Purpose - The expansion of the phenomenon of two-way flow expatriation due to the accelerated process of globalization has resulted in an increasing need for a better understanding of cross-cultural transitions. Given the absence of convincing a priori theoretical explanations, as part of an inductive discovery process, the purpose of this paper is to examine the relationships between cultural intelligence (CQ), job position, and cross-cultural adjustment (CCA) for expatriates. Design/methodology/approach - Explicit consideration is given to uncovering the potential importance of cultural distance asymmetry (CDA) effects. Structural equation modelling techniques are employed to analyse survey data from a two-flow sample of expatriates between Australia and China. Findings - Results indicate that motivational CQ has a statistically significant effect on CCA. CDA is found to moderate the relationship between job positions and expatriate adjustment, such that the relationship depends on the direction of cultural flow between more and less authoritarian cultural contexts. Originality/value - These findings discover and highlight the potential importance of identifying the direction of cultural flows of expatriation in understanding successful expatriates' CCA.