What’s the difference between an expat and a migrant? It’s not a bad joke, but an example of how slippery language can be. The official definition of expat (short for ‘expatriate’) is simply someone who lives outside their native country – but the word carries undeniable connotations of a privileged professional person. ‘Migrant’, in contrast, is often used disparagingly to refer to people from poorer and non-white majority countries, who move to wealthier nations in search of work and a better life.
But whether you’d describe yourself as an expat, a migrant, an emigrant or something else entirely, most of us have dreamed about living and working abroad at some point. Moving to a new country without having to jump off the career ladder is an enticing idea, but it’s also daunting. How easy will you find it to settle in? Will your career prospects be better or worse than in the UK? And what kind of quality of life will you enjoy?
These were some of the questions posed in a new survey by InterNations, a company that connects people living and working abroad around the world. Around 13,000 expats – representing 166 nationalities and living in 188 countries – scored their adopted country on topics ranging from quality of life to personal finances and ease of settling in. Their answers were then used to compile rankings of 65 expat destinations around the world.
InterNations found that Brits were the second most common nationality (after US Americans) to move abroad, and that expats from the UK generally leave these shores in search of better weather and a better quality of life. And not everyone becomes an expat because of their jobs: some 12% of respondents said that they had moved abroad for love.
The survey’s findings give a fascinating insight into which countries offer a positive experience for foreign newcomers – hint, the number one spot is not in Scandinavia – so if you’ve been considering a move abroad, you might want to read on.
Spain was the most popular destination for British expats out of 65 countries. Newcomers from all countries reported very high levels of personal happiness in España: about 90% of émigrés reported being satisfied with life in general.
Spain also scored well on making newcomers feel welcome, with more than eight in 10 surveyed immigrants to the country saying that they were generally happy with their social lives.
Like Spain, Singapore scored highly for quality of life. New arrivals said that they were particularly satisfied with transport, travel and leisure opportunities in the south-east Asian country. “I think one of the best things about Singapore is its location and [the] ease to travel to many countries,” said one Indian respondent in Singapore.
Expats also felt extremely safe in Singapore, with the small nation coming fourth for perceived political stability.
Immigrants in Colombia are a cheerful bunch, and generally find it easy to settle down. The country came fifth in the ‘personal happiness index’, and most expats reported making predominantly local friends – a sign of Colombia’s open, welcoming culture.
However, security concerns may present a potential downside. Of 56 nations, Colombia came second to last for feeling safe, only just beating the Philippines to the bottom spot.
Expats in Malta describe a traditional culture with welcoming and passionate people and good job security. New arrivals acclimatise quickly; the small Mediterranean island was voted the fifth-easiest country to make new friends as a foreigner, and the world’s second-easiest country to settle down in.
6) New Zealand
New Zealand is a popular destination for English-speaking expats, and was deemed the 10th easiest place to settle down in. Immigrants here also reported feeling extremely positive about their career prospects, possibly because NZ offers a shorter working week and a healthy work-life balance.
The gorgeous landscape is also a huge benefit: 90% of surveyed immigrants in New Zealand feel positively about the quality of their new environment. However, the country scores poorly on travel and transport – probably because of all that beautiful wilderness.
Sunny, laid-back Portugal was one of the biggest winners in the 2017 InterNations survey, ranked number one out of 65 countries for quality of life and fifth across all categories.
Almost nine out of 10 immigrants in Portugal surveyed said that they were generally happy with their life there. A similar proportion said that they had found it easy to settle in, and the southern European nation also scored highly for personal safety.
“I appreciate the kind people, nice weather and food, as well as all the beautiful places to visit,” said one survey participant living in Portugal.
Taiwan came second to Portugal in the overall quality of life rankings, but clinched the number one spot for health and wellbeing. An overwhelming majority of respondents said that they were completely satisfied with the quality and affordability of the Taiwanese healthcare system.
Expats in Taiwan also emphasized the “convenience”, “efficiency” and “easy transportation” of life there, with a whopping 95% saying that they found the country peaceful and safe.
Warm, generous-hearted Mexico is an easy place to settle down as a foreigner and offers good value for money, according to the InterNations report. It also clinched the number one spot for personal happiness. As one Filipino resident in Mexico explained, “The climate is almost perfect, the people are friendly, and the food is to die for.”
One potential drawback is the safety element: Mexico came 48th out of 65 in the safety and security category. However, it was also voted the friendliest country in the world: over half of respondents said that their new Mexican neighbours were welcoming.
2) Costa Rica
Dubbed a “tropical paradise”, Costa Rica makes it into the top 10 for three out of five of the major categories: ease of settling in, family life and quality of life. Like its Central American neighbour, Mexico, Costa Rica gives newcomers a warm welcome and the chance to make good friends.
“Costa Rica offers the freedom to live a peaceful, happy life, surrounded by peaceful, kind and happy people,” said one participant in the study.
If you don’t speak Spanish, the language barrier may pose a problem: more than half of expats in Costa Rica say that it’s not easy to get by without knowing the local language. However, a similar proportion of people say that Spanish isn’t hard to learn, so you should pick it up just fine.
Coming in at number one for expat experience is Bahrain, a small nation made up of more than 30 islands in the Arabian Gulf. Survey participants in Bahrain were extremely happy in their careers, with more than 40% saying that they were earning more than they would back home.
Immigrants in the Middle Eastern state also report feeling at home quickly, perhaps because it’s easy to get by without learning the local language.
“Bahrainis are very friendly and welcoming,” explains one respondent who moved to Bahrain from Kyrgyzstan. “Everyone speaks English.”
Images: Lili Popper / iStock