transformative impact on global leadership and corporate culture.


Bridging Markets and Cultures

Expatriates are often the harbingers of a company's culture in a new market, carrying with them the ethos and values of their home office while simultaneously adapting to and integrating with the local culture. They act as conduits, facilitating market entry and cultural exchange. 

This dual capability enables businesses to tailor their products and services to new demographics, ensuring relevance and resonance in diverse marketplaces. The expat's ability to navigate these cross-cultural waters can often be the difference between a successful market entry and a costly misstep.


Expats and Global Leadership

When it comes to leadership, expatriates often carry the mantle of global corporate culture, setting a precedent for operations in new territories. Their influence extends beyond mere business transactions; they shape and sometimes transform the corporate culture within their new environment. 

By embodying their company's core values and blending them with local customs and business practices, expats foster a hybrid culture that can propel an organisation to new heights. Their leadership style, often characterised by adaptability and a global mindset, becomes a powerful catalyst for change, innovation, and growth within the company.


Preparing Your Business for Expatriation

Embarking on the expatriation of employees is a strategic decision that demands careful consideration and planning. It is a process that extends far beyond the physical relocation of staff, encompassing the alignment of this move with the company's overarching international business goals. 

For businesses gearing up for this significant step, understanding the full spectrum of expatriation's implications is crucial for a successful transition. This section aims to clarify those implications.


Strategic Planning for Expatriation

Strategic planning for expatriation begins with a thorough analysis of the company's objectives and how introducing expatriates can drive these goals forward. It is essential to pinpoint the roles that will deliver the most impact in the new market and ensure that these moves align with the company's long-term vision. 

A well-crafted expatriation strategy propels company growth and fosters the development of a globally competent workforce.


Roadmap to Expatriation

Here’s a step-by-step guide that ensures your businesses approaches expatriation methodically, reducing risks and maximising the potential for success.

Step 1: Assessment

The first step is a thorough assessment, where the company's global objectives are scrutinised, and the potential impact of expatriates is evaluated. This stage is about understanding the 'why' behind the move, ensuring that every expatriate's assignment is purpose-driven and aligned with the company's broader goals.

Step 2: Selection

Following the assessment step, the selection process involves identifying the employees who have the skills required and the adaptability to succeed in a new cultural setting. This is about finding the right fit for the role and the environment, ensuring that the chosen expatriates are ambassadors for the company's values and vision.

Step 3: Preparation

Preparation equips the selected expatriates with the necessary tools for success, including cultural and language training. This stage is crucial in building confidence and competence, allowing expatriates to hit the ground running when they arrive at their new destination.

Step 4: Logistics

The logistics phase tackles the practicalities of the move from housing to healthcare. It's about creating a stable foundation in the host country so the expatriates can focus on their professional responsibilities without undue stress about their living conditions.

Step 5: Support

Support structures are put in place to offer ongoing assistance to expatriates, addressing both professional and personal challenges. This step ensures that expatriates feel valued and supported, fostering their well-being and engagement.

Step 6: Integration

Integration into the host country's operations and culture is facilitated to help expatriates become effective members of their new community. This is where the preparation pays off, as expatriates apply their skills and knowledge in the local context.

Step 7: Evaluation

Regular evaluation is essential to monitor the expatriate's performance and the overall success of the expatriation strategy. This feedback loop allows for adjustments and reaffirms the value of the expatriate's role in the company's international endeavours.


A meticulous approach to legal and compliance issues is critical in the expatriation process. Here is a checklist designed to assist businesses in navigating these complexities:

  • Employment Contracts: Revise or create contracts to accurately reflect the new international role's conditions.
  • Visas and Work Permits: Obtain the required legal documents for the expatriate to work in the host country lawfully.
  • Tax Compliance: Address the tax responsibilities in the home and host countries, guiding effective tax management.
  • Social Security and Benefits: Ensure continuity of social security entitlements and modify health insurance to meet international requirements.
  • Data Protection: Comply with data privacy regulations when transferring employee information internationally.
  • Local Employment Laws: Adhere to the host country's labour laws to prevent any legal issues.
  • Repatriation Plan: Formulate a comprehensive strategy for the expatriate's eventual return and reintegration.


Understanding Expatriation Tax and Its Financial Implications

The financial landscape of expatriation is complex and multifaceted, with tax considerations forming a significant part of the equation. For businesses sending employees abroad, grasping the nuances of expatriation tax has become imperative. 

This section aims to shed light on the intricacies of expatriation tax and its implications, providing stakeholders with the knowledge to navigate this challenging aspect of international business.


The Basics of Expatriation Tax

Expatriation tax encompasses the tax responsibilities that individuals assume when they become residents of a new country for work purposes. The scope and nature of these taxes depend on various determinants, such as the host nation's tax regime, the length of the expatriate's stay, and any bilateral tax agreements in place. Businesses must grasp these variables to accurately forecast the financial impact on their operations and employees.

The complexity of expatriation tax is further compounded by the fact that in both their home and host countries — which is the case for citizens of the US, Eritrea and Myanmar. This dual-tax exposure is a critical consideration for financial planning, as it can significantly influence the expatriate's take-home pay and the company's budgeting for international assignments. Clear understanding and careful navigation of these tax waters are essential to ensure fiscal efficiency and compliance.


Business Responsibilities

Businesses must ensure that their expatriation practices comply strictly with tax laws across jurisdictions. This responsibility extends to meticulous tax withholding, accurate reporting, and timely remittance of taxes due. The stakes are high, as missteps can lead to hefty fines, legal repercussions, and potential reputational damage. It is incumbent upon businesses to maintain an up-to-date understanding of tax regulations and to implement robust systems for managing these obligations.

Moreover, companies must also consider the impact of expatriation tax on their employees. Providing comprehensive tax support, including education on tax liabilities and assistance with filings, can be a significant aspect of the support provided to expatriates. By doing so, businesses ensure compliance and enhance the overall expatriation experience for their employees, which can lead to greater job satisfaction and productivity.


Tax Planning and Strategy

Strategic tax planning is paramount in optimising the financial aspects of expatriation. This involves structuring compensation in a tax-efficient manner, considering the interplay of various tax jurisdictions. For instance, some elements of an expatriate's pay package, such as housing allowances or relocation expenses, may be treated more favourably under certain tax laws, offering opportunities for tax savings.

Any approach requires careful calculation and understanding of the tax implications in multiple jurisdictions. Engaging with tax professionals and leveraging international tax treaties can further aid in achieving a balanced and compliant tax strategy for expatriates.


The Role of the U.S.’s Foreign Earned Income Exclusion

The Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE) an important U.S. tax law to understand. This provision allows qualifying individuals to exclude certain foreign earnings from U.S. taxable income, reducing tax liability. 

For businesses with international operations, understanding and applying the FEIE can lead to substantial tax savings and can be a decisive factor in the financial planning of overseas assignments. Let’s take a closer look.


Utilising FEIE for Expats

Businesses can play a pivotal role in helping their expatriate employees take advantage of the FEIE. This begins with a thorough assessment to determine eligibility, which hinges on factors such as the expatriate's tax home and the duration of their assignment abroad. Once eligibility is confirmed, companies can assist employees in navigating the complexities of claiming the exclusion, which can involve intricate paperwork and strict adherence to deadlines.

Facilitating the FEIE for expatriates enhances the attractiveness of international assignments and demonstrates a company's commitment to supporting its workforce. This support can range from providing tax preparation services to offering informational workshops on the nuances of the FEIE. Such initiatives ensure that expatriates are well-informed and can maximise the benefits available to them under U.S. tax law.


FEIE and Business Financial Planning

The impact of the FEIE extends beyond individual tax savings; it is a strategic element in the broader financial planning of a business. By incorporating the FEIE into compensation packages, companies can optimise the cost of expatriate programs. This optimisation can result in more competitive salary offerings for international positions, which can be crucial in attracting top talent to global roles.

Moreover, the FEIE can influence decisions regarding the structuring of overseas operations. Companies may find it financially advantageous to establish presences in certain locations over others, based on the interplay between the FEIE and local tax laws. Strategic use of the FEIE, therefore, not only benefits the individual expatriates but also enhances the company's overall financial efficiency and effectiveness in international markets.


Streamlining Expatriate Management with an EOR

An Employer of Record (EOR) represents a transformative approach to managing expatriates, offering a seamless solution for businesses expanding globally. An EOR acts as the legal employer for the expatriate, taking on the responsibility for compliance, payroll, and HR tasks. This arrangement allows companies to circumvent the often complex and resource-intensive process of establishing a legal entity in the host country, thereby expediting market entry and reducing administrative burdens.

The range of services an EOR provides is comprehensive, covering the entire spectrum of expatriate management. From ensuring compliance with local employment laws to handling payroll in multiple currencies, an EOR can manage all aspects of the employment relationship. This support extends to navigating immigration requirements, providing benefits administration, and even managing risk and compliance issues. For businesses, this means they can focus on their core operations and strategic objectives, confident in the knowledge that expert hands support their expatriate employees.


The Benefits of Partnering With an EOR

Forging a partnership with an Employer of Record (EOR) can be a strategic masterstroke for businesses aiming to solidify their international presence. This collaboration offers a robust platform for companies to effectively deploy global talent while mitigating the administrative and compliance challenges often accompanying international expansion. The agility and expertise an EOR brings to the table can transform the global mobility landscape for a business, turning potential obstacles into stepping stones for success.

Let’s take a look at the biggest benefits of utilising an EOR like Emerald Technology for your business’s global expansion plans:


1. Operational Efficiency and Flexibility

An EOR simplifies the complexities of global employment, allowing businesses to bypass the legal and administrative hurdles of international expansion. This partnership enhances operational efficiency, providing the flexibility to scale operations in response to market demands without the need for extensive in-house resources or local entity setup.

2. Compliance and Risk Management

By managing the intricacies of local employment laws, an EOR significantly reduces compliance risks, protecting businesses from potential legal and financial repercussions. This service ensures that international labour practices adhere to local regulations, offering businesses peace of mind and the freedom to focus on strategic growth.

3. Cost-Effectiveness and Resource Allocation

Partnering with an EOR can lead to substantial cost savings by reducing the need for in-house legal and HR expertise dedicated to international employment issues. This cost-effectiveness allows businesses to reallocate precious resources towards core activities, driving innovation and competitive positioning in the market.

4. Speed to Market and Competitive Advantage

The support of an EOR enables businesses to enter new markets swiftly, providing a competitive advantage through the rapid deployment of expatriate talent. This agility is crucial in today's fast-paced global economy, where the ability to move quickly can define market leadership.



Expatriates are the linchpins of global business expansion, and your understanding of their strategic role is crucial for international success. Grasping the intricacies of expatriation tax and maximising benefits like the U.S.’s FEIE can set your business apart in the global marketplace. The journey towards expatriation demands meticulous planning and a keen eye for compliance, areas where an Employer of Record (EOR) becomes indispensable.

Emerald Technology is your perfect EOR partner, offering streamlined management of your expatriate workforce, ensuring operational efficiency, and safeguarding against compliance risks. Our expertise translates into direct cost savings and a competitive edge for your tech business, allowing you to focus on core growth activities while we handle the complexities of international employment.

Take the decisive step towards global expansion with confidence. Partner with Emerald Technology, and let us facilitate your business's journey beyond borders, making the process efficient, compliant, and strategically advantageous. Contact us today to unlock the full potential of your global operations.

Adam DeSanges

Part of Emerald since 2006, Adam has personally developed an Executive Search process that has been incorporated throughout the entire Emerald Technology business and has enabled our team to offer an unrivalled, collaborative service to our clients. As one of our Company Directors, he is responsible for leading, training and mentoring this methodology.

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