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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

The Best & Worst Places for Expats in 2017

Though there’s consistency in the bottom 3, the warm welcome in Bahrain, Costa Rica, and Mexico sees them knock 2016’s winners off the podium.
  • None of 2016’s top 3 retained their spot in 2017; little change in the bottom 3.
  • #1 Bahrain leaps from 19th to 1st due to ease of settling in and career satisfaction. 
  • #2 Costa Rica’s warm welcome and pura vida vibe see it take second place.
  • #3 Mexico remains a favorite; expats find it easy to settle and good value for money.

Bahrain: A Big Jump to the Top

While Bahrain barely made the top 20 in 2016 (19th place), improvements across all indices that factor into the ranking have seen the Gulf state take pole position in 2017.

Bahrain really excels in making expats feel at home, and the country tops the Ease of Settling In Index. It also comes first for being able to get by without learning the local language; one Kyrgyz respondent likes that “Bahrainis are very friendly and welcoming. Everyone speaks English”. In fact, a quarter of expats in Bahrain (25%) say they started feeling at home almost straight away. This is particularly impressive given that a third of respondents in Bahrain (33%) have never lived abroad before.

Bahrain is a beautiful melting pot of many different cultures.

Respondents are also happy with their careers. Not only does Bahrain rank third in the Working Abroad Index, it is also second in the Job & Career as well as the Work-Life Balance subcategory. Expats in Bahrain are less positive, however, about the state of the economy (25th place), with the county ranking 18th in the Job Security subcategory.

While Bahrain’s position in the Cost of Living Index remains almost the same (28th place), it improved by 13 places in the Personal Finance Index to take the 13th spot. In terms of their financial situation, 68% of expats are generally satisfied, and 41% say that they earn a lot more than they would back home.

Expats with families also agree it’s a great destination. Bahrain improved from 34th place in the overall Family Life Index in 2016 to 10th in 2017. The country even ranks first for family life in general and fourth for the friendly attitude towards families with kids. Compared to 2016, there was a significant improvement in the quality of education (from 22nd place to 6th), and the availability of childcare and education (from 32nd place to 11th).

Many respondents praised the country: one American expat called it “a beautiful melting pot of many different cultures”, and another respondent from the Philippines said it was their “home away from home”. With such glowing reviews, it’s no surprise that almost a third of expats (32%) see themselves staying in Bahrain for more than five years, and 11% say they might stay forever.

Costa Rica: A Welcome as Warm as the Weather

If you’re looking to make friends, Costa Rica is the place to go. It ranks first in the Finding Friends subcategory, taking the top spot for every question. Expats say it’s easy to make local friends, with almost one in five (19%) saying their social circle is mostly Costa Ricans and 63% saying it’s a mix of locals and expatriates.

Costa Rica offers the freedom to live a peaceful, happy life, surrounded by peaceful, kind and happy people.

It’s not just the friendliness of the local residents, Costa Rica is in the top 10 for three of the five indices: Quality of Life, Ease of Settling In, and Family Life. The country made particularly impressive improvements in the latter index, jumping 16 places due to better scores in the Quality of Education and the Availability of Childcare and Education subcategories.

Costa Rica has also made big improvements in the Personal Finance Index, jumping from 43rd place in 2016 to 24th. Almost seven in ten respondents (68%) are generally satisfied with their financial situation, with 79% saying they have enough or more than enough to cover their daily expenses.

With almost a third of respondents describing themselves as retired (32%), many said that they appreciate the slower pace of life and pura vida vibe. One American respondent enjoys the “freedom to live a peaceful, happy life, surrounded by peaceful, kind and happy people”. With such a warm welcome and tranquil lifestyle, 48% can see themselves staying forever.

Mexico: A Consistent Favorite

Ranking in the top 5 of the Expat Insider survey every year, Mexico retakes its place in the top 3 in 2017. In fact, it’s in the top 5 for three indices: Ease of Settling In, Personal Finance, and Cost of Living. One Filipino respondent summed up their experience saying “the climate is almost perfect, the people are friendly, and the food is to die for”.

Despite losing the top spot, Mexico does very well in the Ease of Settling In Index, coming in second place. One American respondent said “I like how easy it is to adapt, and the people are incredibly friendly”.

A significant number of respondents say they primarily moved to Mexico for a better quality of life (14%). Though healthcare and safety damage its overall ranking in the Quality of Life Index, it ranks first in the Personal Happiness subcategory and does well in the Leisure Options subcategory, ranking first for socializing and leisure activities.

The climate is almost perfect, the people are friendly, and the food is to die for.

Expats in Mexico are also happy with their financial situation. In fact, 80% considered the cost of living a potential benefit before moving. The country ranks fourth in the Personal Finance Index and second in the Cost of Living Index, and 74% of expats say they’re generally satisfied with their financial situation.

The Bottom 3

While there’s been plenty of change in the top-ranking countries, Kuwait and Greece have found themselves in the bottom 3 for four consecutive years, and Nigeria has been in the bottom 3 since 2015.

Finances and family life are causing headaches for expats in Greece: half of the respondents say their household income is not enough to cover their daily expenses, with 27% even saying it’s not nearly enough to get by. One British respondent mentioned having “feelings of insecurity due to the economic crisis”. Declines in the Cost of Childcare and Education as well as the Family Well-Being subcategories also led to Greece taking last place in the Family Life Index.

Kuwait has improved by one place, coming 64th out of 65 countries in 2017. In fact, it’s improved by at least one place in all indices, with particular progress in the Working Abroad Index: job security has improved by 15 places, putting Kuwait in the middle of the ranking (32nd). Quality of life still remains a struggle, however, and Kuwait comes last for leisure options and personal happiness.

Quality of life is also an issue for expats in Nigeria, and the country is in last place for three of the five subcategories in this index (Travel & Transport, Health & Well-Being, and Safety & Security). It’s not all bad news: there were significant improvements in the Personal Finance Index where Nigeria jumped from 32nd in 2016 to 12th place in 2017. The number of expats who have a lot more disposable income than they need has risen from 15% to 21%, and almost a third (31%) give their financial situation the best rating in 2017, compared to 19% in 2016.

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