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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

The Best & Worst Places for Expats in 2019

While first-placed Taiwan is not new to the top 3 and ranked first in 2016 as well, Portugal (3rd) and especially Vietnam (2nd) have reached new heights in the global expat ranking.
  • #1 Taiwan reclaims its 2016 top spot with great results across all topics.
  • New in the top 3, #2 Vietnam even ranks first for finance and working abroad.
  • Over half the expats in #3 Portugal plan to stay possibly forever.
  • Few surprises at the bottom: Kuwait (64th), Italy (63rd), Nigeria (62nd) place last.
  • Dropping out of the top 3, 2018’s winner Bahrain still places in the 2019 top 10.

Back on Top: Taiwan

Since first featuring in the survey in 2016, Taiwan has consistently ranked in the top 5. In 2019, it manages to reclaim first place. Taiwan offers a great quality of life (3rd out of 64 destinations), favorable personal finances (6th), an impressive working life (8th), and good results for ease of settling in (14th). However, with only 9% of respondents raising children in 2019, there were not enough expat parents for Taiwan to rank in the Family Life Index.

Nearly all expats in Taiwan rate the quality (92%) and affordability (89%) of medical care positively — no other destination has performed better for either factor since Taiwan entered the survey. “The health insurance system and safety are what makes Taiwan attractive to me,” shares an Indian respondent. This is only somewhat offset by the mediocre result for quality of the environment (35th). For more details on Taiwan and the Quality of Life Index, please refer to the in-depth article.

Taiwan’s economy is not as strong as it used to be.

Taiwan has lost some ground in the Working Abroad Index to rank 8th out of 64 in 2019, following its 2nd place out of 68 in 2018. While an above-average share of expats (73% vs. 63% globally) regard the economy positively, 81% said so in 2018. “The economy is not as strong as it used to be,” shares an expat from New Zealand. Similarly, satisfaction with job security has fallen by ten percentage points (66% vs. 76% in 2018). Taiwan does well for career prospects (2nd), job satisfaction (8th), work-life balance (16th), and working hours (18th), though.

An above-average 73% rate the cost of living favorably (vs. 47% globally). A similar share (74%) are satisfied with their financial situation, ranking Taiwan sixth for this factor. It also lands in sixth place in the Personal Finance Index overall.

Taiwan ranks 14th in the Ease of Settling In Index, its worst result. Expats struggle with the local language (38th), while praising the friendliness (4th). All in all, 86% are generally satisfied with their life in Taiwan.

Reaching New Heights: Vietnam

There is no better place for finances and working abroad than Vietnam, it ranks first in both indices. Together with the improved ratings for quality of life and ease of settling in, this means it reaches the top 3 for the first time, ranking second overall.

Over four in five expats (81%) are satisfied with their financial situation, noticeably above the global average (64%). The same applies to the share of those agreeing their disposable household income is enough or even more than enough to cover daily expenses (96% vs. 77% worldwide).

Vietnam places first for both career prospects and job satisfaction. Combined with a satisfying work-life balance — 71% rate it favorably, compared to 60% worldwide — and a good economy (82% positive answers vs. 63% globally), this makes it hardly surprising that Vietnam ranks first in the Working Abroad Index.

The country receives a comparatively disappointing result in the Quality of Life Index, placing only 42nd, though this is an improvement after its 51st rank in 2018. Respondents are still dissatisfied with their health and well-being (56th) and digital life (51st). “I don’t like the traffic, pollution, and bad public transport systems,” says a British expat. Over a third (36%) regard the transportation infrastructure negatively. Still, 88% are generally happy with their life.

The people in Vietnam are amazing.

“The people are amazing,” a Swiss respondent thinks — others agree: Vietnam ranks fifth for friendliness, and close to two-thirds (64%) consider it easy to make local friends, 22 percentage points more than the global average (42%). While 75% regard the local language as difficult to learn, just 18% find it hard to live in Vietnam without speaking it. Overall, Vietnam improves by 16 places in the Ease of Settling In Index to rank 15th. Like Taiwan, Vietnam is not included in the Family Life Index due to a lack of respondents raising children in the country.

Highly Recommended: Portugal

After two years in the top 10, Portugal finally joins the top 3 in 2019. It’s the country where respondents are most likely to recommend expat life, and an impressive 83% agree it is easy to settle down in Portugal — good news for the 51% who plan to stay possibly forever.

Expats rank Portugal first for feeling at home and third for friendliness. Close to nine in ten (87%) describe the local attitude toward foreign residents as friendly, and the majority (57%) even regards it as very good — compared to 65% and 27% worldwide. “The people are the friendliest I've met in the world,” shares a US American.

Nearly a quarter (24%) relocated to Portugal for a better quality of life, and it does rank first in this index. “Life here is very peaceful, healthy, and safe,” according to a South African expat. Portugal ranks in the top 10 for the Leisure Options (2nd), Personal Happiness (2nd), Health & Well-Being (7th), and Safety & Security (8th) subcategories. Results for travel and transportation (16th) and digital life (16th) are not as good, but still more than satisfactory.

Life in Portugal is very peaceful, healthy, and safe.

Portugal’s 15th place in the Personal Finance Index is a good result, but not necessarily stunning on its own. However, the country only placed 45th out of 68 in 2018, which makes it the biggest winner in this index.

However, Portugal has lost some ground for family life, ranking 18th out of 36 in 2019, after a 9th place in 2018. Expat parents are still happy with the friendly attitude towards families with children (7th) and education options in general (6th) but rate the availability of childcare noticeably worse — 26% negative answers vs. 15% in 2018. This also applies to children’s general well-being: in 2018, 42% of parents were completely satisfied with this, compared to just 27% in 2019.

Portugal worst results, a 35th spot in the Working Abroad Index, is also better than its 48th place in 2018. Expats still aren’t very satisfied with their career prospects (46% positive answers vs. 55% globally) and job security (51% vs. 59%). However, while 11% are currently looking for work (vs. 8% worldwide), 15% say they relocated to Portugal to retire, five times the global average (3%).

No Surprises in the Bottom 3

Kuwait ranks last once again, a position it also held in 2018 and from 2014 to 2016. It still places last and second to last for the ease of settling in and quality of life, respectively, though it has improved for personal finance (from 50th to 38th in 2019). Results for working abroad remain bleak, though: Kuwait places 60th. While expats are mostly satisfied with the state of the economy (63% positive ratings vs. 63% globally) — the majority (59%) moved there for work-related reasons — 36% are unhappy with their work-life balance. All in all, Kuwait is the country expats would recommend the least.

It’s very difficult to start a career or find any type of work with a decent income to raise a family in Italy.

Italy may be new to the bottom 3, ranking 63rd out of 64 in 2019, but it has never made it out of the bottom 10. As in 2018, it does worst for working abroad (64th) and personal finance (62nd). “It’s very difficult to start a career or find any type of work with a decent income to raise a family,” a US American respondent says. Half the expats in Italy (50%) are dissatisfied with their career prospects; an even larger share (58%) rate the state of the economy negatively. The quality of life (49th) and ease of settling in (47th) fare slightly better, though Italy still performs well below average in both indices. The same is true for family life, where it places just 31st out of 36 countries.

After not featuring in the 2018 survey due to an insufficient number of respondents, Nigeria (62nd out of 64) once again ranks third to last, as it did in 2015, 2016, and 2017. It continues to perform satisfactorily when it comes to personal finance (20th) and the ease of settling in (31st), but this cannot make up for expats’ dissatisfaction with working in Nigeria (53rd) and the local quality of life (64th).

Trends in the Top and Bottom 10

Eight of the ten best-rated destinations already featured in the 2018 top 10, with only Vietnam (from 14th to 2nd) and Malaysia (from 17th to 9th) new in 2019. The two Tiger Cubs join Asian Tigers Taiwan (1st) and Singapore (6th), which have always ranked at least in the top 15. All four do very well for personal finance — Singapore (16th) ranks worst — as well as ease of settling in, where results range from Malaysia’s 3rd place to Vietnam’s 15th. However, Malaysia (24th) and Vietnam (42nd) cannot compete with Taiwan (3rd) and Singapore (4th) regarding the quality of life.

Mediterranean destinations Portugal (3rd) and Spain (5th) have seen little change, still impressing expats with the quality of life (1st and 2nd, respectively) and the ease of settling in (4th and 8th). While both rank in mid-field for working abroad (35th for Portugal vs. 37th for Spain), they differ vastly in the Family Life Index: with its 5th place out of 36, Spain does much better than Portugal (18th).

2018’s number one, Bahrain, still features in the top 10 but drops to seventh place. Expats are noticeably less satisfied with their working life: while the country ranked 1st in 2018, it only lands in 18th place out of 64 in 2019: 61% of expats are now content with their working hours, 20 percentage points less than in 2018 (81%). Ecuador has experienced something similar: going from third to eighth overall, it has lost the most ground in the Working Abroad Index, where it now ranks 45th, following a 11th place in 2018.

At the other end of the list, seven of the ten worst-rated countries already had this dubious honor in 2018; Nigeria — which didn’t appear in the 2018 ranking — has always placed in the bottom 10 when featuring in the survey. Russia (56th) and South Korea (55th) are new to the bottom 10. While the former has performed quite badly before, the latter is one of the biggest losers in 2019.

Further Reading