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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

Dissatisfied with More Than Just the British Weather

One of the biggest losers in the Expat Insider 2017 survey, the United Kingdom has fallen down the ranks across all indices, most noticeably in regard to work and family life.
  • Nearly two-thirds are unsatisfied with cost of living
  • Considerable drop in satisfaction with politics
  • Career prospects regarded very favorably
  • Attitude toward foreign residents somewhat frosty
  • Great leisure activities for kids

Falling Ranks and Rising Prices

The UK has seen a downward trend in its Expat Insider survey position over the years and now ranks 54th out of 65 countries. The country has lost ground in all indices, but personal finances are a particular problem: a continued weak pound, the resulting loss in foreign currency exchanges, as well as a rising inflation rate mean that just 56% rate this factor positively and the UK ranks 59th out of 65 in the Personal Finance Index.

Half of the respondents (50%) considered the cost of living a potential disadvantage when planning their relocation to the United Kingdom, and they weren’t wrong: nearly two-thirds (64%) give this factor an unfavorable rating, compared to 35% of respondents worldwide. Over three in ten (31%) say their disposable household income is not sufficient to cover daily expenses, with 11% even saying it’s nowhere near enough.

Accommodation is very expensive and living here is a struggle financially.

Affordable accommodation is a real challenge for expat budgets, and nearly seven in ten expats in the UK (69%) are not happy with this factor — 28% even think the affordability of housing is very bad. “Accommodation is very expensive and living here is a struggle financially”, an Irish expat agrees. This might be partly explained by the fact that 42% of respondents who disclosed their city of residence in the UK live in London. The city has seen decades of increasingly competitive rents and property prices.

Less Than Stable Politics & Stormy Weather

In 2016, almost four-fifths of respondents (77%) regarded the UK’s political stability favorably. Since then, the number has dropped by 30 percentage points, and less than half of respondents (47%) are positive about this factor. This has led to a noticeable drop — from 26th out of 67 countries in 2016 to 42nd out of 65 in 2017 — in the corresponding Safety & Security subcategory of the Quality of Life Index.

However, expats aren’t dissatisfied with just politics. The British weather continues to disappoint, with over three in five (61%) giving it a negative rating and over half (53%) saying that they regarded it as a disadvantage prior to their relocation to the UK. However, this might also be a bit of a stereotype; one Australian expat found that “it's nowhere near as cold and rainy for as long as everyone makes out”.

With fewer positive ratings compared to the global average (53% vs. 63%), the quality of medical care in the UK is also not considered to be the best. Despite having a free public healthcare system, only three in five respondents (60%) agree that medical costs are generally well covered. However, the UK comes in a respectable 24th place in the Travel & Transport subcategory of the Quality of Life Index.

Great Careers but an Uncertain Future

Despite high costs and political turmoil, expats still find various reasons to move to the UK, from wanting to join a partner in their home country (12%) to education opportunities (10%) or simply the need for a personal challenge (10%). The most common reason for moving to the UK, however, is having found a job there (17%). The majority of expats in the UK are either employees (42%) or managers (11%), with the latter typically in middle management, rather than entry-level or top managerial positions (63% vs. 24% and 12%, respectively).

Across all the indices, the UK does best in the Working Abroad Index, placing 29th out of 65 countries. Nearly two-thirds (66%) are generally satisfied with their career prospects, including one Spanish expat who said: “There are a lot of good opportunities regarding my career prospects, unlike in Spain, and my work is well appreciated.”

There’s all the turmoil following the Brexit vote, insecurity about the future of the job market, and the situation as an EEA + CH resident!

While expats are not exactly full of praise regarding the state of the British economy, they are not too dissatisfied either: around one in five (21%) give it a negative rating, compared to a quarter of all respondents worldwide (25%). However, many fear this could change; one Swiss respondent dislikes “all the turmoil following the Brexit vote, [the] insecurity about the future of the job market, and the situation as a[n] EEA + CH resident!”

Handling a Frosty Reception

The insecurities about the UK’s general future also seem to be reflected in how welcome expats feel. Just 50% think that the attitude toward foreign residents is generally good (67% worldwide), and a mere 12% consider it very good (global average: 26%). In fact, over a quarter say they have felt unwelcome due to their nationality at least sometimes (18%), frequently (6%), or even all the time (2%).

Making new friends, especially local ones, doesn’t seem to be a piece of cake either: the UK ranks 49th out of 65 countries in the Finding Friends subcategory of the Ease of Settling In Index. Luckily, a higher than average proportion of respondents (36% vs. 28% worldwide) already had friends and/or family living in the country or even in the same city when they moved to the UK.

Costly Childcare but Quality Education

The country has also lost ground in the Family Life Index, dropping ten spots to a below-average 34th place out of 45 countries. Expat parents are particularly dissatisfied with the costs of childcare — less than a fifth (19%) rate this factor positively — as well as its availability; almost three in ten expat parents (27%) go so far as saying the latter is very bad.

The quality of the British education system, on the other hand, is regarded favorably by roughly two-thirds of parents (66%), and kids seem to have plenty of things to do outside of school. An impressive two in five expat parents (40%) consider the available leisure activities for their children to be very good.

Further Reading


On a general note: The Expat Insider 2017 survey was conducted in February/March 2017 and thus before any of the terror attacks that occurred later in the year. The Expat Insider 2016 survey was conducted in February/March 2016 and thus before the Brexit referendum in June 2016.