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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

A Place in the Sun? Where Expats Enjoy the Quality of Life

Taiwan, the 2016 winner, cedes its top ranking to Portugal. With Spain coming in third, another Iberian destination regains its place among the top 3.
  • #1 Portugal and #3 Spain stand for sunshine, leisure, and happiness.
  • #2 Taiwan scores with healthcare and infrastructure.
  • Austria and Japan both dropped a few places.
  • Colombia and Malta show the biggest changes — for better or for worse.


For the Quality of Life Index, survey respondents were asked questions about leisure options, travel and transport, health and well-being, safety and security, as well as personal happiness. A destination needed at least 75 respondents to feature in this index.

South China Sea and “Club Med”: Best for Quality of Life

Although Taiwan, overall Expat Insider winner in 2016, still features in the global top 3, it can’t keep its pole position. Coming 2nd out of 65 for its quality of life, the Southeast Asian destination is overtaken by a Southern European one. 

Despite its somewhat erratic track record, ranking 13th in 2014, 5th in 2015, and 14th in 2016, Portugal takes the top spot in 2017. Its Mediterranean neighbor Spain also regains its ranking among the most popular destinations, taking third place.

Singapore (4th) and the Czech Republic (5th out of 65) complete the list of best-performing expat destinations in the 2017 Quality of Life Index.

A Gem of a Country: Portugal

Having gained 13 places since the Expat Insider 2016 survey, Portugal is not only the second-biggest winner in the Quality of Life Index, but has also made the most significant gains in the overall ranking. (see The Biggest Winners and Losers for further details)

Its popularity among expats — at least when it comes to quality of life — is largely due to its temperate climate and widely available leisure activities. Portugal ranks 2nd out of 65 countries in the Leisure Options subcategory. Not a single respondent has something negative to say about its climate and weather, which nearly two-thirds (65%) consider excellent, compared to 26% globally. In fact, nine out of ten expats perceived this as a potential benefit before relocating.

Portugal’s good result in the Health & Well-Being subcategory — ninth worldwide — is to some extent thanks to the benefits of nature. Though the country boasts above-average results regarding the affordability and quality of healthcare, its true strength lies in the quality of its environment. Well over nine in ten respondents (94%) rate this positively (worldwide average: 64%).

This is a gem of a country hiding in plain sight.

Portugal doesn’t make it into the top 10 in the Safety & Security subcategory, ranking 11th out of 65. This isn’t a reason to worry: peacefulness is actually the best-rated factor in this category, with an impressive 77% of respondents considering Portugal a very peaceful country — only Finland has slightly better results (78%). Not a single respondent is worried about their personal safety either — it’s lingering concerns about political stability that keep the ranking down.

Lastly, 94% of expats in Portugal are happy with their travel opportunities. However, not quite as many survey respondents are happy with the transport infrastructure: one in eleven (9%) rates this factor very negatively.

In general, plenty of sun and relaxation might contribute to respondents’ general happiness: just 4% voice any dissatisfaction with their new life in Portugal. One respondent summed it up by saying: “This is a gem of a country hiding in plain sight.”

Convenient and Efficient: Taiwan

Although last year’s breakout star Taiwan has dropped by one rank, it still impresses with stellar ratings in the Health & Well-Being and Travel & Transport subcategories (ranking 1st and 6th out of 65 respectively).

Unfortunately, the quality of its environment is considered average at best, with Taiwan suffering from the side effects of rapid industrialization. However, the destination more than makes up for that drawback with excellent medical care.

As many as 68% of expats are completely satisfied with the quality of healthcare, the highest percentage worldwide. Medical care seems to be affordable too: well over eight in ten respondents (87%) couldn’t be happier with healthcare costs in Taiwan. Even in Denmark, which has the second-best rating, “only” 49% of respondents describe medical care as very easy to afford.

“Convenience”, “efficiency”, and “easy transportation” are the advantages of life in Taiwan that respondents emphasize. Only 2% have something negative to say about the transport infrastructure (globally: 27%). Six in ten also rate their travel opportunities as very good.

Taiwan’s ranking in the Safety & Security subcategory (15th place) is pulled down by its political stability. While positive responses concerning political stability are still above the global average (67% vs. 56%), the country truly excels in terms of peacefulness and personal safety: 95% of expats in Taiwan judge the latter favorably, with 78% even saying it’s outstanding.

When it comes to the Leisure Options subcategory, Taiwan performs really well with regard to available leisure activities (83% positive responses) and personal satisfaction with socializing (73%). However, the local climate and weather can’t compete with the Algarve: only about one in five respondents (19%) describe them as excellent, compared to 65% in Portugal.

Casual and Relaxed: Spain

Spain and Portugal don’t just have geographical proximity in common. Expats in Spain also report very high levels of personal happiness: about nine in ten (89%) are satisfied with life in general. Spain also receives top ratings for leisure options as well as health and well-being.

Among survey respondents in Spain, over eight in ten (82%) are generally happy with their socializing opportunities, and even more (89%) rate the available leisure activities positively. The Mediterranean sun proves hard to resist: two-thirds (66%) couldn’t be any happier with the weather and climate.

Casual, relaxed, and delicious!

While Spain and Portugal rank about the same regarding the quality of the environment, the former does have better results for healthcare. In Spain, 83% rate the quality of medical care favorably and 78% think it’s generally affordable, compared to 71% and 70% respectively in Portugal.

Expats living in Spain also find it easy to explore: nearly six in ten (59%) say that travel opportunities are top-notch (global average: 46%), and 84% give local transportation a positive rating.

The Safety & Security subcategory is where Spain lags behind a bit, ranking 25th out of 65. This is partly due to lack of confidence in the political situation: while 91% are generally happy with their personal safety, only 51% are positive about Spain’s political stability.

Bureaucracy is also a challenge: when asked about what they dislike about their destination, one respondent states “paperwork and politics”. However, many respondents were positive about their life in Spain; one expat described it as “casual, relaxed, and delicious!”

Winners and Losers: 2016 vs. 2017

As far as 2016’s top 5 are concerned, Austria, Japan, and Costa Rica dropped out of the first few places of the Quality of Life Index, but are still listed in the global top 10.

Austria and Japan lost some ground in all subcategories, although they are still going strong in those that earned them their previous top rankings: the Health & Well-Being and Travel & Transport subcategories. Japan excels with regard to safety and security too. Malta also lost ground, falling from 6th to 19th place, partly due to more negative ratings for leisure options as well as safety and security.

Costa Rica has barely seen any change since 2016: it’s not that survey respondents view local life more negatively, but several other countries simply outperform it in 2017.

However, another Latin American destination received a major boost: even if safety and security remain a major issue in Colombia, it moved up from 43rd place (out of 67) to 25th (out of 65) thanks to an improved performance in all other areas of the Quality of Life Index.

Full Ranking

Further Reading


Please note: The Expat Insider 2017 survey data was collected in February and March 2017. Results therefore do not reflect any events which occurred after this time.