By Daniel Hunter

British expats are looking to the East to shape their lives in the future. As the economies of China and Singapore continue to boom, the number of people looking to move to Western Europe and the US are declining.

This is according to the fifth annual NatWest International Personal Banking (NatWest IPB) Quality of Life Index.

The NatWest IPB Quality of Life study in conjunction with The Centre of Future Studies incorporates expats’ real life perceptions and experiences and gauges their personal assessment - satisfaction or dissatisfaction - with their circumstances abroad. It reveals how the motivations and triggers for expats have changed over the last five years.

British expats are attracted to the Far East by the economic prospects, higher salaries and a less burdensome tax regime. In turn, the demand for British professional skills in the tiger economies is growing. This has led to an 18% increase in the number of expats working in China and Singapore while those working in the US have decreased (11%).

Rapid development in China is transforming the average expat's life. Modern communications have spread rapidly, and travel restrictions have been extensively relaxed, so expats can now live in or visit most areas of the country. China’s spectacular growth over the past three decades has prompted Western multinationals to send many of their most ambitious executives to the country.

The Quality of Life report also reveals the evolution of British expats — no longer the stereotypical expat longing for sun and sangria, they can now be identified as Lifers; Professionals; Globe trotters; Commuters and Silver expats.

The Lifers: Expats living and working permanently in another country. The majority (78%) move to English speaking countries — such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA. Their age ranges from 25-45; and they are in the majority (68%) skilled or semi-skilled workers. Interestingly, lifer expats still consider themselves as ‘expats’ even though a high percentage (32%) have been living and working abroad for ten years or more.

The Professionals: Expats who are leaving the UK temporarily to work with every intention of returning. In the majority (71%), they take up temporary work assignments. They move to various countries throughout the world, living in different cultures and societies. The average time spent abroad on assignment is three years. Their age ranges from 25-45; and they are in the majority (87%) senior managers and professionals.

Globe trotters: Expats who leave the UK to work for various companies around the world. They are highly mobile and do not live in any one country for any length of time. These ‘global workers’ are in the majority (78%) professionals and are aged 45-60. Over half (53%) intend to return to the UK at some point.

Commuters: Expats whose permanent residence is in the U.K but who work abroad for their UK based company for limited periods of time in various countries around the world, generally for a few months. They are in the majority (79%) senior executives aged 35-45.

Interestingly the numbers of people working on temporary assignments abroad has increased from 32% to 43% over the five year period.

Silver expats: People who ‘sell up’ to retire abroad. At the time of leaving they have no intention of returning. The principal retirement destinations are in Western Europe.

“Expats are not a holistic group, but multi-complex in terms of their reasons for migrating, choice of destination country and attitudes and behaviours while living abroad," Dave Isley, Head of NatWest International Personal Banking, said.

"Despite that complexity, the research undertaken for the NatWest IPB Quality of Life Index over the past five years has revealed particular common traits or characteristics that distinguish them as discernible groups.

"The image of a traditional ‘sunshine retirement’ expat has evolved to one that moves abroad primarily for career progression and challenges — with lifestyle as a secondary factor. It is particularly interesting from the typologies that 78% of ‘Lifers’ move to English speaking countries, highlighting a need for ‘Britishness’’ and perhaps ease of living.”

Compared to the average, expatriates tend to be more highly educated and have a higher than average income. One of the most striking examples of the “brain drain” (skilled workers leaving the UK) are British expatriates, with on average 5.6% of the British population living abroad as expatriates.

This level of expatriation more than doubles to 12.2% among the highly skilled proportion of the working population, meaning more than one out of ten highly skilled British workers lives either permanently or temporarily abroad! More than 30% of expats earn salaries in excess of £100,000 a year. In addition, many expats benefit from assistance with relocation, accommodation benefits and family benefits such as financial support for private schooling.

Five year shift

Over the past five years, there has been an increase in the number of people moving to South Africa (14%). While the official jobless rate is still hovering around 25%, there is an increasing demand for skilled and professional workers. There are an estimated 237,000 British expats in South Africa (higher than the number resident in France and New Zealand).

In contrast, there has been a decrease (27%) in the numbers moving to Western European countries, particularly Spain, Portugal and France. Nearly 91% of retired expats who moved to Australia, New Zealand or Canada say moving back to the U.K is totally out of their minds.

“These shifts reflect the changing global environment we live in," Dave Isley, Head of NatWest International Personal Banking, said.

"As businesses expand their operations into foreign markets, they have to be able to identify executives who can move seamlessly between markets and cultures. It is interesting to see the numbers of people working on temporary assignments abroad has increased from 32% to 43% over the five year period indicating a shift in the traditional sense of working abroad. Expats are making working abroad fit with lifestyles.”

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