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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

Where Expats Are Met with Open Arms

Mexico is the friendliest and most welcoming country for the third year in a row, expats in Costa Rica feel at home, and Uganda joins the top three with big gains in friendliness.
  • Mexico: there’s no better place for finding friends
  • Uganda has the friendliest population
  • Greece, Cyprus and Spain more welcoming towards expats
  • Hong Kong and Mozambique disappoint in terms of friendliness


Even if all the other factors — healthcare, work-life balance, international schools, etc. — are excellent, if expats and their families don’t feel at home, a stay abroad is unlikely to be a success. In the Ease of Settling In Index, expats were asked about the friendliness of the local population, the ease of making friends, how welcome they feel, and how easy and important it is to learn the local language. At least 50 respondents were needed for a country to feature in this index, with 67 countries meeting this requirement.

Ease of Settling In Index

Ease of Settling In Index 2016

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Mexico Just Can’t Be Beat

Mexico ranks first in the Ease of Settling In Index for the third year in a row! It has risen up from second to first place in the Finding Friends subcategory. It also made gains in the Feeling Welcome subcategory, where it now comes in second place (compared to third in 2015 and fifth in 2014). Mexico dropped slightly in the Friendliness and Language subcategories, but not enough to cost it its spot at the top of the podium.

It just doesn’t get any better than Mexico for the ease of finding local friends. Whereas globally only 12% of expats completely agree that it’s easy to make local friends, in Mexico this percentage is nearly one-third (32%). Nearly eight in ten expats in Mexico (79%) find it easy to make new friends in general, while globally only six in ten feel the same.

Over double the global average of 16% completely agree that it is easy to settle down in Mexico (33%). Although it only comes in fourth place this year in the Friendliness subcategory, 93% of expats are still happy with the general friendliness of the population. Only this year’s newcomer Taiwan beats Mexico in terms of friendliness towards foreign residents. Half of the expats in Mexico are extremely happy in this regard, over twice the global average of 24%. However, it’s a good thing that learning Spanish is generally considered easy by 63% of expats, as 43% find life in Mexico difficult without speaking it — slightly above the global average of 40%.

Costa Rica Claims Silver

After two years at sixth place, Costa Rica now ranks second for the ease of settling in. This is largely due to gains in the Language subcategory (21st to 12th place), although there was also a large jump in the Feeling Welcome subcategory (12th to 4th place). Nearly eight in ten expats (79%) feel “at home” in the local culture and four in ten (41%) are even completely satisfied in this regard, over double the global average of 18%.

Almost nine out of ten expats (89%) are pleased with the general friendliness of the population, with close to three-fifths (59%) even considering it very good. Globally, only 26% are completely satisfied with this factor. Befriending the local population is considered easy when compared to the global average, with 28% even agreeing that making local friends is very easy (global average: 12%).

Friendly Uganda Joins the Podium

Uganda made a considerable jump this year from tenth to third place. The country either stayed the same or made gains in each subcategory of the Ease of Settling In Index. It is its excellent ratings in the Friendliness subcategory — where it is only surpassed by the newcomer Taiwan — that pushes Uganda to third place this year.

Uganda’s 2nd place in this subcategory is particularly notable as in 2015 it came in 13th place and in 2014 it was only at 25th place! So what changed? No other country beat Uganda when it comes to the general friendliness of the population. Not only do 57% of the expats in Uganda give this factor the best possible rating (compared to a global average of 26%), but not a single person rates it negatively (global average: 15%)! The survey respondents are also lucky when it comes to finding friends. About eight in ten expats (81%) find it easy to make new friends in general.

The most difficult aspect of settling in in Uganda is getting used to the local culture, with only 64% generally agreeing that this is easy. Its rank of 22nd in the Feeling Welcome subcategory is rather mediocre compared to its other high results in the Ease of Settling In Index.

What Happened to New Zealand and Ecuador?

In Expat Insider 2015, Mexico, New Zealand, and Ecuador claimed the top three places in the Ease of Settling In Index. Whereas Mexico has kept its title for the third year running, New Zealand and Ecuador fell down the ranks a bit. At fifth place, New Zealand is three places lower in 2016. Why? It seems that expats in New Zealand are finding it a bit harder to make local friends. In 2015, only 18% generally did not agree that it’s easy to make local friends. This year, a full one-quarter of expats are of this opinion.

Ecuador took a slightly larger fall, from third place to eighth. In 2015, Ecuador came in first place in the Finding Friends and Feeling Welcome subcategories, now it comes in sixth and seventh place, respectively.

The bottom three countries have remained fairly consistent over the past three years. Kuwait has always come in last, followed by Saudi Arabia. This year, Denmark is third from the bottom (it was fourth from the bottom in 2015 and 2014).

The Biggest Winners: Gains in Friendliness

Who are this year’s biggest winners and losers? Let’s start with the winners. Greece has risen from the 41st to the 27th spot in the Ease of Settling In Index. The country has made huge gains in terms of the ease of finding friends, jumping from 45th to 18th place. The percentage of expatriates in Greece who are generally satisfied with making new friends rose by 16 percentage points, 70% compared to 54%. This year’s survey respondents feel that foreign residents are more welcomed in Greece now, with only 10% of expats considering the attitude towards foreign residents negatively, compared to 19% in 2015.

Cyprus also made large gains overall in this index (from 25th to 14th place) and especially in terms of friendliness, climbing from 40th to 24th place in this subcategory. Here as well, the attitude towards foreign residents lies at the heart of this improvement. Whereas in 2015, only 18% agreed that Cypriots’ friendly sentiments towards their foreign neighbors were very good, this year nearly four in ten (39%) are of this opinion.

And finally, Spain has newly entered the top ten in the Ease of Settling In Index, coming in at ninth place. Continuing the trend, this is due to the positive results in the Friendliness subcategory, and more specifically the attitude towards foreigners. In 2015 only about one-quarter of expats (24%) found Spaniards to be very friendly towards foreign residents, while this year it’s 35%.

The Biggest Losers: A Cold Reception

The biggest loser in the Ease of Settling In Index for 2016 is Mozambique, dropping from 33rd to 47th place. The survey respondents are not impressed with the friendliness of the local population, either in general or towards foreign residents in particular. While not one respondent rated the general friendliness of the population negatively in 2015, 12% did so in 2016. Similarly, expats in Mozambique are having more difficulties finding friends this year, causing the country to fall from 14th to 40th place in this subcategory.

Hong Kong also suffered big losses in this index. With its 37th place in 2015, it was already in the bottom half, but has now dropped farther to 48th place. Reasons for this are difficulties finding friends and not finding it as easy to settle down in the country.

Kenya and Portugal have both dropped out of the top ten. Kenya was at 8th place and now only holds 19th. While in 2015, 34% considered the general friendliness of the population very good, less than one-quarter (24%) are of the same opinion in 2016. Portugal fell from 5th place to 16th. It seems expats are finding it harder to make local friends, among other things. In 2015, 19% generally disagreed that it is easy to make local friends there. This rose to 28% in 2016.

Further Reading