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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

Finding Your Home Away from Home

For the first time in four years, Mexico is not the global number one for ease of settling in. The top spot goes to Bahrain, with Mexico and Costa Rica maintaining their strong ranking in second and third place.
  • #1 Bahrain makes expats feel welcome and it is easy to get by without speaking Arabic.
  • #2 Mexico loses the top spot, but has the friendliest population.
  • #3 Costa Rica is great for making new friends abroad.
  • While Ukraine declines the most compared to 2016, Kazakhstan greatly improves.

Methodology

The Ease of Settling In Index covers various “soft” factors that can be vital to making a stay abroad a success. Survey respondents had to rate several factors on a scale of one to seven, including the friendliness of the local population, how easy it is to make friends, how welcome they feel in their country of residence, and how easy and important it is to speak the local language.

At least 75 respondents were required for a destination to be featured; 65 countries met this requirement, and 48 even exceeded the sample size with more than 100 respondents.

Bahrain: A Home Away from Home

For the first time in the past four years, Mexico no longer claims the top spot in the Ease of Settling In Index. Ranking 12th out of 67 in 2016, Bahrain now takes first place when it comes to settling in abroad.

Out of the subcategories in this index, Bahrain does best with regard to language, where it ranks first worldwide. Three out of ten respondents (30%) say the local language — either standard or Bahrani Arabic — is easy to learn, more or less on par with the global average of 33%. However, with Bahrain’s huge expat population, over three-quarters (76%) completely agree that it’s extremely easy to live there without speaking Arabic.

It’s not just the ease of making yourself understood that contributes to Bahrain’s outstanding ranking. In the Feeling Welcome subcategory, it moved from 16th place in 2016 to an impressive 2nd place in the Expat Insider 2017 survey. Respondents think it’s generally easy to settle down in Bahrain (78%), to get used to the local culture (75%), and to feel at home there (73%). In fact, 41% of respondents even agree that feeling at home in Bahrain’s local culture is not difficult at all.

Bahrain’s biggest improvement compared to 2016 was in the Finding Friends subcategory, jumping from 19th out of 67 to 6th out of 65 in 2017. Over seven in ten expats (73%) are generally satisfied with how easy it is to make new friends in Bahrain. Although fewer respondents agree that it’s easy to find local friends (55%), this percentage is still above the worldwide average (42%).

It is a home away from home. The locals are very friendly and helpful.

Lastly, Bahrain is also in the top 10 for friendliness: 46% of expats consider the local population to be generally very friendly (global average: 29%); only 3% have something negative to say about the local attitude towards foreign residents in particular (16% worldwide).  

One respondent from the Philippines probably says it best: “It is a home away from home. The locals are very friendly and helpful.”

Mexico: Full of Friendly, Warm, and Giving People

While Mexico lost its status as the friendliest expat destination worldwide, it still ranks in the global top 3 for nearly all subcategories of the Ease of Settling In Index, putting it in second place.

Mexico scores highly with regard to both friendliness and finding friends abroad. Out of all countries featured in the Expat Insider 2017 survey, Mexico boasts the friendliest local population: over half of respondents (53%) consider their new Mexican neighbors to be very friendly, and just 1% give the general friendliness in Mexico a negative rating.

The friendly, warm, and giving people make me feel welcome.

This warm welcome seems to extend to foreign residents as well: over half (54%) describe it as very friendly, more than double the worldwide average of 26%. “[The] friendly, warm, and giving people make me feel welcome”, a happy expat from the US said.

With such a friendly welcome, it’s hardly surprising that finding friends is easy. Almost one in three expats (32%) are completely satisfied with this factor, and more than one in four (27%) say the same about making local friends. Only about one in five (21%) describe their social circle in Mexico as mostly other expats.

The Feeling Welcome subcategory is based on the ratings for three different factors: how easy it is to get accustomed to the local culture, whether respondents feel at home in their destination, and if it is difficult to settle down in that country. For all these factors, Mexico ranks 4th out of 65 countries in 2017, and about four out of five respondents rate each favorably. Ease of settling down is where Mexico performs best: 37% are completely satisfied with that aspect of expat life, compared to 17% worldwide.

The Language subcategory is the only part of the Ease of Settling In Index where Mexico is not in the  top 3; it misses the top 10 by a narrow margin, ranking 11th out of 65. Less than half of expats living in Mexico (48%) think it’s easy to get by without speaking the local language. Fortunately, they also think that Spanish is fairly easy to learn! About one in five expats (21%) say that language learning poses no difficulty at all, and only 2% state they speak no Spanish whatsoever.

Costa Rica: Best for Finding Friends Abroad

Just like Mexico, Costa Rica dropped one spot in the Ease of Settling In Index, from 2nd out of 67 in 2016 to 3rd out of 65 destinations in 2017.

Like Mexico, Costa Rica does best in the Finding Friends and Friendliness subcategories. When it comes to friendships forged abroad, this destination has the best results for both finding new friends in general and making local friends: 34% and 26% respectively are completely satisfied with these factors (globally: 18% and 12%).

Moreover, 87% of respondents in Costa Rica are generally satisfied with the friendliness of the population as well as their attitude towards expats. About four out of five (81%) generally feel at home in the Costa Rican culture; another 75% agree that it’s easy to get used to the local culture. It took more than half the respondents (52%) up to just six months to start feeling at home there.

I hate that I don't speak the language fluently and I am a little embarrassed at my language skills (I find it very difficult!).

Like Mexico, the language barrier in Costa Rica may pose a problem sometimes. The percentage of expats who agree that getting by without local language skills is easy is about average (47% vs. 46% worldwide). “I hate that I don't speak the language fluently and I am a little embarrassed at my language skills (I find it very difficult!),” one British expat admitted. Fortunately, not everyone shares this view: 55% think that the local language isn’t hard to learn, and about half (49%) describe their proficiency in Spanish as “fairly good” or “very good”.

From Uganda to Kazakhstan: Changes in the Ease of Settling In Index

Uganda — which took third place in 2016 — slipped to a still respectable eighth place. This change is partly due to losing ground in the Friendliness subcategory. In 2017, 82% of respondents describe the Ugandan population as generally friendly, but this is actually twelve percentage points less than in the previous year.

Malta and New Zealand (4th and 5th in 2016) also lost several places. New Zealand still makes it into the ten best countries worldwide, slipping from fifth to tenth place in the Ease of Settling In Index. Malta, however, narrowly misses the top 10: it now comes 11th out of 65 destinations.

Ukraine suffered the heaviest losses compared to the Expat Insider 2016 survey. While it ranked 24th out of 67 countries in 2016, it only makes it to 46th position out of 65 in 2017. Ukraine’s rankings plummeted in all subcategories, except for language. In the Finding Friends subcategory, it fell from 5th out of 67 countries to 30th place in 2017. “It can be hard to become close to people. Making friends really takes time”, a British expat agrees.

Kazakhstan, however, managed to move in the opposite direction. Despite ranking a disappointing 49th in 2016, it’s now 34th out of 65 countries in the 2017 Ease of Settling In Index. The country achieved significant gains across all subcategories, especially with regard to finding friends (from 44th to 28th place) and feeling welcome (from 51st to 38th place). For example, in 2016 49% of expats described making local friends in Kazakhstan as generally easy, but this rose to 60% in 2017.

Full Ranking

Further Reading