DUBAI, 30th December, 2015 (WAM) — International work experience is increasingly seen as essential to long-term career development, according to a global study of expatriates commissioned by US based Cigna Global Health Benefits and the National Foreign Trade Council, which included nearly 500 expats in the Middle East and North Africa.

But the survey report says that more needs to be done to help foreign nationals adjust to the language, culture and customs of their new host country. The 2015 Global Mobility Trends Survey interviewed more than 2,700 expatriates working in 156 countries to better understand how they and their families experience overseas assignments. The majority of respondents were male (81%), middle-aged, have a family and are employed by US companies.

The overwhelming majority of MENA-based respondents (84%) said that they believed an international assignment was essential for their career progression, and just over half (51%) said they were willing to accept another international posting in the future.

Globally, professionals are increasingly working abroad out of choice rather than necessity, according to the survey. The number of expats who have served five or more international assignments has also increased markedly, from 18% in 2013 to 25%.

MENA-based expats are even more mobile, with nearly a third (32%) saying they have accepted five or more overseas postings.

“As a long-standing health-services partner of the expatriate community, Cigna closely monitors changing attitudes toward working overseas and the requirements of today’s globally mobile business professionals,” said Howard Gough, MENA Chief Executive Officer of Cigna Global Health Benefits and CEO for Cigna’s Global Individual Private Medical Insurance.

“Working abroad is increasingly seen as an investment in one’s career development, and employers need to adapt to meet the expectations of quality talent accordingly. Personalised services and proactive communication at each stage of the assignment lifecycle clearly contribute to the success of overseas postings, according to our research,” he added.

When asked if the compensation and benefits offered by their employer were attractive, more than half of MENA-based expats agreed (54%) and a third (33%) strongly agreed. However, financial compensation isn’t the only incentive. The adequacy of one’s healthcare plan, financial support for schooling and leave entitlements were also rated ‘very important.’ Quality of life, housing, security and the environment were also seen as ‘very important’ factors.

Access to healthcare through insurance that pays for services directly was also seen as a top priority by MENA expats. Nearly three-quarters of respondents in the region said they were satisfied with their ability to access healthcare in this way, compared with a global average of just over half (56%).