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Modest wage growth sees Singapore fall in global rankings of locations with highest expat packages

  • Salary and benefits packages in Singapore rose by 4% in 2021 in local currency terms, despite the city falling five places to 22nd in the global rankings of locations with the highest expatriate packages.
  • The UK reclaims its status as the location with the highest expatriate packages, with the average salary and benefits package coming in at over USD 440,000.

Expatriate salary and benefits packages in Singapore rose by a modest 4% in 2021 in local currency terms despite the city’s fall to 22nd place in the rankings of the costliest places to employ expatriates globally. 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 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 relocating staff with 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.

“Although rates of pay growth were relatively modest in local currency terms, once package values were converted into USD, their total value rose by a total of 10%, which represented a significant recovery from the year before,” said Lee Quane, Regional Director – Asia at ECA International. “Salaries recovered after falling by an average of USD 1,000 per annum in 2020, while benefits costs, such as those around accommodation expenses, also rose as many employers provided financial assistance to their expatriate staff in meeting rising accommodation costs as the rental market bounced back in 2021.”

“Overall, the cost of employing an expatriate in Singapore rose by approximately 10% to just under USD 250,000 per annum, with cash salaries seeing increases of about 9.5% in USD terms,” Quane added.

Asia Highlights

Elsewhere, Australia and New Zealand both saw significant rises of eight and 16 positions in the global rankings to 7th and 13th place respectively, owing to a variety of reasons including the strengthening of their currencies, increased benefits costs, and income tax changes in the past 12 months.

China remains the location with the third-highest expatriate packages in the region after Japan and India. “While its position in the rankings remains unchanged, cash salaries paid to expatriate staff increased by over 11% in 2021 in USD terms compared to the year before,” said Quane. “This was partly influenced by the relative strength of the Chinese Yuan, but may also be attributed to companies having to offer higher salaries in order to attract and retain expatriate staff, as China continued to impose its zero-Covid policy throughout the year.”

On the other hand, while expatriates in most other locations in the region saw their salaries rise at an average rate of 9% and overall packages by 10% in 2021, expatriate packages in Hong Kong saw much lower increases compared to the regional average, with salaries rising by 4.5% and overall packages rising by only 1%. 

“Salary and benefits packages for expatriate staff in Hong Kong recovered slightly in 2021 following a fall at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Cash compensation packages rose by 4.5% in USD terms, but this was lower than rates of growth seen in other regional economies such as Japan and Singapore. Furthermore, the costs of benefits continued to decrease, as they did in 2020, contributing to a fall of three places for Hong Kong to 8th in our rankings,” Quane added.

Many countries also joined Singapore and Hong Kong in falling down the rankings. These included Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Quane explained, “While all locations in the region saw an increase in the pay packages for expatriate staff, many still fell in our rankings as their rates of growth were lower than those experienced elsewhere in the world. Japan, for example, saw the value of expatriate packages increase by 4% in 2021. Nevertheless, it is no longer the location with the highest expatriate packages worldwide, having been overtaken by the UK, where the overall value of an expatriate package rose by over 9% in USD terms.”

Malaysia remains the location in the region with the lowest expatriate salary and benefits packages, even though cash salaries rose by 11% in 2021. “Expatriates in Malaysia saw their cash compensation rise at a rate which was higher than the regional average,” explained Quane. “Despite this, Malaysia remains the location in the region with the lowest salary and benefits packages for expatriate staff.”


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 the commercial think-tank 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 300 companies took part in the survey covering over 130 countries and over 10,000 international assignees.

Figures used in this release were collected in the later stages of 2021 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 car’s 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.

Follow ECA on twitter: @ECAintl 

ECA's blog provides updates and commentary on currency, inflation, and expatriate cost of living. Follow the blog here:

For further information, please contact:

Keith Lee
Rice Communications for ECA International

Lee Quane (Hong Kong)
ECA International
Regional Director - Asia
Tel: +852 2121 2388

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