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International Assignments


Until 2015, the majority of firms overall reported the typical duration for international assignments was 1-3 years. After dropping in 2015 from 2014 (44% vs. 59%) it remains lower for the third straight year (47%). This year, the rest of firms are split between assignments of less than a year (31%) and three years or longer (23%).

  • Trending similarly to last year, small and mid-size firms appear to favor shorter durations far more often than large firms (53% and 37% vs. 15%). However, use of short assignments now outstrips standard lengths at small firms (53% vs. 31%). At large firms, short assignments are far less common than they were two years ago (15% vs. 30%) and closer to historical norms. Overall, use of shorter assignment types by mid-size and small firms remains roughly double or more that of 3-4 years ago.
  • Standard assignment lengths of 1-3 years are reported by 54% of large firms and 47% of mid-size firms, far more than reported by small firms (31%).
  • Usage levels of far longer durations as “typical” among mid-size and small firms fell to roughly half of previous levels in 2015, and they remain near historical lows for a third straight year. Also for the second straight year, around a third of large firms report longer durations as typical, rebounding from 2015 (23%) to near typical averages of the previous three years and roughly double the incidence of small or mid-size firms (31% vs. 16%).
  • Overall, firms estimate around five out of ten assignments were 1-3 years, over a sixth were short-term, and roughly a fourth were permanent. Almost one out of ten belonged to another type of assignment (commuter, rotational, etc.). Interestingly, over half of small and mid-size firms and 39% of large firms expect their use of short-term/temporary assignments to increase during 2017.
Question 44c
What is the typical international relocation assignment duration for employees at your company?
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Question 44d-1
In 2016, what percentage of your international relocations were...
Chart Q44d-1
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Question 44d-2
In 2016, what percentage of your international relocations were...
Chart Q44d-2
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Question 44e
Do you expect the number of international short-term/temporary assignments in 2016 to...
Chart Q44e
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The United States was again one of the year’s top international destinations. Relocations originating in the U.S. went to many regions, with Canada (37%), the United Kingdom (36%), Asia (31%), Western Europe (29%) and Eastern Europe (19%) rounding out the top six, including the U.S. (30%). The United States was again the top region for intraregional transfers of expatriates; both immigration to the U.S. and movement of foreign nationals within the U.S. remain markedly higher for a third year (34%+ vs. 18% in 2013. Asia ranked second for intraregional transfers (27%), followed closely by the United Kingdom (25%) and Canada (25%). The United States and Asia were top destinations for interregional transfers (35% and 35%), followed closely by Western Europe (31%), the United Kingdom (28%), Canada (20%) and Eastern Europe (20%). However, across all types of international relocations, if European destinations were combined (U.K., Eastern & Western Europe) they would eclipse all other regions.

Question 12b-1
Most frequent destinations of transfer in 2016: within the U.S
Chart Q12b
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Question 12b-2
Most frequent destinations of transfer in 2016: between U.S. and another country
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Question 12b-3
Most frequent destinations of transfer in 2016: between U.S. and another country
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Question 12b-4
Most frequent destinations of transfer in 2016: within a single foreign country
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Question 12b-5
Most frequent destinations of transfer in 2016: within a single foreign country
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Question 12b-6
Most frequent destinations of transfer in 2016: between two foreign countries
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Question 12b-7
Most frequent destinations of transfer in 2016: within two foreign countries
Chart Q12b7
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The majority of firms, regardless of company size, have an average of two tiers within each of their different international policies (overall, permanent transfer, localization, and intraregional). For those with tiers in the overall policy, two of the top three criteria are position/job title (61%) and job/grade level (51%), similar to their inclusion in domestic policy (61% and 48%). Assignment length is nearly equal in weight internationally (55%), far more so than domestically (32%). These (position/job title, job/grade level, assignment length) are the top three considerations at both small and mid-size firms, while job/grade level outstrips all other factors at large firms. For small firms, new hire/current employee status is nearly equal in importance (56%), carrying more weight than at mid-size (26%) or large (26%) firms. However, assignment location/region (38%), assignment objectives (36%), and company vs. employee-initiated relocation status (28%) also carry much more weight internationally than domestically (24%, 19% & 18%), while other factors are of similar importance regardless of international or domestic policy.

For the third year in a row, the vast majority of firms, near the highest percentages historically, report differences between domestic and international policies. This remains driven primarily by more small firms allowing for policy differentiation than did prior to 2015. However, the percentages of firms offering certain benefits remain similar to the past two years, far lower than three years ago: i.e., additional tax considerations (46% vs. 42%, 44% and 61%) and allowances for children to attend certain schools (41% vs. 39%, 42% and 54%). Other policy considerations retained their stark increases compared to three years ago and are similar to the past two years as well: additional leave time (33% vs. 33%, 28% and 18%) and extended per diems (21% vs. 24%, 28% and 11%). Firms also maintained increases in financial services assistance compared to previous levels (39% vs. 18% in 2012). Many other considerations remain below previous highs, although financial assistance and security support programs are close to historical highs (39% vs. 39%, 25% vs. 31%, respectively). The percentages of firms offering higher relocation allowances (38%) or higher rental allowances (33%) internationally remain near historically normative levels as well. A policy consideration we first surveyed last year—international transportation allowance (i.e. rental car, commuting costs, etc.)—finds over a third of firms offer it (36%), similar to last year (42%).

  • For the past three years, the vast majority of small firms (83%+) offered policy considerations for internationally relocating employees, far more than any year before 2015. This year, most offerings are near or above the highest historical levels except for additional tax considerations (35%). Although it jumps from last year’s low (25%), it remains markedly lower than 2003-2007 when more than half of small firms offered it. While allowances for children to attend certain schools (31%) rebounds from a low (15%) last year, it simply returns to a normative level historically. Additional leave time with a visit home (37%) and increased permanent storage (29%) dip slightly from last year (40% and 36%), but remain within normative historical ranges as well. The biggest shift from last year: intercultural and language training essentially tripled (45% vs. 13%).
  • At mid-size firms, the story shifts. Even as nine out of ten offer policy considerations internationally overall, nearly all categories fall near or below the lowest levels measured historically. The exceptions, which fall in historical mid-ranges, are: additional leave time (36%), financial services assistance (33%), extended per diem charges (21%), and security support (19%). The only dramatic changes compared to 2016 are: far fewer offer higher rental housing allowances (22% vs. 41%) or higher relocation allowances (27% vs. 43%).
  • Policy considerations at large firms remain similar compared to last year with one exception: increased permanent storage allowances (34% vs. 43%).While roughly half or more offer the majority of policy considerations listed in the survey, the percentage for the following offerings are at or near historical lows: additional tax considerations (57%), intercultural and language training (58%), additional leave time with a visit home (53%), allowances for children to attend certain schools (54%), additional leave time (28%), and increased permanent storage allowances (34%). All the other items essentially fall at historically normative levels.
Question 44i-1
Does your company's international relocation policy offer...
Chart Q44i1
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Question 44i-2
Does your company's international relocation policy offer...
Chart Q44i2
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