In the modern global economy, it's increasingly common to have employees located in multiple countries. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis1, multinational businesses based in the United States employed more than 42.4 million workers in 2020. Many of these employees were in countries like China, Mexico, India, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
Major U.S. businesses such as the Kellogg Company, Fresh Del Monte Produce, Whirlpool, and Hanesbrands employ more international workers2 than domestic employees.
The popularity of remote work following the COVID-19 pandemic has businesses hiring more international workers than ever before. While organizations still have to establish a subsidiary or partner with an employer of register (EOR) in most countries, they no longer have to worry about office space or how international workers will fit into their teams.
Managing a multinational company, however, has its complexities. Take employee benefits, for example. Traditional, organization-oriented benefits such as group health insurance coverage, 401k plans, and wellness programs are often unfeasible or not cost-effective for multinational companies.
So, where does this leave companies with international employees who want to offer competitive employee benefits?
In this article, we'll explain how you can build an international employee benefits package by offering personalized benefits that match your diverse workforce.
How important are international benefits?
According to our 2022 Employee Benefits Survey Report, 82% of employees say that the benefits package an employer offers is an important factor in whether or not applicants accept a job, while only 66% of employers think it’s important.
With so many businesses hiring international talent, you'll want to offer a wide range of competitive benefits to attract your ideal employees. Each country has its own set of benefits that are considered standard, which is different from the U.S.
In some countries, like the United Arab Emirates, health insurance is a required benefit for employees, much like it is for applicable large employers (ALEs) in the U.S.
Offering international employee benefits helps you satisfy legal requirements and meet your team's benefits expectations so they don't leave for other opportunities.
However, even if it isn’t customary to offer as many benefits in a particular country as your company might in the U.S., you'll still want to provide your international employees with at least the same benefits as your domestic employees.
Be sure to offer benefits and perks to your international employees that promote your company culture and the health and well-being of your employees.
What are personalized benefits?
Instead of using traditional standardized benefits for all of your employees, you can use personalized benefits. Personalized employee benefits allow your employees to use their benefits the way they want to rather than being lumped into a one-size-fits-all option.
This is often done by providing employees with a monthly or annual allowance for expense reimbursement. You can reimburse your employees for healthcare expenses, personal expenses and activities, and employment-related expenses such as remote work costs with an employee stipend.
For companies with a small team abroad, this approach to employee benefits provides flexibility, cost savings, and minimal administration time.
How to offer international employees a health benefit
Health benefits alone play a key factor in recruitment and retention. However, it can be hard to provide medical care coverage to domestic and international employees with traditional group health insurance.
International employees will have different needs than domestic employees. And many insurance companies don't offer coverage outside of the U.S. or may have limited network availability. While some international health insurance plans exist, most plans are limited in international coverage, if they offer any.
Plus, some countries cover healthcare costs for all citizens through taxes. For example, the United Kingdom offers free healthcare to all permanent residents, all paid for through taxes. U.K. citizens don't have to pay for hospital stays or visits to their general practitioner. In the U.K., residents still have to pay for dental and vision care and prescriptions.
Offering group health insurance to employees in one of these countries wouldn't be necessary. However, these employees can still use a health benefit for their out-of-pocket dental, vision, and prescription costs.
If group health insurance is largely off the table, how do you offer an international health benefit that works for both foreign and domestic workers?
Offering an HRA to your domestic workforce
HRAs are a great health benefits option for domestic employees. With an HRA, you provide your employees with an allowance for their health expenses. Employees request reimbursement, and qualifying health expenses are paid out, usually on their next paycheck.
In the U.S., HRAs are tax-free for the employer and employees. Employees can use their allowance for individual health insurance premiums, prescriptions, and out-of-pocket expenses if the employer allows it.
With an individual coverage HRA (ICHRA), you can offer the benefit to only your domestic employees through employee classes. That way, you aren't required to offer the benefit to international workers as you might with group health insurance.
It's also possible to legally offer a qualified small employer HRA (QSEHRA) to your domestic and international employees. It would just be a taxable stipend in other countries unless social benefits are tax-advantaged in the country you’re looking to hire in. However, if you administer an HRA with PeopleKeep, all employees receiving the benefit must be U.S.-based W-2 employees.
How does this help your global workforce if you can only offer an HRA domestically?
Because you're offering your domestic workers a tax-advantaged ICHRA, you are now free to offer your international employees a health stipend, which we'll cover in the next section.
Offering a health stipend to your global workforce
Health stipends work similarly to an HRA in that employers reimburse their employees for healthcare expenses. While an HRA is tax-free, health stipends are counted as taxable income on a domestic employee's W-2. Employees will be required to pay income taxes on these stipends.
Because health stipend reimbursements are often added to an employee's paycheck after a reimbursement request is approved, you can offer them to both your domestic and international employees. This is a simple option for businesses because you can provide the same monthly allowance to all employees or change the amount based on their employment type or location.
If you decide to offer your domestic workforce an ICHRA, you can still offer your international employees a health stipend. That way, they can still receive a similar benefit to your domestic workers without any additional benefits management headaches.
Remember that you'll be required to provide foreign workers with similar benefits to your domestic workers to avoid anti-discrimination laws in some places. Stipends are a great way to prevent this by giving all your employees the same health benefits.
With a health stipend, you can reimburse your employee's expenses like:
- Health insurance premiums
- Dental insurance premiums
- Vision insurance premiums
- Chiropractic care
- Direct primary care network membership fees
- Health-sharing membership fees
- Medical services such as doctor's office visits and co-pays
The taxability of your stipend in other countries is subject to local laws and regulations. We recommend speaking with a tax professional about the taxability of your international benefits package.
How to offer employee perks to international employees
To create an attractive benefits package, you may also want to offer additional perks to your global workforce. Some of the most popular employee benefits, also known as fringe benefits or lifestyle benefits, include reimbursement for wellness, professional development, transportation, and remote work costs.
Wellness benefits for international workers
According to SHRM's Employee Benefits Survey3, 64% of U.S. employers provided wellness resources, while 58% offered wellness programs such as gym memberships and stress reduction programs.
Don't forget—if you're offering benefits to your domestic employees, you should also be offering similar perks to international employees. This will help you remain competitive in the international job market while helping foreign workers feel appreciated. This way, they'll know that they're as equally appreciated as your domestic workers.
How do you offer wellness benefits to global employees, especially when you aren't familiar with their area or culture?
Offering a wellness stipend is a great way to provide flexibility to your employees no matter where they live. Like with a health stipend, these benefits are taxable income you can offer to anyone. The best part is employees can choose how they spend their allowance, so you don't have to anticipate their unique needs.
Employees submit requests for reimbursement, and then you approve the amount for the categories you've set up.
Wellness stipends can reimburse employees for a variety of expenses, including:
- Gym memberships
- Fitness classes
- Mental health counseling
- Home exercise equipment
- Wearables and devices
- Wellness and meditation apps
This allows employees in any country to take advantage of their wellness benefits.
Remote work benefits
Additionally, you can also offer your remote employees a remote work stipend in the same manner.
With a remote work stipend, you can reimburse employees for the following expenses:
- Home office set-up
- Internet access
- Coworking space memberships
- Cell phone bills
Professional development benefits
With a professional development stipend, you encourage your employees to discover new talents and further their abilities by giving them a set amount of money to use on educational opportunities.
Here are some ways your employees can use their stipend:
- Online learning platforms such as Coursera or Skillshare
- Books and audiobooks
- Graduate degree programs
- Career coaching
- Professional memberships, associations, and clubs
A professional development stipend will pique the interest of your current and potential employees who want to sharpen their skillset. A Linkedin Learning4 report found that 94% of employees say they would stay at a company longer if their employer invested in their career and personal development.
Commuter benefits are another enticing perk. These benefits are also called transportation benefits, parking benefits, or employee transit benefits. With a transportation stipend, you can reimburse your employees for parking expenses, vehicle maintenance, transit passes, and more.
What to consider when deciding which benefits to offer
When looking to hire employees in other countries, you'll need to be aware of any local laws that require employers to provide certain benefits. You'll also want to consider what benefits are already offered by the government.
For example, paid time off (PTO) is a common benefit in the U.S. But, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) doesn't require employers to pay employees for time not worked. Some countries require employees to offer a certain number of paid days off per year.
Some countries may also require you to provide your employees with the same benefits required under U.S. and local laws.
Another thing to keep in mind is that collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) cover 60% of employees in the European Union5. CBAs are contracts between an employer and a union that outline things like wages, hours, and benefits for employees. Once a CBA is established, employers and union workers must abide by the agreement.
Additional benefits to offer your international employees
Once you've taken where your employees live into consideration, there are several additional benefits you can offer them.
Some popular perks include:
- Housing benefits
- Retirement benefits
- Life insurance
- Disability insurance
Whatever benefits you decide to offer in your international employee benefits package, just be sure to check local laws, regulations, and cultural norms to be sure that they'll be a good fit for your employees.
Hiring international workers has its complexities. No matter where you're looking to hire, offering a compliant and competitive benefits package can help you attract your ideal employees. With expense reimbursements such as HRAs or stipends, you can easily manage affordable employee benefit options for your domestic and international workers.
With WorkPerks by PeopleKeep, you have the flexibility to create a custom international employee benefits package that works for your organization. Our stipend administration platform allows you to set custom allowances and offer stipends for multiple expense categories. With the help of our dedicated team, you can offer your employees tailored benefits in minutes.
This blog article was originally published on November 8, 2018. It was last updated on March 19, 2023.
Chase Charaba is the content marketing manager at PeopleKeep. He started with the company as a content marketing specialist in early 2022. Chase has written more than 350 blog posts for various companies and personal projects throughout his career. He’s worked for digital marketing agencies, in-house marketing teams, and as the editor for national award-winning high school and college newspapers. He’s also a YouTuber, landscape photographer, and small business owner.