Steve Parkes is the director of Page Executive for Greater China and is focused on senior level search. He has been consulting in Asia since 2004 and has lived as an expat in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia.
Instead of searching for the ideal expat deal, try downsizing your lifestyle
I’ve been working in Hong Kong for the last five years and it was my present company (a global retail and sourcing company) that moved my family and I from Europe to here. They provided a very good expat package inclusive of housing, car, international schooling and a home-leave allowance. Recently, however, my company gave me two options: the first to stay in Hong Kong and have my package localised; the second to be repatriated back to my company’s European HQ. I enjoy living and working here, as does my family. Do you think it’s possible for me to find another company that will offer similar expat benefits in Hong Kong, Singapore or even China?
Your concern is shared by many in the Hong Kong, Singapore and mainland China markets.
In the past, an expat would have truly been sent by their company. By that I mean the company would have genuinely needed that employee to relocate and, in order to make it more palatable, they provided pretty good benefits. It sounds like this was your experience.
These days, however, there are as many expats in markets like Hong Kong that are on “local” packages as those on “expat” versions. So someone in your shoes, who is looking to move companies and retain a similar expat package, now has to compete with the local workforce, internal talent and foreigners who are on local packages, and based in-country. Please don’t assume that a move from Hong Kong to Singapore or mainland China will afford you full expat benefits.
With that said, there are still expat packages to be had across the region. The downside is that these are tough to find, often only for people with very niche skills, a high level of responsibility, or those willing to make internal moves. They are not so common in first-tier cities like Hong Kong and Singapore. You may have to consider Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia or second-tier Chinese cities like Guangzhou and Shenzhen.
We are still seeing expat packages offered in senior leadership roles, such as GM and CEO, in FMCG, manufacturing (particularly in China) and hospitality, and I predict that this will continue.
The simple answer to your question is that It is a realistic possibility that a company – in a market you’re prepared to work in – is able to afford a preferential package, or that you have a skill set that is so specialised that they need to offer great benefits to get you on board. There are some organisations that still offer these packages.
It’s also worth considering that some companies when localising expats are including a certain amount of housing and education allowance into a base package. You might find you lose your return business-class flights home, but a good employer could be giving you a more compelling reason to stay in Asia. So, in short, the idea of a localised package might not be disastrous.
The solution for workers who are no longer on expat packages, but still want to remain in the region, is to downsize their lifestyle. Many do this in two key ways: changing where they live and rethinking the education they give their children. Living on Hong Kong Island is expensive, so you may want to consider moving to Kowloon or the New Territories. You may also want to consider affordable alternatives in private schooling, where a debenture may not be required and lower tuition fees are possible.
Downsizing your lifestyle is easier to do in Hong Kong and Singapore, where tax is low and there’s no capital gain on investments.
This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Is it still worth looking for a cushy expat deal?