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How should businesses source international benefits?

Increasing numbers of businesses are employing talent from around the world. Some companies employ a remote workforce scattered across different countries, while others have offices in different global locations.

Either way, delivering and managing employee benefits is going to be one of the biggest stressors for HR teams.

Key challenges for HR include:

  • Legal compliance
  • Administrative complexity
  • Consistent benefits application
  • Cost control

It’s important that HR teams can source expert advice from people who are working in their best interest. An international employee benefits consultant, like Engage Health Group, specialises in helping companies source, implement and manage benefits policies in different countries.

The Engage International team is led by Ian Abbott, formerly of Bupa Global, and Penny Pemberton, formerly of Aon. Our expert team will:

  • Help you draw up an employee benefits scheme or review any current policies in place
  • Source tailored policies designed for your business
  • Gather a wide variety of quotes from across the market
  • Ensure legal compliance across different jurisdictions
  • Help implement policies across the business
  • Manage policies on your behalf and review them when up for renewal

The next best course of action is to contact one of our team for a free no-obligation call. Tel.: +44 (0)1273 974419 or email [email protected] to find out how we can help.

What are International Employee Benefits?

International Employee Benefits are provided by businesses looking to deliver perks and protections to employees around the globe. Businesses usually require such schemes when they have:

  • An employee footprint in more than one country
  • Expatriate staff
  • A high degree of global mobility and travel
  • A desire to offer the very highest level of benefits available, to protect, retain and attract their C-Suite employees and key personnel.

If your business fits one of the above descriptions, it is likely that you already have some International Employee Benefits in place – or would benefit from doing so.

Need expert assistance?
With over 23 years of combined experience in the International Employee Benefit arena, Engage Health Group is expertly placed to establish your unique needs, and work collaboratively with you to ensure the highest return on your investment.

Why offer International Employee Benefits?

There are four key elements to this. A carefully planned global benefits programme will:

  • Enable your business to cultivate a happier, healthier and more productive workforce
  • Ensure the business abides by local employee health insurance requirements
  • Centralise the management of global benefit schemes in one place
  • Support all your employees, wherever they are in the world

It’s worth considering International Health Insurance in isolation. Certain countries, including the USA, UAE and Saudi Arabia, all have regulations stating companies must have health insurance for employees. This is particularly true of expats, whose coverage can be linked to visas and entry into the country. A worldwide health insurance scheme can solve that issue in one policy rather than having to invest in (and manage) a complex patchwork of policies.

The latter point applies to the wider International Employee Benefits market too. If staff benefits can be incorporated into one policy (meeting all the various different regulatory requirements), it will significantly streamline administration processes.

In some cases, by pooling populations of employees together it can offer improved underwriting terms or reduce the cost. This is particularly true for health insurance in the USA.

Other businesses will likely be attracted to the high level of cover available within international schemes, particularly when it comes to health insurance. There’s the ethical dimension too: a firm will want to meet their duty of care to an expatriate employee posted into an important project, or office.     

A joined up and well-executed employee benefit and wellness strategy can also have far reaching positive effects within your business.  A healthy and protected workforce is good for business and your International Employee Benefits provision is the perfect vehicle to deliver a range of positive outcomes, including:

  • Improved morale
  • Increased productivity
  • Improved Employer Value Proposition (EVP)
  • Improved culture
  • Improved Employee Engagement
  • Recruiting the best staff
  • Reduced absenteeism
  • Reduced presenteeism
  • Reduced staff turnover

What are the most common International Employee Benefits?

We have ranked below the top 5 most common International Employee Benefits and why they are increasingly popular.

1. International Private Medical Insurance

One of the earliest International Employee Benefits, it has been around since the 1970’s. It has held the No1. spot for many years, in part due to the richness of the benefit compared to most single country offerings but also due to necessity – many countries require businesses to provide private health insurance for their employees.

Learn more about International Business Health Insurance.

2. International Group Life Insurance

A starting point for many businesses looking to offer a broader International Employee Benefits offering due to its relatively low cost. It also offers the opportunity to avoid the difficulty of setting up numerous local schemes with differing currencies, renewal dates, contact points and added paperwork.

Learn more about International Group Life Insurance.

3. Pre-Assignment Screening

This is a must-have for many businesses before they send an expatriate on assignment. It’s also a specific requirement for certain industries like Oil & Gas, Maritime and Aviation.

The idea is simple: ensure your employees are ready and prepared before they head abroad on a job posting, and reduce the chances of a failed assignment.

Learn more about Pre-Assignment Screening.

4. International Employee Assistance Programmes (iEAP)

iEAPs are often attached to International Business Health Insurance products. This means they don’t require an extra investment as the cost is included within the plan. Employee Assistance Programmes reflect an increasing recognition that employers need to look after the mental health of their workforce.

This is particularly true for expatriate workers who carry their own duty of care and have specific requirements, especially if they are relocating with family. The implementation of an iEAP can increase the success rate of expatriate placements.

Learn more about International Employee Assistance Programmes.

5. International Group Income Protection

This is another benefit which has seen an increase in recent years as mainstream international insurers have added this to their product range. Employers see the benefits of centralising and harmonising their offering and can offer this product in countries which lack a similar domestic product.

This is a benefit which also gives a large degree of protection for the employer, by paying a percentage of their salary should they not be able to work, as well as peace of mind for the employee.

Learn more about International Group Income Protection.

“Engage Health Group have been very helpful with our members, many of whom are based in third world countries. They have solved the problems raised regarding the COVID pandemic especially relating to evacuation if needed.”

Our approach to Employee Benefits Consultancy

1. Learning

Assess the wants and needs of the business collaboratively.

2. Benchmarking

Provide insight into what business of a similar size and sector offer.

3. Designing

Establish the best solutions and agree on timeframes.

4. Negotiating

Liaise with all providers to obtain the most competitive prices.

5. Implementing

Manage any policy/scheme set up on behalf of clients.

6. Communicating

Provide bespoke literature and onsite employee presentations to promote benefits.

7. Managing

Handle the everyday scheme management so that the clients don’t have to.

8. Reviewing

Annual market reviews to ensure any solution remains effective and competitive.

Managing Expat Risk with a Medical Evacuation Plan
Learn how to support expats posted to developing nations in a critical medical incident

International Employee Benefits vs single country solutions

The advantages of providing an international scheme will vary depending on the specific nature of a business and what it’s looking to achieve.  However, below we have listed the benefits that can be leveraged by implementing an International Employee Benefits strategy, compared to a domestic one:


Offers a consistent range of benefits, and benefit levels, for staff across multiple countries.


Globally mobile employees do not need to keep being removed and re-enrolled each time they move location. This can also help protect their underwriting and conditions covered.


Pooling together schemes can provide more generous and flexible terms such as Medical History Disregarded underwriting on International Health Insurance plans and a higher Free Cover Limit on International Group Life Insurance products.


Brings together a range of schemes in different languages, renewal dates, currencies and contact points into one centrally managed programme. It's more cost-effective and can save hundreds of HR hours.

Reduced administration

Reduces the extra paperwork required for managing separate contracts, paperwork, duplication, reporting, invoicing and payments.

Quality of cover

International benefits, particularly for worldwide health insurance, can sometimes be superior to the policies and facilities that you can find in domestic markets.

Which benefits are right for my business?

Every company is different so there is no single answer. We would advise reviewing business need across a range of areas, including:

  • company culture
  • industry benchmarking
  • age of the workforce
  • volume of expatriates
  • global mobility
  • job role
  • budget

It’s important to not rush any decisions and give yourself enough time to conduct a thorough review. Of course, you can also get expert advice from our independent team of insurance brokers.

To help you get started, here are five key things to consider:

1. Blend your approach

Placing all your budget in one area can leave your benefit lopsided and employees disappointed – unless you are just looking for protection in one area by design.

For example, an insurance-heavy approach (featuring International Health Insurance, International Business Life Insurance etc.), whilst excellent to provide, can leave staff feeling disengaged. This is because they are only realised when staff are unwell or the worst happens.

Alternatively, if you go heavy on a fun/wellness only approach, it is proven to make staff feel more engaged as the benefits can be utilised more frequently. However, they aren’t much use if someone needs physiotherapy or an urgent diagnostic scan. Nor does it provide much protection for your business.

However, by blending the two approaches you can deliver the best of both worlds.

2. Consider your locations and the cost of replacing staff

Different countries have different standards and requirements when it comes to employee benefits. For example, you’re forced to invest in a cost-heavy health insurance plan if you have staff in the US, but very few other staff benefits are mandated. The culture around employee benefits can vary greatly between countries and getting the balance right between global harmonisation and maintaining local expectations is important.

For expatriates, or key personnel in overseas offices, you also need to consider the costs of an attractive benefits package against how much it would cost to replace them. Failed expatriate assignments can be very costly as we elaborate further down the page.

3. Promote and Communicate

Once you have chosen your policies, it’s important to ensure people know what they have and how to use it. If you’re using an independent intermediary (broker/consultant) to assist you with sourcing, devising and implementing your benefits provision; ask them to assist in how best to communicate the finished article to employees.  Any good employee benefits consultancy will be happy to develop bespoke literature and spend time to help you promote the benefits and answer employee questions. We’ve heard from many businesses who made the mistake of investing in benefits without promoting them fully. The end result? Poor employee engagement.

4. Centralise and simplify

International businesses often have siloed benefits strategies for each individual country. This means they’re missing a trick. It’s usually because they are either unaware of the opportunity to have an all-inclusive international policy, or are concerned about following local requirements or customs.

Sometimes the problem is internal. Some organisations have different insurance mechanisms managed by different departments.  For example, the finance department might manage  International Medical Insurance and International Group Income Protection, whereas wellness provisions, such as International Employee Assistance Programmes and Pre-Assignment Screening are managed by HR.

Compartmentalising benefits across different areas of the business often inhibits a joined-up approach and reduces the opportunity to drive cost efficiencies and streamline administration. If your business is working with multiple service providers via different internal stakeholders, it’s likely you will pay more overall and find it increasingly difficult to achieve your overall objective.

5. Measure success

Continuous review should be a priority. This is true even if you are spending a small percentage of gross payroll on benefits or have them implemented solely to meet regulatory obligations. A few key questions should be asked:

  • What are we getting from our current benefit provision?
  • Is it still valued by staff?
  • Have requirements or regulation changed?
  • Do our partners/providers align with our company culture?
  • Are we paying too much?
  • Is it achieving its objective?

These questions should be asked on an annual basis (at least) to avoid stagnation, maintain relevance and to ensure businesses get the best possible return on their investment.

How important are International Employee Benefits?

Employees all over the world cite the benefits package offered by companies as an important consideration.

A global 2017 study by Metlife found that improved benefits were a key reason employees stayed in their role, or moved to a new one, according to:

  • 58% of employees in China
  • 57% of employees in the UK
  • 53% of employees in the UAE
  • 51% of employees in India

A well-designed International Employee Benefits scheme is a great way to stand out from competitors due to their quality, scope and flexibility.

Compliance is often also a major challenge for international businesses. Many businesses struggle to scale local benefits solutions when they start opening overseas offices. Plus, sourcing local solutions in new locations can mean having to duplicate processes and add complexity, or additional resources, to a HR function.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do you need in place to properly support Expatriate employees?

Supporting expatriates on an assignment is a good investment given the broader cost of the placement and the important work they will be doing for you.

We will be writing extensively about this subject in our Knowledge Hub, however below are some high level considerations:

►   Pre Assignment:

  • Well-targeted selection process
  • Pre-Assignment Screening
  • Cultural Training

►  During Assignment:

  • Ensure protection and support programmes are in place (International Medical Insurance, International Business Life Insurance, International Business Income Protection, International Employee Assistance Programme)
  • Local support for non-work necessities (accommodation, utilities, language, schools, personal tax)
  • Help building a social network
  • Regular check ins

►  Post Assignment:

  • Re-integration with new team
  • Obtaining feedback

How do the typical employee benefit packages vary in different countries?

They can vary greatly depending on the mandated benefits required and whether you’re employing a local national or expatriate.

Many of the typical employee benefits you would find in a local insurance market can be moved into an International Employee Benefits strategy, as per the product list above. Some, however, are very specific to that local market or a small group of countries (meal vouchers in France for example) and are not scalable.

We will be producing country-specific typical benefit guides for international business hotspots within our Knowledge Hub over the coming months.

What does an expatriate assignment cost?

Generally, you can choose between British Pounds, US Dollars and Euros within the International Health Insurance market. Note that some insurers require that the premium payment currency aligns to the benefit currency.

Sending expats on assignment is a significant investment for any business. In 2019 the UK was rated the most expensive country to send an expat by ECA International, global mobility experts. The average expat pay package for a middle manager in the UK comes to £311,240, representing a £44,688 rise in the last 12 months despite salaries remaining static. This drops down to £184,493 for the US, although varying widely depending on the city location. This drops further still to £69,280 in the UAE.

You can see clearly from these figures the importance of getting your expatriate strategy right and the value in providing the right support services and protection.

The typical expat package can include some or all of the below:

►   Relocation expenses

►   Hardship allowance

►   Housing allowance

►   Education allowance

►   Automobile allowance

►   Home travel expenses

►   International Medical Insurance

►   International Group Life Insurance

►   International Group Income Protection Insurance

►   International Employee Assistance Programme

►   Local language course

What is Employee Engagement?

Employees can generally be categorised into three levels of engagement:

⬤   Engaged

Work with passion, feel a profound connection to their company, drive innovation, first ones in and last ones out, highly reliable, an advocate for the business.

⬤   Not Engaged

Effectively “checked out”, complete their contracted working hours only, barely achieve their targets and Key Performance Indicators, lack energy and passion.

⬤   Actively Disengaged

Act out their unhappiness at work, lack enthusiasm, behave disruptively, pull in the opposite direction, undermine the performance of others.

Employees that are highly engaged generate the highest levels of discretionary effort.  That is to say that these individuals are more effective, more productive, stronger advocates of the business (to customers and other external stakeholders), and are less likely to seek employment elsewhere.

Generating discretionary effort among staff does not happen overnight, nor by itself. But if employers can achieve a high level of emotional commitment from their teams by investing in their health and happiness, the results will be clear for all, and the business will win as a result.

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