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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

There’s No Place Like Home

Bahrain remains in first place when it comes to ease of settling in, with Mexico and Costa Rica rounding out the top 3, in second and third place, respectively. ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬
  • #1 Bahrain’s welcoming locals leave expats feeling at home and at ease.
  • #2 Mexico is in 2nd place thanks to the friendly local population.
  • #3 Costa Rica is great for making new friends, even without local language skills.
  • The biggest losers Sweden and Malta both dropped 14 places.
  • Greece and Australia show significant improvements.


For the Ease of Settling In Index, respondents were asked to rate various “soft” factors related to this area on a scale of one (very poor) to seven (excellent). Factors included topics such as making friends, the friendliness of the local population, feeling at home in a country’s culture, and how easy and important it is to speak the local language. For a country to be featured in the report, at least 75 respondents were required: a total of 68 countries met the minimum sample size requirement.

First for Feeling at Home

For the second year running, Bahrain comes out on top of the Ease of Settling In Index. Over four in five respondents generally agree that it is not difficult to get used to the local culture (81%), feel at home in it (84%), and to settle down in Bahrain (81%). In the words of one Indian expat in Bahrain: “The people here are very friendly, and everyone can adjust easily.”

The people here in Bahrain are very friendly, and everyone can adjust easily.

While just 37% consider learning the local language easy, 94% agree that they face few challenges living in Bahrain without speaking Arabic, more than twice the global average of 46%. The friendly attitude towards foreign residents may help with communication, too: 91% rate this factor positively! Similarly, over three-quarters (77%) believe the opportunity to make new friends in Bahrain is generally good — 68% state making local friends is unproblematic. However, only 1% say they are friends mostly with local residents: this could be explained by the fact that 53% of Bahrain’s 1.4 million inhabitants are foreign nationals.

Mexico: Friendly and Welcoming Locals

In second place for ease of settling in is Mexico. The country ranks first for the subcategories Finding Friends and Friendliness. In fact, over four out of five expats (82%) find it largely easy to make new friends, while over three-quarters (77%) don’t struggle to make local friends. More than a quarter (27%) are in fact mostly friends with locals, and just half the global average of 34% state they have mostly just expat friends (17%).

It is no surprise then that almost all expats in Mexico (94%) rate the general friendliness of the local population positively, and more than half (56%) believe that attitudes towards foreign residents are very friendly. A large majority feel at home in the Mexican culture (85%), find it is easy to settle down there (85%), and have few problems getting used to local customs (83%). More than half (55%) do not struggle to live in Mexico without speaking Spanish, and just under two-thirds (66%) consider learning the language simple.

Costa Rica: Laid Back and Welcoming

Costa Rica takes the bronze medal for the second year running. Over three-quarters (76%) say they have no problem making new friends — a similar proportion (73%) agree it is generally easy to find local friends. Regarding attitudes of the local population towards foreign residents, 87% of expats in Costa Rica rate this factor positively. In the words of one American expat: “The people are laid back and friendly.”

Almost eight out of ten (78%) feel at home in Costa Rica’s culture, while 83% agree they face few challenges settling down in the country. Less than one in ten (9%) consider the local language difficult to learn; the global average is five times as high (45%).

The Bottom 3

Kuwait finds itself in the bottom 3 for the fifth consecutive year. In fact, it is last or second to last in all but one subcategory relating to this index.

I can’t speak much Arabic, so it’s sometimes difficult to communicate in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia couldn’t maintain its slight recovery of 2017, when it ranked 57th, and is back to second to last in 2018. One expat from New Zealand shares that they “can’t speak much Arabic, so it’s sometimes difficult to communicate”. Close to six in ten (58%) agree that learning the local language is challenging. A similar percentage (57%) struggle with connecting with local residents.

Germany drops ten ranks, coming in 66th place out of 68 countries in the 2018 Ease of Settling In Index, with the country in the bottom 10 for all subcategories of the index. Expats find learning the local language particularly difficult: over six in ten (64%) disagree that learning German is easy. Over a third (34%) also have difficulty settling down in Germany.

Australia and Greece Make Big Leaps Forward

As the biggest winner in the 2018 Ease of Settling In Index, Australia has risen twelve places from 31st in 2017 to 19th in 2018. The land down under has improved across all factors, though it continues to rank poorly when it comes to living there without speaking English. Almost six in ten (57%) find this challenging.

Australia’s most impressive leap can be found in the making new friends factor, where it improved 22 places. Over six in ten (63%) rate this factor positively, an increase of ten percentage points compared to 2017 (53%). Australia also ranks in the top 10 for ease of getting used to the local culture (8th).

Greece joins Australia as the biggest winner, moving from 32nd in 2017 to 20th position in 2018. Greece improved significantly for making locals friends, moving up 17 places to 10th rank. A total of 66% of expats in Greece agree that making local friends is not a struggle, up from 50% in 2017. Respondents also find it easier to get by without local language skills: in 2017, close to four in ten (39%) said it was challenging to live there without speaking Greek, while it is less than three in ten (27%) in 2018. Finally, Greece also comes in 9th place for feeling at home in the local culture, with 76% agreeing that this is true for them.

In Israel, I feel like a member of an eight-million-strong family.

Israel, too, has made significant improvements in this index, rising from 38th to 28th place in 2018. The country has gone up by 18 places for making local friends — 66% agree that this is generally easy, compared to 54% in 2017. In the words of one American expat: “I feel like a member of an eight-million-strong family.” Israel has risen 18 places for ease of settling down in the country, moving from a disappointing 61st place in 2017 to 43rd in 2018. The country now makes the top 20 when it comes to life abroad without local language skills, an improvement of 12 places from 2017.

Sweden and Malta Put In a Poor Performance

Malta ranks 25th out of 68 countries, falling 14 places in the Ease of Settling In Index compared to 2017. Not only did it drop from 6th to 22nd place for feeling at home in the local culture, the island nation also lost significant ground in terms of friendliness and for making local friends. Close to seven in ten (68%) agree that attitudes towards foreign residents are generally friendly.

There is a generally unfriendly attitude towards foreigners in Malta, and it can be difficult to socialize with local residents.

While above the global average of 66%, this is almost ten percentage points below Malta’s 2017 result (77%). In fact, just 36% consider the local population in general very friendly, compared to 45% of respondents in 2017. A Portuguese expat in Malta explicitly points out that “there is a generally unfriendly attitude towards foreigners in Malta, and it can be difficult to socialize with local residents”.

Among the biggest losers overall, Sweden has fallen into the bottom 10 of this index, dropping from 49th in 2017 to 63rd in 2018. Although Sweden maintains its 16th position regarding life in the country without local language skills, it dropped in all other factors of the index. Most noticeably, Sweden fell 14 places for feeling at home in the local culture to rank 61st in 2018. Just over three in ten respondents (31%) rated this factor negatively in 2017, compared to 45% in 2018. Close to a third (32%) also regard the local attitude towards foreign residents negatively, compared to less than a quarter (24%) in 2017.

Romania, another big loser overall, has dropped 13 places in the Ease of Settling In Index. While 64% agreed that making local friends was easy in 2017, only 55% still say the same in 2018. Romania fell 22 places when it comes to feeling at home in the local culture, ranking 42nd in 2018, with nearly a quarter (24%) now rating this factor negatively.

Spain, Colombia, and Ecuador Move into the Top 10

Spain, moving from 14th to 7th, Ecuador, jumping from 16th to 8th, and Colombia, climbing from 15th to 9th, are new in the top 10 in 2018. Although Spain and Ecuador have been in the top 10 of the Ease of Settling In Index in previous years, this is a first for Colombia. The country has slowly been going up the ranks since 2015, when it still placed 22nd out of 64 countries in the index. One Spanish expat has very high praise for the local residents: “I like the Colombian people; it is easy to build new relationships and friendships.”

I like the Colombian people; it is easy to build new relationships and friendships.

The other end of the scale has seen less change — eight of the countries featured in the bottom 10 in 2017 also find themselves there in 2018. Both Sweden and South Korea have slipped into the bottom 10, from a former 49th and 51st rank, respectively, in 2017.

Full Ranking

Further Reading