For many people, leaving the country they were born in and making a new life is just what they need. Apart from the practical matters of career opportunities and financial growth, just a chance to put some distance between yourself and everything that’s familiar, to explore new surroundings and a new way of living, can be extremely rewarding. For many expats, home becomes the place they’re now living in, or at least home becomes two places – their country of origin and their country of residence.However, most expats tend to live in the capital cities – either the actual political capitals or else the unofficial business capitals – of the countries that they move to. This makes sense of course: the capitals are usually where you’ll find the best opportunities for work, the best infrastructure, the most multicultural populations (and therefore usually the most welcoming environments), the most options for leisure and entertainment. However, there is of course life beyond the capitals, and for those whose situations allow them the flexibility, there are some truly amazing locations to settle into and call home. Here are ten lesser known but amazing places that expats call home across the world, from China to Chile to New Zealand.
Haiyang is a coastal city in eastern China, near the cities of Qingdao, Weihai, and Yantai, which are relatively better known and also better developed in terms of tourism, infrastructure, and industry. All four cities are in the Shandong province, which has been the setting for many of the major political, cultural, and religious developments in Chinese history. (In fact, the city of Qufu, not far from Haiyang, is said to be the birthplace and hometown of Confucius.) Until relatively recently, Haiyang had absolutely no expats, but developments in the last five to seven years have brought in more and more foreigners, and there is now an expat community of over 100 people.
The city was recently the host of the 2012 Asian Beach Games, and is also the site of a new nuclear power plant that is currently under construction. This, combined with the fact that it is a tourist hub, has made the city more viable as an expat location. However, Haiyang remains (especially on the outskirts) quiet, clean, peaceful, and sparsely populated. There are of course difficulties involved with living here, in terms of access to products, services, and conveniences, as well as dealing with the locals (because of the cultural gap, not because of any lack of friendliness). However, most expats say they love living in Haiyang – it’s a rare delight to have the combination of friendly locals, quiet and beautiful Chinese countryside, national parks, relatively untouched coastline, and yet access to an expat community, beach sports, beach resorts, and sports clubs.
Yeosu, South Korea
Yeosu is a small coastal city in the south of Korea, made up of the Yeosu peninsula and numerous small islands, many of which are uninhabited. Tourism is of course an important industry here, but it isn’t big enough to be unpleasant for the residents, and the nearby Yeocheon Industrial Complex has meant more development and a greater variety of work options for both expats and locals. Nonetheless, Yeosu has a rather small expat community, and as with the rest of Korea, many of the expats are English teachers. With its beautiful beaches and resorts on one side and the mountains on the other, and with pleasant weather through the year, Yeosu offers its expats a wonderfully active, outdoorsy lifestyle in beautiful surroundings.
Qui Nhơn, Vietnam
Qui Nhơn is a quiet little town on the central part of Vietnam’s coast. Traditionally, the main industries here have been agriculture and fishing, but over the last few years, the town has gradually started to turn into a tourist and commercial hub with excellent infrastructure. In spite of this, Qui Nhơn has managed to retain its languorous pace of life and its local, traditional culture. There are few expats here, and not many of the locals speak English, which can of course make things difficult, but it’s part of the reason why Qui Nhơn is so unique and wonderful compared to, for example, living in Ho Chi Minh City. In addition, Vietnam as a whole is extremely cheap, but when you’re living in a place like Qui Nhơn, it’s even cheaper – rents are low, food and alcohol is cheap, and there aren’t too many opportunities to splurge even if you want to.
With its coconut and cashew plantations, its little white churches, its old Portuguese villas, its unique cuisine that’s a blend of Portuguese and Indian flavors, and its numerous beaches that range from the buzzing ones in the north to the sleepy, relaxed ones in the south, Goa is almost a country of its own. Most expats in India tend to live in the big metropolises, which is where you’ll find the embassies, the universities, and the industry, but also the pollution, the strained infrastructure, and the crowds. The smaller towns and the rural parts of the country, on the other hand, tend to be poorly developed, with little or no access to anything that an expat might want in terms of jobs or recreation.
Goa however manages to combine the best of both worlds – the state remains green, sleepy, and traditional, and yet incredibly cosmopolitan and modern, with people from across the world who have moved here to do a range of things from running little publishing houses and bakeries to teaching yoga and making jewelry. An important factor that enables this lifestyle is the low cost of living – almost everything in Goa, from rents to food to fuel to alcohol, is cheap. Of course, Goa isn’t perfect – there are problems with drugs, crime, and also with government regulations that many expats describe as unfair. However, for those who are cautious, do their research, and stay within the law, Goa comes close to being the expat paradise it’s supposed to be.
La Serena, Chile
Chile has been through more than its share of turmoil and suffering, but today, judging by most parameters, the country is either doing better than most of the world or is rapidly catching up with the best. The capital city, Santiago, is of course the one that draws the most expats – it’s the biggest city in Chile, and it’s also the most developed and diverse. However, there are plenty of places beyond Santiago that have a great deal to offer expats.
La Serena is one particularly lovely location – roughly six hours from Santiago by road, it is Chile’s second oldest city, and is a wonderful mix of activity and relaxation. The older part of the city is charming and full of old Spanish buildings, with churches, courthouses, post offices, and other colonial structures everywhere you go, while the newer parts have the supermarkets, the malls, and the chain stores. La Serena is a busy, buzzing tourist hub in the summer but a relatively slow, sleepy city through the rest of the year. The beaches of course are the main tourist attraction, with not much swimming but plenty of beach sports and other activities. In addition, there are also the Fiestas Patrias celebrations in September, a number of music festivals, and other recreational activities. The “summer” of course is only relative – La Serena has great weather throughout the year, and it’s never really too hot or too cold.
Ecuador’s capital city Quito is described by many expats as one of the best cities in South America, and Cuenca, another city that’s popular with expats, is similar, although on a smaller scale and with all the charms that that typically brings. However, for people who don’t need all the advantages of a big city and want to avoid all its disadvantages, the relatively unknown town of Loja is probably the best place to be. In terms of natural beauty, of both the town itself and its surroundings, there are few places in Ecuador to beat it – quite certainly none with the kind of connectivity, infrastructure, and culture that Loja has.
Sometimes called the cultural capital of Ecuador, Loja is at the bottom of the Cuxibamba valley, but still high above sea level. The town has great weather, wonderfully friendly locals, and few expats. It also retains a lot of its traditional character, including the charming town squares and the regular musical performances that are usually of a remarkable caliber.
San Juan del Obispo, Guatemala
Guatemala offers a great quality of life at a fraction of what it would cost most expats in their home countries; a combination of a relatively slow-paced life with modern infrastructure and benefits, without needing to disconnect from the world. For those who do want to disconnect a bit, San Juan del Obispo is an incredible, unbeatable location. The dreamy little village on the slopes of Volcan Agua has an amazing view of the valley, fantastic weather, charming little cobbled streets and a gorgeous old church, acres of nispero orchards, and a warm and accepting local community that includes a few expats. And what’s more, all of this is only a few miles away from the city of Antigua.
Although it’s the fourth largest city in Spain, Seville remains in many ways a small, charming, old city, with romance and history everywhere you go. Rents are low, especially on the outskirts, which are particularly pretty. Even if you live outside of the city centre, it’s quick and easy to get almost anywhere. Between the numerous buses, trains, and walking options (Seville is incredibly pedestrian-friendly, especially the city centre), it’s usually possible to reach any point in the city in a maximum of 30 minutes. Life moves slowly here, with time to soak in the city and everything it has to offer – and in terms of food, culture, and history, Seville has loads to offer. The city is also safe, healthcare and education are very affordable, and of course you get to enjoy the good old Spanish lifestyle: long lunches, frequent holidays, and a whole month of vacation every year.
It is generally acknowledged that making friends with locals in Sweden can be a bit difficult. It’s not that the Swedes are unwelcoming, but they’re certainly reticent and take a long time to thaw. In the smaller cities and towns, breaking into the local community can be even more difficult for outsiders. But for expats who are themselves introverts, a town like Gävle can be a great choice, especially if you love solitude, unspoiled nature, and cold weather. The most exciting thing in Gävle is probably the Gävle Goat, a giant Christmas display made of straw, which has been repeatedly burnt down by vandals. But of course expats living here aren’t really looking for excitement – what Gävle does have to offer is stunning natural beauty, beautiful old buildings and streets, and a surprisingly vibrant cultural life for such a quiet little town. And if ever you do get lonely, just pop down to the Bishop’s Arms, especially on a Friday, when the English Speaking Society meets there.
Martinborough, New Zealand
The two things that New Zealand is probably most famous for are its spectacular landscape and its stellar, world-class wines. People living in Martinborough get to enjoy both, along with some great colonial architecture and New Zealand’s wonderful weather. There aren’t too many expats in Martinborough – in fact, there aren’t too many people here at all. The little town is even more sparsely populated than New Zealand otherwise tends to be, with only a handful of shops and cafes. However, the people are welcoming and friendly, and there’s a strong sense of community here. In terms of wine, Martinborough is among the smaller wine-producing regions, and most of the wineries here are small, family-owned ones that focus on quality. Much of the local commercial activity of course revolves around the wineries – there are several hotels, B&Bs, and winery tours here, and there are restaurants at many of the wineries. Remarkably (and fortunately, for those who need to commute to work), this peaceful little bit of wine country is roughly only an hour away from the nearby cities of Wellington and Masterton.
Where are your favourite places to live that are outside of the capital cities and overly populated areas? Let us know in the comments!
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