Expats all have different tastes – so their opinions of a favorite destination will of course vary. Some will say that good schools and healthcare systems are essential. Others are drawn to cultures or to a place where a known language is spoken. Some will compromise if the cost of living is slightly lower, while some are equally inclined to go to the places where they can earn the most.
Given the varying demands and priorities of expats, it is difficult to select a single country or city as the world’s favorite expat destination – or the least favorite. We have therefore aimed to separate them into categories: depending on what you are looking for (or hoping to avoid), the following places are the best (or worst) in their field.
Most expensive – Hong Kong
Each year Mercer publishes its Cost Of Living survey, which rates cities according to the cost of a ‘basket’ of typical items. In 2019, eight of the ten most expensive cities were in Asia. Hong Kong was a clear winner – but expats based in the city will be comforted by the fact that it also pays some of the highest expat salaries.
However, the general cost of living is not necessarily a guide to the cost of sending an expat out to a certain destination. Some African cities, such as Kinshasa and Luanda, have a large number of expats serving the mining industry. Despite the apparent poverty of most of the local population, they can be expensive places for an expat to live. Good accommodation is in short supply (and therefore pricey), expats require costly security services, and the cost of imported goods is hugely inflated by taxes.
Most peaceful – Iceland
Recent years have seen an increase in the risk of political disturbance and terrorism. Most global organizations take their duty of care very seriously and have strict policies to ensure the welfare of expats in the world’s more violent or war-prone areas.
But although Iceland is not seen as a major expat destination (91% of residents are Icelandic citizens), those expats that do live and work there do so in relative safety. The Global Peace Index of 2019 rated it the world’s most peaceful country.
Safest – Luxembourg
Avoiding war is one thing. But personal safety is a lot harder to guarantee, especially for female expats in urban environments. Once more it is Mercer who provides the data, rating countries on a number of factors including crime levels and the performance of local law enforcement. The winner was Luxembourg, with the top seven cities all in Europe – the lowest-ranked included Baghdad, Damascus, Karachi and Nairobi.
Most tolerant – Netherlands
There are many places in the world where homosexuality is illegal – and others where any rights that exist are either being eroded or ignored. While the vast majority of expats are respectful of different cultures and beliefs, most LGBT+ expats will be highly conscious of the risk and only travel to certain countries with extreme caution.
They will have no such problems in the Netherlands where the LGBT+ community is positively embraced. This is a country that decriminalized homosexuality over 200 years ago, and in 2001 was the first to allow same-sex marriage.
Most honest – Denmark
Seasoned expats know that, in many countries around the world, corruption is a fact of life. Whether it is local managers expecting a few “gifts” in return for securing deals with foreign companies or traffic cops issuing on the spot fines for dreamt-up motoring offenses, it has sadly become the norm. This is not only an issue for the expats themselves. If global mobility departments are not careful of how they fund local services, they may be condoning corruption and falling foul of compliance laws...
If this is something you would like to avoid at all costs, go to Denmark. According to the most recent Corruption Perceptions Index, it is the most honest of nations, scoring 88/100. Somalia, by contrast, languishes in last place with a score of 10/100.
Best education – Finland
It is well known that one of the main reasons for expat failure is expat family discontent – and the quality, cost, and availability of appropriate schooling for children is, of course, a key factor in keeping the family happy.
According to the InterNations Expat Insider survey, Finland is the Number 1 country for education, as rated by over 14,000 expats. Over 70% of expats rated the Finnish education system as excellent (against a global average of 21%). However, whilst tuition is available free of charge, your children will have to learn Finnish or Swedish...
Changing standards in a changing world
These “best-in-class” nominations are based on recent research – but in a fast-changing world, there is no guarantee it will be true in a few years’ time. The best advice to expats is to follow the global rankings (linked above) and make an informed decision on which destination they see as their favorite...