1.6.2013 | Von:
Thorsten Nieberg

Characteristics of German Expatriates in Hong Kong and Thailand

Schokolade der Marke Ritter Sport liegt in einem Regal eines Supermarkts in Chiang Mai in Thailand, aufgenommen am 08.11.2011. Ein Zusatzschild weist darauf hin, dass es sich um ein "Product from Germany" (Produkt aus Deutschland) handelt.German chocolate on the shelves of a supermarket in Thailand. (© picture alliance / ZB)

Assigned employees

In Hong Kong and Thailand there are four characteristic groups of German expats. The biggest group consists of people who match the narrow definition of an expatriate provided above. They are professionals and executives who are sent to Thailand or Hong Kong by the company or organization that they work for in Germany for a certain period of time. These expatriates are in the majority men who are between 26 and 35 years old. Important motivations for them to venture abroad are better employment opportunities and, especially, the prospect of assuming a position with more executive power than in Germany. By going abroad they hope to promote their professional career.

Localized employees

In addition to assigned employees there are so-called localized employees. They were sent abroad for a limited period of time by their German employers but have decided to change their temporary assignment contract to a more open-ended but financially less rewarding employment arrangement. A reason for this decision is often that they are married to, or in a relationship with, a local partner. The group of localized employees is dominated by men. They are predominantly middle-aged and tend to hold medium to higher positions of management. There are some women, especially in Thailand, who also fall into this group. They often have followed their partner back to his country of birth after residing together in Germany for a certain time. A fair number of them undertake technical or operative work in German state-related institutions, such as schools.

Self-employees and freelancers

Self-employees and freelancers are also present in Hong Kong and Thailand. They either have their own business or are deployed by a German or other company. The business-friendly environment of Hong Kong certainly is appealing for some, as is the prospect of a better standard of living in Thailand for those whose jobs are not too rewarding financially and do not tie them to Germany. Businesses and activities are manifold and range from consultancy or food service to medical professions, such as therapists or midwives, or various retailing operations—and further include areas like publishing, journalism, photography, computing or architecture.

Pensioners and retirees

This group is particularly present in Thailand. It seems to be dominated by single men but also extends to couples, including multinational marriages or partnerships. Their primary motivation is lifestyle advancement which includes climate and related health considerations as well as the notion of improved life quality resulting from cost-benefit calculations regarding the scope of annuity payments and overall living costs.

Figure 1: Selected and condensed statistical data regarding German expatriates in Hong Kong and Thailand (as based on this author’s fieldwork data)

Expat demographic dataHong KongThailand
Sample size: 78 interviewees in Hong Kong and 132 interviewees in Thailand
Other (spouses, trainees, students, etc.)21%17%
Marital status
Age groupings
< 25 years4%2%
26-35 years28%9%
36-45 years35%27%
46-66 years31%43%
> 67 years3%20%
Duration of stay
< 1 year13%9%
1-4 years45%40%
5-15 years32%36%
> 16 years10%16%

Many expatriates have been living in Hong Kong or Thailand for more than five years. Yet, this does not mean that they will never return to Germany.

The described groups of expats have many needs and concerns that stem from their specific situation in Hong Kong and Thailand. Before discussing some of these issues in detail they will be theoretically framed by a brief presentation of the concept of human security.

This text is part of the policy brief on "Germans Abroad".

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