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Bahrain | © Nawalescape / Pixabay

The 21 Best And Worst Countries in The World for Expats

Picture of Mark Nayler
Mark Nayler
Updated: 3 October 2017

Every year since 2014, InterNations has been taking an in-depth look at expat living all over the world. This year, over 12,500 respondents of 166 different nationalities, living in 188 countries, participated in the Expat Insider survey. They rated their adopted homes across 40 different factors, from ease of settling in to quality of life,  and the results are intriguing. Read on for the 10 best and worst expat destinations in 2017. 

2017’s Biggest Winner: Malaysia

2017’s most-improved destination is Malaysia, which rocketed from 38th place in 2016 to 15th in this year’s Expat Insider survey. This is in large part due to the increased ease with which expats are settling in the southeast Asian country, with an impressive 78% saying they didn’t find it difficult to adjust to the lifestyle, up from 69% last year. Of all the respondents, 71% said that, generally speaking, they felt home in Malaysia. The country also moved up from from 25th to 15th place in the Personal Finance Index.

The Top 10

1. Bahrain

Jumping from  from 19th place in 2016, Bahrain takes the top spot as the most popular destination worldwide for expats this year, mainly because it tops Expat Insider’s Ease of Settling In Index. Indeed, 25% of respondents said that they felt at home almost immediately after arriving. The small Arab monarchy also ranked third on the Working Abroad Index and second in the Job & Career and Work/Life Balance subcategories.

2. Costa Rica

According to respondents, Costa Rica is the friendliest expat destination in the world. The laid-back, tropical South American country occupies the number one spot in the Finding Friends league (a subcategory of the Ease of Settling In Index), with 19% saying their social circle is made up entirely of locals. Costa Rica was also number five in the Feeling Welcome and Friendliness subcategories, and 48% of respondents say they will probably never leave.

3. Mexico

Always a top-five destination in the Expat Insider survey, Mexico drops down two places this year to the number three spot. Nevertheless, those who move here are among the most content expats in the world, as the country ranks first in the Personal Happiness subcategory. It comes second in the Ease of Settling In Index, and is in the top five of the Feeling Welcome, Finding Friends and Friendliness subcategories.

4. Taiwan

Taiwan owes its global fourth place ranking to a strong performance in Expat Insider’s Quality of Life Index, taking second place overall (after Portugal) and the number one spot in the Health & Well-Being subcategory. Eighty-seven percent of respondents said that they couldn’t be happier with the cost of healthcare in the east Asian state. Taiwan also was also highly rated (sixth place overall) for its public transportation systems, and feedback about its leisure options was 83% positive.

5. Portugal

Portugal was one of the 2017 Expat Insider’s biggest overall winners, jumping 23 places from 28th last year. In the Quality of Life Index, it takes the number one spot (climbing from 14th in 2016), with its expats singling out the climate as the country’s main draw; indeed, not one respondent said anything negative about the weather in Portugal. It also performed well in the Personal Happiness and Leisure Options subcategories, coming in third and second places respectively.

Portugal’s climate is the reason most expats move there; ddzphoto/pixabay

6. New Zealand

New Zealand comes 10th in the Ease of Settling In Index, with four-fifths of expats who have chosen to live there saying they found it easy to adjust to the lifestyle. Over half of respondents said that the locals’ friendliness couldn’t be improved upon. As one respondent put it, “Everyone is really friendly and the culture is very chilled out.” Preventing this popular country from having a better global ranking is the cost of living, with over 30% of expats saying that their disposable income doesn’t cover daily living costs.

7. Malta

Malta takes seventh place in the rankings this year, despite having fallen from sixth to 19th place in the Quality of Life Index. Nevertheless, expats who have chosen the Mediterranean island country as their adopted home report it to be exceptionally friendly: the country comes in fourth place in the Feeling Welcome and fifth in the Finding Friends subcategory. Overall in the Ease of Settling In Index it takes 11th place in 2017.

8. Colombia

Colombia is another of Expat Insider’s most improved countries this year, moving up 17 places to take the number two position in the Personal Finance and Cost of Living Indices. Eighty per cent of expats choosing to live in the South American country are satisfied with their financial situations, while 86% say that their disposable income is sufficient or more than sufficient for daily living costs. Forty-three per cent of respondents said that life in Colombia is very affordable.

9. Singapore

For more industrious expats, Singapore is one of the best countries in the world: around two-thirds of respondents said that they enjoyed job satisfaction here. In contrast to the more laid-back destinations in the survey, though, Singapore is a tough place in which to relax, wth 29% of expats saying they’re not happy with their work–life balance. There is a pay-off, though: 43% of expats have a gross annual income of over $100,000.

10. Spain

Expat Insider’s findings confirm what many young Spaniards say about their country, namely, that it offers a wonderful lifestyle, but is not a good place in which to work. Twenty-six per cent cited quality of life as the reason for moving, and 90% said they were completely content with their life in Spain, securing the country third place in the Quality of Life Index. By contrast, Spain comes 52nd out of 65 in the Working Abroad Index.

The Bottom 10

56. Turkey

Turkey is not the easiest of places to adjust to, a fact in large part due to language difficulties: the country came 50th out of 65 in the relevant subcategory in the Ease of Settling In Index. Interestingly, religion also plays a role in making its expats feel uncomfortable, with 24% of respondents saying that religious differences have made them feel unwelcome either sometimes (9%) or rarely (15%).

57. India

Though rating very highly in the Personal Finance and Cost of Living Indices, India came 61st out of 65 countries this year for the quality of life it offers expats. In particular, respondents cited problems with Travel & Transport and Safety & Security, in which subcategories the country came 63rd and 57th respectively. India also performed poorly in the Family Life Index – 39th out of 45 – and 52% of female expats said that sometimes their gender made them feel unwelcome.

58. Qatar

Despites its practically non-existent personal taxation rates – said by expats to be among their top three reasons for moving there – the Gulf state of Qatar is an expensive place to live, with 67% of respondents giving house and rental prices a negative rating. Childcare options didn’t fare particularly well either, with just 43% of expats responding positively when asked about their availability in Qatar.

59. Ukraine

Ukraine’s lowly position in the overall rankings in 2017 is owed to its demotion in the Ease of Settling in Index, in which it dropped from 24th place in 2016 to 46th place this year. It only made 44th place in the Friendliness subcategory and 30th place in Finding Friends – in the latter of which it dropped a whopping 25 places from the 5th spot in 2016.  One British resident said, “Making friends [in Ukraine] really takes time”.

60. Italy

As you might expect from a country perceived as romantically as Italy, love brings many expats here, with 17% of respondents saying that they relocated in order to join an Italian partner. Yet the absurdly complicated bureaucracy – in particular taxation systems – and poor job prospects drag the country down overall: more than half of the expats living in Italy (51%) said they felt negatively about their career prospects, while 38% rated their job security very poorly.

61. Saudi Arabia

Saudia Arabia emerges as one of the world’s most difficult countries in which to settle for expats, with 38% saying they don’t feel at home there and 16% adding that they never will. This is balanced by the financial advantages offered by the Persian Gulf states’ almost non-existent tax rates, with 22% of respondents in Saudi Arabia saying that they have a lot more money than they need to cover daily expenses.

62. Brazil

Brazil emerges from this survey as one of the most expat-friendly countries in the world, with 86% of respondents saying the locals are very friendly and 53% that their friends are native Brazilians. The country’s problems, however, stem from economic depression, political corruption and lack of safety, in all of which it was poorly rated. As a result, good jobs are in short supply, with 32% saying they are unhappy with their career prospects.

63. Nigeria

Although Nigeria moved to 12th place in the Personal Finance Index from 32nd place last year – 31% of expats now give their financial situation the highest score – it suffered again in the Quality of Life ratings. It came last in the associated Index and last in three of its five subcategories: Travel & Transport, Health & Well-Being and Safety and Security.

64. Kuwait

In 2017, Kuwait moved up from 65th to 64th in the overall rankings, a slight promotion owing to its improving by at least one place in every index and by 15 places in the Working Abroad Index. Nevertheless, expats living in the western Asian state report a low quality of life: it came 63rd out of 65 in the associated Index and last in the subcategories of Leisure and Personal Happiness.

65. Greece

Financial insecurity and pratically zero job and career opportunities make Greece the worst place in the world for expat living. Out of 65 countries, it comes last in the Job & Career and Job Security Indices, while 50% of respondents said their income was not sufficient to cover daily expenses and 27% said they didn’t earn even nearly enough to make ends meet. One respondent mentioned that there was a general feeling of insecurity among expats due to Greece’s recent economic turmoil.