A man sitting at a desk with a laptop and a credit card in front of him.

Global Payroll 10 min

Managing global payroll: the expert guide

Written by James Doman-Pipe
James Doman-Pipe


share to linkedInshare to Twittershare to Facebook
Link copied
to clipboard

Global payroll comes with a whole host of challenges.

You need to keep up with different regulations across multiple countries, as well as the numerous variations in tax laws, benefits requirements, administrative processes, and payments. You also need to make sure everything is accurate and on-time, and that your data is secure and protected.

This is why effective payroll management is absolutely crucial. 

In this article, we’ll cover some of the key challenges of global payroll management — and talk about how you can make the whole process run smoothly, efficiently, and compliantly.

So let’s dive straight in.

What is global payroll?

When you employ people in different countries, paying them is just one part of the process. You also need to manage their taxes, and adhere to each country’s specific labor laws. All of these things are part of global payroll.

Specifically, you need to:

  • Calculate salaries

  • Ensure payments are on time

  • Track and report payments

  • Distribute payslips

  • Withhold and pay taxes

  • Comply with local labor laws

If these tasks and responsibilities are not properly managed, your business can face costly fines and penalties for non-compliance, as well as disruption to employee pay cycles. This can lead to high turnover, reputational damage, and financial hits to your business.

What are the main challenges of global payroll management? 

To manage your global payroll effectively, you first need to understand what the primary challenges are.

Here are some of the key obstacles you will need to focus on:

International tax codes and labor laws

The biggest challenge of global payroll is knowing and understanding the various tax and labor laws of each country you hire in. If you don’t, you create significant liabilities for your business, such as fines, penalties, reputational damage, and potential legal action.

Depending on the complexities of these regulations, you may need to find and hire local tax specialists or consultants, which can be a costly and time-consuming process.

You may also need to engage local legal advice, as different countries have different compliance requirements for hiring.

Changes to these laws

It’s difficult enough to know and understand the tax and labor laws of various countries, but when you consider that these laws are constantly evolving, the challenge only increases.

Even if you are able to stay on top of these changes, you also need to ensure that they are updated within your payroll system — while also maintaining the integrity and accuracy of your data. This can take up a lot of time, and require input from multiple teams.

If you’re a small business, the amount of time, energy, and money that all of this requires is unrealistic.

To effectively manage global payroll, you also need to consider the internal business costs associated with hiring and training staff, setting up different payment systems across countries, and managing your data efficiently and accurately.

For instance, the monthly process of payroll alone requires:

  • Labor costs of your in-house payroll specialists

  • Foreign exchange and transfer fees

  • Business banking fees

  • Legal costs across multiple countries

  • Data security and safeguarding costs

For a small business, these costs can spiral significantly.

Restrictive legacy systems

Global payroll often involves managing multiple legacy payroll systems. If these systems are not integrated correctly (or if data is inputted inaccurately), it can lead to confusion and inefficiencies.

For instance, legacy systems can quickly become outdated due to changing regulations, creating the need for frequent upgrades or replacements. Many of these systems require you to perform tasks manually, too, such as reconciling bank statements in different currencies. This can result in costly mistakes.

Legacy payroll systems can also create data privacy and security issues, leading to potential financial and reputational consequences.

Misalignment with other HR systems

As well as legacy systems, you must also figure out how to manage data exchanges with your other HR tools. Discrepancies and missing data across platforms can result in an unclear picture, creating potential compliance issues and negatively impacting your operations.

It can also affect your reporting and analysis processes, leading to weaknesses in your company’s decision-making processes.

Payment errors

Another major downside of multiple payroll systems is that it can potentially create payment errors — especially when you factor in the additional complexities of international payments. These errors are often the result of manual input mistakes, incorrect tax calculations, and unforeseen exchange rate fluctuations.

This can cause all sorts of problems for your business. As well as potential legal and compliance issues, it can create high levels of dissatisfaction among your employees, who won’t want to receive late or inaccurate payments. If payment errors happen more than once, some employees may even choose to leave your company.

Payment errors can also:

  • Lead to penalties, fines, and interest charges in some countries

  • Damage your company’s reputation with potential hires, customers, and other stakeholders

  • Create additional costs, such as the labor time spent trying to rectify mistakes

  • Significantly hinder your ability to scale

Data security

Data security is a massive challenge for global companies with multiple payroll systems. To protect your team members' sensitive data, you need to have strict security protocols and procedures in place, such as encryption, access control, and malware protection.

You also need to fully comply with the requirements of different data privacy laws, such as General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in European Union countries, and the various state-level regulations across the US.

All of this requires a high level of knowledge, skill, and subject matter expertise, which many small businesses may not have.

Get your Global Payroll Guide for expert advice on outsourcing

Learn how to manage global payroll for your team and keep your company compliant with international labor laws.

Global payroll management guide.

What are the best management practices for global payroll?

With these challenges in mind, there are several best practices you can adopt to manage your global payroll efficiently and effectively.

Here are some of the key steps to follow.

Understand all differences in cross-border salaries

Cross-border salaries should be adjusted to reflect the differences between countries, such as cost of living, labor market conditions, and tax regulations. It's important to understand how these factors affect your global payroll.

For example, you may need to account for exchange rate fluctuations when assigning compensation packages to overseas employees. This could mean a significant difference compared with local wages, depending on the currency involved.

Different countries also have their own income tax rates which can affect an employee's net salary after deductions are made. Consider looking into compensation packages to offset income tax deductions in areas where legislation sets aggressive rates.

Understanding all these differences up front allows you to ensure fair and competitive salaries across borders while meeting your tax and legal obligations.

Ensure your security systems are solid

As discussed, cybersecurity should be a top priority for any organization processing sensitive data like employee salary information. To do this effectively:

  • Use strong passwords, encryption, and two-factor authentication measures when handling confidential data online

  • Adopt established security standards

  • Ensure that teams dealing with personal information receive regular training on cybersecurity protocols

  • Create comprehensive policies around access control and acceptable use of company IT equipment

Taking these steps helps to protect your business against potential threats, while also giving your employees peace of mind about their privacy.

Automate as much as possible

Automating the global payroll process allows you to streamline your operations and minimize errors. It also saves you a significant amount of time on performing administrative tasks. 

However, there are a few things to consider before you start automating. You should:

  1. Ensure that your existing HR processes are in order. Automation works best when your procedures are well-defined and standardized across different countries.

  2. Evaluate which automation software will work best for you by analyzing the cost-effectiveness, scalability, and security measures offered by vendors. If possible, test your solution with a small set of employees before rolling it out company-wide.

  3. Ensure your people are familiar with any new systems and tools used in the payroll process, so that they understand what's required from them.

How can a global payroll provider help?

Addressing all of these challenges and adopting these best practices can be a daunting process, especially if your budget and resources are spread thin. Which is why it’s highly recommended to outsource your global payroll management to a proven, reliable provider.

Generally, payroll providers can be split into two categories: wholly-owned, and aggregate.

The wholly-owned model

Wholly-owned global payroll providers are a single entity. They provide all the necessary services for managing payroll in multiple countries, from data collection right through to payment.

This model ensures a single point of contact for your business, and delivers a consistent service across all countries. It typically uses a centralized platform, making it easier for you to keep track of payments and compliance requirements in different markets. It also enables you to streamline other related processes, such as updating employee information or pay rates. 

Wholly-owned model providers also have a well-developed technology infrastructure that takes on all the technical and security-related heavy lifting.

The aggregate model

Aggregate global payroll providers use local partners to provide services in each country.

This approach allows them to leverage their partners’ expertise and resources, while still providing you with a single point of contact. Typically, these providers will have an extensive network of partners that are well-versed in the regulations and compliance requirements of their respective countries.

However, as these services are outsourced, you usually incur higher costs. Much of the work is also performed by third parties that are unknown to you.

Which model is best?

The wholly-owned model is often used by global payroll providers like Remote, as it ensures that all the work is done in-house — not outsourced to third parties. This approach is more cost-effective for clients, while still maintaining the same levels of local, in-country knowledge and expertise.

Managing global payroll with Remote

Remote is an ideal partner for managing global payroll. It provides solutions to all the challenges listed above, including:

  • Direct access to in-house, on-the-ground tax specialists in every country you hire in

  • Constant updates to payroll processes in line with legislative changes

  • One single, centralized payroll system all across the globe (with the ability to pay in multiple currencies)

  • Seamless integrations with multiple HR platforms (and API access)

  • A robust and secure infrastructure

  • Automation of administrative tasks, saving you and your team countless hours

To learn more about how your business can benefit from a dedicated global payroll solution, speak with one of our friendly experts today.

Trust G2’s multi-country payroll leader to pay your global team

Reduce costs, manage taxes, administer benefits, and stay globally compliant when you consolidate payroll with Remote.

Get started now
Remote is the G2 top-ranked multi-country payroll software

Subscribe to receive the latest
Remote blog posts and updates in your inbox.