Sorting the Essentials for a Seamless Life Abroad in 2023
- The top 3 all delight with easy administration.
- #53 Germany and #52 Japan fall behind regarding Digital Life.
- Expats in #51 Italy encounter a lot of red tape.
- The worst countries are mostly found in Asia and Europe.
The Top 10
The Expat Essentials Index 2023 covers four different subcategories: Admin Topics, Housing, Digital Life, and Language. Expats were asked to rate various factors in these areas on a scale from one (very bad) to seven (very good). To be included in the ranking, a minimum of 50 respondents was required. In 2023, 53 destinations made this threshold.
Admin Topics Are a Breeze in #1 Bahrain
Bahrain not only makes it into the global top 10 overall (9th), it also ranks 1st for the second year in a row in the Expat Essentials Index.
Expats particularly appreciate Bahrain when it comes to Admin Topics (1st), such as opening a bank account (1st) or dealing with the bureaucracy in general (4th). In fact, 59% say it is easy to deal with local authorities, 20 percentage points more than the global average of 39%. And nearly three-quarters (73%) found it easy to get a visa for Bahrain (vs. 57% globally) — close to half (49%) even very much so (vs. 31%)!
Once they have arrived, expats say it is easy to get housing (2nd), and there is not much of a language barrier. Close to four in five expats (78%) say it is easy to live in Bahrain without speaking Arabic (vs. 50% globally). Though 59% also speak it at least fairly well, and 5% have it as their mother tongue.
“I think all aspects of settling in are easy.” – German expat
Cashless payment options (90% happy vs. 84% globally) and online government and administrative services (76% vs. 60%) are also readily available. And getting your high-speed internet set up could not be easier, according to 60% of expats in Bahrain who give this factor the best possible rating (vs. 46% globally) — though the country’s results for unrestricted access to online services is a sore point (41st).
All in all, over two in five expats (43%) point out that it is easy to deal with the practical aspects of life in Bahrain (vs. 34% globally).
Living a Modern Life in the #2 UAE
Ranking 11th, the UAE may have narrowly missed out on a top 10 spot overall. But it defends its 2nd place of 2022 in the Expat Essentials Index.
Its results in the index are very similar to Bahrain’s. Expats highlight the ease of getting a visa (80% happy vs. 57% globally) and dealing with local bureaucracy in general (64% vs. 39%), which results in a 4th place in the Admin Topics Subcategory.
Any paperwork can also be done online, thanks to easy access to high-speed internet (9th) and readily available government services on the web (5th). “Life here is modern with all the latest trends and technology available,” according to a Pakistani respondent. The biggest drawback: just 62% agree that there is unrestricted access to online services such as social media (vs. 84% globally).
Close to three-quarters of expats (72%) say it is easy to find housing in the UAE, a much higher share than the global average of less than half (49%). And while about a third (32%) are unhappy with the costs for accommodation, this share is still 10 percentage points lower than the respective result worldwide (42%).
Three in four (75%) share that they speak the local language at least fairly well or that it is even their mother tongue (vs. 65% globally). Even though they do not necessarily need to — after Bahrain, the UAE (2nd) is the country where expats find it the easiest to get by without local language skills. And those who would still like to pick up Arabic can take heart that only a quarter (25%) find it difficult to learn, compared to 38% of expats worldwide who struggle with their respective local language(s).
At the end of the day, close to half the expats in the UAE (49%) point out that the ease of dealing with practical aspects is a big reason for their satisfaction with life there (vs. 34% globally).
#3 Oman Offers Affordable Housing
Coming in 3rd place, Oman follows the neighboring UAE closely not only in the overall ranking (12th), but also in the Expat Essentials Index. Again, the results tell a very similar story.
Expats in Oman do not struggle to get by without speaking Arabic (4th), though close to half (47%) also find the local language easy to learn (vs. 40% globally). Housing is readily available (3rd) and even comparatively cheap (6th). In fact, over three in five (61%) give the affordability of housing in Oman a favorable rating, compared to just 38% of expats worldwide.
It is easy to open a local bank account according to 72% of respondents (vs. 62% globally), and the visa process is not much of an issue, either (64% happy vs. 57%). All in all, Oman places 8th in the Admin Topics Subcategory.
“Life is peaceful and well organized here.” – Indian expat
However, there is one area where it loses out compared to Bahrain and the UAE: Digital Life (32nd). This is mainly due to the restricted access to online services such as social media. Only China receives worse results for this factor, with Oman ranking 52nd out of 53 destinations. Getting high-speed internet access at home (19th) or the availability of government services online (15th) are much less of an issue.
Few Surprises in the Bottom 3
As in 2022, Germany again comes in last place (53rd). Expats there are particularly dissatisfied with the factors of the Digital Life Subcategory (51st). It is not easy to pay without cash (just 57% happy vs. 84% globally) and high-speed internet can be difficult to get (23% unhappy vs. 10% globally). Close to two in five (37%) also rate the availability of online admin services negatively (vs. 21% globally). “There is a lack of a digital-first mindset,” shares an Indian respondent. “Germany is falling behind on this at a global stage.”
Only 49% of the respondents agree that it was easy to get a visa to move to the country, compared to 57% globally. And well over half (56%) find that it is difficult to deal with German bureaucracy in general (vs. 38% globally). The language barrier is surely no help: according to half the expats (50% vs. 32% globally), it is not easy to get by without speaking German — or to learn it in the first place (60% negative vs. 38%). Lastly, housing in Germany is neither easy to find (52nd) nor to afford (43rd).
Housing (31st) is less of an issue for expats in Japan, but the country still ranks second to last in the Expat Essentials Index (52nd). Japanese is a big hurdle here. You need it to live there — over three in five (62%) disagree you can get by without local language skills (vs. 32% globally) — but it is difficult to learn, according to 70% of expats (vs. 38% globally). With 54%, the language barrier is the topic that expats struggle with the most in Japan (vs. 22% globally).
Next to that, the country offers less than stellar results in the Digital Life Subcategory (46th), where especially cashless payment options are a sore point. Just 63% give this factor a positive rating (vs. 84% globally). Administrative services are also not easily available online, according to about a third (32% vs. 21% globally). And Japan in general only just manages to escape the bottom 10 in the Admin Topics Subcategory (42nd).
Italy, which already ranked in the bottom 10 of the index in 2022 (48th out of 52) drops further to place 51st out of 53 destinations in 2023. Expats there struggle with the various Admin Topics (52nd), such as dealing with local authorities (72% unhappy vs. 38% globally), opening a bank account (33% vs. 22%), or getting a visa in the first place (39% vs. 24%). None of these things are quickly taken care of online, either: 42% disagree that administrative services are easily available on the web, twice the global average of 21%.
“There are incredible levels of bureaucracy in Italy.” – Kazakh expat
Access to online services in general (e.g., social media) is at least unrestricted (86% happy vs. 84% globally). But Italy’s 48th place in the Digital Life Subcategory is still nothing to write home about. And expats share that it is difficult to find housing (44% unhappy vs. 31% globally) or get by without speaking Italian (57% vs. 32%).
Trends in the Top 10
- Saudi Arabia
Middle Eastern destinations make up half the top 10 of this index in 2023.
Qatar (6th) and Saudi Arabia (9th) join Bahrain (1st), the UAE (2nd), and Oman (3rd). Expats in all five countries enjoy how easy it is to get by without local language skills, with only Saudi Arabia (17th) not making it into the top 10 for this factor. Admin Topics are comparatively easily dealt with, especially online: Oman ranks worst for this point (15th), and yet close to three-quarters of expats (73%) still rate it favorably (vs. 60% globally).
The unrestricted access to online services in general, however, is not a topic where any of these destinations shine: only Bahrain (41st) escapes the bottom 10. Results for housing vary, though it is at least typically easy to find (if not afford), with 29% (Qatar) or more agreeing completely (vs. 19% globally).
The rest of the top 10 are more of a regional mix, with Malaysia (4th), Estonia (5th), Panama (7th), Kenya (8th), and Finland (10th). Expats in the Northern European countries Estonia and Finland are particularly happy with the Digital Life (3rd and 1st, respectively), as well as Admin Topics (2nd and 11th). However, they are some of the worst destinations when it comes to the ease of learning the local language, with both ranking in the bottom 10 for this factor.
Trends in the Bottom 10
European and Asian destinations dominate the bottom 10.
Next to Germany (53rd) and Italy (51st), France (49th), Czechia (48th), Greece (47th), and Malta (46th) do not make it easy to get started abroad, though the reasons vary. Expats in Germany, France, and Czechia particularly struggle with the local language. In Czechia, though, the problem is less that you desperately need to speak it to get by (29th), but rather that expats consider Czech very difficult to learn (49th).
Like in Germany and Italy, expats in Greece are unimpressed when it comes to Digital Life (44th). Especially getting high-speed internet is difficult, according to more than twice the global average of respondents (22% unhappy vs. 10% globally). Admin Topics are also an issue in these European destinations: only Czechia manages to receive at least average results (26th). The others all rank in (or at least near) the bottom 10 of this subcategory.
China (50th) and India (44th) join Japan (52nd) in the bottom 10. Language is not only an issue in Japan (53rd) but also in China (46th), and none of the three do particularly well when it comes to Admin Topics. However, some of their worst results are found in the Digital Life Subcategory, if for different reasons. While China ranks last (53rd) for unrestricted access to online services, expats in India find there are few government services available online (45th), and Japan makes it difficult to pay without cash (50th).
Last but not least, Türkiye (45th) loses out due to negative results across most factors of the index. Expats especially point out the difficulties in getting high-speed internet (15% unhappy vs. 10% globally) and the restrictions on some online services (16% vs. 6%). Compared to 2022, it also lost quite some ground when it comes to the affordability of housing (from 16th to 32nd).
The Biggest Winners
Luxembourg is not only among the biggest winners in the Expat Essentials Index (from 38th to 25th in 2023) but also saw the most improvement across the overall ranking (from 48th to 19th). Expats there continue to praise the country when it comes to Admin Topics (3rd) but despair over Housing (52nd). However, Luxembourg made some significant gains when it comes to Digital Life (from 20th to 12th). For example, in 2023, close to seven in ten (69%) could not agree more that it is easy to pay without cash, compared to just 55% in 2022.
New Zealand improved its results in the Expat Essentials Index from 39th place in 2022 to rank 27th in 2023. It made gains across most factors of the index, even for accommodation. Though expats continue to struggle with Housing (49th), “only” 37% still say its affordability is very bad — compared to 50% in 2022! After a massive housing crisis in 2021, the market seems to have recovered at least a little over the course of 2022.
The Biggest Losers
Norway — which ranks 29th in the 2023 index, following a 15th place in 2022 — lost out across nearly all factors. Expats are notably less satisfied with Digital Life (from 5th to 11th) and find it harder to deal with the local bureaucracy. In 2022, over two-thirds (68%) still agreed that it was easy. This share is down to just 49% in 2023. Housing also seems harder to find, with just around a third (33%) of respondents giving its availability a positive rating, compared to more than half (51%) in 2022.
The second-biggest loser in this index, Portugal, falls from 19th place in 2022 to rank 31st in 2023. While it receives fairly similar results for Digital Life (minor jump from 27th in 2022 to 28th) and Language (28th to 31st), expats are less happy with Admin Topics (drops from 25th to 32nd) and especially Housing (22nd to 32nd). The past year has seen major increases in rents and house prices, so it is not much of a surprise that respondents regard the affordability much more negatively (43% unhappy vs. 34% in 2022). Less than half (46%) also agree that it is easy to find housing in Portugal, compared to 63% in 2022.
- Expat Insider 2023: Get the full PDF report
- Ministry of Housing and Urban Development — Change in Housing Affordability Indicators
- Reuters — Thousands protest in Portugal over housing crisis
- Confidencial Imobiliário — Housing prices up 19% in 2022, the sharpest increase in 30 years
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