Expats make their mark globally

July 08, 2016
  • The typical expat is a male aged 35 to 50
  • Just 12% of expats are women
  • Shift to shorter-term expat contracts

According to data from ECA International’s Managing Mobility and Expatriate Salary Management Surveys, the past 20 years has seen continuous growth in the number of employees sent on assignment overseas.

The diversity of home and host countries has also significantly increased, with expatriation from Asia driving a lot of the overall growth in numbers.

According to the report, the typical expat is male and aged between 35 and 50 years old. Traditionally, most expats came from Western Europe and North America, but today this profile has expanded to include a significant proportion of Asian countries.

The numbers of female expats remains low, with female assignees accounting for only 12 per cent of the expat workforce.

The most significant difference as, highlighted by the report, between the traditional expat and their contemporary equivalent is the shift from long term assignment (typically three years) to shorter contracts (one year or less).

In 2008, approximately two thirds of expats were on long-term contracts, and by 2014 that figure fell to just over 50 per cent and is predicted to continue to fall. By contrast, the numbers of expats on short term contract has been rising steadily, now accounting for approximately one fifth of all overseas assignments.

Short-term contracts have been used as a solution in situations where there has been a reluctance for the whole family to relocate. However the report stresses that the impact on the family may, in fact, be greater if there is an increasing shift to short-term assignments throughout an employee’s career.

Frequent relocation can make it harder for employees and their families to settle into a host-country. Therefore, this type of assignment may be more appealing to single or younger employees. This disruption can also have a significant impact on family life while adversely affecting the employee’s performance during the assignment.
“Globalisation is the driver behind the changes,” says the report. “Technology has had an impact, but not in the way first considered. Rather than replacing expats visiting remote locations, technology has made it easier for them to work from increasingly remote places. Cheaper and more rapid transport has made business trips, commuter assignments and short term contracts more viable.”
Whatever the reasons for the changes in the type and diversity of expats and the type and diversity of their assignment, the role of the expat is still critical and the expat community continues to grow.
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