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In addition, living closer to family, access to better healthcare, and work-life balance are also critical considerations.

In the face of stress and burnout, expats are now looking for better lifestyle, flexibility, and healthcare when considering the decision of moving and working overseas, as revealed by a recent survey from Cigna.

With the sampling pool of 11,922 expats worldwide, the report Burnt Out Overseas – The State of Expat Life 2022 identified several concerning results:

  • 90% of expats are stressed;
  • 98% have experienced symptoms of burnout for being unable to switch off from work;
  • 87% feel helpless, trapped or defeated;
  • 86% feel detached or alone;
  • 38% are concerned or uncertain about their financial situation.

Breaking down the results by region, close to a quarter (24%) of Hong Kong respondents considered their health and wellbeing to be “excellent” or “very good”, but 30% viewed it as “fair” or “poor”, higher than Asia-Pacific average of 24%.

Over four in ten (41%) of APAC respondents said they have “very good” or “excellent” health and wellbeing, while 71% considered themselves to be “stressed but manageable”.

In Singapore, 95% of globally mobile (GM) said they experience symptoms of burnout.

Why arethey stressed?

These feelings can be attributed to a mix of lifestyle, opportunity, and work culture factors. In Hong Kong, the most significant source of stress is uncertainty about the future (40%), followed by personal finance (34%), and world politics (26%).

For current GM in Singapore, top causes of stresses include cost of living (36%), personal finance (29%) and too much work (29%).

Shift of employees’ priorities

The pandemic, according to the study, has caused 73% of current expats, and 75% of those who plan to move overseas in the next two years, to spend more time re-evaluating their life and work priorities.

The report indicated that lifestyle now replaces finances as the top priority for those planning to move overseas, as people are now more focused on flexibility or being closer to family and friends.

For those looking to relocate from Hong Kong, the most cited reasons are lifestyle concerns (48.5%), to be closer to their family (18%) and COVID-19 restrictions (17%). On the other hand, in Singapore, better lifestyle is the top driver of relocation for existing expats (36%), followed by better financially (32%), being closer to family (30%), better weather (20%), and job prospects (18%).

APAC respondents are among those who place the greatest emphasis on lifestyle considerations, with 41% citing this as contributing to relocation – the highest of any region. Meanwhile, more than two-thirds (69%) of APAC respondents said they either “agree” or “strongly agree” that being close to family and friends has become more important to them lately.

Healthcare and work-life balance are also critical factors. Close to a quarter (23%) of existing expats considered moving to gain access to better healthcare, while more than a quarter of aspiring expats said flexible hours are critical and 16% said they want the ability to work from any location in the world.

“The exciting, rewarding, globally mobile lifestyle that used to sum up the ‘expat dream’ has changed and more people are now prioritising lifestyle, family, and friends when planning moves,” said Jason Sadler, President, Cigna International Markets.

He highlighted the need for employers to rethink the expat value proposition and re-evaluate how they structure expat assignments in meeting expats’ new needs.

Expat age profiles are also changing

The shift of employees’ priorities has also changed the expat age demographic, with senior employees now more likely to want to return or remain in their home countries, while younger staff seek out overseas moves. The survey found that only 13% of those over the age of 50 said they want to move overseas, compared to 37% of those aged 18 to 24, and 34% of those aged 25 to 34.

“The past couple of years during the pandemic have been especially challenging for existing and long-term expats,” said Dr. Stella George, Chief Medical Officer, Cigna International Markets. “So, while many will be moving closer to home, many ambitious younger professionals will also start taking advantage of the opportunities that overseas postings offer, such as quick promotion, flexible working and other incentives. These benefits are especially attractive to people earlier in their careers.”

So, where do expats want to go?

According to the survey, Canada is the top destination for current expats to move to, with 11% wanting to relocate there. Australia and the US tied in second place.

By region, of those likely to relocate from Hong Kong, 47% intend to return to their country of citizenship. Top destinations for current expats in HK who would relocate are Canada (20%), Australia (18%), Japan (12%), and Mainland China (12%).

In Singapore, 32% of GM are likely to relocate in the next 24 months and 38% of them are likely to move back to home country. Among non-GM who want to relocate, the top destination countries are Australia (30%), Malaysia (20%), and New Zealand (13%).

Nearly half (47%) of current GM in APAC are likely to move to another country within 24 months. Australia (21%) is also the top destination for them to relocate to, followed by the UK (17%) and Canada (16%).

The significant majority of those living in Europe and Australia are confident they will remain living overseas, but the same cannot be said for Asia, with only 5% of those in India and 16% of those in Mainland China confident they will stay.

This eighth edition of the survey was conducted in May this year by Cigna International Markets in partnership with Kantar, comprising respondents from Australia, Belgium, Mainland China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, the Netherlands, UAE, UK and US. It examined five key components – family, financial, physical, social, and work – among expats.


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