For many expats, the country that they live in isn’t exactly one they picked off a map – they were simply brought there by circumstances. Living and working in a new country is often the result of a job posting from within the organization you already work for, or else it’s a new job that you’ve chosen to take due to a lack of satisfying career opportunities in your line of work back home.However, there are also many expats who are fortunate enough to be able to choose exactly where in the world they want to live, based on whichever factors they decide are important to them. Some of these people are in careers that offer a wide range of opportunities around the world; others have the financial power to make such choices; and still others have the flexibility in their careers and lives to simply pick a place and then make it work.
If you’re one of these lucky people, then below are some of the countries you should be considering for 2016. Based on multiple parameters that expats commonly consider, and based on actual expat opinions and research in the past year, these are the best countries to live in. Even if you don’t really have complete freedom to choose where in the world you want to live next year, having this information will hopefully help you to decide whether an offer that comes your way is worth considering. If it’s an opportunity to live in one of these five countries, the answer is probably yes.
According to HSBC’s Expat Explorer 2015 report, Singapore is the best place in the world to be an expat, based on the opinions of 22,000 people they surveyed. The country is a major financial hub in Asia, and career prospects for expats are excellent here, especially for people in banking, insurance, and financial services. Rents are high in Singapore, and so is the cost of living in general, but salaries too are well above average, allowing for a good quality of life as well as well as a decent amount of savings.
Beyond the economic aspects, Singapore is easy to live in as an expat: the systems generally work well, the infrastructure is good, and most expats say that basics like setting up bank accounts, healthcare, and so on are very easily manageable here. Singapore is also incredibly safe, which is always an important factor to consider. Crime is low, and there is no real political or other turmoil to speak of. For expats with children, these are particularly important considerations, as is the quality and accessibility of education, both of which are great in Singapore.
There are also factors such as the climate, culture, and entertainment and leisure, which, although they aren’t critical considerations, definitely affect the quality of life. While many consider the climate in Singapore to be hot and monotonous, expats who come from cold climates are often happy with the opportunity to experience a year-long summer here. Culturally, Singapore is exceptionally diverse and globalised, and English is widely spoken, all of which makes it easy for expats to settle in. It is possible to meet an incredible variety of people, and expat children have an extremely wide and varied circle of friends too. However, in spite of the country being extremely modern and globalised, there is also plenty of opportunity to soak in the local culture. And lastly, there are endless opportunities for recreation, from eating out to theatre, and from museums to cycling clubs.
New Zealand places second as one of the best places to be an expat according to HSBC’s report, and like Singapore, it too scores well on almost all parameters. In fact, in terms of the overall experience of being an expat, New Zealand tops the list.
Economically, the country is stable and well developed, and although salaries aren’t particularly high, the cost of living isn’t high either. New Zealand also has a severe shortage of skilled workers in many areas, and for people who have these skills, there are abundant career opportunities here, many of which are very well paid.
New Zealand has great infrastructure too, and most expats find it easy to settle into the country, in terms of both practical needs like bank accounts and telephone connections, as well as being welcomed by and adapting to Kiwi culture. English is widely spoken all across New Zealand, even more than in Singapore, and for many expats, this makes settling in even easier than it would otherwise be.
The country is extremely safe, which makes it very attractive to expats with families, who also appreciate the high quality of education and healthcare here. They also find the culture welcoming and laid-back, with a lot of emphasis on family life, and a great work-life balance. Another important feature of New Zealand is its great natural beauty, which, when combined with its very outdoorsy culture, makes for a very active, healthy lifestyle. Although New Zealand gets its fair share of rain, there’s also a great deal of sunny weather, and in general, the climate is rather mild.
The focus on family in Sweden is the number one reason why most expats rate the country so highly as a place to live. From government policies such as the 480 days of parental leave to the widely available childcare services across the country; from the high quality, affordable, state-run education system to opportunities for children to live an active lifestyle in touch with the natural world around them, Sweden is a great place for families. The work culture too allows people to have an active, involved family life, with limited working hours, the opportunity to work from home, and great flexibility in general.
Like all the other countries on this list, Sweden is also extremely safe, and contrary to the perception that outsiders tend to have due to its location in the northern latitudes, the country mostly has a mild, temperate climate, although it does see some extremes.
In terms of finances too, Sweden is among the best countries in the world for expats. It has a stable, advanced, healthy economy, and offers plenty of job opportunities, high wages, and job security. Though taxes are high and the cost of living isn’t low, the country also has an excellent social welfare system that provides high quality education, healthcare, and a range of other services at very moderate prices or for free. Culturally too, Sweden is exceptionally vibrant, and is also famous for being an extremely liberal, progressive, and inclusive country.
The one problem that expats have is forming a social network in Sweden – as a people, the Swedes tend to be rather reticent, and expats can find it difficult to make friends with locals. The language barrier too makes things a bit difficult – English is quite widely spoken, but it is important to learn Swedish. Nonetheless, expats do manage to settle in very well, and over time, most of them do make friends with a few locals.
The inclusion of Bahrain here is probably surprising to many people – after all, it isn’t one of the better known locations in the Middle East or the Gulf, and due to a variety of cultural and political factors, the Middle Eastern and Gulf states aren’t usually considered to be the best expat locations. There are, without a doubt, many popular expat locations in the region, but it is usually acknowledged that some compromises must be made when living here.
However, HSBC’s Expat Explorer 2015 report places Bahrain fourth in the overall rankings, based on the opinions of the expats polled. Looking a little closer, there is no single parameter on which Bahrain beats the other popular expat locations, but overall, it’s still near the top and there is much to recommend the country.
Financially, of course, Bahrain offers great stability as well as simplicity: expats find the tax system and the financial system in general very easy to navigate. Wages are high, and although rents too can be high, the cost of living in general is moderate, and it is possible to maintain a good quality of life while also saving.
Although there are strong conservative elements in society, and it is necessary to respect local customs when it comes to things like alcohol, dressing, and behavior in public, Bahrain is in general fairly liberal, and most expats find that they are able to settle in and feel at home very easily and quickly. This is partly because there are so many expats here from all over the world, but the locals too are mostly very friendly and welcoming. In terms of leisure and entertainment, the options are somewhat restricted by the local culture as well as the climate, but there is still no shortage of things to do.
In terms of careers, Germany probably tops the list of expat locations. The country has a strong, stable, modern economy, and offers both job stability and career advancement, with high wages. What is particularly great about all this is the fact that it rarely interferes with your ability to have a fulfilling personal and family life. Most expats in Germany say they have a great work-life balance, and don’t need to compromise on either family life or career.
One of the biggest developments in Germany in recent years was the announcement in 2014 that all education, right up to university level, would be free. There are nominal administrative charges that need to be paid, and selection criteria are often quite strict, but the educational opportunities that this opens for expats in Germany are immense. The one potential barrier for foreign students is the need to know German, but since expats in Germany ideally need to learn German anyway, this isn’t really an additional hurdle.
In spite of the need to learn the language, most expats have no real trouble settling into Germany. For the most part, the country is welcoming and accepting of diverse cultures, and expats find it easy to adjust to the local customs and systems. The winters can be somewhat daunting, but in general, Germany offers a great quality of life, with excellent infrastructure and social services, including transport and healthcare. The country also has a great deal to offer in terms of entertainment and cultural experiences, whether it be food, drink, music, theatre, travel, or sports.
It is of course important to consider the specifics of your situation, do your own research, and find out which country works for you. The fact that Singapore is at the top of the list doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the best place in the world for everyone. Other great expat locations include Canada, Australia, Taiwan, the UAE, and Switzerland.
For some people, the most suitable expat location may not even be on this list. It is also important to consider factors such as your spouse’s life in your new location. Expat spouses are among the least satisfied expats around, along with expats who move for family reasons. Many of them give up their careers, and apart from the inherent difficulty in doing this, the lack of a career in a new country also limits their opportunities to interact with people and make new friends. To the extent that you have a choice, it is important to choose a country that allows all the people involved to have the best possible expat experience.
Where have you moved as an expat? Which was your favourite country? Let us know in the comments!