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Foreign Assignees Lack Employer Support

10 Apr 2019

Munich, 10 April 2019 — Foreign Assignees are usually offered more benefits than other expat types that move abroad for work, such as International Hires and Relocating Spouses. This means that, on a global scale, global mobility tends to set a benchmark for international HR in terms of employer assistance — but this includes almost solely practical support such as arranging the move or offering a lump-sum payment for expatriation-related expenses.

“While Foreign Assignees may receive more practical benefits than International Hires and Relocating Spouses, the personal support types are lacking,” says Theresa Häfner, Head of Business Solutions at InterNations and director of the study. “People can no longer just be moved from point A to point B because of an organization’s need. Employees moving abroad for work desire personalized offers that suit their personal needs — as well as the needs of their families. Global mobility teams need to better support skilled professionals in order to stay competitive and optimize foreign assignments.”

What is more, the support varies widely between the countries: While Foreign Assignees in the Netherlands and Switzerland are most supported by their employers throughout their relocation journey, those in countries such as the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, and Germany receive the least support. Relocating Spouses have an even greater need for support by their employers, but only those in China receive key benefits.

In the Expat Insider Business Edition Country Focus report, InterNations Business Solutions takes a closer look at nine different types of relocation support that global employees and their partners receive from companies. These are language classes, intercultural training, additional spouse support, access to local networking opportunities, access to local socializing opportunities, membership in an expat organization, information on local life, having their move organized by the employer or a service provider, and a lump-sum payment for expatriation-related expenses.

The report looks at the situation of expats who moved abroad for work and live in China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the UAE, the UK, and the USA. The report focuses on the benefits that Foreign Assignees (sent abroad by their employer), International Hires (found a job abroad on their own or were recruited by a local company), and Relocating Spouses (moved abroad with their partner) received, as well as the types of support they would have wanted.

Employers Support Foreign Assignees Poorly in the UK, the UAE, and Germany

When comparing Foreign Assignees in the nine featured countries and looking at the nine types of relocation support, employers supporting them in the UK, the UAE, and Germany lag.

Employers supporting Foreign Assignees in the UK perform the worst for six of the nine types of relocation support mentioned in the survey. These support types are: intercultural training (only 13% of Foreign Assignees received it but 32% wanted it), additional spouse support (18% received it but 27% wanted it), access to local networking opportunities (only 4% received it but 61% wanted it), membership in an expat organization (nobody received it but 73% wanted it), information on local life (29% received it but 46% wanted it), and the organized move (66% received it but 27% wanted it).

Employers with Foreign Assignees in the UAE supported these expats the worst in terms of language classes (only 16% received it but 30% wanted it) and access to local socializing opportunities (only 3% received it but 70% wanted it). Foreign Assignees in Germany, meanwhile, are worst supported by their employers in terms of the lump-sum payment — while 61% received it (which is just below the global average of 65%), 27% still did not receive it but would have wanted it.

The Netherlands and Switzerland Shine with Overall Foreign Assignee Support

The Netherlands and Switzerland have the largest shares of Foreign Assignees receiving all types of assistance.

Out of the nine countries featured, employers with Foreign Assignees in the Netherlands are most likely to offer them lump-sum payments (76% vs. 65% globally), access to local socializing opportunities (20% vs. 16% globally), and membership in expat organization (14% vs. 8% globally). Employers with Foreign Assignees in Switzerland support them best with the organized move (87% vs. 75% globally) and access to local networking opportunities (20% vs. 16% globally) — the largest shares for this expat type in the nine featured countries.

The Netherlands and Switzerland are tied with the largest shares of Foreign Assignees receiving intercultural training (35% in both countries vs. 24% globally) and information on local life (57% in both countries vs. 46% globally) from their employers.

However, in terms of language classes, France stands out: 74% of assignees there received language support, compared to just 37% globally. Lastly, Foreign Assignees in China are most likely to receive additional spouse support (45% vs. 31% globally).

Foreign Assignees Are Better Supported with Practical Relocation Support than Others

When comparing the practical relocation assistance received by Foreign Assignees to that of International Hires and Relocating Spouses, the shares of Foreign Assignees being offered these types of support are significantly higher.

For example, 65% of Foreign Assignees globally received the lump-sum payment, compared to just 50% of Relocating Spouses and 36% of International Hires. The same is true for the organized move, which employers offered to 75% of Foreign Assignees, but just 54% of Relocating Spouses and 43% of International Hires. Even in countries such as the Netherlands and Switzerland, where employers fare much better in supporting Foreign Assignees with these two types of support, the needs of International Hires and Relocating Spouses seem to be forgotten as their offerings were significantly lower.

Language classes saw the same trend: 37% of Foreign Assignees globally were offered this type of benefit, compared to just 27% of International Hires and 25% of Relocating Spouses. Also, in France, where the largest share of Foreign Assignees (74%) received language classes, only 38% of International Hires and 30% of Relocating Spouses in the country got the same offer.

Personal Support Lacking Immensely for Foreign Assignees

While these practical support types are more commonly offered to Foreign Assignees, the survey results indicate that they need to be balanced with personal support types, such as access to socializing and networking opportunities. In fact, 61% of Foreign Assignees globally missed receiving networking, 60% missed socializing, and 64% would have wanted a membership in an expat organization.

Gaps in relocation support with core personal support types could have a negative effect on how easily Foreign Assignees get used to the local culture, settle in, and make friends abroad, as well as how happy they are with life in general. As an Italian male Foreign Assignee living in France said: “I hoped to create a richer network of people, but it's hard to find new friends”, while a US American living in Germany stated: “It’s difficult to make meaningful friendships”.

In fact, the survey indicates that Foreign Assignees living in countries with a well-balanced combination of practical and personal relocating support settle in easier and are happier with their life in general. Foreign Assignees in the Netherlands (86% are happy and 2% unhappy) and Switzerland (84% are happy and 7% unhappy), where this is the case, are happiest with their life in general, compared to 80% globally being happy and 8% unhappy. But even there, it seems like it is not enough as a French female living in Switzerland shared: “I like my happy life in Switzerland but socializing with locals is difficult.”

On the other hand, Foreign Assignees in China are unhappiest (67% are happy and 17% unhappy), followed by those in the UK (73% are happy and 5% unhappy), Hong Kong (74% are happy and 11% unhappy), and Germany (79% are happy and 11% unhappy) — the countries where employer support was poorest.

Relocating Spouses Seem to Be Forgotten by Employers

When looking at the global averages of the relocation support that Relocating Spouses received, they are not well supported with most averages being below 50%: These are language classes (25%), intercultural training (15%), additional spouse support (26%), access to local networking opportunities (12%), access to local socializing opportunities (15%), membership in an expat organization (8%), and information on local life (35%). Only the practical support types of the organized move (54%) and lump-sum payment (50%) are offered slightly more often.

In terms of the nine featured countries, employers in the UK, UAE, and Hong Kong offer some of the worst employer support for partners. For example, in the UK only 4% of Relocating Spouses received intercultural training (eleven percentage points below the global average) and only 13% received additional spouse support (13 percentage points below the global average).

In Hong Kong, only 3% received access to local networking opportunities (nine percentage points below the global average) and in both the UK and UAE only 4% received this (eight percentage points below the global average). However, 62% in Hong Kong, 82% in the UK, and 83% in the UAE wanted it.

In terms of access to local socializing opportunities and membership in an expat organization as types of assistance, Relocating Spouses in Hong Kong and the UK are also at the bottom of the list when compared to this expat type in the other featured countries. In Hong Kong, not a single Relocating Spouse received access to socializing opportunities and only 4% in the UK received it (vs. 15% globally). Moreover, 71% in Hong Kong and 75% in the UK wanted it. In terms of membership in an expat organization, the picture is similar, not a single Relocating Spouse in either of these two countries received it, while 71% in Hong Kong wanted it and 75% in the UK wanted it.

Employers Supporting Spouses in China Set A Benchmark
While globally Relocating Spouses are not as well supported as other expat types, China really stands out in terms of catering to the needs of spouses. They are best supported when compared to those in the other countries with language classes (42% received it vs. 25% globally), intercultural training (37% vs. 15% globally), membership in an expat organization (18% vs. 8% globally), information on local life (47% vs. 35% globally), and the lump-sum payment (68% vs. 50% globally). The latter share is equal to that of Relocating Spouses in Hong Kong. The well-rounded employer support might be the reason why 83% of Relocating Spouses in China are happy with their life in general, compared to 72% globally.

While employers with Relocating Spouses in China set a certain benchmark, this expat type still indicates big needs for access to networking opportunities (74% didn’t receive it but would have liked it), membership in an expat organization (74% didn’t receive it but would have liked it), and access to local socializing opportunities (68% didn’t receive it but would have liked it) in the country. This is not only the case in China, but also on a global level when looking at the global averages for Relocating Spouses wanting these more personal types of support — 68% wanted networking opportunities, 65% wanted socializing opportunities, and 67% wanted membership in an expat organization.


The Netherlands: Country Focus: Assignees Receive Lots of Support, but Spouses Do Not
Employers sending Foreign Assignees to the Netherlands seem to have a well-rounded approach to relocation support. In terms of the more practical aspects, 86% of assignees in the country had their move organized (vs. 75% globally) and 76% received monetary support (vs. 65% globally). As well as these practical support types, they also receive personal relocation support. Compared to those in the other featured countries, assignees in the Netherlands had the largest shares that received access to socializing opportunities (20%) and membership in an expat organization (14%). It might be of no surprise that assignees in the Netherlands are happiest — 86% are happy (vs. 80% globally).

Given the well-rounded relocation support for Foreign Assignees, it is notable that Relocating Spouses in the Netherlands are not so well supported. Of the nine aspects of support included in the survey, the shares of spouses that received them is above the global average for only three — language classes (32% vs. 25% globally), information on local life (39% vs. 35% globally), and the lump-sum payment (51% vs. 50% globally). However, 15% of spouses in the Netherlands received access to socializing opportunities — the second-largest share in the featured countries, just after France (16%). This is in line with the notion that employers do acknowledge the personal aspects of relocation support in the Netherlands, as also seen with Foreign Assignees there. With the lack of other benefits, however, spouses are not as happy as assignees — 64% are happy, which is also below the global average (72%).

The survey results indicate that well-rounded employer support is beneficial, and while the Netherlands provides a benchmark in some regards, there is still room for improvement — especially when it comes to supporting Relocating Spouses in the country.  

Germany: Country Focus: More Support Needed to Settle in and Feel at Home in Germany
Employers with Foreign Assignees in Germany seem to focus more on practical relocation support, than personal support types. The most commonly offered support for assignees in the country is having their move organized — 81% received it (vs. 75% globally). On the other hand, only 13% of assignees in Germany received access to networking opportunities (vs. 16% globally), and 4% received membership in an expat organization (vs. 8% globally). Of the Foreign Assignees in the nine featured countries, those in Germany give the second-lowest rating regarding their ease of feeling at home in the local culture (49% satisfied and 32% dissatisfied) — only those in China (39% satisfied and 46% dissatisfied) have poorer ratings.

Similarly, Relocating Spouses in Germany also indicate a big need for personal aspects of relocation support — 76% would have liked to get access to networking opportunities (only 10% received it), and 74% would have liked socializing opportunities (only 13% received it). Relocating Spouses also rate Germany below average when it comes to settling in. Less than half of them are satisfied with how easy it is to get used to (46%) and feel at home in (49%) the German culture, both aspects slightly below the global ratings (53% and 50%, respectively).

These findings are important for employers to consider, as the Relocating Spouse is a key figure in the relocation of global employees and their family structure. They should put a greater emphasis on personal support types, to help both expat types to settle in and integrate into the German culture.

Switzerland: Country Focus: Assignees and Spouses Struggle with Settling In In Switzerland
Employers sending Foreign Assignees to Switzerland seem to be doing a good job in supporting them. Having their move organized outshines the other support types, with 87% indicating that they received this — twelve percentage points higher than the global average (75%), and the largest share of assignees receiving this type of support out of the featured countries. In addition, assignees in Switzerland also receive above-average personal support — 20% received networking opportunities (vs. 16% globally), 19% received socializing opportunities (vs. 16% globally), and 10% received membership in an expat organization (vs. 8% globally).

Relocating Spouses, on the other hand, are not so well supported. While 56% of assignees in Switzerland received language classes, only 32% of spouses received this, but 48% indicate that they would have liked it. The types of support that the lowest shares of Relocating Spouses in Switzerland received are intercultural training (16% received and 64% wanted), access to networking (14% received and 73% wanted), socializing opportunities (13% received and 72% wanted), and membership in an expat organization (6% received and 72% wanted).

With mixed levels of support, settling in in Switzerland is not so easy for both Foreign Assignees and Relocating Spouses. Making local friends seems to be a particular pain point — 60% of assignees and 71% of spouses in the country find it difficult to do so (vs. just 41% and 48% globally, respectively). This is the second-largest share of assignees, and the largest share of spouses rating this aspect negatively.

These findings suggest that employers should put a greater emphasis on personal support types, to help assignees and their spouses to settle in and integrate into the Swiss culture. 

The UK: Country Focus: Poor Employer Support for Assignees and Spouses in the UK
While Foreign Assignees in the UK received some employer support, specifically with the practical aspects of relocation, their overall support is insubstantial. In comparison to this expat type in the other featured countries, assignees in the UK are at the bottom of the list in terms of receiving most support types. On a global scale, they have the lowest shares that received intercultural training (13%), additional spouse support (18%), access to local networking (4%), membership in an expat organization (0%), and information on local life (29%). These poor relocation support offerings might contribute to the poor happiness rating of Foreign Assignees in the UK — only 73% indicate happiness (vs. 80% globally).

The picture looks even bleaker for Relocating Spouses in the UK, with this expat type receiving even less relocation support and indicating some of the lowest percentages of support received. In fact, for all nine types of relocation support mentioned in the survey, the shares of Relocating Spouses in the UK that received it are lower than the global averages. Considering these findings, it might come as no surprise that, of those in the nine featured countries, spouses in the UK are unhappiest overall — only 61% indicate they are happy with life in general (vs. 72% globally), while 21% state unhappiness (vs. 13% globally).

These findings paint a clear picture that employers sending assignees and their spouses to the UK need to consider improving overall support — both practically and personally.

The USA: Country Focus: Assignees and Spouses in the USA Receive Average Relocation Support
While employers with Foreign Assignees in the USA support them well with practical relocation support, the more personal support types are lacking. Of the assignees in the USA, only 11% received access to local networking opportunities (73% would have liked it), 11% received access to local socializing opportunities (66% would have liked it), and 5% received membership in an expat organization (71% would have liked it). While these support types are not yet as commonly offered globally, the shares of Foreign Assignees in the USA receiving them are lower than the global averages.

Relocating Spouses in the USA receive more relocation support than this expat type in some of the other featured countries, however the findings indicate that they also miss some of the more personal aspects of support. For example, only 6% received access to networking opportunities (vs. 12% globally), 12% received access to socializing (vs. 15% globally), and 2% received membership in an expat organization (vs. 8% globally). This lack in personal support types might contribute to the difficulties spouses in the USA have to settle in — only 45% are satisfied with feeling at home in the local culture and only 43% find it easy to make new friends in the country (vs. 50% globally for both). Furthermore, Relocating Spouses in the USA rate their happiness lower than most of those in the other featured countries — 67% are happy (vs. 72% globally) and 15% are unhappy (vs. 13% globally).

These findings could be an important indication that employers should focus on providing more personal types of support, to facilitate the settling in and social integration of assignees and their spouses. 

France: Country Focus: More Support Needed to Settle in and Feel at Home in France
Foreign Assignees in France are better supported than those in some of the other featured European countries, specifically with the more practical types of relocation support. Language classes as a type of assistance stands out for this expat type, with 74% having received it (vs. 37% globally). Looking at the more personal support types, assignees received above average support from their employers with membership in an expat organization (12% vs. 8% globally). The shares of assignees in France that received access to networking and socializing, on the other hand, were below the global averages — 14% received networking (vs. 16% globally), and 10% received socializing (vs. 16% globally). Assignees also struggle to settle down in France: 36% find this difficult (vs. 25% globally), and 33% find this easy (vs. 57% globally), which is the second-lowest satisfaction rating of assignees in the nine featured countries, only ahead of China. This difficulty could be partly due to the fact that assignees struggle to make friends — 45% are dissatisfied with making new friends (vs. 29% globally) and 63% find it difficult to make local friends (vs. 41% globally). Despite these settling in challenges, Foreign Assignees in France are some of the happiest, compared to those in the other featured countries — 83% indicate they are happy, and only 5% indicate they are unhappy.

Relocating Spouses are not as well supported as assignees in the country. The assistance that the largest share of spouses in France received is having their move organized (43% vs. 54% globally). The only support type that spouses in France received that is above the global average is language classes (30% vs. 25% globally). Of the nine featured countries, Relocating Spouses in France have the worst overall ratings for settling down in the country — 41% find it difficult while only 22% agree that it’s easy to do. Furthermore, spouses in France have the second-worst overall rating for the ease of making local friends — a very large portion (68%) find it difficult and only 19% find it easy. Limited relocation support and low satisfaction ratings for their ease of settling in could be reasons why Relocating Spouses in France are some of the unhappiest, compared to the other featured countries — 59% indicate happiness and 19% indicate unhappiness.

China: Country Focus: Employers Sending Expats to China Provide Comprehensive Spouse Support
Foreign Assignees in China are not as well supported as this expat type in the other featured countries. However, employers with assignees in China do stand out with their stronger consideration of relocating partners. Of the nine featured countries, China has the largest share of assignees that received additional support for their spouses (45% vs. 31% globally). Employer support with the personal aspects of relocation support, on the other hand, is less positive. Only 11% of assignees in China received networking opportunities (vs. 16% globally), and 9% received access to socializing opportunities (vs. 16% globally). When compared to this expat type in the other featured countries, assignees in China give the country the worst overall ratings for getting used to and feeling at home in the local culture. This might be the reason why they are also unhappiest — only 67% are happy with life in general, while 17% are unhappy.

The UAE: Country Focus: Imbalance in Employer Support for Assignees and their Spouses
Foreign Assignees in the UAE are only well supported with four types of more practical relocation support: information on local life (51% received it vs. 46% globally), an organized move (86% vs. 75% globally), a lump-sum payment for expatriation-related expenses (73% vs. 65% globally), and additional spouse support (41% vs. 31% globally). While employers are supporting this expat type well with these practical types of support, they are less focused on personal support — 22% received intercultural training (vs. 24% globally), 8% received access to networking (vs. 16% globally), 3% received access to local socializing (vs. 16% globally), and 5% received membership in an expat organization (vs. 8% globally). Despite gaps in relocation support, of assignees in the nine featured countries, those in the UAE are some of the most satisfied when it comes to aspects of settling in, and are third-happiest with life in general — 81% indicate happiness and 11% indicate unhappiness.  

Relocating Spouses in the UAE are some of the worst supported when looking at all nine types of relocation support mentioned, and when compared to this expat type in other countries. Of spouses in the nine featured countries, those in the UAE either have the lowest shares that received support or are in the bottom four. The only support type mentioned in the survey where the share of Relocating Spouses in the UAE that received it is just slightly above the global average, is that of membership in an expat organization — 9% received it (vs. 8% globally). With such poor employer support, it might be of no surprise that spouses in the UAE are not so happy — only 69% indicate happiness, while 13% indicate unhappiness.

Hong Kong: Country Focus: Assignees and Spouses in Hong Kong Receive Poor Personal Support
The type of relocation assistance that Foreign Assignees in Hong Kong are best supported with is receiving a lump-sum payment for expatriation-related expenses (74% vs. 65% globally). The picture looks bleak in terms of other support types, particularly the more personal aspects, with below average percentages — 21% received intercultural training (vs. 24% globally), 13% received access to local networking (vs. 16% globally), 11% received access to local socializing (vs. 16% globally), and 3% received membership in an expat organization (vs. 8% globally). When compared to those in the other featured countries, assignees in Hong Kong give the third-worst ratings for getting used to and feeling at home in the local culture, and are second-unhappiest (74% are happy and 11% are unhappy) — after those in China who are unhappiest overall (67% are happy and 17% are unhappy).

Relocating Spouses in Hong Kong, on the other hand, are some of the best-supported partners in terms of practical relocation assistance, but some of the worst supported with personal assistance. Of the spouses in the nine featured countries, Hong Kong has the largest share that had their move organized (74% vs. 54% globally). Conversely, the percentages for support with social integration are strikingly low — only 6% received intercultural training (vs. 15% globally), 3% received access to local networking (vs. 12% globally), 0% received access to local socializing (vs. 15% globally), and 0% received membership in an expat organization (vs. 8% globally). Despite these gaps in relocation support, Relocating Spouses in Hong Kong are some of the most satisfied when it comes to getting used to and feeling at home in the local culture, and are happiest overall — 81% indicate that they are happy with life in general and only 9% indicate unhappiness.


About the Expat Insider Business Edition Country Focus
The very first Expat Insider Business Edition Country Focus zooms in on Foreign Assignees, International Hires, and Relocating Spouses in nine featured countries (China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United Stated of America). It is an extension of the Expat Insider Business Edition, launched at the end of 2018. It provides valuable insights for global mobility and HR professionals supporting expats. All findings are based on the InterNations Expat Insider survey, one of the world’s most comprehensive expat surveys — 18,135 expats from across the globe took part in the 2018 survey. Important: The choice of the nine countries was solely based on having a big enough data sample. These countries are not ranked in the report, but comparisons are made between the countries. Global percentages for the expat types are also compared.

About InterNations Business Solutions
InterNations Business Solutions provides expert insights and personalized solutions for global mobility and HR professionals to ensure successful foreign assignments and improved international talent retention. InterNations is the world’s largest expat network with 3.4 million members and 420 communities worldwide. Through the InterNations Corporate Membership, expat employees and their families are empowered to quickly and easily integrate abroad through peer-to-peer support. This helps them through the most critical onboarding phase and seamlessly integrates them into their new home country for the entire time abroad. In turn, they are more productive at work and save global mobility and HR professionals time and costs.

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