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Is Emerging Markets Experience For You?

At The Chapman Consulting Group, we benefit from a broad view of international HR activity, due to our global scope. Lately, we are seeing an increasing amount of opportunities for HR professionals to take on unique roles in emerging markets, particularly in Asia. Today, when we refer to emerging markets in Asia we mean countries such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar and Thailand, to name a few, which don’t have the established economies and infrastructures of locations like Singapore, Hong Kong or Japan. If you are presented with an international opportunity in one of these developing markets, there are a lot of variables to be taken into account in deciding whether or not to make such a significant move. Following is an overview of some key considerations when deciding if an international assignment in an emerging market is for you.

The Red Tape

Expatriation to any other country comes with complications that should be carefully considered, such as work permit regulations, employment and industrial relations, and other possibly unforeseen issues, such as difficulty in owning property in certain countries. All of these aspects will need diligent preparation and ideally support from the company arranging the assignment. There are also some online tools like the Expat Life calculator from HSBC ( that can provide you with up to date information and analytics that might help in the decision of whether to take the assignment or not.

Financial Implications

HSBC’s 2013 Expat Explorer survey revealed that Asia is home to the highest paid expats in the world. The report indicated that developing markets like India, China, Vietnam and Indonesia had the highest remuneration packages for expats, which are at least 15% higher than the global average expat package. Indonesia and China were found to have the highest proportion of expatriates earning more than $250,000. At the opposite end of the scale, expats in the more developed economies of Europe are on average paid three times less than this.

Career Prospects

Having emerging markets experience on your resume is a huge plus if you are looking to move into a regional or global role in the future. It shows flexibility, cultural awareness and also indicates that you are someone who is not afraid to take on a challenge. Adaptability has become critical in today’s job market, and what better way to demonstrate this proven ability than to have successfully lived and worked in a foreign -and less developed – country?

Quality of Life

Surveys prove that the expatriates living in emerging economies are benefiting from a better quality of life than others living in more established first world countries. HSBC’s Expat Explorer recently found Thailand, China and India to be the best countries to live in as an expat. The quality of healthcare in the region is always improving, and due to their increased earning capacity, expatriates often invest, therefore ending their contracts in a better financial position than when they started. In addition, accommodation, transportation and utilities are often cheaper than they would be in more developed countries.


In the excitement of being offered a two year contract in a fascinating new place, one might forget to think about what happens after the contract ends. Surprisingly, repatriating is often described as more difficult than moving overseas, as you may be moving back to a place that is familiar, but you and your family have changed. It is helpful to have an exit strategy and plan in place, but it is also important to go into the assignment realising that things may change. Your contract may be extended, you may have to leave early, or there may not be a clear path at the end of the assignment, so flexibility and adaptability are both key.

Individual Benefits — the Voice of Experience

Taking on an international assignment in a developing country presents many challenges for both the assignee and his or her family. The change in environment will affect every aspect of life from schooling, transportation and accommodation, to adjusting to the differences in language and culture, as well as a new working environment. It can be a lot to take on board; however, the positives that can come out of this experience are often career and even life changing. Ian Kearney, former Vice President of Talent and Organisational Development at Hess Corporation, has lived and worked in New Zealand, Australia, Vietnam, Malaysia, the United Kingdom and the United States. He recently shared some of his insights with us on the benefits of living and working in emerging markets.

  • Roles in emerging markets are often broader than a similar role would be in one’s home country, which creates opportunities for learning at multiple levels (technical, leadership, other functions);
  • Often, the further away you are from the centre of control (head office), the more likely you will find a sense of independence and autonomy. This can translate into more opportunity to demonstrate your abilities to the broader organisation. Ironically in many cases people in remote business locations will get more access to very senior leaders, who are regular visitors across the business;
  • A role in an emerging market will test the expatriate’s ability to translate HR strategy and practices, develop local policies and practices, and influence up and down the organisation;
  • Expatriates who are successful in emerging markets typically demonstrate the ability to adapt and learn on the run, as well as the need to be creative. The technical HR skills learned in a developed market, such as Recruitment, Talent Management, and Compensation & Benefits, will all require significant adaptation to work effectively in a developing environment. For example, access to market data around compensation for a salary review process, which is taken for granted in a developed country, is unlikely to exist in a growing market. It may also be difficult to find talent to recruit in a country within an industry that is not yet established, so Talent Acquisition and Management strategies will need to be adjusted.
  • International assignments provide a very different perspective within the company by forcing the assignee to look at the world through a different lens. This can help to identify the practical implications of a philosophy, solution or practice that may need adapting for successful implementation on a global scale.
  • The opportunity to experience being a visitor in a different country gives a perspective on diversity and being a minority, which for many may be a new experience. This can be particularly powerful if your native tongue is not the spoken language.
  • Emerging countries are often rich in culture, which translates into interesting people, food and places to visit.

Lessons from a Seasoned Expat

Having lived and worked in six very different countries, Ian shared his top four tips for making any expatriate assignment a success:

  1. As an expatriate, you are a visitor, and should never forget that.
  2. The country and the local organisation has survived so far without you. Be respectful of what is already in place and build on this, rather than throwing it out and replacing it with what works back home.
  3. Build a social network within the local community where you are living. It is very easy to spend time with expatriates who look and sound like you, but the real learning and the most valuable experiences for you (and your family, if they are with you) will come from being part of the community that is hosting you.
  4. There are many talented people in any organisation or community, and a big part of an expatriate’s role is to transfer knowledge, so take the time to watch, listen and identify those who have abilities to share and develop, and use your time as an expatriate to teach others as well.

As of January 2014, according to Finaccor, the total number of expatriates worldwide is just over 50 million, and most experts believe that number will have grown to around 60 million by 2015. Taking these expatriate assignments in unique places can be beneficial for both the individual and the organisation that supports talent gaining global experience. Whatever the motivation for taking on these roles, whether it be a sense of adventure, learning the nuances of a new culture, helping to upskill local talent, or just challenging yourself outside of your comfort zone, this type of role can tell you a lot about yourself, and can help you to grow both professionally and personally.


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