Family hiking

Why does working abroad offer a better work-life balance?

PUBLISHED: 18 November 2021 | LAST UPDATED: 5 June 2024

When we think about striking a good work-life balance, our first thought might be to minimise the number of hours overtime we work. However, in the case of an expat employee, the length of the working day is not the be-all and end-all. In fact, a piece of research* we commissioned in 2019 found that nearly half (46%) of expats felt their work-life balance had actually improved since moving abroad, despite only a fifth (22%) working shorter hours than before. Looking into this a little further, it found that despite working the longest hours, respondents in the UAE were most likely to say that their work-life balance was better than in their home country (61%). This put them ahead of those in France (52%), the UK (46%) and Canada (44%) by some margin. 

The data suggested that some expats were working longer hours than they were at home, but still thought they had a better work-life balance. Let’s look at why that might be: 

More opportunity to do what they love

With around a third of the expats surveyed saying that living abroad gave them better leisure opportunities (35%), as well as more time eating out with friends than before they moved (34%), it seems the activities on offer play a key role in achieving that idyllic work-life balance. A further three in ten (30%) said they were able to spend more time exercising, while two in five (41%) said they spent more time exploring the local area. 

It also seems as though organisations are picking up on this. Over the past few years, we’ve seen that supporting the lifestyle ambitions of assignees has become an increasingly popular reason for sending employees abroad.

More disposable income

One of the key findings from our research was that many expats are better off financially after moving abroad. 58% said they had better pay than in their home country, while a quarter (23%) said they were actually motivated to move abroad specifically for better pay and benefits. With that in mind, it might come as no surprise that a third (32%) felt the greater disposable income they’d enjoyed since moving abroad had positively impacted their work-life balance.

More time with family

Considering how many of the expats surveyed seem to be working longer hours than before they moved, you might expect to find that those who have travelled with family spend less time together. But in reality, that’s not the case. By far the majority (76%) of the international workers we surveyed had relocated with partners or spouses, children and even parents, with a third of them (32%) saying living abroad had allowed them to spend more time together. 

The benefits available to family members seem to be something of an enduring trend. In our most recent piece of research**, 80% of respondents who went abroad with their families felt that it was a great opportunity, while three-quarters (76%) specifically cited the chance to learn a language as being of particular benefit.

Shorter commute 

A third (31%) of the expats surveyed mentioned having an easier commute to work since moving abroad, which is bound to have contributed to their improved work-life balance. This presumably allows for much greater flexibility, whether that’s being able to fit a long run in before work or helping out with childcare responsibilities if their family are present. Having that extra time in the mornings and evenings could even be vital to implementing some self-care, something which should be regularly encouraged by Global Mobility Managers.

We all need to maintain a healthy work-life balance. For assignees who might be feeling daunted by the idea of how moving abroad will affect theirs, Mobility Managers should consider highlighting some of the lifestyle benefits they’re likely to enjoy. Whether it be taking advantage of the different leisure opportunities on offer, spending more time with family or simply having a little more disposable income, it seems there’s plenty of scope for an expat’s work-life balance to be just as healthy – if not more so – than at home. 

The information in this article is correct at the time of publishing.

*Research conducted in February 2019 by Vitreous World. A total of 1,352 expats were surveyed (250 in the UK, France, UAE, Canada and China respectively, and 100 in Hong Kong).

**Research conducted in April 2020 by Savanta. A total of 543 HR decision makers (108 in North America, 105 in the UK, 51 in France, 54 in Germany, 111 in China, 55 in Hong Kong and 59 in Singapore) and 568 non-native assignees (107 in North America, 113 in the UK, 57 in France, 57 in Germany, 116 in China, 60 in Hong Kong and 65 in Singapore) were surveyed.