Written by
Dean Blackburn

Published
07 Jun 2016

Whats attracting career-driven expats to Asia?

07 Jun 2016 • by Dean Blackburn

What drives expats to relocate varies as much as the breadth of countries they travel to; people move abroad for adventure, a desire to be challenged, a change in lifestyle, to find love, or for their career. For expats looking at Asia, that last reason is the most compelling says Dean Blackburn, head of retail banking & wealth management at HSBC Expat.  

Career minded

Almost half of expats (47%) who moved to Asia told us they did so for career-related reasons, indicating that the region is a hub for those ambitious and high-flying expats. With its thriving economy and relatively cheap cost of living, according to the 2014 Expat Explorer survey, it’s not hard to see why expats are heading to Asia.  

Given the growth of knowledge and technology based industries in the region, it perhaps comes as no surprise that those looking to bolster their careers are heading East. In particular, the booming infrastructure demands of Asia is making it a hotspot for engineers. Of the Asian economies, China is spear heading growth; PWC projects that the Chinese economy will overtake the US as the largest economy in the world by 2017. It’s not just China though: the combined spending power of the E7 countries (China, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia and Turkey) will beat that of the G7 by 2030. Asia is also home to Taiwan, one of the ‘Emerging and growth-leading’ economies (EAGLES), which is set to soar over the next few years – another clear reason as to why career-focused expats are heading to the region.

For those defining career progression by a boosted salary, the move to Asia is a no-brainer. Almost a quarter (24%) of expats in our survey moved to Asia to improve their salaries, compared to 20% globally. The 2014 Expat Explorer survey found China to be the top destination for high-earning expats, with 29% of expats surveyed in China earning over $250,000, while the country also ranked 1st place for personable disposable income, and 4th for overall affordability, 14% of the expats in Asia earn over $250,000 per year, compared to just 7% in the Middle East and 5% in Europe.  

The workplace culture in Asia also seems to be a big attraction for expats. In particular, two thirds of expats in Singapore said they found it easy to adjust to the local working style, the third best score globally. The business culture in Asia is fairly unique; in the region, a business card is not just a token to pass on contact details. Particularly in China and Japan, the business card is taken very seriously, and should be received with both hands and reviewed with obvious interest. The concept of mianzi, ‘face’, is also very important in China; keeping up appearances is an important part of the Chinese culture.

Asia doesn’t just offer careers though; expats are moving there for several other reasons.  66% of expats travelled to Japan to embrace a new challenge, with 46% of expats in China saying the same thing.  Furthermore, Asia is getting a reputation as a place where settling in can happen with ease.  A career move can be stressful, and therefore expats may seek to move to a country where finding their feet won’t be too challenging.  It helps if they’re safe in the knowledge that any family brought along are likely to settle in well too.  50% of expats who moved to China were aged 35-54, at the peak of their career, but also an age where individuals are most likely to have a family, which reflects that the country is perceived as a safe and stable place to relocate spouses and children; China was also ranked 4th overall for the quality of education available.  Taiwan meanwhile was ranked 1st for healthcare facilities and 3rd for local culture.  

Asia’s culture is renowned for its hospitality, and many expats found settling in and acclimatising to their new country to be a breeze.  60% of expats based in China say it is a better place to live and work than where they had lived previously, and are pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of the Chinese locals.  The festivals taking place in China throughout the year, such as the celebration of Chinese New Year, and the Spring festival (the beginning of the Lunar New Year), give expats an opportunity to get involved with local communities and understand traditional customs.  Perhaps this is why, compared to the global average of 60%, two thirds of expats in Asia felt more at ease settling into the local culture.  Making friends is easier too; 34% commented that their social life had improved since becoming an expat in Asia, compared with a global average of 28%.  Indeed, an expat in Singapore described their experience as one filled with “safety, economic stability, higher salary and career advancement”.  Asian cuisine has proved to be very popular with expats too.  For example, Thailand came 5th overall for enjoyment of local cuisine, with expats keen to learn to cook traditional Thai meals, such as pad thai, and a selection of curries. 

Clearly, it is not just the economy of Asia which is making the region such a sought after destination for expats. The culture, community and hospitality is making the continent a primary choice for those thinking of moving abroad to benefit their career.  Asia evidently does not just offer career prospects, but a vibrant and colourful culture, which can be challenging but above all, exciting.