Warm Welcome or Cold Shoulder? Where Expats (Don’t) Feel at Home
- #1 Mexico and #2 Bahrain continue to outshine all other destinations.
- #3 Malaysia helps expats to feel at home.
- Qatar has gained 19 ranks, with the biggest increase in friendliness.
- Malta continues its steep and steady decline.
- Ireland puts in its worst-ever performance in 2019.
The Top 15
To determine the ranking in the Ease of Settling In Index, respondents were asked to rate several factors in four different subcategories on a scale of one (poor) to seven (excellent). The topics range from the friendliness of the local population and feeling at home in the local culture, to the local language and the ease of finding friends. The 2019 index features 64 countries. A country had to have at least 75 respondents to be listed in the ranking.
Mexico and Bahrain Switch Silver and Gold
Mexico has always done extremely well in this index, and 2019 is no exception. After two years in second place, the country has reclaimed the top spot. In all six Expat Insider reports, Mexico has always stood out (i.e. ranking in first or second place) for the ease of making local friends. In 2019, a full third of expats (33%) agree completely that making local friends is easy, which is well over twice the global average (13%).
The necessity of learning Spanish may help with making friends: Mexico ranks in the bottom half for the ease of living abroad without speaking the local language (34th out of 64 countries). Happily, 70% agree that Spanish is easy to learn (vs. 37% worldwide who say the same about the language in their new country of residence). Expats also quickly feel at home in Mexico: just over one in three expats (34%) agree that it’s very easy to adjust to the local culture (globally: 20%).
I love the welcoming attitude of the Mexican people.
The attitude of Mexicans toward foreign residents continues to be very positive, with 54% of respondents giving this factor the highest rating (twice the global average of 27%). A Nigerian expat praises the “welcoming attitude of the people”. And with more than double the global average (59% vs. 29%) also completely agreeing that the locals are generally friendly, this means that Mexicans are considered the world’s nicest people for the third year in a row!
While Bahrain couldn’t hold on to gold in 2019, it has been in either first or second place in this index for the past three years running. As in previous years, respondents agree that it’s not easy to learn Arabic, but also that they don’t need it to live there comfortably. Nearly two out of three expats (64%) completely agree that they can get on fine without speaking Arabic, compared to 17% globally.
There’s no discrimination or racism in Bahrain.
Overall, more than eight in ten (81%) are happy with the general friendliness of the population. In addition, almost half (48%) give the friendly attitude towards foreign residents the highest possible rating (global average: 27%). In the words of one British expat: “The local people are amazingly kind and generous. There’s no discrimination or racism.”
Expats in Bahrain generally find it easy to get used to the local culture (71%) and feel at home in it (73%). More than double the global average think it’s not at all difficult to settle down in Bahrain (44% vs. 21% globally). Three in ten respondents (30%) say it is very easy to make local friends there (well over double the global average: 13%). However, probably due to Bahrain’s large expat population, 40% also say they are friends with mostly other expats.
Malaysia: Newcomer in the Top 3
While it has always ranked in the upper third of countries, since 2017 Malaysia has firmly established itself in the top 10 of the index, and in 2019 it comes in third place. It has improved across the board, but it has gained the most in the Feeling at Home subcategory, jumping from 15th out of 68 to 8th out of 64 countries. Over three in four expats (76%) find it generally easy to settle down in Malaysia (vs. 59% worldwide), and 73% also agree that it’s easy to get used to the local culture (globally: 62%). “It is easy to integrate into the local society and culture,” according to one German respondent.
In Malaysia, it is easy to integrate into the local society and culture.
Malaysia does best in the Language subcategory, coming in first place worldwide. Every other year it has come in second place. Malay is the official language of Malaysia, but especially in the business world, many locals also speak English. This probably helps to explain why almost half of the respondents (48%) say it’s very easy to live in Malaysia without local language skills (almost three times the global average of 17%). Over three-quarters (76%) say they speak the local language only a little or not at all (vs. 42% worldwide).
Over three in five expats in Malaysia (64%) say they have no problem making new friends, with 27% even stating they are completely satisfied with this factor (global averages: 54% and 17%, respectively). Making local friends in Malaysia seems to be a little less easy, though: Only 58% give it a positive rating (still far above the global average of 42%). In addition, only 12% state they are mainly friends with local residents (vs. 19% globally).
Two in five expats in Malaysia (40%) give the general friendliness of the population the best possible rating (globally: 29%). Malaysia ranks 16th for this factor in 2019, up from 23rd place in 2018. Just over three-quarters (76%) are pleased with the local attitude towards foreign residents.
Highs and Lows over the Years
All the countries in the top 5 in the 2019 Ease of Settling In Index have always been at least in the top 20. Mexico is the most stable country, ranking either first or second every year. Portugal comes in fourth place in the 2019 survey. It often performs well, previously coming in either fourth or fifth place in 2015, 2017, and 2018. The Philippines, which comes in fifth in 2019, has always been in the top 10. Costa Rica ranked in the top 3 from 2016 to 2018, but in 2019 it has dropped back down to spot ten.
It comes as no surprise that Kuwait (64th) and Denmark (63rd) are at the bottom of the Ease of Settling in Index for 2019, with Austria (62nd) rounding out the bottom 3. Kuwait has ranked at the very bottom every year except for 2017 (when it came third from last), and Denmark has always ranked in the bottom 5. South Korea has gradually gotten worse for settling in over the years (e.g. 45th out of 61 countries in 2014, compared to 61st out of 64 countries in 2019). Germany (60th) always has disappointing results in this index, ranking in or near the bottom 10 every year.
Where Expats Feel More Welcome
Qatar is the biggest winner in this index, climbing up 19 ranks from 41st out of 68 countries in 2018 to 22nd out of 64 countries in 2019. It sees major gains for the general friendliness of the population. In 2018, only 18% of respondents gave this factor the top rating, a percentage that has nearly doubled (34%) in 2019. Respondents also appreciate the friendly attitude towards foreign residents (from 43rd place to 24th). “It’s a cool place to live which makes you feel at home,” according to an Indian expat.
Qatar is a cool place to live which makes you feel at home.
Vietnam — one of the top 3 destinations overall in 2019 — and Hungary have both gained 16 spots in this ranking. However, whereas Vietnam has gone up from 31st to 15th place, Hungary starts from much farther down the list. It ranked at a dismal 60th place (out of 68) in 2018, coming 44th (out of 64) in 2019. Vietnam has made a huge jump for the ease of settling down in the country (from 38th to 9th spot). It has also gained 15 spots in terms of how easy it is to live there without local language skills (34th to 19th place). Hungary ranked 53rd for the ease of making new friends in 2018. It’s up 22 spots at 31st place in 2019. It’s also climbed 20 places for the ease of settling down in the country (51st to 31st).
Malta, Cyprus, and Ireland Leave a Chillier Impression
Malta has been suffering a steep and steady decline in this index since it ranked fourth in 2015 and 2016. Between 2018 and 2019, it has dropped a further eleven spots from 25th to 36th place. That’s a long fall from the top 5 to the bottom half! Between 2018 and 2019, the country has lost 18 spots for the ease of making local friends (from 17th to 35th place). In 2016, it still ranked third for this factor. Similarly, the Maltese apparently do not appreciate their foreign neighbors, with the country dropping 13 spots (from 40th to 53rd place) for the friendly attitude towards foreign residents. A Finnish respondent complains: “Locals are not terribly fond of foreigners in general and can be very hard to approach.”
Greek is devilishly difficult!
Cyprus, another island in the Mediterranean, has also dropped eleven ranks in 2019, from 12th to 23rd place. In 2015 it ranked 25th in the Ease of Settling In Index, but since then it has always ranked in the top 15, until 2019. Whereas in 2018, 78% agreed that they feel at home in the local culture, this percentage has declined to 59% in 2019. Moreover, a lower share of respondents agree that the local language is easy to learn, and the country has fallen from 37th to 45th spot for this factor. As a US American expat puts it: “Greek is devilishly difficult!”
Ireland puts in its worst-ever performance in the 2019 Ease of Settling In Index. It has dropped ten spots from 17th in 2018 to 27th place in 2019. For the factor feeling at home in the local culture, Ireland has even fallen from 17th to 44th spot, with only 56% giving this a positive rating, compared to 73% in 2018. It’s also down 19 places for making new friends, with only 54% agreeing this is easy, compared to 64% in 2018. A Canadian expat laments: “The local people act friendly, but they will never be your friend.”
- Expat Insider 2019 — The Best & Worst Places for Expats
- Expat Insider 2019 — Country Report: Mexico
- Expat Insider 2019 — Regional Report: The GCC States
- Gulf Research Center. Demography, Migration, and the Labour Market in Bahrain. 2019.
- The International Trade Administration. Malaysia Country Commercial Guide. 14 Jun 2019.
- Expat Insider 2018 — There’s No Place Like Home
- Expats in Bahrain
- Expats in Mexico
- Expats in Malaysia