International Compensation

Designing and developing a better compensation package for HR professionals for the international assignments requires knowledge of taxation, employment laws, and foreign currency fluctuation by the HR professionals. Moreover, the socio-economic conditions of the country have to be taken into consideration while developing a compensation package. It is easy to develop the compensation package for the parent country national but difficult to manage the host and third country nationals. When a firm develops international compensation policies, it tries to fulfill some broad objectives:

  1. The compensation policy should be in line with the structure, business needs and overall strategy of the organization.
  2. The policy should aim at attracting and retaining the best talent.
  3. It should enhance employee satisfaction.
  4. It should be clear in terms of understanding of the employees and also convenient to administer.

The employee also has a number of objectives that he wishes to achieve from the compensation policy of the firm

  • He expects proper compensation against his competency and performance level.
  • He expects substantial financial gain for his own comfort and for his family also.
  • He expects his present and future needs to be taken care of including children’s education, medical protection and housing facilities.
  • The policy should be progressive in nature.

Major Components in an International Compensation Package

International Compensation is an internal rate of return (monetary or non monetary rewards / package) including base salary, benefits, perquisites and long term & short term incentives that valued by employee’s in accordance with their relative contributions to performance towards achieving the desired goal of an organization.

International Compensation

The following are the major components of an international compensation package.

  1. Base Salary

This term has a slightly different meaning in an international context than in a domestic one. In the latter case, it denotes the amount of cash compensation that serves as a benchmark for other compensation elements like bonus, social benefits. For the expatriate, it denotes the main component of a package of allowances directly related to the base salary and the basis for in-service benefits and pension contributions. Base salary actually forms the foundation block of the international compensation.

  1. Foreign Service Inducement Premium

This is a component of the total compensation package given to employees to encourage them to take up foreign assignments. This is with the aim to compensate them for the possible hardships they may face while being overseas. In this context, the definition of hardship, the eligibility criteria for premium and the amount and timing of this payment are to be carefully considered. Such payments are normally made in the form of a percentage of the salary and they vary depending upon the tenure and content of the assignment. In addition, sometimes other differentials may be considered. For instance: if a host country’s work week is longer that of the home country, a differential payment may be made in lieu of overtime.

  1. Allowances

One of the most common kinds of allowance internationally is the Cost of Living Allowance (COLA). It typically involves a payment to compensate for the differences in the cost of living between the two countries resulting in an eventual difference in the expenditure made. A typical example is to compensate for the inflation differential. COLA also includes payments for housing and other utilities, and also personal income tax. Other major allowances that are often made are:

  • Home leave allowance
  • Education allowance
  • Relocation allowance
  • Spouse assistance (compensates for the loss of income due to spouse losing their job)

Thus, multinationals normally pay these allowances to encourage employees to take up international assignments to make sure that they are comfortable in the host country in comparison to the parent country.

  1. Benefits

The aspect of benefits is often very complicated to deal with. For instance, pension plans normally differ from country to country due to difference in national practices. Thus all these and other benefits (medical coverage, social security) are difficult to imitate across countries.

Thus, firms need to address a number of issues when considering what benefits to give and how to give them. However, the crucial issue that remains to be dealt with is whether the expatriates should be covered under the home country benefit programmes or the ones of the host country. As a matter of fact, most US officials are covered by their home country benefit programmes. Other kinds of benefits that are offered are:

  • Vacation and special leaves
  • Rest and rehabilitation leaves
  • Emergency provisions like death or illness in the family

These benefits, however, depend on the host country regulations.

  1. Incentives

In recent years some MNC have been designing special incentives programmes for keeping expatriate motivated. In the process a growing number of firms have dropped the ongoing premium for overseas assignment and replaced it with on time lump-sum premium. The lump-sum payment has at least three advantages. First expatriates realize that they are paid this only once and that too when they accept an overseas assignment. So the payment tends to retain its motivational value. Second, costs to the company are less because there is only one payment and no future financial commitment. This is so because incentive is separate payment, distinguishable for a regular pay and it is more readily for saving or spending.

  1. Taxes

The final component of the expatriate’s compensation relates to taxes. MNCs generally select one of the following approaches to handle international taxation.

  1. Tax equalization: Firm withhold an amount equal to the home country tax obligation of the expatriate and pay all taxes in the host country.
  2. Tax Protection: The employee pays up to the amount of taxes he or she would pay on remuneration in the home country. In such a situation, the employee is entitled to any windfall received if total taxes are less in the foreign country, then in the home country.

7. Long Term Benefits or Stock Benefits

The most common long term benefits offered to employees of MNCs are Employee Stock Option Schemes (ESOS). Traditionally ESOS were used as means to reward top management or key people of the MNCs. Some of the commonly used stock option schemes are:

  • Employee Stock Option Plan (ESOP): A certain nos. of shares are reserved for purchase and issuance to key employees. Such shares serve as incentive for employees to build long term value for the company.
  • Restricted Stock Unit (RSU): This is a plan established by a company, wherein units of stocks are provided with restrictions on when they can be exercised. It is usually issued as partial compensation for employees. The restrictions generally lifts in 3-5 years when the stock vests.
  • Employee Stock Purchase Plan (ESPP): This is a plan wherein the company sells shares to its employees usually, at a discount. Importantly, the company deducts the purchase price of these shares every month from the employee’s salary.



Culture is an abstract but collective concept, which is not defined as a certain object but covers more than one object. It is a collection of Material wealth and Spiritual wealth including religious, customs, education, regulations, laws, economy and even science. Culture also plays its part in the international compensation system.

People with different cultural backgrounds will view compensation system differently under the influence of culture. So does the management of the system. Culture is a thing deeply rooted in the blood of people. People in the same nation tends hold the same or similar mental programming way to process ideas and information. In other countries, the way may differ. So is the case of compensation system, the certain culture will inclines to match one culture of a nation if global mindsets are not brought in and lead people to manage systems in a certain way. A simple and direct way to confirm it is to see the different meanings compensation in different countries.

Culture which forms a system of knowledge, information and beliefs will affect attitudes and behaviors associated with the work. Culture affects the variables of the established compensation system. Though equity customs are shared among the employees from many countries, America and Japan for example, the force of the customs really works differently in different countries. In all, having the awareness of focusing the influence of culture values on employees is extremely important for corporate leaders. When dealing with compensation system, the controlling for context of culture should be paid attention.

Social Contract

Considered as part of the social contract, the employment relationship is not just an interaction between an employee and an employer, and it also includes the government, all managers and all employees. The relationships and expectations of these groups form the social contract. When thinking about how people get salaries around the world, it is apparent that different people have different ideas, so they think variously of government, employers and employees. The understanding of employee compensation management requires understanding of the social contract in that country. How to change employee compensation systems–for example, to make them serve better to customers, encourage innovative and quality service, or control costs–requires changing the expectations of groups to the social contract.

Trade Unions

Europe keeps highly solidaric and Asia is less heavily unionized. In some countries, team agreement sets how much the workers can earn even though the workers may not be union members. In France for example a majority of workers are paid by collective agreements, but only a few are union members.

Managers Autonomy

Managerial autonomy reflects managers set his employees to make decisions by themselves. There is a relationship between it and the degree of centralization. Government, trade unions and corporate police are responsible to restrict managerial autonomy. Compensation decisions made in the domestic corporate offices and exported to subsidies all over the world may relate to the corporate strategy but discount local economics and social conditions.

To sum up, international compensation is affected by economic, institutional, organizational, and individual conditions, globalization really represents that these conditions are varying thus international pay system are altering too.

  1. Ownership and Capital Markets

Ownership and financing of companies are dramatically different around the world. These differences are vital to the understanding and managing of international payment. These patterns of ownership make certain kinds of pay systems have no significance. Employees in these corporations have various values and expectations. One research indicated that people who work for local or public corporations like salaries according to one’s performance more; however, those who work in federal owned corporations are on the opposite side. So it is obvious that ownership differences have great effects on types of payment. It is very misleading to consider that every place is just like home.


The objectives of compensation package of MNCs are presented in Figure below MNCs manage the compensation and benefits with the following objectives.

Consistency and Equity: MNCs design the salary and benefits package to secure consistency between pay and performance and equity among employees of different nationalities and categories, and employees of subsidiaries and parent company.

Recruitment and Retention of suitable Employees: MNCs design and practice compensation and benefits in order to attract, and retain suitable employees in terms of job efficiency and cultural adaptability.

Facilitate Mobility: MNCs design pay package in order to enable the employees to move from the parent company to foreign subsidiaries and from one foreign subsidiary to another foreign subsidiary.

Organisational performance: MNCs pay package should work as motivator to enhance employee job performance, learning latest skills and contribute to the enhancement of organisational performance. In fact, performance-based pay package enhances organisational performance.

Adaptability to Foreign Cultures and Environment: MNCs design pay package that motivates employees and his/her family members to willingly adapt to the cultures and environment of the foreign countries. For example, providing comfortable housing, highly reliable medical facilities, security facilities against odds and international standards schooling facilities encourage employee’s family members to adapt to the foreign country cultures and environment and allow the employee to concentrate on the job.

Importance of International Compensations

Optimizing Cost of Compensation: It is to facilitate the transfer of International employees in the most cost-effective manner for the firm. Compensation management aims at optimizing the cost of compensation by establishing some kind of linkage with performance and compensation. It is not necessary that a higher level of wages and salaries will bring higher performance automatically but depends on the kind of linkage that is established between performance and wages and salaries.

Attracting and Retaining Personnel: Most to attract and retain staff in the areas where the multinational has the greatest needs and opportunities, hence must be competitive and recognize factors such as the incentive for Foreign Services, tax equalization, and reimbursement for reasonable costs.

Consistency in Compensation: It means to be consistent with the overall strategy, structure and business needs of the multinational. Compensation management tries to achieve consistency-both internal and external in compensating employees. Internal consistency involves payment of the basis of criticality of jobs and employees’ performance on jobs. Thus, higher compensation is attached to higher-level jobs. Similarly, higher compensation attached to higher performers in the same job. External consistency involves similar compensation for a job in all organizations. Though there are many factors involved in the determination of wage and salary structure for a job in an organization which may result into some kind of disparity in the compensation of a particular job as compared to other organization, compensation management tries to reduce this disparity.

Motivating Personnel: Compensation management aims at motivating personnel for higher productivity. Monetary compensation has its own limitations in motivating people for superior performance.

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