Which countries currently offer the best expat salary packages?

Expat news
  • person counting dollars
Published on 2023-08-02 at 08:00 by Asaël Häzaq
When it comes to moving abroad for work, salaries, professional growth, and work/life balance are crucial considerations. Some countries are known for higher salaries, while others are making efforts to attract foreign talent with lucrative compensation packages. As a prospective expat, how can you make the best decision?

The notion of highly paid foreign professionals might still exist in the collective consciousness, but it no longer accurately represents reality. Only a minority of expats receive high salaries, while most have incomes quite different from those lucrative packages. The era of "golden packages" with cash and other benefits is fading, being limited to top positions. Even in high-ranking roles, the salary depends on the contract with the host company.

Nevertheless, there are countries where high-ranking positions do indeed come with high pay. Saudi Arabia, in competition with the United Arab Emirates as a top expat destination, believes it has found a solution by offering attractive salaries. Expat salaries in Saudi Arabia rank among the highest in the Middle East. An average executive can expect to earn over $100,000 per year, a world record. Saudi Arabia has implemented a strategy to attract and retain expatriates, yielding success based on recent figures from the Saudi General Organization for Social Insurance. The number of non-Saudis in the country's social insurance scheme rose significantly, and numerous multinationals have transferred their regional headquarters to Saudi Arabia. The country's ruler, Mohammed bin Salman, aspires to make Riyadh one of the world's top 10 economic hubs by 2030.

The cost of international assignments is on the rise

International assignments have become increasingly expensive for companies. ECA International's report on expat salaries reveals that Hong Kong, the UK, Singapore, Japan, India, and China are among the costliest countries for international transfers. Middle management expatriates in Singapore are experiencing rising salary and benefit costs, primarily due to rising rents. Singapore's average middle manager salary and benefits reached $258,762 in 2022, bringing it closer to Hong Kong's average of $278,020. On the other end of the spectrum, Malaysia is the most affordable Asian country for expats, with salaries and benefits being the lowest in the region in 2022, amounting to $164,696 per year due to a 6% salary cost decrease.

In contrast, costs in the UK are still rising. The average income, including salary, taxes, and social benefits (housing, international schooling, utilities, etc.), approaches $450,000 annually, with fringe benefits being a significant factor. The United States remains a stronghold for expatriation, with an average annual salary of approximately $272,770, thanks to the strength of the US dollar. Switzerland retains its position as Europe's most expensive destination for expats, with an average salary close to that of the United States, at around $273,000 per year.

How to choose between high salaries and work-life balance?

Should you choose your next destination based on salaries' attractiveness? In fact, Saudi Arabia is luring foreign professionals with some of the world's highest salaries. However, this would be a huge risk. Experts believe that a high salary alone cannot drive a move overseas. Compared to the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia has a more stringent legislative framework. Without social benefits, a high salary may get overshadowed by expenses like rent and others.

Moving abroad to grow your career is, obviously, a great choice. But where should you move? Many countries are introducing new programs to attract international talent. In such cases, the opportunity for career advancement, even with a lower salary, can motivate prospective expats. However, it's crucial to consider all aspects of life abroad. What will the living environment be like? How to maintain connections with loved ones? Will it be easy to visit them? What about work-life balance? Sometimes, a high salary may come with long working hours, including weekends, blurring the boundaries between personal and professional life. For a serene experience, it's important to understand the type of career and life you want to have when moving abroad.