From Thailand to Ecuador: Finding The Perfect Expat Location

Expat Briefing Editorial Team, 20 October, 2014

Survey after survey claims to know where the best locations are for expats to settle or to work, either individually or as a family unit, in terms of cost of living and overall quality of life. Some these findings might surprise you. Others won’t. Here, we sift through some of the more prominent surveys published in the last few months.

Australia, Canada, the United States, and Western Europe are usually seen as the destinations of choice for expats, because they offer the best economic opportunities, quality of life and are largely safe and family friendly. And for Britons at least, the cultural and linguistic differences aren’t as difficult to surmount in those places as in other more exotic regions of the world. However, recent surveys suggest that expats are becoming more adventurous in their choices about where abroad they want to live.

Widely regarded as the most comprehensive and authoritative report on expat life, HSBC’s Expat Explorer Survey has named Thailand as the top country for expat “experience”for successive years in a row, including in its 2013 report.

According to the report, Thailand scores particularly well in the lifestyle categories, including cuisine, social life, shopping, and local culture. It was also first in terms of the amount of disposable income an expat can expect to enjoy. However, there are downsides: expats fare less well at dealing with the local work culture and learning the local language, while access to, and quality of, healthcare is another worry for expats in Thailand.

However, this year's InterNations Expat Insider survey of 14,000 expats came to the somewhat unexpected conclusion that the Latin American country of Ecuador is the best location for expats.

InterNations’s rankings are based on a wide range of self-explanatory indices including the General Quality of Life Index, the Ease of Settling In Index, the Working Abroad Index, the Family Life Index, and the Personal Finance Index. Ecuador scored top of the Personal Finance Index and came in first place for personal happiness.Nine out of ten expats said they were satisfied with living in Ecuador, although over one-third (37 percent) said that it is very difficult to live in the country without speaking Spanish. 

For expatriating Britons, Australia seems comfortably to be the favoured destination. Nine out of ten expats surveyed for the 2014 NatWest International Personal Banking Quality of Life Index said that their quality of life had improved since moving to Australia. Over two-thirds of respondents in Australia said they are now wealthier, while 82 percent of parents reported that Australia had offered a better quality of life for their children.

This corroborated the results of an earlier survey by NatWest, which also named Australia as the favourite destination of British expats. Australia was judged to have all that's needed for a healthier, wealthier, and happier life, the report said.

The largest segments of the overseas-born Australian population continue to be those born in England and New Zealand, at 900,000 and 483,000, respectively. However, Australia is also seeing an influx of expats from Asia, shows a recent report from Australia's Immigration Department. Comparing census data from 2011 and 2006, the study found that the Indian-born population grew by 148,000 during this period, the Chinese mainland-born by 112,000, and those from the Philippines by 51,000.

For Brits, countries closer to home, such as perennial expat favourites Spain and Portugal, seem to have lost their appeal, probably as a result of unfavourable economic conditions in the eurozone. Indeed, total immigration to Spain fell significantly, by 22 percent in 2012, after tripling during the period 2000 to 2007, according to the UN, while data from Spain's National Statistics Institute indicates that the number of foreigners registered as living in the country dropped by about ten percent during 2013, and the British expat community shrank by more than a fifth.

Another surprising finding came from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s recent report on migration flows, which found that Germany experienced the largest increased inflow of immigrants in 2012 at one-third. Within the OECD, only the USA recorded higher figures. By contrast, immigration to the UK in 2012 fell to its lowest recorded level since 2003, according to the report.

Most of Germany’s 400,000 immigrants came from central and Eastern Europe, suggesting that they were taking advantage of freedom of movement in the EU to find work in Germany’s then growing economy.

However, when it comes to economic opportunities, Asia has emerged as the most lucrative region for expats. Indeed, a recent HSBC survey found that China now ranks as the top destination for expats, ahead of Germany and Singapore. In purely economic terms China is bettered only by Switzerland. Indeed, the survey notes that Asia has the highest paid expats in the world, with average expat remuneration packages at least 15 percent higher than the global average: USD74,000 per annum, compared to USD64,000 elsewhere.

This would certainly seem to tally with the findings of ECA‘s MyExpatriate Market Pay Survey, which named Japan as the most expensive posting in the Asia-Pacific region, due to high living costs and tax rates.

The ECA survey compares packages for expatriates around the world, including information on benefits (such as accommodation, international schools, utilities or cars), allowances, salary calculation methods, and tax treatment.It was found that the overall package for expatriate middle managers in Japan is, on average, about USD379,000 per year.

Second place goes to Australia, although according to Mercer’s Cost of Living Survey, which is based on data gathered in March 2014, the cost of sending employees on assignment in Australian cities has fallen “dramatically” recently due to the weak Australian dollar. Nevertheless, this survey agreed that Asia is one of the most expensive locations for expats, along with Europe and Africa.

Hong Kong was identified as the third most expensive city by Mercer (and don’t forget the cost of that umbrella), followed by Singapore, Zurich, Geneva, and then Tokyo.The top spots went to Luanda and N'Djamena, due to the costs of imported goods and of finding secure living accommodation that meets expatriate standards in Angola and Chad.

If you’re looking for quality of life however, then be prepared to pay for it, because the best cities are mostly found in Europe, according to Mercer’s Quality of Living rankings. Topping the league table is Vienna, while Singapore is best in Asia. In Europe, Zurich, Switzerland, was placed second, while Munich, Germany, took fourth place.

According to survey respondents, Auckland is the best city in Australasia and third globally, next followed by Sydney (tenth globally).

Dubai took the top spot in the Middle East. Unsurprisingly, Baghdad was voted as the worst location for expats in terms of quality of life.

But if you’re looking to escape high taxes as well as bad weather, your best bet at the moment is the Bahamas. Just a short hop by air or sea from Florida, the Bahamas offers the most attractive tax regime in the world, according to a comparison of countries compiled by Bradley Hackford, a company that specializes in relocation for individuals seeking a low-tax environment. 

If you favour Europe though, then Andorra and Monaco are your best low-tax choices. However, if you’re not keen on skiing, and don’t have the salary of a Formula One driver, you could swap the Pyrenees or the Med for the Black Sea and Bulgaria. OK, it doesn’t quite have the glamour of Monte Carlo, but income tax at 10% is about as low as you’ll find in the EU.

Tags: Economy | Tax | Europe | Study | Expats | Personal Finance | Finance | Japan | Germany | New Zealand | Spain | Switzerland | Bahamas | Angola | Australia | China | Ecuador | Monaco | Singapore | Thailand | tax |


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