The shift in global mobility: get ready for China

29 August 2017

We’ve been talking about the rise of China as a global power for decades. But recent research from AXA suggests that global mobility departments should be looking at it more closely than ever. Interestingly, China is set to become the key destination for international mobility in the next five years.

The research is based on responses from 250 firms in eight countries and 372 globally-mobile workers. It reveals that traditional Western economies remain strong and dominate the list of countries where employers most commonly send staff to work in today. However, things are set to change. While China is on the rise, the UK and Germany are set to drop outside the Top 5.

The attractiveness of China is also mirrored in another report, The Global Residential Cities Index from Knight Frank (PDF, 847 KB), which shows that the value of residential property in Chinese cites is rising faster than anywhere else in the world. Compared to a global average rise of 6.9% in the year to March 2017, residential real estate showed an increase of 15.9%.

How can global mobility departments prepare for China?

The choice of locations for international business expansion is a long-term, strategic decision. While the shift is slow to take effect, it is also unlikely to be reversed any time soon. Given the cultural, economic and language differences between China and Western economies, it would be wise to devote extra time and effort to prepare.

It is also clear that China itself is changing, and global mobility departments need to be aware of the latest developments. For example, property values in the most common expat destinations (Shanghai and Beijing) are now being outpaced by housing booms in the 2nd tier cities, such as Wuxi and Nanjing. Although less well known to outsiders, each has more than 6 million inhabitants putting them on a par with more internationally established expat locations such as Miami and Singapore. The rise of these “2nd tier” cities is the result of structural investments in business, infrastructure and liveability by the Chinese government.

Do you have a China strategy in place?

The same best practice principles apply to planning and managing global assignments to all locations. The highest-performing assignees (and global mobility departments) plan ahead and make sure they are also ready with the detail. Now is, therefore, a good time to ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do you have an understanding of the immigration and working visa regulations for China?
  • Are you familiar with tax and other legal requirements?
  • Do you have local suppliers and contacts in place?
  • Are you familiar with the cultural challenges of working in China?
  • Are you prepared to help assignees settle, in terms of accommodation, schooling and family life?

Do your homework now

Background research is key. In addition to talking to your own assignees with experience of working in China, there are numerous resources on the web, including:

If you do not already have assignees in China (or if it is not yet central to your global mobility activities) these resources will help you prepare. China appears increasingly likely to play a key role in your future global mobility strategy.

Pictures by Nico Villanueva, Freddie Marriage and Adi Constantin.

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