Some expats still receive hardship allowances from their employers, as well as perks for a comfortable lifestyle such as larger houses and school fees for those with children. Single men and women should drive a hard bargain for equal benefits, writes Ed Peters
One of the best-selling humorous books in Asia at present is Hardship Posting, a collection of true anecdotes about expatriate life in the Far East. The book draws its title from a contributor in Bangkok who took his boss from London on an evening out on the town After dining extremely well, they moved on to some of the more lively bars where the carousing didn't stop until the early hours. Finally bidding his boss farewell, the executive suddenly remembered an important point he had not mentioned during the previous day's business discussion, "By the way, I forgot to talk to you about increasing the hardship allowance," he breezed.
It may sound incredible but it is nevertheless strictly true that some expats in the upper echelons of Asian business circles still qualify for what is, in name at least, a hardship allowance, even those living in modern cities such as Hong Kong or Singapore.
While it supposedly compensates for the loss of home comforts, anybody drawing it is going to be enjoying a reasonably comfortable lifestyle in the first place. A typical package for a well-placed financier, for example, would include housing, probably in an apartment block with pool and gym attached, furnishing of the housing, one or more club memberships, tickets home two or three times a year, travelling in business class at the very least, generous no-serious-questions-asked expense accounts and maybe even local taxes pre-paid into the bargain.
Add to this an even larger house and school fees taken care of if the expat happens to be married with children. Which means single men and women should be able to drive a fairly hard bargain themselves when it comes to negotiating their package, if the shortlist includes other candidates who come with spouse and children attached.
Once the expat is in place, HR departments usually make every effort to keep him or her happy. Confronted with an outsize bouquet of flowers on moving into her flat in Hong Kong, a newly arrived executive for Marks & Spencer rang up the HR director to ask w