By Claire West

Four in five executives believe that an assignment in a "major emerging market" aids career progression, according to a new research report, "Up or out: next moves for the modern expatriate", from the Economist Intelligence Unit, sponsored by Regus.

Intensifying demand for these positions, coupled with the high costs of the traditional expatriate deal, is forcing international firms to offer much reduced packages, based on host country salaries levels and without "hardship" allowances. This favours young unattached executives eager to acquire international experience, rather than experienced senior executives with families.

As western economies emerge from recession, international companies are expecting to post many more executives abroad in the next five years, especially to China and other big emerging markets, according to a survey of 418 senior executives with responsibility for overseas offices.

"Expatriate strategies provide an insight into broader trends in globalisation, whether it's the regions companies are investing in or the daily operational challenges involved in setting up an office," says Paul Lewis, managing editor of Executive Briefing at the Economist Intelligence Unit and editor of the report.

Other key findings of the study include the following:

· Nearly three-quarters of survey respondents believe that "cultural sensitivity" is the most important attribute of an expatriate, almost twice as many as those pointing to any other personal quality; and 70% of respondents admit that it is particularly hard to find the right type of person from within their ranks.

· The expatriate’s spouse and children increasingly object to the sudden separation from their own career, social life, schooling and routine, and these strains on family relationships often bring assignments to a premature end. As a result companies are looking to offer "commuter assignments" which allows senior managers to be home on weekends.

· Around three in five expatriates believe that their corporate HQ does not sufficiently grasp the nature of the local business environment. One in three complains of excessive interference, and a similar proportion maintains that the corporate centre has excessive revenue expectations from the local market.