Expatriates balance different hopes, ambitions and priorities

Living abroad can be exciting, rewarding and even life-changing. More people than ever are experiencing it for themselves, including a new generation of ambitious Asian expatriates.

A record 232 million people were living outside their country of birth in 2013, according to the UN, with a growing number coming from middle-income countries such as India and China.

Today’s Asian expats have a variety of different motivations, hopes and ambitions. Some have moved abroad to learn. Students prepared to live overseas can apply to high-quality institutions around the world and choose from a broader range of courses. They can also acquire a foreign language and gain a deeper understanding of a different culture. These are important skills for those hoping to pursue an international career.

Expatriate life can be a passport to opportunity, new experiences or a better quality of life

No nation sends more students abroad than China. The 2015 Expat Explorer survey, a report commissioned by HSBC, suggested that more than a quarter of Chinese nationals living abroad had gone overseas to study, compared with an international average of 9 per cent.

Work is another powerful motivation for relocating. The financial rewards of an internationally mobile career can be significant. Among expatriates from five countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines – the average salary was just under USD75,000, according to our survey, with 55 per cent saying they enjoyed more disposable income than at home. The three most common professions for these expatriates were finance, manufacturing and marketing, showing that they were successfully competing for jobs in a range of disciplines. Most said that they were also learning new skills.

Family was the main motivation for other expatriates, whether they had moved to be with a loved one, to live closer to relatives, or to give their children more opportunities. Children living abroad are often able to pick up different languages at an early age; a change of scene may also offer better schools or a healthier lifestyle. Around 57 per cent of parents originally from the five ASEAN countries said their children had enjoyed a better quality of life since they relocated.

Asian expatriates settle in a range of different destinations. Expats from the five ASEAN countries, for example, are spread across developed and emerging markets. Half of the top ten most popular destinations for ASEAN expatriates were in Asia-Pacific (Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore), and half further afield, including locations such as the US, the UK and the United Arab Emirates.

Patterns of international migration are likely to continue to change in the coming years. HSBC expects that Asian economies will contribute around half of global GDP growth in the years to 2050, with stronger trade and investment links developing between fast-growing economies. The conclusion of political and trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership could further boost regional links and facilitate ASEAN integration. It is possible that, over time, more and more Asian expatriates will choose to relocate within Asia itself as new opportunities present themselves.

Moving to places nearer to home may mean people move around more freely – perhaps relocating for one or two years, rather than seven or eight – as it is quicker and cheaper to come back. The continued development of information networks is also making it easier for people to work across borders, keeping a grip on projects overseas without needing to be physically present 100 per cent of the time. Employees of major firms may also be more likely to undertake short-term and long-term assignments overseas more often in the future.

Living abroad is not without its challenges. Improving language skills at the same time as taking up a new job or beginning a course of study is not always easy. While some countries have a familiar culture, others may take a little more getting used to. But it is important to keep the challenges in perspective – 30 per cent of expatriates from ASEAN countries said that it took them less than six months to feel at home in their new location, according to our Expat Explorer survey.

Expatriate life can be a passport to opportunity, new experiences or a better quality of life. Today, many people from Asia are ready to explore, confident about what they have to offer the world – and what the world has to offer them.

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