SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - Want the good life despite the dire economy? Head east, according to a survey showing some of the world's highest-paid expatriates live in Asia and the Middle East.
A third of all expats in Russia -- the highest proportion in the world -- earn more than $250,000 a year, followed closely by expats in Japan and Qatar, according to the 2009 Expat Explorer survey, commissioned by HSBC Bank International, the offshore financial services arm of HSBC Holdings.
Between a third and a quarter of foreigners working in Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates, Thailand and India earned annual wages of more than $200,000, while countries such as Malaysia, China and India, were ranked among the cheapest for accommodation.
"Asia is home to the highest paid expats in the world, with one in four expats earning more than $200,000 per year," said the survey (here).
Russia was ranked the number one country overall for expats in terms of wealth. The rest of the top nine were all in Asia and the Middle East.
Building a nest egg is one of the perks of expat life for many people, and the survey showed that Saudi Arabia, Russia, Qatar, India and the United Arab Emirates were the top five countries where people have increased their savings.
But the global economic crisis has taken a heavy toll on expats in Britain and the United States, where close to a quarter are considering returning home, compared to just 15 percent overall, due to the high cost of living, lack of savings and lower wages.
Generous salaries are also relatively scarce in Australia and Belgium, the survey showed. More than 60 percent of expats in both countries earn under $100,000, making them the poorest expats wage-wise when compared to a global average of 35 percent.
"We have seen some interesting trends in terms of how expats are reacting to the credit crunch, but what is also interesting to see is that they remain a wealthy group of individuals," Paul Say, head of marketing and communications for HSBC Bank International, said in a statement.
"Over half the expats surveyed are actually earning $100,000 and over -- no mean feat particularly in the current climate."
Expat Explorer, now in its second year, surveyed more than 3,100 expats from various nationalities living in 26 countries. HSBC said it was the largest survey of its kind.
More than two-thirds of expatriates worldwide said the credit crisis had changed the way they spend their money, with luxuries and day-to-day spending the most affected. Nearly 40 percent said they were saving more for a rainy day.
Over half of the expats in Japan -- the highest globally at 53 percent -- said they were cutting back on holidays and other perks, while almost one in two expats in Thailand and Hong Kong -- the second and third globally, were also scaling back.
In contrast, two-thirds of expats living in Qatar said the global financial crisis would not change their spending attitudes at all, followed by more than half of those living in Bahrain, which HSBC said indicated that some oil-rich Gulf Arab states have not been hit as hard by the downturn.
Expats in Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Russia were also the least likely to cut back on luxuries, the survey showed.
Those polled in the survey were chosen by four main criteria: annual income in excess of $200,000; a monthly disposable income in excess of $3,000; an increase in saving while working abroad and having at least two luxury items in the country they live in.
The survey was conducted between February and April 2009.
Editing by Bill Tarrant