5 Personality Types Perfectly Suited to Expat Living

Question to global mobility professionals:  What kind of expats have you recruited?

  1. When they move to a new location, they typically take one to two years to develop a circle of friends.
  2. It takes them a matter of weeks.

Answer: You know very well there is no perfect expat.

Katia Vlachos, author of A Great Move: Surviving and Thriving in Your Expat Assignment, says there may be no perfect expat but studies have shown that certain personal qualities – a mix of innate personality traits and acquired abilities – can accelerate the adjustment process.

Research studies point to the following “Big Five” as the building blocks of personality suited to expat living:

  • Openness to experience – the tendency to embrace change
  • Conscientiousness – the tendency to be organized and self-disciplined
  • Extraversion – the tendency to derive energy from the company of others
  • Agreeableness – the tendency to be friendly and cooperative
  • Neuroticism – the tendency to experience negative emotions easily

The higher score on the first four and the lower score on the last one means the potential recruit is more open, structured, extroverted, friendly, and emotionally stable. Still, it can be argued that our personalities are far more complex than the Big Five framework.

Flexibility, resilience, and cultural intelligence are also important. Flexibility is the ability to accept change with tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity. Resilience is the ability to manage stressful situations without breaking down. Cultural intelligence or CQ is the ability to function effectively in different cultures. It implies the willingness and ability to see the world from a different cultural perspective. It is usually accompanied by skills such as empathy and curiosity.

But even if the assignee doesn’t have all the traits and skills described above, they can learn and develop many of them. Yes, you can’t change a person’s personality, but you can make the most of what they have and be aware of what they don’t have. You can also consciously work to develop skills that will help the assignee cope better with transitions.

The good news is that most of the qualities that make a successful expat can be learned ‘in the field: with time. Here are some key principles from Vlachos’ book that expats and global mobility professionals should keep in mind:

Principle 1: Your concept of home matters

Understand your concept of home, and that of others you’ll be moving with.

Principle 2: The process of transition matters

Understand the stages of psychological adjustment that happen during a move.

Principle 3: You matter

Understand how your personality will influence your adjustment process.

Principle 4: Your partner matters

Understand how differences in the personalities and skills, concepts of home, circumstances, and perspectives between you and your partner will influence the adjustment process.

Principle 5: Your children matter

Anticipate the challenges your children will face, given differences in ages and personalities.

Applying these principles will take time and discipline but they will pay off in the long run, especially if you want to retain those qualified talents. Let your support system also help you:  the network of embassies, business groups, schools, learning and training centers, medical associations, and housing companies like California Corporate Housing. They make the entire experience of expat living more efficient and welcoming, perhaps increasing the chances of your assignee becoming the “perfect expat.”