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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

The Best & Worst Destinations Worldwide for the Sustainable Expat

Making up eight of the top 10 destinations, Europe dominates the ranking of the best and worst destinations for sustainability in the world. At the other end of the scale, Asia fails to impress with six destinations in the bottom 10.

The Environment & Sustainability Ranking is based on three subcategories: Products & Utilities, Policies & Peoples, and Quality of Environment. In total, respondents were asked to share their satisfaction with eight individual rating factors. Two or three of these factors were then grouped together for each subcategory. The Products & Utilities subcategory, for example, includes the availability of green goods and services. In the Policies & People subcategory expats rated, among other things, how much they think the local government supports policies to protect the environment. Lastly, the Quality of the Environment subcategory includes factors such as the natural environment and air quality.

European Countries in the Lead

Not only do several Nordic countries make up the global top 3 of the first Environment & Sustainability Ranking by InterNations, but the top 10 in general are also dominated by European expat destinations.

Coming in first place overall, Finland is the highest-ranking country in the Quality of Environment subcategory and comes in second place, right behind Sweden (1st), in both the Products & Utilities and the Policies & People subcategories. Sweden lands in a slightly lower fourth position in the Quality of Environment subcategory, which leads to a second place in the overall ranking. Norway performs best in the Quality of Environment subcategory (2nd), with more than nine in ten expats being happy with the air quality (93% vs. 62% globally) and the local water and sanitation infrastructure (97% vs. 72% globally). The Environmental Performance Index 2020 shows similar results for these countries, with Finland coming in at 7th place out of 180, followed by Sweden (8th) and Norway (9th).

With Denmark (6th), another Nordic destination lands in the global top 10. The country performs best in the Policies & People subcategory (3rd); for example, more than four in five expats (83%) agree that the Danish population is very interested in environmental issues (vs. 48% globally).

Apart from the four Nordic countries, the European destinations Austria (4th), Switzerland (5th), Germany (8th), and Luxembourg (10th) are featured the top 10. As the first non-Nordic country in the ranking, Austria performs best in the Products & Utilities subcategory (3rd), landing in first place for the local availability of green goods and services. In fact, 90% of expats are happy with this factor (vs. 63% globally). Neighboring Switzerland gets the best ratings worldwide for its natural environment (98% happy vs. 82% globally), which also leads to an excellent third rank in the Quality of Environment subcategory. Germany and Luxembourg both perform best in the Product & Utilities subcategory, with a seventh place for Germany and Luxembourg in tenth place: at least four in five expats in Germany (83%) and Luxembourg (80%), for example, rate the factor energy (e.g. availability of clean energy, saving energy) positively (vs. 62% globally). While Luxembourg does slightly better in terms of government support for policies to protect the environment (9th), expats in Germany think that the local population is more interested in environmental issues (8th).

Canada and New Zealand Mix Up the Top 10

New Zealand (7th) and Canada (9th) are the only non-European destinations to make it into the global top 10. New Zealand does best in the Policies & People subcategory (4th), with 85% of the expats agreeing that the government supports policies to protect the environment (vs. 55% globally).

Canada, on the other hand, performs best in the Quality of Environment subcategory (8th). Most expats (96%) are happy with the country’s natural environment (vs. 82% globally), and 74% even say it could not be any better (vs. 49% globally). Even though Canada scores slightly lower in the Products & Utilities (11th) and the Policies & People (13th) subcategories, it is still the best-ranking North American destination featured in the survey.

Costa Rica (15th) follows close behind, while the USA (30th), Panama (31st), and Mexico (43rd) are relegated to the lower half of the ranking. Compared to Canada (18th) and Costa Rica (7th), it is the lack of government support for policies to protect the environment that worries expats Panama (29th), Mexico (45th), and the USA (51st). For example, in the USA, 49% of expats are unhappy with this factor (vs. 25% globally).

An Outlier: The Only European Country in the Bottom 10

Malta (52nd out of 60) is the only European destination in the bottom 10 of the Environment & Sustainability Ranking. The country performs rather poorly in both the Quality of Environment (51st) and the Policies & People (55th) subcategories, ranking among the ten worst-rated destinations for both. Even in its best subcategory — Products & Utilities (46th) — its results are average at best. For example, 61% of expats are satisfied with the local waste management and recycling measures (vs. 60% globally). However, as reported by the Environmental Implementation Review 2019, it is Malta’s goal to improve and ensure a more effective waste management.

Unlike Malta, Greece (45th), Cyprus (44th), and Poland (36th) do not land in the bottom 10, but they still rank below average. Greece (51st) and Cyprus (48th) both do badly in the Products & Utilities subcategory, and Greece is even among the worst destinations worldwide for its energy supply (51st) and the waste management and recycling infrastructure (53rd). According to Global Recycling, Greece is, in fact, a late adapter in terms of recycling. The report describes its waste management as a major structural problem, as the majority of Greece’s municipal waste (81% vs. 31% for the EU-28 average) is dumped, with only 16% being recycled and 4% being composted.

While Poland ranks higher in the Products & Utilities subcategory (33rd), it loses some ground in the Quality of Environment subcategory (43rd). In fact, 60% of expats are unhappy with the air quality in Poland, compared to 24% globally.

Bottom 10: Low Performers among Asian Expat Destinations

While Taiwan (11th), Singapore (19th), and Japan (25th) rank among the top 25 of the Environment & Sustainability Ranking, 6 out of 13 Asian destinations featured in the report land in the global bottom 10.

India is voted the worst country in the Environment & Sustainability Ranking. It comes last for nearly all the rating factors, except for two: its natural environment (59th), where it manages to beat Kuwait (60th), and the population’s interest in environmental issues (58th). Egypt (59th) and Kuwait (60th) perform even worse in this regard. Nevertheless, 40% of expats in India are unhappy with the natural environment (vs. 9% globally), and 59% think that the local population is not very interested in environmental issues (vs. 30% globally). An expat from Colombia sums it up: “There is no care for the environment.” In 2018, the WHO’s global air pollution database revealed how 14 of the world’s 15 most polluted cities are located in India (based on PM 2.5 concentrations), and according to the 2019 State of Indian’s Environment Report, 12.5% of all deaths in the country are caused by air pollution.

Going from bottom to top among the Asian destinations, India lags behind Indonesia (57th), Vietnam (56th), Thailand (55th), and the Philippines (54th). While Indonesia lands in 44th place for its natural environment, it is nearly the worst-rated destination for its water and sanitation infrastructure (59th), ranking just ahead of India (60th). Half of the respondents (50%) are unhappy with this factor (vs. 15% globally).

Vietnam’s worst and best results are both part of the Quality of Environment subcategory (57th). On the one hand, the country comes in at 58th place worldwide for its air quality, with only South Korea (59th) and India (60th) performing even worse. On the other hand, Vietnam ranks 50th for its natural environment, its best — yet still very much below-average — result.

Thailand lands in a low 56th place in both the Quality of Environment and Policies & People subcategories, while the Philippines receives the same bad result in the Products & Utilities subcategory (56th). In fact, 44% of expats are not satisfied with the availability of green goods & services in the Philippines (vs. 21% globally).

Both Thailand and the Philippines also perform poorly in the Environmental Performance Index 2020. In this ranking, Thailand comes in at 80th place and the Philippines at 111th place out of 180 destinations. For instance, the Philippines ranks very low for its air quality, coming 123rd overall. This is also reflected in the Environment & Sustainability Ranking, where a German expat describes the ‘’environmental problems’’ as one of the worst things about life in the Philippines.

With Hong Kong (51st), another Asian destination lands in the bottom 10. This is mainly due to two factors: the lack of environmental awareness among the local population (55th) and the bad air quality (55th). In fact, 58% of expats think that the population in Hong Kong is not very interested in environmental issues (vs. 30% globally), and 69% rate the air quality negatively (vs. 24% globally).

Mainland China (50th) narrowly avoids placing in the bottom 10. It loses some points for its air quality (51st) and its natural environment (53rd), ranking 54th in the Quality of Environment subcategory. In fact, 29% of the respondents are unhappy with the natural environment, compared to 9% globally. A US American expat even describes the ‘’poor environmental conditions’’ as one of the worst things about living in China.

Kuwait and Egypt among the Worst Countries Worldwide

Egypt (58th) and Kuwait (59th) join India (60th) in the bottom 3 of the Environment & Sustainability Ranking. They perform much worse than other Middle Eastern destinations featured in the survey, such as Oman (21st), the UAE (22nd), Israel (23rd), Bahrain (29th), and Qatar (34th). Turkey (42nd) and Saudi Arabia (49th) also do significantly better in the overall ranking.

Egypt (58th) ranks among the bottom 3 destinations in each subcategory, performing worst in the Products & Utilities subcategory (59th). Here, the country places 58th for all three rating factors: the availability of green goods and services, its energy supply, and local waste management and recycling efforts. Kuwait (59th) only has one factor that does not end up among the bottom 10: its energy supply (50th). Not even half the expats (45%) rate this factor positively — which is far below the global average (62%). The country ranks worst (60th out of 60) for the lack of interest in environmental issues among the local population. As reported by the Legatum Prosperity Index 2019, both Egypt (107th out of 167 destinations worldwide) and Kuwait (78th) perform rather badly for investing in the environment.

Further Reading