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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

The Best & Worst Places for Expats in 2018

None of the top 3 expat destinations are “breakout stars”, with Bahrain, Taiwan, and Ecuador all having held a spot on the podium in the past. ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬
  • #1 Bahrain successfully defends its top spot.  
  • #2 Taiwan keeps impressing with quality of life. 
  • #3 Ecuador has recovered from its 25th position in 2017. 
  • Four Latin American countries can be found in the top 10. 
  • The UK and Peru join the bottom 10. 

Bahrain Stays on Top

For the second year running, the Gulf State tops the Expat Insider ranking. It scores first place among both male and female respondents, generally doing well across most topics.

Respondents have few problems communicating even without local language skills: a staggering 72% say it is no problem at all! Considering Bahrain’s great results for friendliness (2nd out of 68), finding friends (2nd), as well as feeling at home (1st), its first place in the Ease of Settling In Index is hardly a surprise. Or as an Indian expat in Bahrain sums up: “I don't feel like an expat. I feel at home.”

I don't feel like an expat in Bahrain. I feel at home.

Many respondents in Bahrain give their working hours (44%), job security (33%), or overall job satisfaction (39%) the best possible rating, pushing the Gulf State to the top of the Working Abroad Index. For more details, please refer to the articles on the ease of settling in and working abroad.

While not on the podium in the Family Life Index, Bahrain still ranks 7th out of 50 countries. Expats raising children in Bahrain are particularly happy with the quality of education (3rd), as well as the availability of childcare and education (9th). No parent is dissatisfied with family life in general, and over nine in ten (95%) agree that the attitude towards families with children is generally friendly. However, 30% of parents do not regard education as easy to afford.

Money in general is responsible for one of Bahrain’s worst — though still comparatively good — results: the Gulf State ranks 22nd out of 68 countries in the Personal Finance Index, dropping nine places since 2017.

However, Bahrain has managed to improve its standing in the Quality of Life Index from 32nd place to 20th in 2018. While this is partly due to its favorable twelfth place in the new Digital Life subcategory, which looks at such factors as cashless payments and the availability of e-government services, Bahrain has also maintained or improved its ranking across all other subcategories.

Taiwan Back in the Top 3

After placing 4th in 2017, Taiwan is back in the top 3, ranking 2nd out of 68 destinations in 2018. It tops the chart for quality of life: a staggering 96% of respondents, for instance, rate the affordability of healthcare positively, while a similar share (97%) is satisfied with the transportation infrastructure. For more details, please refer to the article on quality of life.

Taiwan has also improved on its twelfth rank in 2017’s Working Abroad Index, coming in second place in 2018. Over three-quarters (76%) rate their job security favorably, compared to 59% worldwide. There is also a high level of satisfaction with jobs in general (76%) and work-life balance in particular (73%). Expats in full-time positions spend noticeably less time at work than their global peers (39.9 h vs. a global average of 44.0 h/week). Again, see the article on working abroad for more information.

Despite lower incomes — 70% of expats have an annual gross household income of less than 50,000 USD — money does not seem to be a problem: 79% are generally satisfied with their financial situation, with Taiwan ranking tenth for personal finance. “Living expenses are affordable compared to developed economies with similar infrastructure,” according to an Indian respondent.

The Taiwanese are friendly even if I can only communicate with them through smiles and nods.

Taiwan also does well regarding the ease of settling in, ranking 15th in this index. While it has excellent results for friendliness (3rd) and the ease of finding friends (8th), expats struggle with the local language: 58% think that learning it is hard, while over a quarter (27%) find it difficult to live in Taiwan without local language skills. A Filipino expat appreciates, however, that the “locals are friendly even if I can only communicate with them through smiles and nods”.

Communication difficulties might explain expat parents’ choice of schools: a below-average 28% send their children to a local state school, while international (30%) and local private schools (24%) have higher-than-average results. The same is true for homeschooling: twice the global average of parents (8% vs. 4%) opt for this type of education. In general, Taiwan ranks roughly mid-field for the availability (21st out of 50 destinations) and affordability (23rd) of education and childcare. Expat parents are happy with their family well-being (10th), though.

Ecuador’s Road to Recovery

After ranking 25th out of 65 countries in 2017, Ecuador has found its way back to old strength, placing 3rd out of 68 overall. It is among the biggest winners in 2018 — you can find more details in the respective article. Ecuador has impressive results regarding finances (4th), getting settled (8th), and even work (11th), though a large percentage of the respondents are actually retirees (46%).

More than four in five expats (83%) rate their financial situation favorably, compared to two-thirds globally (67%); 31% even give it the best possible rating! A similar share (79%) is generally happy with their work-life balance. Despite below-average results for the state of the local economy — less than three in five (59%) rate it favorably — expats in Ecuador are generally satisfied with their job security (68%) and career prospects (69%).

Work, however, was not really a top priority for moving to Ecuador. A fifth (20%) — double the global average of 10% — say their main motivation for relocating was a better quality of life. With the country ranking 18th in this index, their dream has come true. Respondents particularly appreciate socializing options and leisure activities (5th) and affordable healthcare (6th). However, the country loses out in the new Digital Life subcategory, with close to a third (32%) disagreeing that it is easy to pay without cash in Ecuador, for instance.

I love the kindness of the Ecuadorians. They have been helpful and gracious from the first day.

Luckily, expats can enjoy some friendly conversation while counting out the money: around four in five rate the attitude of the local population in general (80%) and towards foreign residents in particular (83%) positively. In the words of a US expat: “I love the kindness of the Ecuadorians. They have been helpful and gracious from the first day I arrived here over five years ago.” Spanish skills are a must, though: 41% find life in Ecuador hard without speaking it.

Geographical Clusters in the Top 10

Among the global top 10, there are some interesting geographical clusters. The Asian Tigers Taiwan (2nd) and Singapore (5th) make it into the top 5. Both do very well in the Quality of Life Index, ranking first and fourth, respectively. Taiwan makes up for a comparatively worse rank in the Family Life Index (20th vs. Singapore’s 12th) with better results in terms of personal finance (10th vs. 20th) and working abroad (2nd vs. 14th).

Neighboring Portugal (6th) and Spain (8th) show very similar results, too: both are in the top 3 for quality of life (2nd vs. 3rd) and the top 10 for ease of settling in (5th vs. 7th). However, they lose out in terms of working abroad (48th vs. 43rd) and personal finance (45th vs. 39th), while ranking 9th and 13th, respectively, for family life.

Four of the top 10 countries are located in Latin America: Ecuador (3rd), Mexico (4th), Costa Rica (7th), and Colombia (9th). They do well in terms of settling in, with all of them scoring top 10 positions in this index. Similarly, these countries perform very well for personal finance, all but Costa Rica (16th) ranking in the top 5. Results for working abroad and the quality of life are more varied, typically ranging from good to average.

At the Other End of the Scale

There has been comparatively little change at the bottom of the ranking. Seven out of the ten worst-rated countries were already in the bottom 10 in 2017, as was Egypt (63rd in 2018) whenever it was featured in the ranking. Losing ground across all indices, Peru is new in the bottom 10. The United Kingdom continues its downward trend: after an already noticeable drop in 2017, it comes in 59th place in 2018.

Kuwait (68th) is back in last place, a position it already held from 2014 to 2016, while it came second to last in 2017, just before Greece. While the latter has recovered slightly (60th), Kuwait ranks last for quality of life, ease of settling in, and general satisfaction with life abroad. It is also in the bottom 5 of the Working Abroad and Family Life Indices, with a slightly better, albeit below-average, result for personal finance (50th).

Saudi Arabia has also been in the bottom 10 since 2014, ranking 67th in 2018. It lands in the bottom 5 of all indices featured in the ranking, except for personal finance, where it comes in an above-average 31st place: three in five expats agree that their disposable household income is more than they need to cover costs. Their general satisfaction with life in the country, however, is much lower, with 40% rating it negatively.

India has been on a steady downward trend since its 49th place in 2016, ranking 66th out of 68 in 2018. It has suffered major losses regarding career prospects and satisfaction (41st in 2017 vs. 60th in 2018) as well as work and leisure (58th vs. 67th), dropping ten places to rank 59th in the 2018 Working Abroad Index. While expats still rate their personal. finances positively, India has lost some ground here, too, falling from 9th to 26th place in 2018.

Further Reading