Skip to content Skip to footer

Expats report high stress, but they may also cope better with burnout

I moved from the United States to Singapore in 2024.

Courtesy of Ernestine Siu

It’s not easy to pick up your life and move overseas to work abroad, but it can also be very rewarding.

As someone who recently moved from the United States to Singapore, I am the first to say that while the opportunity to do so is a privilege, it also comes with its own unique set of challenges.

Being a 16-hour flight from your closest family is daunting, but having the chance to completely immerse in a new culture and having the time to focus on yourself are priceless.

“The globally mobile – individuals living and working overseas – are an increasingly important element of workforces in most markets,” according to the Cigna Healthcare Vitality Study released April 2024.

“We have also seen a growing appetite for this lifestyle, with nearly a third (30%) of people who still live in their home country saying they are likely to live overseas,” according to the study.

The study surveyed more than 10,000 people, including more than 2,600 globally mobile individuals across 12 markets: the U.S., U.K., Spain, Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Kenya, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, mainland China, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

Who are today’s globally mobile?

Globally mobile individuals tend to display a higher than average vitality score — 71.7 out of the maximum score of 100, compared to people who live in the home market — 66.7.

Globally mobile employees often have… a mental and physical feeling of being healthy, capable, and energetic – and a strong sense of meaning and purpose.

Wendy Sherry

CEO for Global Health Benefits, International Health, at Cigna Healthcare

The vitality scores used in this study are based on The Evernorth Vitality Index, which provides a measure of “people’s capacity to pursue life with health, strength, and energy,” according to the report.

The survey asked questions to gauge respondents’ sense of physical, spiritual, emotional, environmental, social, occupational, financial and intellectual well-being.

Additionally, this group reported better mental well-being than their local counterparts (58% vs. 42% with excellent or very good mental well-being), according to the study.

“Globally mobile employees often have higher levels of vitality – a mental and physical feeling of being healthy, capable, and energetic – and a strong sense of meaning and purpose,” according to Wendy Sherry, CEO for Global Health Benefits, International Health, at Cigna Healthcare.

“The various facets of our lives – including social, occupational, and financial – are all connected,” she added.

This is apparent in how this group is 10% more likely to feel like they can build strong connections with others. Additionally, globally mobile people are more likely to be engaged, energized and enthusiastic at work compared to locals, according to the report.

Despite having more vitality, this group also experiences high levels of stress (86%) and particularly high levels of burnout (96%), compared to locals.

“On the other hand, expats may experience social isolation, which can compound emotional difficulties, aggravate stress, and increase the chances of burnout,” Sherry said.

Additionally, this group is particularly susceptible to experiencing “feelings of detachment or loneliness, self doubt, and negative outlook,” according to the study. Notably, these feelings are more pronounced in Asia, Middle East and Africa.

“In Asia, stress levels are at 89% in Singapore and 91% in Hong Kong. In the UAE and Saudi Arabia, they reach 90%, and 94% in Kenya. Conversely, in Europe, particularly in Spain and the Netherlands, stress levels are comparatively low, at 79% and 67%, respectively,” according to the study.

Here are the biggest challenges faced by those living and working abroad:

  • Financial challenges (38%)
  • Homesickness (23%)
  • Difficulty maintaining work/life balance (18%)
  • Health issues like difficulty accessing health care (18%)
  • Difficulty finding housing (17%)

Expats in Asia, particularly in Hong Kong (22%) and mainland China (24%), are more prone to encounter work-related challenges. Hong Kong-based respondents (40%) also report needing more assistance in navigating local health care compared to about 28% of respondents in other regions.

A seeming disconnect?

So why do globally mobile individuals score higher on vitality despite reporting higher stress and burnout levels compared to local counterparts?

Globally mobile employees emerge as a highly valuable and resilient segment of the workforce. Despite facing unique stressors associated with their situation, they exhibit distinct skills and a high level of motivation, resulting in higher vitality.

2024 Cigna Healthcare Vitality Study