IN today's world, the traditional expatriate, who settles for decades in a foreign country, is a dying breed. Asia, in the past few years, has seen the birth of not just the Asian expat, but also the Western expats with a short-term contract. These are the recent findings of ECA (Employment Conditions Abroad) International, a London-based consultancy that provides information to multinationals and local companies on what they can expect to pay expat staff. Japanese staff based overseas is an old story. But nowadays, the consultancy notes, other Asians - especially from Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan - are being given expat status in other Asian countries. Topping the list of destinations is China, trailed by Vietnam, Thailand and Burma. For companies, posting qualified Asian staff overseas is a cheaper choice than bringing in Western staff from a multinational's headquarters. According to Martin Leese, a consultant with ECA's Hong Kong office, ECA China: 'Western expats come from further away, so companies would have to pay more. As the expertise base of Asian employees widens, there's less of a need to bring in Western expats.' Asian expats are not only cheaper, they can be better for the job. The majority of expats in China, for instance, are Hong Kong nationals, possessing the ability to speak Putonghua and with at least a few years of high-level experience on the mainland. With the increasing move of joint venture operations from more cosmopolitan areas such as Beijing and Shanghai to smaller and more remote places like Chongqing, Suzhou or Hangzhou, language and a willingness to adapt are more important than the fact the expat is a representative from the head office. For Hong Kong, that has translated into soaring wages. Companies trying to lure Hong Kong nationals into China have had to offer higher salaries from an already high base. 'So we're seeing an inflationary spiral,' Patrick Maule, a director at ECA China, said. 'At the same time, there's a shortage here in Hong Kong of good people who can speak Mandarin, so that worsens the inflation.' The birth of the Asian expat has brought about the demise of the traditional Western expat in more than one way. Today's Western expat, when transplanted to Asia, is often here for just six months or, at most, three years - a far cry from the 20-30 year terms served by expats a generation ago. Of course, this is more the case in Hong Kong and Singapore, than China, 'where the relatively low level of skill base means the expat has a much longer life', Mr Leese said. Many of today's Western expats are also usually specialists, rather than just head-office representatives. Armed with some form of expertise, whether management or technology, these expats are often expected to train local or junior officers to take over their roles by the end of term. Those with technological expertise are expected to carry through some form of technology transfer before their contract expires. Ironically, all these rules fall apart when Asia's developed areas are taken into account. In Japan, for instance, the long-term Western expat is still very much the norm, sent over by head offices in the West to keep an eye on one of the highest spending markets in Asia. The long-term expat is also the norm in Hong Kong and Singapore, but that's because these cities are often the regional base of multinationals, Mr Leese said. 'In Hong Kong and Singapore, people are brought in to set up offices, so continuity is more important,' Mr Maule said. 'Besides, companies have few difficulties persuading people to stay.'