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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

Shifting Politics Trouble Expats in the USA

Expat opinion mirrors headlines, as frequently reported topics such as safety and healthcare are regarded as negatives while the economy still flourishes.
  • Falls 17 places in overall ranking
  • Considerable drop in political stability
  • 69% judge the economy positively
  • Last place in costs of childcare and education
  • 72% feel healthcare is unaffordable

Since the Expat Insider was first published in 2014, the USA has suffered a slow decline across the board. However, 2017 has seen a marked drop following a year of volatile politics and continued policy changes which seems to have made the USA less appealing to expats. Sliding 17 places in the overall country ranking to 43rd out of 65, the USA received a particularly damning score from expats regarding politics. Just 36% of those surveyed rate the political stability of the USA positively, 20 percentage points lower than the global average (56%) and a significant change from 2016, when 68% still rated this factor favorably.

Yet, despite this discomfort with political shifts, expats continue to believe in the US economy. Almost seven in ten of those surveyed (69%) regard the current state of the economy positively.

Whilst the USA might be economically secure, it does not perform as well in terms of personal safety. The country has one of the highest homicide rates among developed countries, and following a year of highly publicized gun crime and mass shootings, expats living in the US are uneasy regarding their security. While a quarter of those surveyed still rank personal safety in the US as very good, this figure is considerably lower than the international average of 43%.

Infrastructure Leaves Something to Be Desired

A topic which is never far from the headlines, US healthcare proves unpopular with respondents in the Expat Insider 2017 survey. Over seven in ten (72%) feel that the affordability of healthcare in the States is generally bad, with a third even considering it very bad.  This contributes to America trailing at 50th place in the Health & Well-Being subcategory. While the quality of treatment does not provoke quite the same level of dissatisfaction, almost three in ten expats living in the USA (28%) rate it negatively.

The healthcare system is very expensive and bureaucratic. Public transport links are virtually non-existent where I live, so access to a car is a must.

The transport infrastructure equally disappoints those who moved to the States. While the USA offers plenty of opportunities to travel, getting around the country itself can prove challenging. Just 15% of expats living in the US rated the transport infrastructure as very good, less than half the worldwide average of 32%.

Collectively, these factors contribute to the USA’s low ranking of 47th out of 65 in the Quality of Life Index. One British expat sums it up like this: “The healthcare system is very expensive and bureaucratic. Public transport links are virtually non-existent where I live, so access to a car is a must.”

Mixed Picture for Those with Kids

The USA certainly offers some benefits for expats with families, but there are also plenty of disadvantages to moving stateside to bring up your children. Almost three quarters of expat parents living in the USA (74%) feel childcare is not easy to afford, significantly more than the global average of 39%.

Education costs aren’t much better, and parents in the USA are more than twice as likely to describe education as completely unaffordable (32% compared to 15% worldwide). This is despite more than six in ten expat parents (61%) opting to send their children to a local state school. With these ratings, it’s no surprise that the USA came last in the Costs of Childcare & Education subcategory.   

Family life in the USA still has its pluses, though, with over nine out of ten expat parents (91%) reporting that US Americans have a friendly attitude towards families with kids. Leisure activities available for children are also abundant, with almost half of those surveyed (47%) describing them as very good.

Work Can Be Hard, but the Locals Are Friendly

Overall, work life in the US is seen positively by expats, and America sits in the top half of the Working Abroad Index (28th place out of 65). Expats describe a positive workplace, with one Canadian commenting that “the people here are very bold, creative and energetic. It is a very inspiring environment for successful work!” In the Job & Career subcategory, the US makes it into the top 10 and over 65% of respondents rate their career prospects in America positively.

Despite many expats in America being satisfied with their work, continued employment is not guaranteed; over a quarter of responses about job security (27%) were negative. Employers in America also seem to expect more, with expats in full-time employment working longer hours than the global average (45 hours per week compared to 44.3). The US also comes in at an underwhelming 48th place in the Work-Life Balance subcategory.

The people here are very bold, creative and energetic. It is a very inspiring environment for successful work!

Despite spending more time at work, expats in the USA still manage to develop a social circle. Less than one in ten of those surveyed (9%) feel that Americans are unfriendly, and respondents living in the USA are also more likely to have social circles including locals than expats in other countries (76% in the USA compared to 67% of all respondents).

Language was also a plus for those moving to the US. It ranks second in potential benefits they foresaw prior to their move, and 36% of US-based expats describe learning English as very easy. However, it is worth noting that the survey was carried out in English, and there may therefore be some bias. For non-English speakers, the USA is more difficult to adapt to: just three out of twenty expats living in America (15%) feel it would be easy to live there without knowing the local language.

Not the Cheapest Place to Live

Prior to moving abroad, the cost of living was a concern for close to three in ten expats (28%), and the issue ranks among the top three potential disadvantages expats thought about when moving to the USA. This prediction proved to be accurate: 45% of those surveyed rate the cost of living negatively — ten percentage points higher than the global average (35%). A German expat summed up living costs in the USA by saying, “you can get everything and everywhere — but it always costs a lot of money!” The USA has consequently dropped five places this year in the Cost of Living Index. The low ranking could be linked to the price of accommodation, which just a third of expats (33%) consider affordable.

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