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UK overtakes Japan as most expensive country to send expatriates

  • The average pay package for an expatriate in the UK has risen by over GBP 40 000 despite salaries remaining static
  • Overall annual cost of sending an expat middle manager to the UK is now GBP 311 240, 82% of which is to cover tax and essential costs
  • Swiss salaries highest in Europe, GBP 10 992 more than UK mid-level pay

The UK has overtaken Japan as the most expensive location to send expatriates, with the average expat pay package rising by GBP 44 688 to GBP 311 240 according to latest data from global mobility experts, ECA International (ECA).

ECA’s annual MyExpatriate Market Pay report surveys the cost of benefits, salaries and tax treatments in countries around the world in order to assist companies with benchmarking their expatriate packages when relocating staff. Benefits include the allowance to cover essential costs such as accommodation, international school fees, utilities or cars. 

The average package for a mid-level expat worker in the UK is now GBP 311 240, up 17% from last year. Cash salaries make up less than 1% of the increase (GBP 160), as the cost of staff benefits in the UK has caused the majority of the hike.

“The value of an average pay package for an expat in the UK saw a huge increase in 2018,” said Oliver Browne, Remuneration Manager at ECA International. “The rise of GBP 44 688 was primarily down to a major jump in the cost of benefits that companies provided their overseas workers with, such as rental costs and international school fees. As the cost of expat-standard housing and rental prices increased throughout the UK, the value of benefits provided by a company to cover these costs therefore rose significantly by GBP 23 881 on average.”

Swiss salaries highest in Europe

After the UK, Switzerland is the second most expensive country in Europe for expat pay packages costing companies an average of GBP 178 260. However, a large part of this is made up of the highest average cash salary in Europe; GBP 66 940 versus GBP 55 948 in the UK.  

Browne said: “Swiss salaries are consistently towards the higher end of the scale but so are everyday costs in most Swiss cities. Despite the higher prices, high salaries in the country mean locals are still well-off compared to their European counterparts. Furthermore, because of low taxes and a smaller value of benefits needing to be provided by a company, it is still comparatively cheaper to send expat workers to Switzerland compared to the UK.”

Republic of Ireland enters top 20 most expensive

Elsewhere, the Republic of Ireland saw a jump in the rankings and entered the top 20 most expensive locations to send expatriate workers. 

“Similar to the trend we saw in the UK, benefits costs have increased notably due to the rise in accommodation and rental fees. Expats in Ireland are more expensive for companies despite average net salaries for expatriates actually dropping by 2% (EUR 965) since last year. This was more than offset by an average rise of 14% (EUR 8 820) in the cost of benefit provisions that companies had to provide their overseas staff,” Browne explained.

ECA’s recent rental accommodation report revealed that rent in Dublin entered the top five most expensive in Europe for the first time, averaging EUR 3 406 per month for a mid-range, three-bedroom apartment.

Best salaries in the Middle East

Middle Eastern nations Saudi Arabia and UAE continue to offer the best salaries for expats, with the nations now offering an average of GBP 71 125 and GBP 69 280 to mid-level expats respectively.

Browne explained: “The Middle East has always offered extremely high salaries to overseas workers, and 2018 was no different. However, the benefits offered in these nations are not among the most costly for an employer, and the average value of benefits offered actually dropped in both locations last year, while the lack of any personal tax means that the overall package works out to be a lot lower when benefits and tax are both taken into account.”

Tax reforms cause expat pay costs to drop in US

The average pay package in the United States has dropped by USD 4 445 to an overall total of USD 250 028 (GBP 184 493), but this is due to a major decrease in personal tax requirements as salaries and benefits both increased.

“Major tax reforms, effective from 1 January 2018, meant that personal tax rates dropped significantly for many people working in the United States, especially for those on a higher income as many expats are,” said Browne. “The personal tax rate has dropped by 14% on average, while the average expat net salary increased only slightly, by less than GBP 1 000, meaning many companies will have found it a lot cheaper to relocate staff to the US last year.”

Pay packages improve in China

The pay and benefits package of an expat living and working in China saw a significant rebound last year, after falling in 2017. The average package is now valued at CNY 1 971 894 (GBP 228 896), an increase of 3% in the local currency, pushing China up to third in the rankings after dropping in 2017.

Browne said “Expats in China have seen a rebound after a bad year in 2017 that saw the value of the average package drop in all areas. The Chinese yuan experienced a better year in 2018 and due to a stronger economy and currency, the pay package for overseas workers in Chinese locations has now improved accordingly.”


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 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.

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 130 countries and over 10 000 international assignees.

Figures used in this release were collected in the later stages of 2018 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.

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