Do Expats Need an Interpreter: 5 Situations Where Miscommunication Can Be Fatal

Do Expats Need an Interpreter: 5 Situations Where Miscommunication Can Be Fatal

Language barriers have become a significant concern as the world becomes more interconnected. These communication issues have led to the rise of the interpreter market as they can facilitate a better understanding between different parties. In 2021, TheExpressWire notes that the global demand for interpreters was valued at US $9,492.36 million, with its growth expected to reach a value of US $17,525.1 million by 2027. Their services have been helpful for people who have immigrated abroad, mainly expatriates. As people work in a new country, there is tremendous pressure to minimize miscommunication in critical activities like business negotiations and legal matters; having an interpreter can protect them from potentially fatal issues. In this article, we'll list five situations where miscommunication with expats should be avoided:

Cultural differences

Before an expat’s assignment, they are often required to undergo training to learn the primary local language and understand the essential culture. However, sometimes they won’t be able to fully put themselves into practice until they officially move to their target territory. Aside from language, expats also have to consider cultural differences, such as how locals phrase their words and read non-verbal cues. Having an interpreter in the early days of their assignment can significantly help them through their adjustment phase and ensure that no locals — especially business partners — are accidentally offended.

Travel in a new locale

As mentioned, an expat may have some knowledge of the primary culture of the country they immigrated to. While this may help them understand and navigate their main assigned area, some countries may have different localities that host multiple dialects and cultural interpretations. The locals in these places may not also speak English well, so having an interpreter while traveling can help expats communicate with them, with a lower chance of getting lost or encountering malicious actors. As a bonus, expats can be better immersed in the culture, with interpreters explaining their cultural practices and enabling expats to understand via translation.

Expat departures

Most expats who move abroad for work tend to have high expectations for their assignments. However, an article on expat transition practices from LHH refutes the reality of this. There are instances when an assignment isn’t well coordinated and doesn’t go according to plan. Be it termination from illness/injury or public scandals, it can be detrimental for both the expat and the company to handle these botched terminations by themselves. Our post “Professional Legal Interpreters” notes that hiring a legal interpreter can help expats ensure that any formal procedures are straightened out without any disadvantage in the legal process.

Business negotiations

A report on language by TechNative notes how language barriers are particularly evident in businesses in niche industries as companies hire skilled workers beyond their region. One in four workers within the Information & Communication industry is born outside of the UK. As a result, expats can find it challenging to communicate effectively, especially when they have to balance technical understanding and oversimplification. While digital technologies may help expats overcome language barriers between their fellow employees, it’s better to bring an interpreter to negotiations and other valuable conversations. This way, expats can focus on the actual talks and even use jargon relevant to the discussion without worrying about misunderstandings.


When getting healthcare, expats must be able to tell the medical staff their symptoms and past medical history to receive the best care. Using previous medical records recorded in another language can make it challenging to hear the results correctly, so hiring an interpreter can streamline the health assessment process and establish a greater understanding of medical history with the current doctor. Furthermore, many of these health records and prescriptions are usually sensitive documents that expats wouldn’t want to share with anyone else. Through a professional translation service, expats can ensure that their reports are translated accurately to keep their information secure.

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By:  Reilly Juliana