BBC Capital

The best — and worst — countries for expats?

  • Lands of opportunity?

    Considering relocating overseas for work? If you are weighing-up whether to stay or go, a recent study from global bank HSBC may help tip the balance.

    The bank analysed 24 countries in three areas; economy, experience and raising children. The study, which involved interviews with 7,000 expatriate workers, considered a range of variables from average disposable income to how easy it was to meet new friends or develop a taste for the local food.

    Here is a closer look at those that topped the list, as well as some surprising entries near the bottom of the 24.

    (Images: Getty)

  • China: The number one spot

    FINANCIALS: Expats in China are well-paid, enjoying some of the highest compensation packages worldwide. The country ranked highly because when evaluating expats' overall economic situation--considering salaries and disposable income levels--China comes in second-highest, behind only Switzerland. Boasting several business hubs, some of the world’s most affluent expats are based in Asia, where the average annual salary is $74,000 per year, compared with the worldwide average of $64,000.

    SOCIAL STYLE: Outside work, expats in China considered their quality of life to be high — third-highest of all the countries HSBC ranked. Almost half reported an improved work-life balance once they relocated. It seems expats in Asia are also social butterflies; they were the only group who reported a "more active social life" in their new country. And within Asia, China was ranked one of the top destinations for an improved social life. This could also be due to a higher proportion of young expats in China seeking out more opportunities to mingle: Half of the expats over 18 years in BRIC countries — that is, Brazil, Russia, India and China — are under the age of 34.

    FAMILY LIFE: The Middle Kingdom ranked in the lower half of the survey — 16 out of 24 — for places to raise a family, although almost 75% considered their children to be safer in China than in their home country. Expat children living in Asia, more so than any other surveyed region, were also more likely to learn the native language of their host country. In terms of medical care the government announced a plan in early 2009 to provide universal healthcare to residents, an overhaul it is still working to roll out.

    TOP TIP: Understanding business practices like exchanging business cards with two hands… will go a long way in China.

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  • Germany, the next best place for expats

    FINANCIALS: Superpower Germany's gross domestic product is the fourth-highest in the world at $3.4 trillion, so perhaps it should come as no surprise that the expats surveyed had the 7th-highest income of all. Just over half said they had more money to spend in Germany than in their home country. More than one-quarter of those who relocated said their financial situation had improved with the move: across Europe less than one-quarter reported being better off money-wise. That said, the majority of expats reported paying higher personal taxes than in their home countries.

    SOCIAL STYLE: Germany ranked highly for cheap public transport and came in at number 11 for "healthcare access and quality." German life expectancy at birth is near 81 years. Life satisfaction in Germany is a sunny 81%, with that percentage of people reporting "they have more positive experiences in an average day than negative ones," according to the OECD Better Life Index.

    FAMILY LIFE: Germany is the best place to children overseas according to the survey. The analysis factored in education, childcare and health, zeroing in on specifics such as nursery expenses and accessibility to higher education. Germany ranked top for education cost-effectiveness. Though it has been amended and updated, Germany's universal healthcare system dates back to the 1880s. In fact, the country introduced the world's first official health insurance system.

    TOP TIP: Get a driver's license abroad and then transfer it. Getting a license in Germany can be a very expensive and time consuming process.

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  • And in the third spot… Singapore

    FINANCIALS: Singapore's economy is regarded as one of the world's most 'pro-business' thanks to low tax rates and ease-of-doing business in the country. The majority of expats expected to earn more in Singapore than they would at home and 85% also said were content with the country's economic situation. The Lion City ranked 17th for salaries although lower for disposable income - a disparity that likely comes down to a higher cost of living. Expats reported that the city was very expensive for day-to-day living for everything from grocery shopping to paying for public transport.

    SOCIAL STYLE: Expats in Asia earn more money than those in any other region so it could be the promise of high earning potential to kick-start a career that draws such a young crowd to Singapore. The survey revealed the majority are between 18 to 34 years old, which makes for a very lively social scene. In consultancy firm Mercer's most recent Quality of Living survey the city placed 25 out of 221 cities, although more than half of the expats said they spent more on public transit than they did in their home country.

    FAMILY LIFE: Singapore is the second-best place to raise children abroad according to the HSBC data. Though expats described local education and childcare as expensive - expats rated it the priciest overall - the verdict was that the quality was worth the cost. Additionally, seven out of 10 parents said their children's 'health and wellbeing' had improved while living in Singapore. Known for its civility and orderliness, Singapore was also was ranked the safest place to bring up a family.

    TOP TIP: Negotiate a good [relocation] package including health insurance, education fees for your children and an accommodation allowance, as all of these can be pretty costly.

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  • Rounding out the bottom of the list at No 23: Italy

    FINANCIALS: Italy came in last place in the 'financial' category with very few expats saying they had seen an improvement in their economic situation after they relocated. More than in any other country, expats are likely to be hammered with bigger taxes than back home. The lowest-earning expats worldwide, according to the survey, are now based in Europe, and in Italy about eight out of 10 have annual salaries of just under $60,000. Even so, this pay check is still considerably higher than the average household net-adjusted income for an Italian which is $24,216, according to the OECD Better Life Index.

    SOCIAL STYLE: In spite of lower monetary rewards the HSBC data rates Italy in the top 10 for fun when it comes to important factors such as 'local work culture' and 'healthy diet' - and all that good food pays off, at 81 years life expectancy in Italy is one of the highest in the world.

    FAMILY LIFE: For raising children abroad, Italy is near the bottom of the pile. It comes in at 17th place based on evaluators such as "quality of education available." It also ranked low in the OECD's appraisal of education. Even so, Italy does provide universal healthcare system through the Servizio Sanitario Nazionale (SSN).

    TOP TIP: Take advantage of the fantastic food and drink that is part of the usual Mediterranean diet.

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  • And at the bottom of the list: Ireland

    FINANCIALS: Still struggling to pull itself out of recession it is perhaps no wonder Ireland ranked near the bottom for financial rewards for foreigners. Expats reported having very little disposable income in their pockets versus their counterparts in other countries.

    SOCIAL STYLE: The Emerald Isle also failed to charm its foreign workers. It ranked low in the HSBC survey in this section with about half saying ‘their social life worsened since moving abroad.’ Although it fared considerably better in the OECD’s Better Life Index, coming in the top half of more than 30 countries evaluated.

    FAMILY LIFE: HSBC ranked Ireland at the very bottom for raising a family: expats rated the quality of childcare as poor, as well as expensive. Worryingly, parents also described the health and wellbeing of their children as low.

    TOP TIP: People in Ireland are generally quite friendly and helpful, so making the move without having every detail planned won’t be too challenging.

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