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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

Happy Families under the Northern Lights

Despite a welcome as frosty as the winters, expat families and employees alike love their lives in the Nordic countries.
  • All in top 10 of Health & Well-Being subcategory
  • Finland first in Family Life Index for second year running
  • Over half struggle to make local friends
  • Short working week and a top-notch work-life balance
  • Under 30% happy with cost of living

Happy with Healthcare

Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden all rank in the top 10 of the Health & Well-Being subcategory, with the region’s top performer, Denmark, coming in 3rd place out of 65 countries. Over two-thirds of respondents in all four countries are positive about the quality of medical care, which may be connected to the fact that healthcare spending is extremely high in each of these nations: Sweden, for example, spends 67 billion USD a year. Expats are also happy with the cost of healthcare, with around two in five respondents giving this aspect the very best rating; all healthcare systems in the Nordic countries are tax-funded and publicly owned, meaning you don’t need to splash your cash when you get sick.

First Class Family Life

Over the years, the Nordic countries have performed continuously well in the Family Life Index and all make it into the top 5 in 2017. Finland retains its top spot, partly because of the country’s strong performance in the Quality of Education subcategory, in which the country takes first place. With the gap between the weakest and strongest pupils being the smallest in the world, the Finnish schooling system also tops the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report when it comes to education. Take a look at the article Educating Expat Kids for more information on education in the Nordic countries.

Denmark is a very family-friendly country and workplace culture is very supportive of families.

All four countries also perform well in the Family Well-Being subcategory, with both Finland and Norway making it into the top 3. At a respectable 13th place out of 45 countries, Denmark, however, falls significantly behind its neighbors — it’s the only country in this group not to make it into the top 10. Still, Denmark has come a long way, gaining 19 places in the overall Family Life Index compared to 2016. One British respondent in Denmark appreciates the fact that “Denmark is a very family-friendly country and workplace culture is very supportive of families”. The country also has the lowest childhood inequality in the world. If you would like to learn more about the Family Life Index, take a look at the article Where Expat Families Feel at Home.

The Romantics’ Relocation

The main reason female expats in the Nordic countries moved abroad was for love or to live in their partner’s home country, with 27% or more giving this answer. Over a third of female respondents in these nations have dependent children living abroad with them, however, very few stay at home to look after their kids; Finland is the exception to this rule, where 17% of female respondents list this as their main employment status. In general, however, it is relatively easy for women in Nordic countries to find a job, as these nations have some of the lowest gender discrimination rates in the world.

This is also helped by childcare, which over half and even up to 70% of expat parents in the Nordic countries describe as affordable and easy to find. Furthermore, over three-quarters of expat parents across the four countries are pleased with the leisure activities for children, which, no doubt, provide parents with more free time.

A Welcome as Cold as the Weather

All four Nordic countries fall into the bottom 10 in the Finding Friends subcategory of the Ease of Settling In Index, with Norway, Denmark, and Sweden making up the bottom three. More than half of expats across the Nordic countries find it difficult to make local friends, and over two-fifths in each country describe the local population as distant. One Brit in Sweden states, “As in most Nordic countries, people are quite private, closed, and…not that open to conversations with new people”.

This unfriendly welcome results in a high proportion of respondents sticking mainly with fellow foreigners. Nearly a half of respondents in Denmark (46%) say their social circle mainly consists of other expats. The only exception to this trend is Finland, where 27% of respondents say they have mostly local friends — eight percentage points higher than the global average (19%).

People are quite private, closed, and…not that open to conversations with new people.

Language barriers often pose problems when making local friends; half of the respondents in Denmark with mostly expat friends say that the language prevents them from befriending the local residents. When it comes to the Language subcategory, however, each country performs quite differently. Finland comes in at a disappointing 53rd place out of 65 countries, while Sweden takes the 15th spot. The varying difficulty of the languages spoken across the region probably contributes to this result. In Finland, over four-fifths of respondents (85%) claim the local language is hard to learn, while only 49% of expats in Sweden feel the same way. Finnish is one of the most challenging languages, requiring 1,110 class hours to become proficient, while the official languages of the other Nordic countries require less than 600 hours.

Language barriers are not completely prohibitive for expats, however, as all four countries fall into the top 5 of the World Economic Forum’s English Proficiency Index. This means that over 45% of respondents in the Nordic countries find it easy to get by without speaking the local language. One Spanish expat in Sweden, for example, describes the country as one “where you can live for years without uttering a word of Swedish”.

Top Destinations for Work-Life Balance

The Nordic countries perform very well in the Working Abroad Index, with three of them (Denmark, Norway, and Sweden) making it into the top 10. Over two-thirds of respondents in the region rate their work-life balance positively; Denmark — where full-time employees devote two-thirds of their day to personal care and leisure — even came first in the Work-Life Balance subcategory. This satisfaction may be linked to the short working hours across the Nordic countries. Full-time workers generally have a far shorter week than their global counterparts, and over two-thirds are positive about their working hours. In Finland, for example, the full-time average is 38.5 hours, nearly six hours less than the global average of 44.3 hours.

The downside: Spending all that leisure time might come at a cost. All four countries are among the most expensive places to live in the world: they’re all found in the bottom 15 of the Cost of Living Index, with less than three in ten respondents in each country rating costs positively. Property prices are particularly problematic: over two in five expats in all four countries state that housing is not affordable, and one US American in Sweden even describes property prices as “prohibitive”.

Further Reading