Working outside of your comfort zone can be a challenge. Relocating to a new country for work can be taxing. Life as an expat typically means working in a different environment, with new colleagues, settling into a new area and making a new city home, and needing to establish a new social life. The insights from the latest InterNations expatriate survey can make it easier to decide which destination will be best for a global job assignment.
The 2019 edition of the Expat Insider survey, which has now been published for the sixth time, is one of the most comprehensive studies on life abroad. More than 20,000 expatriates from across the globe participated in the study. These nonnatives represent 182 nationalities who are currently living in 187 countries or territories. The analysis of their responses provides great insights for global mobility managers and expatriates alike. (Find last year’s results here.)
The Factors Determining Country Rankings
Top or Flop?
From the survey responses InterNations created a ranking that lists the most and least attractive countries for life abroad, focusing on critical features like ease of settling in, family life, quality of life, working abroad, career opportunities, personal finance, gender equality, digital life, and cost of living.
Survey respondents rank Taiwan, Vietnam, Portugal, Mexico, and Spain as the five best destinations for expatriates in 2018.
🇹🇼 Taiwan moved up from second place in 2018 (4th in 2017; 1st in 2016). The island nation in the Chinese Sea stands out for its great quality of life (3rd place). Taiwan is rated best in the world for the affordability of healthcare, with 89% of respondents satisfied with this factor (vs. 55% globally). Expats in Taiwan are also happy with the quality of medical care (92% vs. 65% globally) and their personal safety (96% vs. 81% globally). In addition to that, 78% agree that it easy to settle in there.
🇻🇳 After ranking only 14th in 2018, Vietnam was now voted the 2nd-best country for expats. Assignees there are specifically happy with their career prospects (68% satisfied vs. 55% globally) and their jobs in general (74% satisfied vs. 64% globally). Vietnam doesn’t only rank highest in working abroad, it is also the best destination for personal finance (1st out of 64): 81% of expats are happy with their financial situation (vs. 64% worldwide), and 75% say their disposable household income is more than they need to cover daily costs (vs. 49% globally). This might be partially because living in Vietnam is also considered affordable: 86% of expats rate the cost of living positively (vs. 47% globally).
🇵🇹 Portugal offers an excellent quality of life (1st worldwide) and a “relaxed lifestyle.” It is one of the world’s best countries for leisure options (2nd): more than four in five expats are happy with the social activities available to them (vs. 65% globally), and almost every expat (95%) rates the climate and weather positively (vs. 61% globally). Moreover, Portugal ranks among the top 5 expat destinations where it is easy to settle in for the third year in a row (4th in 2019). It may help that 91% of expats find the Portuguese generally friendly (vs. 68% globally).
🇲🇽 Mexico defends its 4th spot in the survey and it is the world’s easiest country to settle in as an expat, and more than four in five expats feel at home in the local culture (vs. 60% globally). Not only do expats consider Mexicans to be very friendly (92% vs. 68% globally), they also find it easy to make friends with them (80% vs. 42% globally). Mexico also ranks first in the world for socializing and leisure activities (84% positive ratings vs. 65% globally).
🇪🇸 Spain secures its top spot for being among the best countries for quality of life (2nd out of 64). Two of Spain’s best features are its climate and weather as well as the availability of leisure options (1st and 2nd, respectively). Spain also performs well when it comes to health and wellbeing (3rd): more than four in five respondents find healthcare in Spain affordable (vs. 55% globally), and 86% are satisfied with the quality of medical care (vs. 65% globally). Living in Spain generally seems to come with “affordable costs,” with the country ranking ninth in the Cost of Living Index. Spain is also a great destination for families with children, ranking 5th out of 36 destinations in the Family Life Index.
Once again, none of the G7 countries made it into the Top 15 of the survey. The highest ranking of the seven most advanced economies is Canada at position 20. Within the G20 group of nations Mexico again achieved the highest scores and ranks in 4th place.
Various Motivations for Becoming an Expat
Who Are the People That Become Expats?
Leading Economies Fail to Make the Recommended List
When asked how likely it is that they would recommend expat life in their host country to a friend or coworker, most of the world’s largest economies find themselves in the bottom half of the list. Like negative Yelp reviews, countries like India, China, the United States, the UK, Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Russia, or Brazil have left – one way or another – a bad taste for the professionals assigned there.
This is particularly relevant for many of our clients who have talent on assignment is many of these destinations. So what are issues that make some of the leading economies unattractive for a lot of expats?
🇺🇸 Getting used to the local culture and career opportunities are no issues for expats in the United States, but the high healthcare costs remain a big concern.
- The USA rank among the global top 10 in the Digital Life subcategory
- 73% think that the U.S. population is generally friendly
- Expats are dissatisfied with the high cost of living
- Only 14% of expat parents are happy with the cost of childcare
- 19% of expats are unhappier after moving abroad (vs. 16% globally)
🇩🇪 While Germany ranks 4th worldwide for working abroad, expats struggle to settle in Deutschland, with the language barrier and socializing difficulties named as main concerns.
- Germany moves up four places to rank 3rd out of 64 for job security
- Close to nine in ten expats are satisfied with the transportation infrastructure
- In the Digital Life subcategory survey respondents classify Germany as a developing nation (55th)
- Germany ranks in the bottom 10 for ease of settling in for the third year in a row
- 64% of expats were concerned about the language barrier before moving to Germany
- Only Austria and Switzerland have an even unfriendlier attitude towards families with children
- 59% say moving abroad has made them happier (vs. 61% globally)
🇦🇹 Expats in Austria enjoy a healthy life with great opportunities to travel, however, finding friends or even love can be a struggle.
- In the overall ranking, Austria drops from 24th in 2018 to 37th in 2019
- It’s the 2nd-best country for health and well-being
- Austria is 3rd from the bottom in the Ease of Settling In Index
- 41% of single expats in Austria find it very difficult to date in the country
- 20% of respondents are unhappier after moving abroad (vs. 16% globally)
🇧🇷 Brazil offers poor results across the board, ranking in the bottom 10 for three out of the five indices, and safety and security remains a huge problem for expats.
- Friendly locals are not enough to boost Brazil past the halfway mark: it ranks 37th out of 64 countries for ease of settling in
- Brazil offers little in the way of a good family life
- Expensive healthcare and poor safety provisions leave quality of life lacking
- A substandard economy can leave expats struggling to afford the cost of living
- 19% are unhappier after moving abroad (vs. 16% globally)
🇴🇲🇸🇦🇶🇦🇰🇼🇦🇪🇧🇭 2019 brings a mixed bag of results for the Gulf States: Bahrain (7th) loses its top spot, while Qatar climbs an impressive 20 places to 18th. Kuwait ranks last for the fifth time.
- 50% of expats in Qatar consider the state of the economy excellent
- Oman is the number one worldwide for safety and security
- The UAE, Oman, and Kuwait all rank in the bottom 5 for job security
- Bahrain has fallen 17 places to 18th in the Working Abroad Index
- 82% of expats in Bahrain say it is easy to settle down in this country
🇬🇧 With Brexit looming, expat life is not all sunshine and rainbows in the United Kingdom, which lands among the bottom 10 for the second year running.
- 56% were concerned about the high cost of living even before moving
- Childcare is neither affordable nor easily available according to expat parents in the UK
- 42% of expats rate the current political climate negatively
- The UK has seen a drop with regard to economy and job security
- 21% are unhappier after moving abroad (vs. 16% globally)
🇨🇭 Switzerland is particularly safe for expats, as well as being politically and economically stable, but high prices and unfriendly locals are seen as problems.
- Expats rate Switzerland the second-most politically stable country in the world
- 96% of expats feel personally safe in Switzerland
- Switzerland ranks 62nd out of 64 in the Cost of Living Index
- 68% of expats have a gross yearly income above US$75,000
- 19% are unhappier after moving abroad (vs. 16% globally)
🇨🇳 Pollution, media censorship, and language difficulties negatively affect expat life in China. But the country offers good finances and a serviceable transportation infrastructure. China ranks among the bottom 10 countries for family life, quality of life, and ease of settling. However, expats are satisfied with their personal finance and the cost of living.
Before the Move: The Biggest Concerns for Expats
What have your experiences been and which of these challenges are most relevant to you? Let us know in the comments below.
➡️ Read more about expat best practices, cultural adjustment, and destination support on our blog:
- A Look at Global Employee Relocation in 2019
- Money, Time, Manpower – Stinginess With a Tiny Slice May Cost You the Entire Expat Pie
- The Main Ingredient for a Successful Foreign Work Assignment
- The Table of Elements for Global Business Readiness
- Culture is not shocking – unless you want it to be
- The Secret to Managing Expat Assignments for Modern Families? Start with the Spouse
- The 7 Questions You Want to Ask a Cultural Training Firm
- Has Expatriate Coaching Had Its Day?
You can download the complete report of the 2019 survey on the InterNations website.
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