EVEN as the cost of living for expatriates has shot up in Singapore, the republic remains a top location for international postings as multinational corporations (MNCs) again ponder stepping up staff deployment overseas.

With the global economy bouncing back from the deepest recession since the 1929 Great Depression, MNCs are moving to reverse a cut-back in the number of international assignments, according to ECA International.

Over half - 54.3 per cent - of the human resource consultancy firm's clients polled this year indicated they planned to post more HQ staff overseas, up from 39.9 per cent in the depth of the global downturn in early 2009, Lee Quane, ECA's regional director - Asia, told reporters yesterday.

And Singapore is a hot location for MNCs - in fact, the republic is No 2 on the MNCs' priority list for expatriate postings in Asia, which accounts for half of their top 10 global list.

China, the hottest market currently, tops the Asian list which also includes Hong Kong (No 3), India (No 4) and Vietnam (No 5), according to London- based ECA.

Singapore is at No 4 in the MNCs' global list of locations for expatriate staff, the ECA poll shows.

The United States, which remains the world's biggest market despite its current economic sluggishness, takes precedence over all countries when it comes to overseas staff deployment by MNCs.

Even MNCs headquartered in Asia put the US at No 2 on their top 10 global list for expatriate assignment which, Mr Quane pointed out, is largely focused on Asia's fast-growth markets.

The UK is the only other non-Asian country on this list.

China is the No 1 location, but Mr Quane said others in the region are also rising as attractive markets for Asian-based companies to have a direct presence.

'Five years ago, the majority of Singapore-based companies would assign staff to China,' he said. 'Now there's greater diversity as they also post them to Indonesia, India and Vietnam.'

Singapore is No 3 on the Asia-based MNCs' top 10 list of locations for expatriate staff.

Singapore's attractiveness appears to be undiminished by ECA's earlier cost-of-living survey findings, which showed the republic has become a more expensive place for foreign postings.

In the past six months, Singapore jumped from ninth spot in Asia to No 8 in ECA's list of most expensive places for expatriates to live in.

Rising prices and the strengthening of the Singapore dollar against major currencies propelled Singapore in the cost of living stakes from 79th position globally to 42nd over the past year.

Mr Quane said MNCs would not make an overseas posting based just on cost alone; they also consider other factors such as taxes and incentives and law and order.

Still, cost is the most visible and a high-profile factor. And if it is not contained, Singapore could find its competitive edge over its rival Hong Kong eroded further, Mr Quane warned.