Expat-Friendly Places in 2023: Navigating the Ease of Settling In
- #1 Mexico takes the lead, followed closely by #2 Brazil and #3 the Philippines.
- The bottom 10 are dominated by European countries.
- #53 Kuwait, #52 Austria, and #51 Denmark fall short in making expats feel at home.
- Nordic countries continue to perform badly, with the exception of Finland (#31).
The Top 10
The Ease of Settling In Index of the Expat Insider 2023 survey includes 53 destinations around the world, with a minimum sample size of 50 respondents each. The index is based on three subcategories with two or three rating factors each:
The Local Friendliness Subcategory is based on the general friendliness of the local population and their friendliness towards foreign residents. Finding Friends includes if expats have a personal support network, if they are happy with their social life, and if making local friends is easy. Lastly, the Culture & Welcome Subcategory looks at whether expats feel at home as well as welcome, and if it is easy to get used to the local culture.
#1 Mexico: The Friendliest Destination for Expats
Mexico continues its winning streak. For the fifth year in a row, the destination ranks 1st in the Ease of Settling In Index, maintaining a top 3 position since 2014. Over four in five expats (82%) feel at home in Mexico, which is 20 percentage points above the global average of 62%. Around nine in ten also feel welcome there (89% vs. 67% globally) and rate the general friendliness of the local residents positively (91% vs. 67% globally).
“The people here are delightful!” – US American expat
Almost three-quarters (74%) are happy with their social life (vs. 56% globally). The same share (74%) say that making local friends is easy there (vs. 43% globally). And expats in Mexico are in fact less likely to be friends with just other expats: 31% say that their friends are mostly local residents, which is almost double the global average (17%).
#2 Brazil: A Welcoming Destination for Lifelong Stays
Brazil, which just missed out on a top 3 place in 2022, has now improved its performance to come in 2nd in the Ease of Settling In Index a year later.
The country even beats Mexico when it comes to people being friendly towards foreign residents (1st) and the ease of making local friends (1st). Close to nine in ten expats in Brazil (89%) rate the former positively (vs. 65% globally), while for the latter almost three-quarters of expats (73%) say finding friends is easy (vs. 43% globally). Brazil ranks in the top 10 when it comes to the Finding Friends (4th) and Culture & Welcome (4th) Subcategories. Almost three-quarters of expats (71%) are happy with their social life (vs. 56% globally).
Close to nine in ten expats (88%) feel welcome there, compared to 67% globally. According to 77%, it is also easy to get used to the local culture (vs. 62% globally). That is good news for the higher-than-average share who plan to stay possibly forever (47% vs. 35% globally).
#3 Philippines: Sunny Skies & Retirement Bliss
The Philippines rounds out the top 3 of the Ease of Settling In Index in 2023, defending its position of the previous year. It also ranks 3rd in the Local Friendliness and Culture & Welcome Subcategories and comes in 5th for Finding Friends.
Nearly nine in ten expats (86%) rate the general friendliness of the local residents positively, close to 20 percentage points more than the global average of 67%. About three in five (58%) even say it is very good (vs. 30% globally). The destination has always performed well when it comes to the topic of finding friends. Over seven in ten expats in the Philippines (72%) say that it is easy to make local friends there (vs. 43% globally). Close to twice the global average even could not agree more (27% vs. 15% globally). In fact, 44% share that their friends are mainly locals (vs. 17% globally).
Almost four in five expats (79%) feel at home in the Philippines (vs. 62% globally). And close to nine in ten (88%) feel welcome there, which is higher than the global average of 67%. “What I like best about life in the Philippines are the friendly people and the relaxed lifestyle,” says a US American expat.
Welcome Woes: Ranking the Bottom 3
These countries are consistent bottom-dwellers: Kuwait (53rd), Austria (52nd), and Denmark (51st).
Kuwait can consistently be found at the bottom of this index, from the first year of the survey to today, and it also places last overall and in the index in 2023. It ranks in the bottom 3 for all the underlying subcategories; the worst being Culture & Welcome (53rd). More than twice the global average do not feel welcome there (35% vs. 15% globally), and over a third of expats (36%) find it difficult to get used to the local culture in Kuwait (vs. 18% globally).
Expats do not have a personal support network (32% unhappy vs. 24% globally) and struggle to make local friends (just 23% happy vs. 43% globally). They are mostly friends with other expats (58% vs. 33% globally). And the worst struggle for expats is not having enough opportunities to socialize (32% vs. 25% globally).
Austria just misses the bottom 10 for the overall ranking, but it is new to the bottom 3 of this index. The country joins Kuwait in the bottom 3 for most subcategories and is the worst destination worldwide in the Local Friendliness Subcategory (53rd). Only a third of expats in Austria (33%) agree that the people there are friendly towards foreign residents (vs. 65% globally). Close to a quarter (24%) even disagree completely (vs. 6% globally). Similarly, just 40% view the general friendliness of the local residents positively (vs. 67% globally).
Over double the global average do not feel welcome in Austria (33% vs. 15% globally). Three times the global average even very much so (15% unhappy vs. 5% globally). And close to a third (32%) find it difficult to get used to the Austrian culture (vs. 18% globally). Expats struggle most with making friends (51% vs. 29% globally), the language barrier (38% vs. 22% globally), and not having enough socializing opportunities (27% vs. 25% globally).
“I’m finding it very hard to find friends and to make long-lasting friendships.” – Canadian expat
New to the bottom 3 — though it has never performed well in the Ease of Settling In Index — is Denmark. The country ranks last for the Finding Friends Subcategory (53rd). Only two in five expats (40%) are happy with their social life (vs. 56% globally). Close to two-thirds (66%) disagree that it is easy to make Danish friends, which is 30 percentage points higher than the global average (36%). Consequently, expats are also very likely to be friends with mostly other expats (52% vs. 33% globally).
Less than half (47%) agree that the people are friendly towards foreign residents (vs. 65% globally). More than double the global average even disagree completely (14% vs. 6% globally). Similarly, just 53% view the general friendliness of the local residents positively (vs. 67% globally). Only about half (51%) feel at home in Denmark (vs. 62% globally). And close to twice the global average do not feel welcome there (29% vs. 15% globally).
Trends in the Top 10
- Costa Rica
The destinations in the top 10 are scattered all over the globe, though Greece (8th) and Kenya (5th) are the only representatives of their respective region.
Two of the four Central and South American countries in the top 10 are even on the podium — Mexico (1st) and Brazil (2nd) — while Panama (4th) just misses out on a top 3 ranking, and Costa Rica (7th) is slightly further down the list. The Philippines (3rd) secured the same spot as in 2022, and Indonesia (6th) falls out of the top 3. Bahrain (9th) and Oman (10th) bring up the rear, with Bahrain re-entering the top 10.
Trends in the Bottom 10
- South Korea
In contrast to the top 10, most countries in the bottom 10 are found in Europe: including three Nordic destinations and all three countries in the D-A-CH region (Germany, Austria, Switzerland).
For the Nordic countries, Denmark (51st) performs worst, followed by Norway in 48th place and Sweden in 46th place. In the D-A-CH region, Austria has the worst result (52nd). And both Germany (50th) and Switzerland (47th) perform worse than in 2022. The last destination in Europe is Czechia, which comes in 45th place.
The exceptions to this list are South Korea (49th) and Japan (44th) in East Asia, with Kuwait (53rd) yet again coming in last place.
The Biggest Winners
While the other Nordic countries continue to perform badly in the Ease of Settling In Index, Finland has risen an impressive 13 ranks to drag itself out of the bottom 10, coming in 31st in 2023. In fact, the country has improved across all the indices in the survey.
Finland continues to have its best performance for the Ease of Settling In when it comes to the Culture & Welcome Subcategory: only 13% of expats struggle with getting used to the local culture (vs. 18% globally), which is a much lower share than in 2022 with 31%. Besides that, three in five (61%) say that they have a personal support network in Finland (vs. 58% globally). However, expats still do not find it super easy to make local friends (45% say it is difficult vs. 36% globally).
The second-biggest winner, Luxembourg, has risen 12 places to rank 34th out of 53 destinations in the 2023 Ease of Settling In Index, also making an impressive comeback out of the bottom 10. Luxembourg only remains among the 10 worst destinations when it comes to the general friendliness of the local population: close to a quarter (24%) find that the people are unfriendly there (vs. 16% globally).
But the country saw impressive improvements across all other factors of the index. Close to two-thirds (66%) feel at home in Luxembourg (vs. 62% globally), compared to just 52% in 2022. And while 42% were unhappy with their social life in 2022, the number is much closer to the global average in 2023 (27% vs. 25% globally).
The Biggest Losers
Hungary has dropped 13 places in the Ease of Settling In Index, coming in 36th out of 53 destinations. The country saw the biggest fall in the Finding Friends Subcategory (from 13th to 31st). Expats are less happy with their social life: from 61% positive responses in 2022, it is down to just 50% in 2023. In fact, 47% find it difficult to make local friends (vs. 36% globally), which is a 14 percentage point increase compared to the 33% in 2022. Another big change is that only 59% of expats feel at home there (vs. 62% globally), compared to 70% in 2022.
Taiwan plummeted 11 places and drops out of the top 10 in this index, securing a 17th place. While in 2022, the destination secured a top 10 place for most of the index’s factors, this is unfortunately no longer the case a year later. Taiwan took its biggest tumble when it comes to the ease of getting used to the local culture: it dropped from 71% positive responses to 59% in 2023. Only 41% of expats still agree completely that they feel welcome in Taiwan, compared to 53% in 2022. The destination also secured a top 3 spot for having a personal support network in 2022, but dropped down to 14th place a year later.
- Expat Insider 2023: Get the full PDF report
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- Finland Outperforms Sweden, Denmark & Norway in the Eyes of Expats
- Expats Love the Excellent Healthcare in Taiwan
- Ease of Settling In Index 2022: Hospitable or Hostile?