The Balance Sheet seeks to keep the employee economically neutral vis-a-vis the home country while living in another country. Often there are additional costs on expatriate assignment due to higher tax rates, taxability of relocation support, inefficiencies in purchasing due to expatriate status, and other reasons.

Through a series of balancing payments, the employee’s home country salary is protected against the additional costs associated with income tax, goods and services, and housing. The balancing of payments allow the employee to retain their home country purchasing power and preserve their savings ability.

How does the balance sheet work?

With the Balance Sheet approach the employee retains their home county salary while on assignment.   The company then administers a series of allowances and programs to protect the salary.

At a high-level, salary is distributed into four main categories:

  • income taxes
  • goods and services
  • housing
  • savings


Income Tax:

Through a process called tax equalization the employee’s contribution to income tax remains at home country rates.  The employee contributes a hypothetical tax to the company approximately equal to the amount of income taxes the employee would have paid had they remained in the home country.   The result, the employee nets approximately the same as they would have at home.

In turn, the company pays the actual income taxes in the host and home locations on company source income and allowances.


Goods and Services:

The company pays the employee a Cost-of-Living Allowance (COLA) when host location goods and services (G&S) costs are higher compared to the home location.   The COLA is calculated by an external provider who compares the cost of a large market basket of items in both the host and home countries.

In addition to protecting the employee against excess G&S costs the COLA can also protect against exchange rate and inflation changes.  Best practice companies update the COLA 2-4 times a year to reflect changing economic conditions.



Due to the temporary nature of an expatriate assignment, the company covers the cost of rental accommodation in the host location.   In turn some companies require the employee to contribute to these costs at their home country rates through the deduction of a housing norm from the employee’s salary.

While the housing norm deduction aligns to the balance sheet philosophy, increasingly companies are discontinuing the practice as not all employees are able to cease actual home country housing expenses.  Paying these actual costs plus a housing norm would be akin to paying for housing twice.



With tax equalization, COLA and housing support, the company covers the employee’s additional host location costs and the employee simply contributes to costs at home country rates.  The result, the employee can save at the same rate as they did prior to the assignment.  This is the definition of economic neutrality and the reason the Balance Sheet approach is so commonly used.


Why would you use the Balance Sheet Approach?

The main reason the Balance Sheet is used is because it conveys economic neutrality to the employee. The company can offer the employee the peace of mind that they will not lose out financially on an expatriate assignment.

While it is the best way to protect the employee, the Balance Sheet is often an expensive option for the company due to the cost of the balancing payments and the related administration involved in supporting the approach. As such, the Balance Sheet is often reserved for critical skill or executive level employees where the company receives significant value from an expatriate assignment.



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