Imagine: you win the lottery and can choose to live anywhere. How do you choose the best country to live in for you and your family?
Gut feel, travel magazines, or throwing a dart at a world map? There’s a better way! The Where Can I Live Guide to the best countries in the world to live for Expats.
- How to choose the best country to live in for you and your family
- Best countries to live in for Expats
- Best Country to Live In Indexes
- The United Nations Human Development Report
- Cost-of-living and personal finances
- Healthcare abroad
- Access to travel options from your new home abroad
- Best country to live in for education
- Best country to live in for work
- Safety and security
- Environment and Climate
- Is the best country to live in the happiest country?
- Language of countries abroad
- Visa and Residency options
- Is there the best country in the world to live in?
How to choose the best country to live in for you and your family
Great educational opportunities for the kids, a secure and stable government, or world-class golf courses. These are all valid reasons to choose a new place to call home. But how to find this information and balance the factors? We’ve made it easy for you.
We have gathered the most important information for choosing the best countries to live in for Expats. These include ranking countries by these categories.
- Expat reviews
- Ranking indexes
- Personal freedom
- Cost of living
- Travel Options
- Work and business
- Safety and security
- Environment and climate
- Visa and residency options
We haven’t included golf course rankings, we’ll leave that to you to explore!
Best countries to live in for Expats
A recent survey checked in with 20,000 Expats around the world. They rated 48 categories of life in their new home country. These include ease of settling into working abroad to family life and cost of living. Their 5 Best countries to live in for Expats, based on Expat satisfaction, was:
It is true that your views may not be the same as other Expats. However, the large sample size and wide range of categories make this a worthwhile starting point. Expat life is different from living at home. So, this difference is one reason the top Quality of Life indexes by country are different to the favorite places for Expats.
Best Country to Live In Indexes
Believe us when we say that there are many indexes and companies that rank places to live. The indexes use many factors to come up with a shortlist. We have looked at all of them, and our favorite is the Legatum prosperity index.
The index has 12 pillars that it uses to rank countries. They range from Safety and Security, Economy, to the Natural Environment. The website allows you to adjust the rankings with the factors you consider important. With the default weight to each of the 12 categories, the top 5 countries are:
Are these the best countries to live in? There is no doubt that the residents of the top 5 have an exceptional quality of life. However, that does not necessarily make them the best countries to move to for Expats. All five have high costs of living. even by Western Europe standards. They also have relatively high tax rates to fund the exceptional social programs that they offer.
So, if you move to one of these countries, will you be able to manage your same standard of living? Only if you have extensive savings or can get a good job.
The United Nations Human Development Report
The United Nations Human Development Report looks at human well-being across the planet. In some ways, it is similar to the Legatum Index we talked about above. Still, it does have some very interesting ideas to consider.
The Human Development report breaks down what it is like to be alive today in countries across the world. It includes factors that are shown to be important to all humans. Inequality is one crucial factor. Countries that rate highly on other things, but also high on inequality tend to rank lower. These areas of inequality can include gender equality, religious freedom, income equality and more.
The Human Development report also focuses on three areas.
The report uses these three filters to see how people view their lives. It then uses satisfaction levels to try to see which is the best country in the world to live in. Where you live impacts how you experience life, and what you see as important.
The 2020 report includes impacts from COVID-19 and starts to think about climate change. But, the top 10 very similar to 2019. Norway maintains the number one spot in 2020, as it did in 2019. But Ireland has jumped into second, up from fourth last year.
Here are the best places in the world for human development, according to the report.
We also looked at some popular Expat countries and their change since the first report in 1990.
- Spain is 25th, up 16% vs 1990
- Portugal 38th, up 17%
- Argentina 46th up 15%
- Panama 57th up 17%
- Barbados 58th up 19% (and the highest in the Caribbean)
- Mauritius 66th up 22%
Cost-of-living and personal finances
Cost-of-living is the day-to-day cost you will incur. These include accommodation, food, utilities, and more. A cost-of-living calculation is tough to do accurately. Some key factors can include:
- Do you eat at home or in restaurants?
- How much domestic help do you want?
- What hobbies, sports, and entertainment will you do?
- What are your transportation requirements?
- Do you want to travel internally and internationally?
- What are your educational needs?
- Do you need to access special healthcare services?
- What taxes will you be paying?
- What are your utilities (water, gas, electricity, internet, etc.) usage?
- Will you be purchasing many imported goods?
Given this complexity, it is no wonder that there is so much argument. There are many sites online that have a very questionable methodology. Treat all internet figures with care! Additionally, cost-of-living varies hugely across single countries. For example, in Australia, living in a posh suburb of Sydney will have a very different cost-of-living to Umina just 2 hours drive away.
If you are living in Mauritius or Aruba, anything imported is expensive. At the same time, locally sourced food and produce can be cheap. In Portugal, access to imported goods from all over Europe is cheap as transportation and duty costs are low. Seafood is cheaper in the Caribbean than it is in Europe.
But, being very clear that you can afford the life you want to live is critical. If you can’t pay your rent or eat, then even living in paradise will be difficult.
Cost of living calculations
We’re written a detailed article on the Cheapest Places to Live. We look at cost-of-living in much more detail and select the cheapest places to live for Expats on each continent.
One way to get a rough idea is to check out the per diem rates the US Department of State reimburses its employees. A per diem is to cover the cost of food, lodging, transport, and some incidentals. Bermuda is the highest per diem. Here are some of the best countries for Expats as a percentage of Bermuda’s per diem. The ranking is from the most expensive country to the least.
- 1st Bermuda 100%
- 69th Cyprus 51%
- 70th Estonia 50%
- 104th Costa Rica 45%
- 105th Indonesia 45%
- 118th Spain 43%
- 135th Philippines 39%
- 136th Malasia 39%
- 151th Mexico 37%
- 163th Portugal 36%
- 178th Panama 34%
As you can see, the daily cost of living can be as little 1/2 to 1/3 of Bermuda. Effectively, you would be three times as wealthy in Panama as you would be in Bermuda. The Wall Street Journal has a more straightforward method. Check out their graphic for the price of a beer in 75 different countries.
A significant consideration of a move abroad is the healthcare services available. You want to be secure in the knowledge that you can get the services you require. Happily, in many countries, there are private healthcare services aimed directly at the Expat community.
The best place to live in is one where you can be healthy as well as happy. Private healthcare and private Expat Health insurance can be very cheap. Services do range in quality, so do your research. In places like Panama, the variety and quality of service in Panama City are world-class. In smaller cities and towns, healthcare standards can be of a lower standard.
The Lancet medical journal rates the healthcare systems of the world in this study. Importantly, this is the entire health system of the nation. The private insurance and healthcare system may rate considerably higher than the overall system.
A rough guide is also life expectancy in a country. Be aware that this is a very unreliable measure. Parallel private and public health systems may also impact this number. And, there may be a wide range of dietary and lifestyle variations within a country or even a region. Given these limitations, this can be an unreliable metric when evaluating available healthcare. Many of the best countries to live in have a high life expectancy but don’t use this metric alone.
The best countries for retirees generally all rank highly for high-quality affordable healthcare. And, as retirement abroad becomes more popular, then options are increasing.
Access to travel options from your new home abroad
Isolation is a risk of a move abroad. Having access to excellent transport infrastructure makes this easier.
You can have visitors, and you can travel. If you live on the Costa Dorada in Spain, it is a 30-minute trip to Barcelona airport. This major European air travel hub has low-cost flights around the world. It also has access to high-speed train lines and excellent bus services.
If it is just peace and quiet you are after, a small village in Aruba may suit better. Infrequent and expensive flights will mean fewer visitors.
If you want to be able to have regular visitors and to travel, access to transport options are essential. Many of the best countries to live in offer a mix – remote areas that have access to transport infrastructure is ideal for many people.
Best country to live in for education
The educational options available may be important to you. Many people use the opportunity of moving abroad to access world-class study. Education will also be a priority for families with children. There are several ways to check the quality of a country’s education systems.
The Center on International Education Benchmarking ranks the top education systems in the world. Here’s their pick.
- South Korea
There is a slight difference with the Top 10 education systems according to the Legatum Prosperity Index. Their Top Education systems in the world also include Australia, New Zealand, Netherlands, and Denmark.
A site like International School Advisor makes it easy to compare international schools in many cities around the world. The site covers many tuition languages.
For the best universities in the world, check out this site. It ranks the universities of the world in an easy-to-use table. You can search by country or by course.
Many countries around the world offer Student Visas to attract international students. These visas can be an excellent pathway to residency and citizenship in the best country to live in for your education.
If you or your family are continuing your education in your new home then this will be a key consideration. The best option to live in will be one that offers an affordable, quality education in your chosen field.
Best country to live in for work
If you are looking to work, your new home must also be a great place to earn a living. And, if you want to work in your new home, there are a number of factors to consider. You’ll need to check out the health of the economy and rates of unemployment. Also, do some research on the demands for your skills.
Many countries have a Skilled Migration Visa program. If your skills are on the list, then it means two things. Firstly, there is a fast-track migration pathway. Second, your prospects for finding a job are good as you have in-demand skills.
If you are an entrepreneur or startup founder, there may be an opportunity to get private and public support for your new business. Startup Visa programs often offer much more than just the visa.
Some counties where Expats are the happiest working may surprise you. A comprehensive survey asked Expats across the globe about their experience of working abroad. The top 5?
- Czech Republic
The environment for business is also important. The World Bank has an excellent report on the ease of doing business. Their ranking uses a range of factors to come up with a very different list.
- New Zealand
- Hong Kong
- The Republic of Korea
- United States of America (USA)
Your best option will offer you an opportunity to use your skills and experience. Making a good living and being professionally fulfilled is important to everyone’s happiness.
Safety and security
What makes a country safe? The Global Peace Index tries to quantify this. It ranks the world’s countries according to a wide range of verified statistical sources.
We’re written a detailed article on the Safest Places to Live in the world. Please read for the safest countries from each region.
You need to look at more than just crime statistics. For example, Panama rates 47th most secure in the world. For Expats and tourists, the truth is that it is much safer than that. Violent crime tends to be drug and gang-related, and so it is very geographically contained. Areas like the Darien Gap (adjacent the border of Colombia) and the port city of Colón are no-go zones. But outside these areas, Panama is considered a safe destination.
Health outcomes, political stability and environmental threats are also important. Low rates of pick-pocketing don’t count for much when there is an earthquake!
Again, try to find first-hand experiences. Look at Expat blogs and reviews of Panama as a destination, and the feedback is overwhelmingly positive. Obviously, if you flaunt money and expensive personal electronics you are asking for trouble, but that is true in most places!
Japan, the Republic of Ireland, and Singapore have always had great reputations with Expats in this regard.
Environment and Climate
Many people move to countries chasing eternal sunshine. However, the sunniest places in the world also happen to be deserts. Rest assured, the climate will play an important part in how you enjoy life in your new home.
Generally, a balance is what we are after. Places like the South Western United States, Central America, and Australia fit the bill well.
Other people love winter and winter sports. Here, the highest snowfall rates are the most important thing. For snow bunnies, Canada, Japan, Northern Europe and South America come into their own. Regular favorites Sweden and Norway would also suit.
Important for others is having four distinct seasons. Southern Europe offers this, making Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Greece all attractive. Also, South Africa, New Zealand and similar areas are favorites for these folk.
For those that love both beaches and mountains, Central America has counties like Panama and Costa Rica. Asia offers a similar variety in counties like Thailand. The climate varies greatly between the beaches and the mountains; you can have the best of both worlds.
You may be choosing between urban and rural, beach or mountain, hot or cold. Do you love old architectural gems or the shine of a modern city? These are personal decisions that have a significant impact on your quality of life and how you feel about your new home.
Is the best country to live in the happiest country?
The United Nations has measured the happiness of the world’s citizens. Over seven years, they have used annual surveys to find out where people are happiest. Check out the full results here.
Same rules apply, there will be a vast range of results within each country. But, if you want to live abroad surrounded by content people, this might be an excellent place to start your research. As with the Human Development report we discussed above, some key factors recur. Inequality versus gender equality, religious freedoms, and income equality is important.
I don’t have any science to back up my hunch, but here it is. The places that top this list have a welcoming environment for Expats and visitors alike.
Language of countries abroad
Learning a new language can be a positive. For some, it is essential to be able to speak to people in their mother tongue. Having a chat at the market or a bar in your second language is rewarding. Talking to a healthcare professional in an emergency can be a nightmare.
Countries like Spain and Portugal offer many services in English as well as their native languages. However, there will be times when English won’t work for you.
Choosing areas of a country with a large Expat population from your home nation will help with this. You can also check out a nation’s English capability on sites like this, and there are similar services for other languages.
Visa and Residency options
You need to be able to live in the country you choose legally. The best country for you has a visa or permit you can access. If you plan on making it your home, you may be able to apply for citizenship through naturalization and a passport over time.
Check out our articles on the Easiest Countries to get Citizenship and 14 Way to get EU residency for some ideas. Or, check out the visa, residency and citizenship paths available for individual countries.
To help our clients we have a network of immigration lawyers that you can trust. All of our lawyers will assess your individual situation, recommend a visa for you and outline the next steps in attaining that visa. Click here to book an appointment with one of our trusted immigration partners.
Is there the best country in the world to live in?
Yes, and no. There is the best country in the world to live in, for you right now. The ideal country for your new Expat life is highly personal. And, for an individual, it may change over time.
The best countries ranking, quality-of-life index by country and more are all just guides. If you can identify the things that matter most to you, you are well on your way to a happy life abroad.
And, now you have much better tools than a world map and a dart.
Do your research, and if you can find the views of people you trust. Use their experience to judge how you will feel about your new home. Then, check out the countries on your shortlist in more detail with our Country Explorer and start planning to make your dream come true.