Are expat packages a thing of the past?

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In the good old days before the global financial crisis, a job posting to Asia's financial hubs of Singapore or Hong Kong often included a lavish benefit package with an allowance for housing, a car and schooling but those days are gone, say recruitment experts.

"A common misconception exists about the prevalence of expat packages in Singapore but they have almost become a thing of the past," said George McFerran, director at careers website eFinancialCareers.

"The vast majority of expats are now hired directly onto local packages while others have given up their prior existing perks to remain a part of Singapore's thriving finance industry. We are aware of a similar trend in Hong Kong," he said.

Over 80 percent of expatriate respondents in a recent eFinancialCareers survey of 1,142 bankers and finance professionals in Singapore have never been employed on an expat package.

A decade ago, when companies were quickly building a presence in Asia, doling out incentives to lure top talent was the norm. However, with Asia's economic resilience and multinational companies attributing increasing strategic importance to the region, there's little no shortage of talent willing to relocate.

On top of this, Asian companies prefer local professionals, so international candidates often have to negotiate a local package.

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"What is clear is that there is no one-size-fits-all for an expat package anymore and today businesses are taking a more cost-effective approach. Traditional components like housing and schooling are no longer standard for all postings," said Mark Hall, vice president and country general manager at Kelly Services Singapore.

"Expat packages are becoming more limited to senior executives and individuals with very niche skill sets," he added, pointing to industries such as biotechnology, environmental and energy science.

What's the norm now?

Employees have a better shot of landing an expat package if they are posted abroad by their current company.

"Within the financial services sector, being mobilized by your current firm at director level or above, you can still expect to be given allowances such housing and international schooling," said Paul Evans, director at recruitment firm Astbury Marsden.

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This is a contrast from pre-global financial crisis days where expat packages would frequently include allowance for housing, school, car, various club memberships – including the purchase of debentures to secure priority access to waiting lists – as well as two flights home per year for the employee and their family, according to Astbury Marsden.

"If you're moving internationally to a city like Singapore or Hong Kong with a new company, oftentimes they won't offer an expat package. However, we have seen a number of firms offering support through paying relocation costs; initial flights out, shipping [of belongings] and up to 4-6 weeks serviced apartment accommodation" he said.

Hardship postings

While getting expat benefits is becoming more competitive, recruiters say full-fledged packages are still offered in 'hardship postings' to emerging and frontier markets.

"The more traditional types of package are more likely to be offered with perceived hardship postings. If a senior professional is required to relocate, for example, to Myanmar or Indonesia where public transport is very limited it is highly probably they would be provided with a car and a local driver," said Hall.

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"A typical expat package is tied to a short-term international posting of approximately three to five years. If the employee wishes to stay on after this period of time their remuneration package will usually be localized and we are seeing this happen regularly," he added.