Top Destinations for Expats 2015

Expat Surveys
By Bill Cox
Bill Cox
Bill Cox
October 6, 2015 Updated: October 13, 2015

The results of two major expat studies were released recently, the Expat Insider survey produced by InterNations the global expat Social Networking and Information Company, released in August and the Expat Explorer commissioned by HSBC, now into its 8th year released in September 2015.

Whilst both surveys provide much insight into expat life and preferences, not surprisingly, these surveys show many differences in findings. Only four destinations Singapore, New Zealand, Canada and Australia are featured in the top ten destinations by both sets of results. What is surprising is that 6 out of the top 10 destinations are different.

The top ten destination for expats according to the InterNations report which surveyed 14,300 expats covering 195 countries principally from its global 1.6 million members (0.93%) are Ecuador, Mexico, Malta, Singapore, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Thailand, Panama, Canada and Australia. The report provides a total survey ranking for the top 64 countries.

The HSBC expat explorer survey on the other hand formulated its results based on replies by 22,000 expats covering over 100 countries puts the top expat destinations to be Singapore, New Zealand, Sweden, Bahrain, Germany, Canada, Australia, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, Switzerland. The responses from this survey which were undertaken by market research agency YouGov came from a mixture of sources, including consumer panels, and outreach conducted via HSBC using a variety of platforms.

InterNations’ Expat Insider survey explains the reasons why Ecuador is number one:
“Once more, Ecuador comes out on top as the clear winner of the Expat Insider survey. It occupies first place in the Personal Finance and Cost of Living Indices: 91% of the survey participants are generally satisfied with the cost of living and 80% say the same about their personal financial situation. But the quality of life is also relatively high. In this index, Ecuador occupies the top rank for Personal Happiness. Respondents are generally satisfied with their personal life … Leisure options also seem to be abundant in Ecuador, as 94% of respondents give them a positive rating.

“More than that, though, Ecuador is a country that is easy to settle down in. The country ranks first when it comes to finding friends and feeling welcome. Job security, however, is only mediocre – Ecuador occupies 22nd rank in this subcategory and 59% say their income is lower than at home. Moreover, 55% fall into the lowest income brackets of 25,000 USD and below.

“The majority of expats living in Ecuador are US Americans (56%) and in their golden years: the average age is 51.9 years. Of those who have a job, 36% work part-time while 36% of all respondents in Ecuador are retirees. The country seems to attract those who plan on a long-term stay. In fact, 45% say that they might stay there forever.”

Family enjoying the open air. (Fotolia)
Family enjoying the open air. (Fotolia)

For Singapore, the Expat Insider Survey explains:
“Singapore, (ranked 4th in the Expat Insider Survey) is regarded as one of the “Four Asian Tigers” for its rapid economic growth in the later decades of the 20th century, provides an attractive choice for expats looking for high income and living standards. The small city-state also ranks fourth in terms of family well-being, third in regard to the quality of education, and sixth for health, safety, and well-being in general; the impressive results in these subcategories should guarantee that expat parents, too, are satisfied with life in Singapore.

“Moving to Singapore is made easier by a welcoming atmosphere (ranked 7th in the Feeling Welcome subcategory) and four official languages, including English (3rd in the Language subcategory). The friendliness of the local population, however, is below average, ranking 47th, affording the country an overall good 21st position in the Ease of Settling In Index.”

HSBC’s Expat Explorer gives Singapore the number one spot with the following opening explanation:
“Singapore emerges as the best place overall for expats to enjoy an excellent quality of life, financial well being and improved career prospects. Expats highlight its safe environment, confidence in the local economy and the quality of life for their children as some of the best reasons to live there.

“Singapore attracts expats looking to learn new skills and earn higher wages. Nearly three in five (59%) expats say the city-state is a good place for career advancement, while 53% say the chance to acquire new skills at work is better than at home (only 12% disagree with this view). Nearly a third (30%) of expats in Singapore work in banking, insurance or financial services, reflecting its place as one of the major financial hubs in Asia.

“Although living in the country is expensive, expat earnings are high: an average expat salary of USD159,000 p.a. puts the country well above the global average of USD104,000 p.a. As a result, nearly two thirds (65%) of expats enjoy a greater level of disposable income than at home, while 60% are able to save more, compared with only 16% who say they save less.

“In addition to financial gains, Singapore is one of the best destinations for quality of life. Over two thirds (67%) of expats say they have enjoyed a rise in their quality of life since moving (compared with the global average of 53%). Exercise is one reason for this improvement, as 55% of expats have become more physically active since living in Singapore. Water sports, team games like rugby and even a ‘Snow City’ offer ways to stay active.

“Expat parents say there are clear benefits for their families, with almost two thirds (65%) stating their children’s health and wellbeing has improved since moving (compared with the global average of 48%). The vast majority (87%) of expats praise Singapore’s level of safety”.

Why the difference?
Ecuador (1), Malta (3), Luxemburg (5) and Panama (8), in the top 10 of the InterNations survey do not feature in the 39 destinations listed in the HSBC report and Taiwan (8th in the HSBC findings) does not show in the results of the InterNations report. Feedback from YouGov confirmed that data was collected for Ecuador, Malta, Luxemburg and Panama but the base size did not qualify them for the online tool. Similarly for Taiwan, InterNations did not get the number of respondents required statistically for it to be included in this year’s results.

Countries showing good correlation between the two surveys are Singapore, New Zealand, Canada, Australia and Switzerland, while Sweden, Bahrain, Germany, Mexico, UAE, and Thailand differ significantly. Sweden, Bahrain and Germany are more highly ranked on the HSBC report while Mexico, UAE, and Thailand are higher placed in the InterNations findings.

The surveys differ substantially from one to the other. The HSBC survey, as one might expect puts greater emphasis on financial and economic factors. It has three key categories for questions of Economics, Experience and Family, with 10 sub points in each of the three categories.

InterNations on the other hand ranks countries using five indexes: Ease of Settling In, Family Life, Working Abroad, Quality of Life, Personal Finance and Cost of Living. These again are subdivided but put greater emphasis on personal well-being with sub categories such as friendliness, making friends, language, leisure options, personal happiness etc. Finance although included does not have such a prominent role and is limited to satisfaction with personal financial situation and disposable income.

So the way the two surveys reflect final country rankings differ, if a country provides good economic conditions: high disposable income, wage growth, savings, economic confidence, career progression and job security it is likely to be pushed up the ranking in the HSBC survey, but of course these factors can be balanced out if experience factors such as quality of life (healthcare, culture, making friends etc.) or family factors of social life, school quality, cost of childrens health and integration are poor.

In the InterNations survey, financial/economic factors account for only 1/5 of the ranking points compared with 1/3 for the HSBC survey. InterNations puts more emphasis on Quality of life aspects whilst still covering quality of education, cost of children and education, job security and disposable income.

See survey results in the respective websites: and

Bill Cox