66% of US workers would move abroad for a better-paying job—here's where they'd go

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The opportunity to move abroad for work doesn't present itself every day, but for the majority of Americans, they'd take it if it meant earning more money.

The latest Randstad Workmonitor Mobility Index found 66% of U.S. workers would move abroad for a substantially higher salary, a share that slightly edges out the 59% of workers around the world outside the U.S. who'd do the same. (The survey doesn't define what constitutes a "substantially higher salary" in its questioning.)

Higher pay would be the biggest motivator for Americans to work abroad, according to the survey. Slightly fewer U.S. workers would emigrate if it meant improving their work-life balance in a different country (64%) or to search for a more meaningful career (58%). And just about half would leave the country if moving abroad was the only way to hold onto their current job.

Jodi Chavez is group president for professional staffing at Randstad U.S. She tells CNBC Make It that these findings could indicate the need for U.S. companies to get more competitive with pay and benefits.

"Part of what this says is, while the talent shortage is very much alive in the U.S., workers have not seen the increase in salary they would like to see, and they are willing to move abroad to work globally and also improve their overall wellbeing," she says.

Workers who move abroad for stronger earning power might be onto something. HSBC's latest expat survey showed the average 18 to 34-year-old's salary rose 35% after relocating overseas, from $40,358 to $54,484. In some markets, earning potential rose by as much as 51%.

American workers most want to work in the U.K., Canada and Australia, the survey finds. A lack of language barrier is one reason why, and Chavez says U.S. workers may be more likely to have family members in these countries to provide the beginnings of a social safety net in a new environment.

The potential for better work-life balance is also a major draw.

"Some other countries have strict work-life balance policies that tend to favor employees," Chavez says. Most full-time workers in the U.K. are entitled to 28 days of paid holiday leave, for example, and the Canadian government provides employment policies and benefits for parental leave and caregiving leave.

"What U.S. employers can do is to learn from some of these other countries and figure out the best way to still be highly productive and successful, but also incorporate some of those desired work-life balanced schedules that are attractive to today's U.S. workforce," Chavez says.

However, employers may take comfort in knowing the U.S. is the No. 1 choice for people around the world to move to for work, if given the opportunity. Randstad's survey found 28% of international employees want to work in the U.S. most, above Germany (25%) and Australia (22%).

While global workers might not find as many policies that enable better work-life balance, they're often drawn to the potential for higher pay and opportunities for innovation, Chavez says. She points to the number of growing companies, especially within tech, that may be attractive to non-U.S. workers who can help bridge the skills gap and contribute to new products and ideas.

Companies with global offices may want to offer workers more opportunities to transfer abroad, Chavez suggests, which could improve employee recruitment and retention.

This kind of flexibility could also increase job satisfaction. A recent MetLife survey found more expat workers were happy with their jobs compared with those who stay local.

As the Randstad survey suggests, the appetite for working abroad is there. Advances in technology that enable global connectivity and raise visibility of life abroad plays a huge part, and Chavez says workers are jumping at the possibilities.

"It's a fascinating place to be," she says. "Millennials and gen Z are interested in expanding beyond what's in front of them — their city, their country — and the ability to think beyond borders in a career and life perspective is an exciting opportunity."

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