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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

Expat Life in the UK: Sauntering Slowly Downwards

Expat life is not all sunshine and rainbows in the gloomy United Kingdom, which lands among the bottom 10 for the second year running.
  • 56% were concerned about the high cost of living even before moving.
  • Childcare is neither affordable nor easily available according to expat parents in the UK.
  • 42% of expats rate the current political climate negatively.
  • The UK has seen a drop with regard to economy and job security.
  • 21% are unhappier after moving abroad (vs. 16% globally).

Rainy Weather, Stormy Politics

Coming in 62nd place (out of 64), the UK ends up among the bottom 3 for personal happiness, with only 66% of expats being generally happy with their life in their new country of residence, compared to 74% worldwide.

This below-average result might be influenced by the gloomy and rainy weather, which has a negative impact on everyday activities. In fact, 49% rate the climate negatively — well above the 21% average — with a mere 4% thinking it is very good. A Lithuanian expat even adds that “the weather affects my general health and well-being”.

Brexit makes our future uncertain.

Brexit seems to concern many expats living and working in the UK, or as a German expat puts it: “Brexit makes our future uncertain.” The quality of life in the United Kingdom is affected by the current political (in)stability, which more than two in five (42%) rate negatively — worldwide, only 17% are dissatisfied.

Other aspects that contribute to the lack of satisfaction with the quality of life are health and well-being: While the cost of healthcare isn’t considered a big issue among expats — 21% are dissatisfied (vs. 26% globally) — the quality of medical care doesn’t seem to be one of the UK’s strongest points (50th out of 64). More than three out of ten expats (31%) are not happy with this factor (globally: 18%).

However, the UK performs well for digital life, placing 19th out of 64 countries. In fact, 72% of expats are happy with the availability of administrative and government services online (vs. 55% worldwide), and only 2% rate paying without cash negatively (vs. 13% globally).

Reserved Brits Make Settling In Hard

The United Kingdom ranks in a good third place for the ease of learning the local language. Helped by the widespread use of English across the globe, 77% of expats in the UK think learning English is not a big deal, and almost six in ten (58%) speak the local language very well — 30 percentage points above the global average (28%). Another 24% of respondents in the UK are native speakers from other Anglophone countries.

Speaking the local language, however, doesn’t seem to be enough to feel completely settled. In fact, the UK ranks 45th (out of 64) for the ease of settling in. While more than half the respondents (52%) feel at home in the local culture (globally: 60%), 16% don’t think they will ever feel at home in the UK (globally: 13%).

Being an expat isn’t easy when it comes to getting to know local residents in the UK: While almost six out of ten (58%) consider the local population generally friendly (compared to 68% globally), nearly three in ten (28%) say they are unfriendly towards foreign residents (globally: 19%). A US American expat adds that “the locals are reserved and won’t go out of their way to be overly social. They may let you into their fold, but never in their inner circle.”

Slow Economy & Too Much Work

The UK is not a top scorer for job security. In fact, it has dropped seven places compared to 2018 (from 38th out of 68 to 45th out of 64) for economy and job security, with 23% of respondents being dissatisfied with the latter (globally: 21%). In addition to this, little more than half the expats (52%) think that the local economy is good — 11 percentage points below the global average (63%).

Expats in the UK have slightly lower full-time working hours than the global average (42.1 hours per week, compared to 43.9 globally). However, they still don’t seem satisfied with their work-life balance: only 52% rate it favorably, eight percentage points below the global average (60%).

On the other hand, finding a job in the United Kingdom isn’t a big issue for expats, surprisingly enough. In fact, among those who state to be unhappy with their life in the UK, only 9% say it is due to them being unable to find a job (globally: 22%). However, 42% aren’t happy because they don’t like the job they do have (globally: 33%).

Among the Priciest Destinations

In the Personal Finance Index, the UK ends up among the bottom countries (60th out of 64). Only 10% of respondents are completely satisfied with their financial situation (worldwide: 19%), while just two in five (40%) say their disposable income is more than what they need to cover expenses (vs. 49% globally).

The high cost of living, especially in London where 39% of the respondents live, was considered one of the three biggest potential disadvantages before moving by 56% of respondents — 24 percentage points above the global average of 32%.

Putting a Price on Raising Children

Childcare is considered hard to afford by 69% of expat parents in the UK — 29 percentage points above the global average (40%). An Indian expat says that “the high cost of childcare is an obstacle for a family to live well”. However, the price isn’t the only issue: expat parents also point out a lack of childcare options, with 44% rating this factor negatively — clearly above the global average (33%).

The high cost of childcare is an obstacle for a family to live well.

An above-average share of expat parents also rate their children’s health (16% vs. 10% globally) and safety (14% vs. 9%) negatively. The UK at least seems to provide plenty of leisure activities for children, according to 75% of the respondents raising children abroad.

Further Reading