Imagine that you won the lottery and could choose to live anywhere. How do you choose the best country to live in for you and your family? What categories are important in choosing the country with the best quality of life? Let’s explore what makes the best country for Expats so that you can choose your new life abroad. And once you’ve chosen your dream destination, we’ll help you make that dream come true.
How to choose the best country to live in for you and your family
We have gathered the most important information for choosing the best country 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
Let’s get started by exploring the factors and categories to use to help you choose where you should live.
Listen to those who have already moved abroad
Internations conducts an annual survey of over 20,000 Expats. They rate 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 top 5 Best Countries for Expats, based on Expat satisfaction was as follows:
While you may not share the exact views of others the large sample size and wide range of categories make this a worthwhile starting point. Expat life is different from living in your home country. This is one reason that the best country for Expats is different to our next category, Best Country to Live indexes.
Best Country to Live In Indexes
Believe us when we say there are many indexes and companies that rank countries. The indexes rank and rate countries using all sorts of factors. We have looked at all of them, and our favourite is the Legatum prosperity index. It 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 rank countries by those 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 for Expats. All five of those countries have high costs of living. They also have relatively high tax rates to fund their exceptional social programs on 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.
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 beachside 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, while locally sourced food and produce is cheap. In Portugal access to imported goods from all over Europe is cheap as transportation and duty costs are low.
Cost of living calculations
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. Let look at 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 MALAYSIA 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. We strongly suggest visiting your prospective country for a short time to get a real feel for cost-of-living. Speak to locals and Expats. Check out estate agents, leisure facilities, and shops. This research will give you a much better indication than unverified crowd-sourced internet sources. This VisaHQ tool will show you if you need a travel visa for your trip.
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 country to live in is one where you can be healthy as well as happy. Private healthcare and private 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 it can be lower quality.
The Lancet medical journal rates the healthcare systems of the world in this study. Importantly, this is the entire health system of the country. The private insurance and healthcare system of a country may rate considerably higher than the overall system.
A really rough guide is also life expectancy in a country Be aware that this is a very unreliable measure. This number may be impacted by parallel private and public health systems. Also, there may be a wide range of dietary and lifestyle variations. Given these limitations, this can be an unreliable metric when evaluating healthcare.
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 less visitors.
If you want to be able to have regular visitors and to travel, access to transport options are important when choosing the best place to live.
Best country to live in for education
The educational options of a country 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 Centre on International Education Benchmarking ranks the Top 10 education systems in the world. The Top 10 includes countries like Canada, Japan, Estonia, South Korea, Finland, Poland, and Singapore.
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 Study 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.
Best country to live in for work
If you are looking to work, the best country to live in 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 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.
The counties where Expats are the happiest working may surprise you. Internations Working Abroad Index surveys Expats across the globe on their experience of working abroad. The top 5?
- Czech Republic
The environment for business is also important. Forbes ranks the best countries in the world for business. The list uses a range of factors to come up with a list headed by the UK, Sweden, and Hong Kong.
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.
For example, Panama rates 47th most secure country 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 of these areas, Panama is considered a safe destination.
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 electronic goods, you are asking for trouble, but that is true in most places!
Environment and Climate
Many people move to countries chasing eternal sunshine. However, the sunniest places in the world also happen to be deserts.
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. For them, the highest snowfall rates are most important. Japan, Northern Europe and South America come into their own.
For others, having four distinct seasons is essential. Southern Europe offers this, making Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Greece all attractive. Also, South Africa, New Zealand and similar areas are favourites for these folk.
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 country.
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.
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 can be less so.
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 large groups of Expats from your home nation will help with this. There are also ways to see the relative English proficiency of countries like this.
Counties with high English proficiency will be more likely to offer this support. The same applies to all other languages.
Visa and Residency options
You need to be able to legally live in the country you choose. 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 naturalisation and a passport over time.
Is there a best country to live in?
Yes, and no. There is the best country for you right now. The ideal country to immigrate to is highly personal. And, for an individual, it may change over time. If you can identify the things that matter most to you, you are well on your way to a happy life abroad.
Do your research, and try to seek out people who are similar to you. Use their experience to judge how you will feel about your new home. Check out the countries on your shortlist in more detail with our Country Explorer.