Expat's happiest place on Earth revealed

Expat's happiest place on Earth revealed

Results from a survey of more than 4,000 expats rank Thailand as the overall best country for the expat experience as European countries see a dip in expat "quality of life".

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Besides being an exotic tourist destination, Thailand is the No. 1 place for an expat’s quality of life, says the 2010 Expat Explorer Survey results by HSBC Bank International.

For its third year in a row HSBC Bank International continued their annual survey, upping the total sample to over 4,000 expats in more than 100 countries who completed questionnaires related to essentials such as business, quality of life and family environment.

"The more countries we include, the more useful our surveys can be in helping expats compare life in the country where they are now to a country they are thinking of moving to next," says Lisa Wood, head of marketing for HSBC Bank International in Jersey.

The 2010 results spanned across the globe. While Russia sat as the No. 1 hotspot for expat wealth (over one-third of expats living in Russia earn USD 250,000 or more, annually) Belgium surfaced as the No. 1 place to raise children abroad. 

Additionally, Thailand's leading rank in overall expat experience was supported by No. 2 Canada and No. 3 Bahrain. Simplicity of getting started in a new country, ease of social integration, and comparisons to an expat's home country were just some of the topics measured into an expat's quality of life.

"The underlying objective of the survey is to understand expat life in general, the different kind of expats out there, how they live their lives and what their needs are," says Wood. "Decisions are very complex for expats."

Thailand tops as Europe flops

Out of the top concerns when living abroad, such as healthcare and dealing with crime, the most popular stress factor among expats was having a social life. 

Countries such as Bermuda, Bahrain and Thailand ranked in the top three when concern arose about making friends, while European countries stooped to the bottom -- a likely outcome from countries with difficult languages, says Noeleen Doherty, senior research fellow at Cranfield University School of Management in Bedford, England. 

“There’s an importance of social integration and an individual’s perception on how successful the expat experience can be,” says Doherty. “It’s fine to stay secure with other expats, but in terms of a more enriching experience it’s been shown to immerse more in the local community.”
European countries fumbled down to strikingly low placements. Belgium, Switzerland, United Kingdom and Germany were at the bottom 25 for befriending new people; The Netherlands ranked the lowest. The same countries were also missing from top spots when setting up a life abroad.

However, life for an expat in Europe has not necessarily bottomed out. With the exception of the UK sliding down at No. 23, central European countries are at a comfortable middle, with The Netherlands at No. 17, Belgium at No. 13 and Germany at No. 12 of the top 25 quality of life rankings. Switzerland, France and Spain managed to climb within the top 10.

“The results are a bit surprising in some ways. Culturally, Europe is not as far like Hong Kong or Thailand, which have very different cultural contexts,” says Doherty. “I think these results highlighted the importance of language and language ability.”

Belgium specifically placed high for raising expat children. Not only do children adapt well in the country, but Belgium also scored high with education, healthcare and child safety.

Life quality versus cash quantity 

Accommodation, diet, healthcare, leisure, social and work life were just some of the factors that shaped quality of life results in the Expat Experience survey. Ease also played a role in results, as respondents also ranked the effortlessness in activities such as adapting to culture, learning the language, and enjoyment in social spheres both private and public.

“Personal development is quite high up on an expat’s priority and experience; overall living abroad is seen as very valuable and helpful in being a better person,” says Doherty.

However, throughout the trilogy of Expat Explorer reports, no particular country remains consistently at No. 1. Doherty points to the issue that expat life varies due to purpose and lifestyle: “There’s a difference between what you think is an okay situation to put yourself into and what you put your children into.”

Although most expats believe life abroad is healthy for their children, high-salary expat assignments are not usually placed in countries with highly ranked childcare, health and wellbeing. The top regions for financial gain and career progression, like opportunities in the BRIC countries, are also nearly absent from high rankings in quality of life. 

Even though 57 percent of expats surveyed stated career opportunities and financial gain as key reasons to becoming an expat, a whopping 81 percent believed the most important factor of being an expat was broadening horizons and gaining life experience.

Growth as the top predictable trend

The most notable trend from Expat Explorer survey results revealed a strong prediction that the expat community is steadily on the rise. A commercial created by HSBC Bank International states that 138 million people currently live abroad.

“I think the expat population is certainly going to continue to increase,” says Wood, who suggests that the current economic situation in the UK is withholding expats from returning home. “The
world as a whole is getting smaller and the population in countries are becoming more mobile.”

Almost three-quarters of expats surveyed are planning to expatriate again once their current post is finished. Although BRIC countries are seen as the emerging hotspots, the endless quality of life pull will continue to attract long-term expats.

Overall, repatriating back to a home country is an unpopular move, with only one-fifth of expats surveyed admitting to an eventual return home. Doherty says studies have shown repatriating to a home country can be fraught with difficulties.

“An interesting lesson here are the signals to organisations on what they need to work on with support and effort to expats,” says Doherty. “These results give good clues where they can best and most efficiently target their preparation in helping expats with relocation and repatriation.”

HSBC Bank International plans to continue the yearly survey for 2011, with plans to provide interactive charts for 2010 results for visitors on their website.  

A. Sykes / Expatica

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