Rise In ‘Temporary Expats’ Seeking Work Overseas

More expats are seeking work abroad, favouring Eastern countries and particularly Singapore


For the first time, Singapore has topped the rankings for British expats seeking a happier, healthier and wealthier life.

In the last year, the Quality of Life Index from NatWest International Private Banking (IPB) saw Singapore sling itself from fourth place to top the polls. Meanwhile, traditional expat destinations such as Australia and Canada have been overtaken.

This dramatic shift has come about due to an increase in the amount of ‘temporary expats’ seeking work across the globe. In 2008, when the Quality of Life Index began, expats were predominantly ‘lifers’ (67 per cent), who were more likely to move abroad in search of sun, sea and a fresh start. In 2015, these types of expats account for just 28 per cent; while temporary expats account for 40 per cent.

The study reveals that over eight in ten British expats in Singapore had seen an increase in their overall quality of life since moving to the island nation. A similar number reported an improvement in their health, a nicer, sunnier environment and better job conditions as the main selling points of the ‘Lion City’. Interestingly, despite the improved lifestyle, only nine per cent of expats planned to stay in Singapore permanently, as the majority are there on temporary work assignments.

Singapore has seen a range of tax exemptions and flexible immigration policies put in place by the Government who are keen to appeal to expats, who currently make up 38 per cent of the total population. The key industries for expats in Singapore include finance (employing 29 per cent of its expat population), construction and manufacturing and for people working in these sectors the rewards can be huge. At present, more than two-thirds of expats living in Singapore earn more than £125,000 a year, compared with the global average of 21 per cent.

While Singapore is the destination of choice, the change in the profile of the average expat has seen other Asian countries climb the list. In addition to Singapore climbing four places to claim the top spot, China has risen to third place from fifth and Hong Kong has risen to fifth place from eighth. It is no coincidence that there has been a 34 per cent increase in the number of temporary expats working in China and Singapore and a 29 per cent increase in those living in Hong Kong. By comparison, over the same period, temporary expats living in the United States have fallen by 17 per cent. This has impacted the ranking for similar countries outside Asia also, such as the UAE, which rose to second place and also saw a 34 per cent increase in temporary workers.

The shift in temporary expats’ destination is largely due to the growing demand for British professional skills in a number of prominent Asian and Arabic countries, following rapid economic growth and a greatly improved standard of living. The vast majority of expats in Asia, for instance, experienced an increase in disposable income after relocating, particularly in Singapore (83 per cent), Hong Kong (78 per cent) and China (72 per cent). This is in stark contrast to European countries included in the index, which indicated that around a quarter of all expats now felt nervous or anxious about their economic situation (Portugal 22 per cent, Spain 26 per cent, France, 28 per cent).

The study indicates that the average profile of an expat will continue to shift in the coming years. Currently half of all British expats (54 per cent) are working on temporary assignments abroad; six years ago this percentage was just 11 percent and this is likely to shift further as working overseas becomes more expected in the UK’s working culture.

Other trends are also likely to continue due to the changing expat culture. Younger people, for instance, are already significantly more likely to live abroad than they were in the past, with those aged 25-35 making up over a quarter (27 per cent) of all expats, compared to just 16 per cent in 2011. The gender gap is also closing for the average British expat with women now making up nearly half of all expats (46 per cent) compared to one-third in 2011.