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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

Basics of Life Abroad Easiest to Come By in Expat Hubs

With Bahrain, the UAE, and Singapore, three typical expat hubs land in the top 3. Germany, Japan, and China, however, make some of the basics very hard for expats to sort out.

Top Findings

  • #1 Bahrain makes life abroad convenient regarding language and admin topics.
  • Fellow Gulf State #2 UAE shows very similar strengths.
  • #3 Singapore impresses expats with its Digital Life, among other things.
  • All Gulf States, except for Kuwait, make it into the top 10.
  • Six of the bottom 10 destinations for Expat Essentials are located in Europe.

The Top 10

Methodology

The Expat Insider 2022 survey features 52 destinations with a minimum sample size of 50 respondents. The Expat Essentials Index is based on four subcategories with at least two rating factors each. The respondents were asked to rate each factor on a scale of 1 to 7.

The Admin Topics Subcategory includes the ease of getting a visa, dealing with local bureaucracy, and opening a local bank account. Digital Life covers the availability of government services online, the ease of getting high-speed internet access at home, cashless payment options, and unrestricted online access. For the Language Subcategory, respondents rated how easy it is to learn the local language(s) and to live abroad without speaking it/them. Lastly, the Housing Subcategory covers the affordability and availability of local housing.

#1 Bahrain: No Red Tape or Language Barrier

Bahrain (1st) owes much of its top ranking to the Admin Topics (2nd) and Language (4th) Subcategories. The high level of satisfaction may reflect that Bahrain is probably used to addressing the needs of expats, who make up a large share of its population. “Due to the many expats, it’s easy to integrate,” says a respondent from Malaysia. “I don’t feel like a stranger.

For example, 70% of those who needed a visa describe it as easy to get one (vs. 56% globally). About two in three (67%) also find it easy to deal with the local bureaucracy (vs. 40% globally). And the language barrier doesn’t really exist in Bahrain: though just 28% agree it’s easy to learn the local language (vs. 41% globally), 82% say you don’t need it to live there (vs. 51% globally).

Expats also have few difficulties in finding accommodation (82% happy vs. 54% globally). However, 30% view housing as too expensive, though that’s still 13 percentage points fewer than the global average (43%). All in all, Bahrain ranks tenth for Housing.

It narrowly misses out on a top 10 spot for Digital Life (11th). Bahrain does really well for the availability of government services online: 79% are happy with this factor (vs. 61% globally).

#2 The UAE: Excelling at Language & Admin Topics

Bahrain (1st) is followed by the UAE (2nd). A closer look reveals that the two have a lot in common.

Like Bahrain, the UAE excels for Language (2nd). It even ranks first for the ease of living abroad without speaking the local language: 85% of expats in the UAE describe it as easy, 34 percentage points more than the global average (51%).

The UAE gets outstanding results for Admin Topics (3rd), too. It is the leading destination for the ease of getting a visa, which 83% rate positively (vs. 56% globally). “You get to enjoy life abroad with fewer entry requirements,” says an expat from India. Another 61% find it easy to deal with the local authorities (vs. 40% globally).

In the Housing and Digital Life Subcategories, the UAE lags a little behind, placing 14th in each. While 75% consider it easy to find housing (vs. 54% globally), 36% say it’s not affordable enough (vs. 43% globally).

Again, the UAE does very well for the online availability of government services (86% happy vs. 61% globally). But 19% criticize the lack of unrestricted online access (vs. 7% globally). For the latter factor, it places 49th.

#3 Singapore: Top Rated for Language & Digital Life

With Singapore, another expat hub makes it into the top 3. The city-state shines in three of the four subcategories. It even places first for Language — probably because English is one of its official languages.

For Digital Life (4th), Singapore misses out on a place in the top 3. However, it is the best-rated country for high-speed internet access at home (97% satisfied vs. 79% globally). When it comes to the availability of government services online, Singapore (2nd) is only beaten by Estonia (1st): 91% rate this factor positively (vs. 61% globally). “I really like the fast and organized online services for many administrative purposes,” an expat from Indonesia comments. Another 97% like the cashless payment options (vs. 84% globally).

Expats in Singapore consider it easy enough to deal with the local bureaucracy (63% happy vs. 40% globally), and 81% had no difficulties opening a bank account (vs. 64% globally). However, it’s not quite as easy to get a visa for Singapore. Only 58% rate this factor favorably (vs. 56% globally).

The Housing Subcategory (34th) is the only negative outlier in this index, mostly due to housing costs: 73% say it is not difficult to find housing (vs. 54% globally), but 71% find it hard to afford (vs. 43% globally).

The Bottom 3: Germany, Japan & China

Germany (52nd) does very badly in the Digital Life (48th), Housing (47th), and Language (49th) Subcategories. Expats are unhappy with the ease of getting high-speed internet access at home (24% vs. 11% globally) and the lack of cashless payment options (27% vs. 8% globally). Moreover, housing is both hard to afford (59% unhappy vs. 43% globally) and to find (56% unhappy vs. 27% globally). “It may take up to three months to find even a temporary accommodation,” says an expat from Poland. And everyday life is anything but easy if you don’t speak the language (46% unhappy vs. 32% globally).

The language barrier is even more of a challenge in Japan (51st). It ranks last in this subcategory (52nd): 53% describe life in Japan as difficult without speaking the local language (vs. 32% globally), while 70% find it hard to learn (vs. 38% globally). This may not help with regard to finding housing (45% unhappy vs. 27% globally) or opening a bank account (38% unhappy vs. 21% globally). Fortunately, dealing with the local authorities does not seem too difficult (27th), but their services are not easily available online (35% unhappy vs. 21% globally).

Placing 50th in the index, China ranks 52nd for Digital Life. Expats are unhappy with the restricted access to online services (69% vs. 7% globally). “What I dislike about China is the lack of access to international social media,” says a respondent from South Africa. They also struggle with administrative issues, such as getting a visa (42% unhappy vs. 24% globally) or a bank account (41% unhappy vs. 21% globally). Chinese is not exactly the easiest language, either: 68% describe it as difficult (vs. 38% globally). However, China does a lot better for Housing (20th): 67% consider it easy to find (vs. 54% globally).

Trends in the Top 10

  1. Bahrain
  2. UAE
  3. Singapore
  4. Estonia
  5. Oman
  6. Indonesia
  7. Saudi Arabia
  8. Qatar
  9. Kenya
  10. Canada

In addition to Bahrain (1st) and the UAE (2nd), three more Gulf States feature among the top 10. Oman lands in 5th place, with Saudi Arabia (7th) and Qatar (8th) not far behind.

Four out of five Gulf States rank in the top 10 for Language, mostly because it is easy to live there without local language skills. Three are also listed among the top 10 for Admin Topics, with Saudi Arabia (11th) and Oman (12th) narrowly missing out on a top spot. And Oman (8th) joins Bahrain (10th) among the ten best countries for Housing. However, none lands in the top 10 for Digital Life since access to online services is more or less heavily restricted.

The other destinations are a diverse bunch, spread across four continents. Canada (10th) makes it into the top 10 for Admin Topics (6th), Digital Life (8th), and Language (9th). However, it is among the worst-rated destinations for Housing (43rd).

Housing is not an issue for expats in Kenya (12th for this subcategory) or Indonesia (2nd). Both destinations also do very well for Language, with Kenya coming third and Indonesia following in sixth place. But their mediocre results for Digital Life and Admin Topics affect the overall ranking: Kenya places ninth in the Expat Essentials Index, while Indonesia comes sixth.

Lastly, Estonia (4th) excels with regard to Admin Topics (1st) and Digital Life (1st). However, with its results for Language and Housing being just about average (27th for each), it does not land on the podium.

Trends in the Bottom 10

  1. Germany
  2. Japan
  3. China
  4. Kuwait
  5. Italy
  6. Greece
  7. Vietnam
  8. Czechia
  9. France
  10. Malta

The only Gulf State not featured in the top 10 even ends up among the bottom 10: Kuwait (49th) is one of the worst-rated countries in this index, largely due to Admin Topics (50th) and Digital Life (47th). Its best result is a 29th place for Language.

In addition to Germany (52nd), there are plenty of other European countries among the bottom 10. Czechia (45th) and France (44th) are joined by Malta (43rd), Greece (47th), and Italy (48th). The Southern European destinations have some clear trends in common. They do poorly with regard to Digital Life and Admin Topics, while showing an average performance for Housing and Language.

Like Kuwait, Vietnam (46th) is a bit of an outlier. It is the only Southeast Asian destination in the bottom 10. Vietnam performs very poorly for Language (47th), Digital Life (49th), and Admin Topics (51st) but ranks in the top 5 for Housing (5th).

Further Reading

Full Ranking