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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

The UK: Great Career Opportunities but High Cost of Living

The UK offers excellent career opportunities despite a dissatisfying economy, but expats are generally very unhappy compared to the global average.

Top Findings

  • 55% of expats are satisfied with the state of the local economy (vs. 62% globally).
  • The UK performs best in the Digital Life subcategory (13th).
  • 15% of respondents in the UK are generally unhappy with their life (vs. 10% globally).
  • Close to three-quarters (74%) are satisfied with the affordability of healthcare (vs. 6% globally).
  • The UK performs worst in the Cost of Living (45th) and Personal Finance (53rd) Indices, though.

Great Careers despite Economic Turn

Coming in a low 45th place out of 59 destinations in the Expat Insider 2021 survey, the United Kingdom performs best in the Working Abroad Index (29th). The country lands in 17th place in the Career Prospects & Satisfaction subcategory, with 56% of expats satisfied with the local career opportunities (vs. 45% globally). Additionally, 66% of expats are happy with their job security (vs. 61% globally), and another 67% rate their working hours positively (vs. 66% globally). A Serbian expat shares: “I like the freedom, job opportunities, job security, and travel opportunities.”

Interestingly, expats working full time in the UK do so for fewer hours per week than the global average (41.3 hours vs. 43.2 hours globally). This also applies to part-time workers, although not to the same extent (23.5 hours vs. 24.2 hours globally). However, an above-average 22% still rate their work-life balance negatively (vs. 17% globally). And just over half the expats (55%) are satisfied with the state of the local economy (vs. 62% globally). “Brexit has made the economy go downhill,” says a Maltese expat, and a Czech respondent also feels an “economic decline linked to Brexit” — though the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has certainly also contributed to the UK’s GDP being down 9.9% in 2020 compared to the year before.

Unhappy & Hating the Weather

Coming in 36th in the Quality of Life Index, the UK performs best in the Digital Life subcategory (13th). The majority of expats finds it easy to pay without cash (95% vs. 83% globally) and are satisfied with the availability of administrative and government services online (80% vs. 63% globally). Additionally, 93% of expats are happy with the unrestricted access to online services (vs. 84% globally). A Philippine expat makes sure to point out the “the accessibility to things”.

I like the accessibility to things.

On the other hand, the UK lands in the bottom 5 for its local climate and weather (56th): 43% of expats rate this factor negatively, which is 26 percentage points more than the global average (17%). “I’m originally from Portugal where the weather is normally amazing, so the thing that I struggle with the most is the cold in the UK,” one expat shares. All things considered, 15% of respondents in the UK are generally unhappy with their life (vs. 10% globally), which places the UK second to last for this factor — only expats in Kuwait (59th) are less happy overall.

The country also performs slightly below average in the Safety & Security subcategory (38th), with one in ten expats (10%) dissatisfied with their personal safety (vs. 8% globally). The same is true for the Health & Well-Being subcategory (32nd): 19% of expats rate the quality of medical care negatively (vs. 14% globally). A Polish expat dislikes the “lack of access to medical specialists; most medical visits are covered by nurses or GPs only.” However, close to three-quarters (74%) are at least satisfied with its affordability, compared to just 61% globally.

High Costs & Valuable Friendships

The UK performs worst in the Cost of Living (45th) and Personal Finance (53rd) Indices. In fact, just 39% of expats are satisfied with the cost of living (vs. 48% globally), and 28% say their disposable household income is not enough to cover their daily costs (vs. 23% globally). Moreover, one-quarter of expats (25%) is unhappy with their financial situation (vs. 19% globally). A Brazilian expat shares:

My low salary does not cover the high cost of living.

In contrast, the UK receives rather average results in the Ease of Settling In Index (31st) and its Feeling at Home subcategory (30th). About two-thirds of expats find it easy to settle down in the UK (64% vs. 62% globally), as well as to get used to the local culture (66% vs. 65% globally). However, 37% of expats find it difficult to make new friends in the UK (vs. 32% globally).

The Impact of COVID-19 on Expat Life

The pandemic has changed the relocation plans of 37% of survey respondents worldwide, which is just about the same share as in the UK (36%). COVID-19 mostly affects expats in the UK in terms of their social life (28% vs. 24% globally), personal travel (25% vs. 28% globally), and their work or business (14% vs. 15% globally). Few have noticed an impact on their (or their children’s) education (2% vs. 2% globally), general health (3% vs. 2% globally), or business travel (4% vs. 6% globally).

Over three in five expats in the UK (61%) use official government channels as a source of information on COVID-19 and related regulations — more than ten percentage points above the global average (48%) — followed by local news (60% vs. 47% globally). Just close to a third of respondents (32%) stay up to date through social media (vs. 40% globally). However, only 55% of expats are satisfied with the official communication regarding COVID-19, compared to 66% globally.

Further Reading