Home » How To Live A Sustainable Life As An Expat

How To Live A Sustainable Life As An Expat

The Covid-19 pandemic has made a number of people think more closely about the lifestyle – healthy or not – that they have been living in recent years. With the rise of issues surrounding the environment, we’re going to take a look at sustainable living for expats: how to live your best sustainable life when you’re in your host country.

What does ‘sustainable’ actually mean? The dictionary defines the word as meaning ‘able to be maintained at a certain rate or level’ and ‘able to be upheld or defended.’ Thus, environmental sustainability is the task of conserving natural resources and protecting global ecosystems in order to support health and wellbeing, now and for future generations. On a personal level, it means incorporating green routines into your daily life: asking questions about the food you eat and where it comes from, how much you recycle and how you go about it, your choice of location and type of home, and your support for local environmental initiatives.


Choosing your location

Obviously, your selected location may be dependent on your employment, but if you are, for instance, a digital nomad, there are a number of choices that you can make to optimise a sustainable lifestyle. There are many resources you can use to help you select a country that scores highly in the sustainability stakes (take a look at our article, ‘The Best Destinations In The World For Sustainable Expat Living’ for some tips) and build your base from there.

Overall, large, crowded cities, such as Hong Kong, are likely to prove more of a challenge when it comes to sustainable living, as air quality, sanitation and waste management can prove problematic. However, this does not mean that you must move to a cabin in the middle of a forest. Cities such as Berlin and London have made great strides towards cleaning up emissions in recent years, and it’s quite possible to live a sustainable life in an urban environment.


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The kind of home you move into will form a large part of your sustainability plan. This will vary greatly depending on where you are based – older homes in damp, cold climates are likely to prove more difficult to insulate, for example. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the creators of the LEED green building rating system, have featured mainland China high in their ‘green homes’ ranking in recent years. Canada, India, Brazil and South Korea also rate highly, although the America-based LEED does not feature the USA itself, which has the highest demand for green homes of anywhere in the world.

Check out eco homes in your new location, if you are in a position to do so, or take a look at the sustainability of your chosen accommodation. For instance, how energy efficient is it?



Cars are linked to high levels of pollution and emissions, hence the move towards electric vehicles. You might like to assess your location in relation to what public transport is available, and what your access to sustainable alternatives, such as cycling and walking, is like. Some cities are very positive in this regard, but some are not. Orlando in Florida has been deemed the most dangerous city in America for walkers, for the second year in a row.


Air quality

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 92% of the global population is breathing poor quality air. If you are a UK citizen, you will have noticed an increasing number of British cities imposing emission charges on vehicles. The UK sits at 15 in the world air quality rankings, so it is actually much better in this respect than many places. The World Air Quality Report by IQAir annually ranks 106 countries in terms of their air quality, concentrating on PM2.5 concentrations (the pollutant regarded as most harmful to human health).

Their most recent ranking places Puerto Rico at the top – a popular expat destination. Pakistan, India, Mongolia and Afghanistan score low on their charts. If you are looking at an urban move, check out local air quality meters – you can usually find daily reports online. With the exception of Hotan in China, the top ten cities with the worst air quality in the world are all in India. Delhi is the world’s most polluted capital.



You may also want to assess your destination on the basis of its recycling and energy policies. For instance, how are local homes heated? Does the local economy use sustainable alternatives, such as wind, water or biogas, to provide local energy? What percentage of discarded material is recycled? How much local domestic waste goes into landfill? Will you have weekly collections for domestic recycling?


Availability of green goods and services

These include renewable energy, sustainable products, and organic food. Sweden scores highly in this regard, with a wide range of energy saving measures and green energy resources. Bottom of the list is India; its renewable energy output is significantly lower than the global average. Expats report that rubbish in the streets is an issue impacting quality of life there (however, India accepts a high volume of plastic waste from Western countries, so there is an argument that the country is suffering from our out-sourcing). The UAE is ranked highly by expats, despite being over 99% dependent on fossil fuels – cost rather than environmental impact might have resulted in this approval rating.

Expats are already buying greener products, such as organic food, and this trend is likely to continue.


Political support

Check out a destination’s official policies on the environment via government websites. Do they adhere to their principles, or are these being undermined by corruption or other factors? Taiwan, New Zealand and Costa Rica score well in this regard: over 80% of expats believe that Taiwan follows its own sustainable guidelines.

If you are seeking a sustainable lifestyle as an expat, it is worth researching the most recent surveys relating to the factors outlined above. To what extent each factor impacts your decision making will depend on your priorities. For example, if you are asthmatic, air quality will be important to you. Meanwhile, if your focus is on renewable energy, you may wish to move to a location where sustainable energy sources have been given traction by local authorities.

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