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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

The Biggest Winners & Losers in 2018

Panama, Ecuador, and Australia find their way back to old strength, while Israel scores a new personal best. Not all countries improve their results, though, as Sweden and Romania can attest.
  • Panama gains 23 ranks, with its 2017 results the exception rather than the rule.
  • Israel jumps to 22nd place, thanks to the new Digital Life subcategory.
  • Australia recovers lost ground across all topics, ranking 12th in 2018.
  • Ecuador sees massive improvement in the Working Abroad Index, ranking 3rd overall.
  • Falling from 22nd to 46th, Sweden loses out on career prospects and feeling at home.

Not So Unlucky #13: Panama

Its mediocre 36th place in 2017 seems to have been the exception rather than the rule: Panama has found its way back into the top 15, ranking 13th out of 68 countries in 2018. Panama’s recovery is already noticeable in the respondents’ general satisfaction with their life abroad: while in 2017 less than three-quarters of the respondents in Panama (74%) said they were generally satisfied, this percentage has increased to 81% in 2018.

The country is among the biggest winners in the Personal Finance Index and has reached a new personal best, ranking 11th out of 68. Nearly four in five respondents in Panama (78%) say they are generally satisfied with their financial situation, an increase of 15 percentage points from 2017. Similarly, they are also more likely to agree that their disposable household income is enough or more than enough to cover all daily expenses (86% vs. 73%).

Panama shows a similar improvement in the Working Abroad Index, where it has gone from ranking 30th to 16th in 2018. While this result is still a way off from Panama’s top 10 rank in previous years (5th in 2015, 6th in 2014 and 2016), respondents are again noticeably more satisfied with their career prospects, with an increase of 15 percentage points in positive ratings. A Peruvian respondent appreciates “the opportunity for business” in Panama, for example. The ambitious expansion of the Panama Canal, which was completed in 2016, is also expected to help Panama maintain its status as one of the fastest-growing economies in Latin America.

A New Personal Best: Israel

Placing 22nd out of 68 destinations in 2018, Israel has managed to score a new personal best. While the country has improved across all indices, rising 22 ranks from a previous 44th place in 2017, it has made the biggest gains regarding quality of life. In this index, it has newly joined the top 10 — up from 31st place in 2017. Expats in Israel are particularly happy with their health and well-being (4th), leisure options (9th), and digital life (6th). The latter subcategory was newly introduced in 2018, with over nine in ten respondents agreeing that it is generally easy to get a local mobile phone number (94%), to obtain access to high-speed internet (91%), and to have unrestricted access to online services such as social media (95%). While Israel does not rank quite as favorably regarding the opportunity to travel (22nd), the majority of respondents (56%) still gives this factor the best possible rating, compared to 43% in 2017.

Israel has similarly improved by 21 ranks in the Working Abroad Index, placing 22nd in 2018. Respondents are much more satisfied with their working hours: 62% rate them positively, compared to 49% in 2017. Israel’s result in the Career Prospects & Satisfaction subcategory has also improved significantly from 43rd place in 2017 to 19th in 2018. Over a fifth of respondents (21%) were unsatisfied with their job in 2017, with only about one in seven (14%) saying the same in 2018.

Last but not least, respondents in Israel seem to have an easier time settling down — in fact, the country is among the biggest winners in the Ease of Settling In Index 2018. Expats are twelve percentage points more likely to consider it easy to make new friends in general as well as local friends in particular. And while in 2017 less than half (46%) agreed that it is easy to live in Israel without speaking the local language, 64% say the same in 2018.

Winner across the Board: Australia

After ranking in the top 10 from 2014 to 2016, Australia faced a big drop in 2017, falling to 34th place out of 65. In 2018, it has recovered most of this lost ground, ranking 12th out of 68 destinations thanks to significant improvements in the Personal Finance, Quality of Life, and Ease of Settling In Indices.

I love the great weather and beautiful nature in Australia that allow you to go out and explore new amazing places every single day.

Australia is, in fact, among the biggest winners for all these indices, and also rose 19 ranks in the Working Abroad Index. A Dutch expat highlights “the great weather and beautiful nature that allow you to go out and explore new amazing places every single day. Great work-life balance, too.”

Back in the Top 3: Ecuador

Long-time expat-favorite Ecuador has returned to form in 2018, ranking 3rd after a comparatively disappointing 25th place in 2017. With the country rising 40 positions in the Working Abroad Index to rank 11th in 2018 — and therefore the biggest winner in this index — its results may well be linked to its economic recovery following low oil prices in 2016 as well as the devasting 2016 earthquake. In 2017, not quite two-thirds of respondents (65%) expressed their general satisfaction with their financial situation; in 2018, 83% say the same.

What is more, despite a below-average result (40th out of 68) in the new Digital Life subcategory, Ecuador has managed to improve its place in the Quality of Life Index, ranking 18th in 2018 compared to 29th in 2017. A US American expat in Ecuador makes sure to point out “the quality of life and how much the people are willing to help when you make the effort to get to know them”. While the country still ranks in the lower half for personal safety (45th), over three-quarters of respondents (76%) rate this factor positively in 2018, up by 15 percentage points compared to 2017.

A Tumble down the Ranks: Sweden

Dropping 24 places to rank 46th in 2018, Sweden has lost ground across all indices. It is even among the biggest losers regarding ease of settling in and quality of life. Despite good results in the new Digital Life subcategory, where it ranks 11th out of 68, Sweden has lost 14 positions in the Quality of Life Index, placing 28th overall. Never an expat favorite regarding leisure options, Sweden does even worse for this factor, with the respondents’ satisfaction with available leisure activities dropping from 80% to 66% in 2018.

Sweden has also newly joined the bottom 10 for the Ease of Settling In Index, ranking 63rd out of 68. In 2018, only about half of the respondents feel at home there (45%) and find it easy to get used to the local culture (50%); nor do most expats agree that it is easy to settle down (49%) or that there’s a friendly attitude towards foreign residents (49%). In comparison, global averages for these factors range from 59% to 66% in 2018. “It is hard for non-Swedes to fit in,” according to a British respondent, as Swedish people are “not as social as in most other countries and less likely to include people they don’t know well”.

Sweden’s economy continues to perform well and is also regarded favorably by expats in the country, ranking 10th out of 68. However, expats are noticeably less happy with their career prospects and job security: satisfaction levels for these two factors are down by ten and six percentage points, respectively, compared to 2017.

Where Work Drags You Down: Romania

Romania has seen some minor improvement in the Quality of Life Index in 2018, ranking 40th after placing 44th in 2017: this is partly due to its above-average 24th place in the new Digital Life subcategory. However, this development could not save Romania from losing ground overall: compared to its 19th place in 2017, the country has dropped 18 ranks to 37th in 2018.

Salaries are the biggest issue in Romania and extremely low compared with Western Europe.

Romania has suffered its biggest losses in the Working Abroad Index, where it is also the biggest loser across all countries. Despite strong economic growth and low unemployment numbers in 2017, expats in Romania continue to regard the state of the economy comparatively unfavorably, ranking the country 53rd for the respective factor. Close to a quarter (23%) are dissatisfied with their job, compared to 13% in 2017, and while three-quarters regarded their work-life balance positively in 2017, this share has shrunken to 56% in 2018. A British expat points out that “salaries are the biggest issue and extremely low compared with Western Europe”.

Changes in the Ease of Settling In Index are not quite as drastic. However, compared to 2017, expats in Romania are less likely to say that they feel at home in the local culture (59% vs. 68% in 2017) and that it is easy to make local friends (55% vs. 64%).

Further Reading