It pays to move abroad—especially if you’re under 35

High-roller cityscapes.
High-roller cityscapes.
Image: REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah
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If you’re working in an economy that is doing well overall, you might be rewarded for staying in your job with decent pay rises over time. That’s been the case for US workers recently: a tight labor market pushed average hourly wages up by 3.1% in the year to June, versus a rise of 2% in the same period a year earlier, which was enough only to keep up with the prevailing rate of inflation.

But if you’re looking for a major, double-digit bump, then you may want to pack up and move abroad, especially if you’re under 35. That’s according to salary figures cited in HSBC’s Expat 2019 Global Report, released last week. The annual report gathered data from 18,059 workers in more than 160 locations to determine the best country to live and work in the world as an expat.

Top-ten average expat salaries, under-35s

Nearly half of young professionals cited in the survey said that they are more likely to move abroad to advance their work prospects. The dividends for doing so appear to only be rising—from a 30% pay bump in 2017 to a 35% increase seen this year. The gains for older workers are respectable, but smaller—24% for those aged 35-54, and 8% for those 55 and up.

Pay is not the only reported benefit. The majority of expats surveyed said moving abroad for work helped them learn new skills and become more confident. A large number also said they had become more creative as a result.

Not all destinations are equal, however. Expats working in the United Arab Emirates who are under 35 fare particularly well in the rankings, earning an average salary increase above 50%. Hong Kong expats in the same age range received a 41% bump. Those relocating to the UK reported a 35% gain—the global average for under 35s. Many said a move to the UK was motivated by a desire to up-skill.

The highest paying destination overall for under-35s is Indonesia, where expats earn an average annual salary of $115,812. That’s well above the global average, and the UAE’s $70,000.

Takeaways from surveys about the best places to live and work in abroad typically refer only to expat foreign workers, and are thus limited by how relatively few people fall into this category, and how different their circumstances are from most immigrant workers. Expats often relocate temporarily, at an employer’s expense, and are already high-earners compared to other foreign laborers. Their experiences of a city may be vastly different from that of a typical immigrant worker.

The average wage of US immigrants, for example, is below that of people born there, though the gap narrows with time spent in the country.