Health, wealth and well-being: Do expats have it worse than locals?
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Health, wealth and well-being: Do expats have it worse than locals?

IN Asia, there is the perception foreign expatriates enjoy a quality lifestyle compared to those working within their home country, but a recent survey shows this sentiment is not shared by all.

Contrary to popular belief expats receive better perks than others, it seems people working overseas generally perceive themselves as worse off compared to locals when it comes to their physical, social, family, and even financial well-being.

While it might come as a surprise to many, this year’s Well-being Survey – Globally Mobile Individuals conducted by global health insurance service company Cigna, found overall, the survey’s “well-being” index score for expats is 61.5 points, which is 1.8 points lower than their domestic counterparts.

The most significant gap, the survey shows, is in “family well-being”, which is 9.4 points lower.

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Cigna International Markets President Jason Sadler said the results also show globally mobile individuals are more concerned than the general working population about their health and well-being, and that of their families.

“Without exception, this group is worried about the consequences of personal or family member illness; an issue compounded by a gap in health benefits provided by their employers,” he said in a statement to the Asian Correspondent earlier this week.

The global survey – involving a total of 2,003 online interviews with expats aged 25-59 – follows the publication of the 2017 Cigna 360-degree Well-being Survey in April, which looked at five underlying trends that affect the health, well-being and sense of security of people around the world.

In this study, Cigna examined the perceptions of globally mobile individuals living and working in 20 markets about their outlook on the same trends – physical, financial, social, family and work health.

Allure of working overseas

International exposure makes up for a significant draw to working overseas, the survey said, with globally mobile individuals highlighting the opportunity to accumulate wealth, better career prospects, good working hours and positive relationships with co-workers as bright aspects of their experience.

However, their prospects are fraught with challenges.

“While individuals have the opportunity to accumulate wealth while working overseas, only a third of respondents considered their current financial situation satisfactory,” the survey said.

SEE ALSO: Foreigner-tracking SIM cards do not apply to expats, says Thailand’s telecoms commission

“Lack of time spent with their family and their children’s education are other concerns; exacerbated by not having a family support network around them.”

The survey also found expats, who Cigna defines as “Globally Mobile Individuals”, often experience anxiety. All respondents are concerned about illnesses.

At the centre of their worries is contracting cancer or facing accidents, followed by mental illness, such as depression.


Source: Cigna

Twenty-five percent of the respondents raised concerns about alcohol-related diseases; significantly more so than the general working population.

Health care

Around half of the respondents said they would choose to return to their home country for treatment
if they suffer a critical illness.

The survey also found out of those who prefer to return to their home market for treatment, usually those based in Asia Pacific and the Middle East, one in five say the opportunity to be close to family and friends for support is a deciding factor.

Safety concerns and long-distance loneliness

Owing to global political turmoil and other macro-economic factors, the expats feel the world is a less secure and safe place with over a third of the respondents feeling less safe than they did 24 months ago.

However, Asia was not the continent where foreigners felt the least safest as their sense of insecurity was highest in the US, at 42 percent of respondents, and in Africa, where 31 percent face similar issues.

“Many respondents also report having problems socialising outside of work. One-fifth suffer from loneliness, which increases to nearly one quarter for those who are single or live alone,” the survey found.

Lack of insurance

Sadler, in pointing out a “surprising” figure, said 40 percent of respondents revealed they did not have any medical benefits offered by their company, and 15 percent have no health coverage at all.

“The survey shows health benefits are a very important factor when deciding to take an overseas posting,” he said.

“There is a clear need for employers to pay attention to the health and well-being of their globally mobile employees.”

He said the duty of care should extend outside of the office when employers are interacting with their families and the local community.