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Cost of employing expatriates in Singapore drops over USD 3,800 in value

  • The overall cost of employing a mid-level expatriate in Singapore now amounts to an average of USD 232 454 – a drop of USD 3 804 from the year prior
  • The average expatriate salary has also dropped by over USD 2 000, to USD 88 045
  • Expatriate pay packages in Hong Kong rose by over USD 8 000, with cash salaries alone rising over USD 1 000 on average
  • The United Kingdom (UK) remains the most expensive location to employ overseas workers in the world, with Japan and China coming in second and third respectively

Expatriate pay packages in Singapore have dropped by USD 3 804, with the average cost of employing a mid-level expatriate in the country amounting to USD 234 454 (SGD 216 628). This also includes an average cash salary of USD 88 045 (SGD 119 927). 

However, despite the fall in costs, the country remains in the top 20 most expensive locations in the world to employ overseas workers. This was one of the findings of the latest MyExpatriate Market Pay survey published annually by ECA International, the world's leading provider of knowledge, information and software for the management and assignment of employees around the world.

When considering the cost of an expatriate pay package, companies need to factor in three main elements: the cash salary, benefits – such as accommodation, international schools, or cars – and tax. To assist companies that are relocating their staff by benchmarking their packages against the market, ECA conducts its annual MyExpatriate Market Pay Survey of pay levels for expatriates around the world, including benefits, allowances, salary calculation methods and tax treatment.

“In recent years, Singapore has fallen to be the ninth most expensive location in Asia for employing expatriate staff. As a result, the cost of an expatriate pay package in the country is now lower than other Asian countries such as Taiwan and Thailand”, said Lee Quane, Regional Director – Asia at ECA International. “The gap between the cost of employing expatriates in Singapore as compared to Hong Kong has also widened in the past year to 18%, representing a continuation of a long-term trend.”

“The key reason for Singapore’s more favourable ranking in terms of costs is lower taxes as compared to most of the other Asian locations in our rankings, and lower costs associated with benefits as compared to other high-cash salary locations such as Hong Kong. As such, this helps moderate the fact that cash salaries earned by expatriates in Singapore are the second highest in the region, where the average cash salary paid to a mid-level expatriate is USD 88 045 (SGD 119 927) – a cost that is only slightly lower than the Hong Kong average.”

Asia Highlights

In contrast, the cost of an expatriate pay package in Hong Kong continued to grow throughout 2019. The average price of employing a mid-level expatriate worker in the city now costs a company USD 284 466, including an average cash salary of USD 88 126.

“Hong Kong stood out against the global trend of decreasing costs of expatriate packages in 2019 and now represents one of the only locations in the rankings that saw all aspects of the package increase. Mid-level expatriate employees in Hong Kong may also be happy to hear that the average cash salary increased in 2019 and now stands at USD 88 126 per annum – the highest in the region. However, while this increase is seen to be positive as compared to the rest of Asia and even the world, the rate of increase was significantly lower than in previous years – coming in at 1.2%. This was representative of the weakened global economy in 2019. Moreover, in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the average expatriate package in Hong Kong is unlikely to grow significantly for the foreseeable future, as pressure builds on companies to manage their costs accordingly,” explained Quane.

Meanwhile, China remains the third most expensive location in the world to employ expatriate workers, despite the overall cost of employing an expatriate in the country and their average salary dropping by over USD 6 000 and USD 2 262 respectively. The average cost of employing a mid-level expatriate in China now stands at USD 303 567 per year in total.

Quane said, “The relative cost of employing expatriates in China fell considerably in 2019, with an overall drop of USD 6 637 on average. This is due to the weakening of the Chinese yuan over the past 12 to 24 months, as well as a decline in economic growth in 2019 as a result of the ongoing China-US trade tensions. This in turn has put pressure on the cost of benefits such as accommodation, which has dropped by an average of USD 3 435 in just a year.”

Given the above, Asia continues to be an expensive location to send expatriate workers in general, with 11 of the top 20 most expensive countries in ECA’s global rankings being Asian countries. 

Quane shared, “Although the average value of an expatriate package has dropped in most locations in our rankings, there is no doubt that the costs of employing expatriate workers in Asia are relatively higher now as compared to other locations in the world – for example, countries such as Bangladesh and Vietnam have entered the top 20 most expensive locations in recent years. Further, of the eight countries in our list which saw increases in the cost of the average expatriate package this year, five of these were Asian nations.”

Global Highlights

The UK has once again been named the most expensive country in the world to hire expatriate workers, with the overall cost standing at a whopping USD 413 194. However, the country’s average expatriate salary is significantly lower than many other nations, amounting to USD 73 849.

Quane said, “Although the UK maintains the top spot in our rankings, the overall cost to a company has dropped significantly – by over USD 8 600 in total. This, of course, reflects the global trend, but it should also be noted that the average salary for an expatriate worker in the UK is, and has been, a lot lower than in many Asian nations – this includes Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore. Therefore, while the overall cost is higher for the company, expatriates working in the UK are not necessarily better off compared to their counterparts in other locations in the world.”

Outside of Asia, the highest rising nation in the rankings is the US, where the overall cost of employing an expatriate rose by USD 3 028 to a total of USD 253 056. This includes an average salary of USD 79 995. In contrast, Sweden saw the biggest drop, with the cost of employing an overseas worker now amounting to USD 219 232 on average – a drop of over USD 20 000 in just one year.


-ENDS-

Notes to Editors

The list of countries used in the rankings is based on countries which have cities appearing in the top 40 of The Global Financial Centres Index (GFCI). The GFCI has been produced since 2007 by commercial think-tank the Z/Yen Group in order to examine the major financial centres globally in terms of competitiveness. It draws on data from the United Nations, World Bank and EIU as well as over 29,000 financial centre assessments from an online questionnaire.

About ECA's MyExpatriate Market Pay Survey

ECA's MyExpatriate Market Pay Survey looks at pay levels for expatriates around the world, including information on benefits, allowances, salary calculation methods and tax treatment.

The results, free to participants, enable companies to benchmark their expatriates' actual salaries against the market. More than 280 companies took part in the survey covering 160 countries and over 10 000 international assignees.

Figures used in this release were collected in the later stages of 2019 and refer to a Middle Manager position based on 80 ECA Points. ECA Points is a job evaluation system that measures the influence, scope and responsibilities of a job.

There are a number of ways in which salary packages for expatriates may be calculated. The information provided by participant companies in our survey relates to home and host-based salary systems as well as locally-hired and localised expatriates and expatriates on indefinite contracts.

Certain types of allowances are specifically excluded from the analysis in the reports. These are one-off payments such as allowances for outfit, furniture, disturbance and relocation.

Benefits values are based on standard ECA assumptions and have been derived from data in ECA's accommodation and benefits reports to provide an estimate of the cost of providing these benefits. The actual costs or allowances paid to cover these benefits vary widely according to each company's policy.
Tax figures used here refer to employee taxes and do not take company contributions into account. For ease of comparison, it is assumed that cash allowances are paid to employees to cover the cost of any benefits provided.

The accommodation figure is representative of the cost of housing two adults and one child. Utilities covers heat, light, water and telephone charges. Education assumes one child attending a local international school. The car figure covers annual running costs and is based on a standard cars value (2000 cc), depreciated over five years.

About ECA International

ECA International is the market-leading provider of knowledge, information and technology that enables businesses to manage their international reward programmes.

Partnering with thousands of clients on every continent, we provide a fully integrated suite of quality data, specialist software, consultancy and training. Our unparalleled insights guide clients as they mobilise their most valuable resource: people.

We make the complex world of international mobility simple, providing clients with the expertise and support they need to make the right decisions – every time.

ECA International: Mobility solutions for a world that’s constantly moving.

For further information, please contact:

Jack Firth 
Tel: +44 0 20 7351 5000
Email: Jack.Firth@eca-international.com

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