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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

Finland Outperforms Sweden, Denmark & Norway in the Eyes of Expats

The four Nordic countries featured in the survey show very different results, from a 16th place for Finland to Norway ranking second-to-last worldwide.

Finland ranks 16th out of 53 destinations in the Expat Insider 2023 survey, followed by Sweden (24th), Denmark (41st), and Norway (52nd). While each country has its own strengths and weaknesses, they also show some similarities. For example, in the Quality of Life Index they all rank in the top 10 worldwide for air quality but in the bottom 10 for both the culinary variety and dining options as well as culture and nightlife.

Aside from Finland (31st), these countries also land among the ten worst-rated destinations in the Ease of Settling In Index. Expats perceive the locals as unfriendly and find it hard to make friends. Denmark (53rd) even comes last in the world in the Finding Friends Subcategory. On the other hand, all but Norway (18th) make it into the top 10 for Working Abroad. Expats like the work-life balance and the local work culture.

In the Expat Essentials Index, Finland (10th) stands out, while the other countries receive mediocre results. However, what they have in common is their excellent performance in the Digital Life Subcategory. Finland (1st), Denmark (2nd), and Sweden (4th) even rank among the top 10 — Norway (11th) just misses out. Lastly, Personal Finances are particularly challenging for expats in Norway (52nd) and Denmark (47th).  

Overall, expats are happiest in Finland: 78% say they are happy with their life there, followed by 74% in Sweden. The happiness level of expats in Denmark (70%) and especially Norway (61%), however, falls below the global average of 72%.

16 | Finland

Finland makes it into the top 10 of three indices. In the Quality of Life Index (3rd), it performs best in the Environment & Climate Subcategory (2nd) and even comes 1st for both air quality (95% happy vs. 66% globally) and the urban environment (91% vs. 67% globally). It also ranks very well in the Safety & Security Subcategory (3rd), as 86% of expats are happy with the political stability (vs. 63% globally), and 77% agree that they can openly express themselves and their opinions (vs. 65% globally).  

An Independent & Flexible Working Life  

When it comes to Working Abroad (5th), Finland claims 1st place in the Work & Leisure Subcategory. More than three-quarters of expats (76% each) are satisfied with both their working hours (vs. 64% globally) and their work-life balance (vs. 63% globally).  

What is more, they find that the local business culture supports flexibility (83% happy vs. 60% globally), encourages creativity (70% vs. 51% globally), and promotes independent work (68% vs. 46% globally).  

A Digital Leader 

In the Expat Essentials Index (10th), Finland ranks 1st in the Digital Life Subcategory. For example, expats find it easy to pay without cash (94% happy vs. 84% globally) and are very pleased with the availability of administrative services online (94% vs. 60% globally). In general, 65% find it easy to handle the local bureaucracy, compared to just 39% globally. “It is easy to deal with all practical aspects of life,” states an expat from France.  

Hard to Make Friends 

Finland ranks worst but still midfield in the Ease of Settling In Index (31st), particularly for Finding Friends (38th). In fact, 45% of expats find it hard to make local friends, compared to 36% globally. This might also be a reason why more than three in ten (31%) are unhappy with their social life (vs. 25% globally). Still, 69% feel welcome in Finland, which is about the same as the global average (67%).  

“The people are very introverted. It is not easy to ‘break the ice’, but once it is done, the Finns are the best people.” – Pakistani expat 

24 | Sweden  

Sweden performs best in the Working Abroad Index (3rd). Only the Netherlands (1st) and Luxembourg (2nd) rank better. Expats are particularly happy in terms of Work & Leisure as well as Work Culture & Satisfaction (2nd for both). The country even ranks 1st for two factors: the local business culture promoting independent work (80% happy vs. 46% globally) and supporting flexibility such as remote work and flexible working hours (90% vs. 60% globally). 

Easy & Safe to Get Around 

The Quality of Life Index (15th) is another area in which Sweden performs well, particularly in terms of Environment & Climate (4th). More than nine in ten (94%) rate the air quality positively (vs. 66% globally), and 83% are happy with the availability of green goods and services (vs. 65% globally). What is more, 92% find it easy and safe to get around on foot and/or bicycle, compared to 77% globally.  

Lack of Housing  

In the Expat Essentials Index (21st), Sweden receives mixed results. On the one hand, it ranks 4th in the Digital Life Subcategory. A large majority finds it easy to pay without cash (97% happy vs. 84% globally) and are happy with the unrestricted access to online services (94% vs. 84% globally). On the other hand, Sweden comes 46th in the Housing Subcategory. Half the expats (50% each) describe housing as unaffordable (vs. 42% globally) and hard to find (vs. 31% globally).  

Not So Easy to Settle In  

The Ease of Settling In Index (46th) is Sweden’s worst area. It ranks 44th for both the Local Friendliness and Finding Friends Subcategories. Close to a quarter (24%) view the locals as generally unfriendly (vs. 16% globally), and 62% find it hard to make local friends (vs. 36% globally).  

“It is one of the easiest countries to be an expat, even though it is difficult to make friends with Swedish people.” – Expat from New Zealand 

41 | Denmark  

Despite landing in 41st place overall, Denmark still manages to make the top 10 for two indices — but it is also among the bottom 10 for two others. Similarly to the other Nordic countries, it performs very well in the Working Abroad Index (6th). Expats are very happy with the state of the economy (89% vs. 62% globally) and their working hours (80% vs. 64% globally). They also find that the local business culture encourages creativity (67% happy vs. 51% globally), promotes independent work (77% vs. 46% globally), and supports flexibility (83% vs. 60% globally).  

The Best for Green Goods & Services 

In the Quality of Life Index, Denmark lands in 10th place. It comes 1st in the world for the availability of green goods and services, with 87% of expats rating this factor positively (vs. 65% globally). Although it also ranks among the best in the world for other factors, such as the urban environment (3rd), it only comes 16th in the Environment & Climate Subcategory overall. This is due to its poor performance in terms of natural environment (44th) and weather (53rd). In the Healthcare Subcategory, Denmark outperforms the other Nordic countries. More than four in five rate the affordability (83% happy vs. 62% globally) and availability (84% vs. 71% globally) of healthcare positively.  

Life Is Expensive in Denmark  

Denmark ranks 30th in the Expat Essentials Index. It performs very well for Digital Life (2nd) and is even voted 1st in the world for both the ease of paying without cash and unrestricted access to online services.  

“I like that most government things are online and the ease of doing digital payment anywhere.’”– Expat from India 

However, Denmark falls into the bottom 10 for Housing (45th). Expats describe housing as both hard to find (44% unhappy vs. 31% globally) and expensive (58% vs. 42% globally). High costs are also reflected in the Personal Finance Index (47th): more than half the expats (56%) are unhappy with the cost of living in Denmark, compared to 35% globally.  

The Hardest Country to Make Friends In 

In the Ease of Settling In Index (51st), Denmark is the worst out of the four Nordic countries surveyed. It ranks among the bottom 10 worldwide for each subcategory and factor of this index, and even last in the Finding Friends Subcategory (53rd). About two-thirds of expats (66%) find it difficult to make local friends (vs. 36% globally), and 38% rate their social life negatively (vs. 25% globally). Maybe this is why 35% find it hard to get used to the local culture (vs. 18% globally), and 29% do not feel at home in Denmark (vs. 20% globally).  

52 | Norway 

Norway is not only the worst-rated Nordic country in the Expat Insider 2023 survey but also second-to-last worldwide (52nd). It also comes 52nd in the Personal Finance Index, only ahead of New Zealand (53rd). More than three in five expats (62%) rate the local cost of living negatively, compared to 35% globally. What is more, 37% say that their disposable household income is not enough to lead a comfortable life (vs. 27% globally).  

Expats Do Not Feel at Home 

Similarly to the other Nordic countries featured in the survey, Norway does not perform well in the Ease of Settling In Index (48th). Close to a third of expats (32%) describe the locals as unfriendly towards foreign residents, compared to 18% globally. They also find it hard to make local friends (51% unhappy vs. 36% globally) and are unhappy with their social life (38% vs. 25% globally). Overall, 37% do not feel at home in Norway (vs. 20% globally) — 17% do not feel at home at all, which is more than twice the global average (8%)! 

Not Much to Do in Norway 

Norway lags behind the other Nordic countries in the Quality of Life Index (31st), too. This is mainly due to expats being unhappy with the affordability of public transportation (29% vs. 15% globally), the opportunity to travel (14% vs. 6% globally), and the availability of healthcare (17% vs. 14% globally). Additionally, it ranks last worldwide for the culinary variety and dining options (53rd) and 51st for culture and nightlife. However, these are factors for which Sweden, Denmark, and Finland also land in the bottom 10.  

On the plus side, expats in Norway value the political stability (88% happy vs. 63% globally), the high air quality (88% vs. 66% globally), and the natural environment (95% vs. 84% globally). “I like the clean environment and how adventurous one can be outdoors,” shares an US American expat.  

Not a Country for Career-Driven Expats  

Lastly, the Working Abroad Index is Norway’s strongest area, but it is still behind Sweden, Denmark, and Finland. They all rank in the top 10, while Norway comes 18th. Expats in Norway value the high job security (1st) and the state of the economy (9th), but they are unhappy with their personal career opportunities (48th). About one third (33%) rate them negatively (vs. 22% globally), and 34% say that moving to Norway has not improved their career prospects (vs. 18% globally). “My career opportunities in Norway are very limited,” shares an expat from Poland. Overall, 22% are generally unhappy with their job, compared to 16% globally.  

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