Where do expats struggle the most and the least to get started abroad?
The Expat Essentials Index reveals the 52 destinations that make life abroad easiest and those that make life most challenging for foreign residents. The index is based on data from the Expat Insider 2022 survey by InterNations, the world’s largest expat community with over 4.5 million members. All top three destinations, Bahrain (1st), the UAE (2nd), and Singapore (3rd), offer easy communication with the lack of a language barrier, while also posing minimal bureaucratic issues. On the other hand, expats struggle the most with getting started in Germany (52nd), Japan (51st), and China (50th). Expats in all three countries struggle with the local language and a lack of modern digitalization.
The best destinations to get started abroad
1.Bahrain: The Ideal Place for Easy Beginnings
Luckily for expats in Bahrain, finding your feet in this island country appears to be a breeze — it secures the 1st place out of 52 in the ranking of the best and worst destinations to get started in. The Admin Topics Subcategory (2nd) is a particular highlight for expats in Bahrain. About two in three (67%) report that it is easy to deal with the local authorities, an impressive 27 percentage points more than the global average (40%). Visa issues also pose very few problems: 70% say it is easy to get a visa to move there (vs. 56% globally). When it comes to Digital Life, Bahrain ranks below the global average for unrestricted access to online services, such as social media (34th) but lands in a top 10 spot for the availability of government services online (8th).
The majority of expats in Bahrain (82%) says that it is easy for them to find housing, while only about half of expats globally (54%) can say the same. However, only 39% find housing in Bahrain affordable, the same share as the worldwide average (39%). But expats in Bahrain are at least not held back by language barriers; 82% say it is easy to live there without speaking the local language(s) (vs. 51% globally).
2.The UAE Offers Expats Worry-Free Bureaucracy
The UAE offers expats a smooth transition to life abroad, claiming second place in the ranking. Just like in no. 1 Bahrain, the Language Subcategory (2nd) is also a major highlight for the UAE. While only 40% of expats say that learning the local language is easy (vs. 41% globally), this doesn’t seem to be a major issue, since the majority (85%) also says that it is easy to live there without speaking the local language(s) (vs. 51% globally). Expats are also very pleased with the way Admin Topics (3rd) are handled in the UAE, voting the country 1st worldwide for the ease of obtaining a visa to move there. Additionally, 61% say that it is easy to deal with the local bureaucracy in the UAE, compared to 40%
The UAE receives mixed results in the Digital Life Subcategory (14th). On the positive side, expats vote the country 3rd out of 52 for the availability of administrative services online, as well as 10th for the ease of getting high-speed internet access at home. However, the UAE ranks 49th for unrestricted access to online services, such as social media. In fact, 19% of expats do not feel that they have unrestricted access there, almost triple the global average (7%). When it comes to the Housing Subcategory (14th), 75% consider it easy to find housing in the UAE (vs. 54% globally), but only 38% say that it is affordable (vs. 39% globally).
3. Singapore Offers Expats a Well-Organized & Highly Digitalized Life
Ranking 3rd out of 52 destinations, Singapore makes it especially easy for expats to get started. With English as one of its official languages, it is hardly surprising that the city-state lands in 1st place in the Language Subcategory.
In addition to the lack of a language barrier, expats appreciate its great infrastructure for Digital Life (4th). In no other place is it as simple to get high-speed internet access at home (1st). An impressive 97% are happy with this factor (vs. 79% globally). Another 91% are satisfied with the availability of administrative services online (vs. 61% globally). An Indonesian respondent points out the “fast and organized online services for many administrative purposes” as a major benefit of life in Singapore. Nearly all expats (97%) also agree that cashless payment options are easily available (vs. 84% globally).
Singapore also performs strongly in the Admin Topics Subcategory (5th). About two in three expats (63%) find it easy to deal with the city-state’s authorities (vs. 40% globally), and the majority doesn’t have any difficulties opening a local bank account (81% vs. 64% globally). Lastly, Singapore gets mixed results in the Housing Subcategory (34th). On the one hand, housing is easy to find (15th), but on the other hand it is difficult to afford (47th). In fact, 71% are unhappy with the affordability of housing (vs. 43% globally).
4. Estonia: The No. 1 Expat Destination for Admin Topics & Digital Life
Estonia owes its outstanding 4th place mainly to its strong performance in both the Admin Topics and the Digital Life Subcategories (1st for both). Sorting out the basics of expat life in this Baltic state is easy in many ways. For example, 80% of expats in Estonia found it easy to obtain their visa for moving there, compared to a worldwide average of 56%. About eight in ten (81%) have no issues dealing with the local authorities, either (vs. 40% globally).
When it comes to the availability of government services online, Estonia even ranks 1st out of 52 destinations. “I really like how easy it is to live here,” says a British expat. “Services are usually (though not always) free of bureaucratic difficulties and demand less paperwork than in the UK.” Expats in Estonia also love the unrestricted access to online services (1st), the cashless payment options (5th), and the ease
of setting up high-speed internet access at home (6th).
However, the country only gets average results in the Language and Housing Subcategories (27th for both). It is still easy enough to get by in Estonia without speaking the local language (77% happy vs. 51% globally). But expats who would like to immerse themselves deeper in the local culture might face certain challenges: 61% describe the local language as hard to learn (vs. 38% globally).
5. Oman: A Smooth Start for Expats but Limited Online Services
Expats find it very easy to find their footing in Oman — the Arab country excels in the Expat Essentials Index (5th), ranking among the top 10 in both the Housing (8th) and the Language (7th) Subcategories. Expats report that housing is both easy to find (79% vs. 54% globally) and to afford (57% vs. 39% globally). It is also easy to live in Oman without speaking the local language (75% vs. 51% globally). In fact, only 33% speak it fairly or very well, 20 percentage points less than the global average of 53%.
However, expat life in the sultanate has its restrictions: Oman (50th) joins China (52nd) and Kuwait (51st) among the bottom 3 destinations for unrestricted access to online services (e.g., social media).
In fact, 13% of expats feel that their online access is limited, nearly twice the global average (7%). This leads to a below-average 38th place in the Digital Life Subcategory. As far as Admin Topics (12th) are concerned, though, Oman makes life for expats relatively easy again.
6. Indonesia: Affordable Housing Market, Not Much of a Language Barrier for Expats
In some ways, Indonesia (6th) makes it very easy for expats to start their new life abroad. It is even voted the country where it is easiest for expats to find housing (1st). An impressive 84% rate this factor positively, 30 percentage points more than the global average of 54%.
On top of that, the “great saving opportunities with low living expenses” that a South Korean expat describes also seem to apply to Indonesia’s housing market. The country claims 2nd place for affordable housing: nearly three in four (74%) consider local housing to be affordable, compared to 39% worldwide. And it ranks 6th out of 52 destinations for the ease of learning the local language.
While Indonesia’s general performance in the Admin Topics Subcategory (30th) is fairly average, expats have particular issues when it comes to dealing with the local bureaucracy. In fact, 57% say this can be challenging, compared to 39% globally. In the Digital Life Subcategory (42nd), there is also some room for improvement, according to expats. For example, only 43% rate the availability of government services online favorably (vs. 61% globally).
7. Housing Is a Highlight in Saudi Arabia but Online Access Not So Much
Saudi Arabia facilitates a smooth transition to local life for expats, ranking 7th in the Expat Essentials Index. Like its fellow Gulf States Bahrain (1st), the UAE (2nd), Oman (5th), and Qatar (8th), it offers expats relatively worry-free bureaucracy, easily available housing, and not much of a language barrier.
Not only do 62% say that housing in Saudi Arabia is easy for expats to find (vs. 54% globally), another 42% say it is affordable as well (vs. 39% globally). “What I particularly like about Saudi Arabia are the cheap houses and the good road network,” says an expat from Uganda.
Admin topics (11th) offer little frustration for expats in Saudi Arabia, and 73% say it is easy to open a local bank account (vs. 64% globally). Only 19% speak the local language very well, compared to 33% of expats globally. But Language (11th) still does not seem to pose a problem: only 18% say it is difficult to live there without speaking the local language (vs. 32% globally). Although 77% are happy with the availability of government services online (vs. 61% globally), just 51% feel they have unrestricted access to online services (e.g., social media), compared to 82% globally. This results in a mediocre rank for Saudi Arabia in the Digital Life Subcategory (25th).
8. It Is Easy for Expats to Get By in Qatar with Stress-Free Administration
Qatar ranks 8th in the Expat Essentials Index overall. It claims a place among the top 10 in the Language (5th) and Admin Topics (10th) Subcategories. Close to four in five (79%) find it easy to live in the Gulf State without speaking Arabic (vs. 51% globally). Worldwide, the share of expats who struggle abroad due to not speaking the local language(s) is 32%. In Qatar, this percentage is four times lower (8%). In fact, 16% of expats in Qatar do not speak the local language at all (vs. 10% globally), but that is not actually a problem. As an Indian expat explains, “everyone converses in English”.
Half the expats (50%) also find it easy to deal with the local authorities in Qatar (vs. 40% globally), and in terms of housing, the country does quite well on a global scale: 64% say it is easy for expats to find housing there (vs. 54% globally).
Qatar gets mixed results in the Digital Life Subcategory (17th). On the one hand, 91% say it is easy to pay without cash (vs. 84% globally), and another 81% like the availability of government services online (vs. 61% globally). However, the country only ranks 46th out of 52 when it comes to unrestricted access to online services, for example, social media. “I am bothered by the lack of ability to search for things locally online,” says an expat from Canada. The bottom ranking for this factor is similar in other Gulf States, such as Oman (50th), the UAE (49th), and Saudi Arabia (47th).
9. Kenya: Expats Get a Smooth Start regarding Language & Housing
Like Indonesia (6th), Kenya (9th) provides expats with an easy transition in two areas in particular: Language (3rd) and Housing (12th). The great result in the former subcategory is most likely due to the fact that English still serves as one of the country’s two official languages and is widely used in business, education, and government offices. Many expats also have few or no difficulties in finding housing, ranking Kenya 9th out of 52 destinations in this regard. And 43% consider the available housing to be affordable, slightly more than the worldwide average of 39%.
However, Kenya does not do nearly as well in the other two subcategories. It only comes in a below average 35th place for Admin Topics. The local bureaucracy seems to be a particular source of frustration for many expats: 57% find it difficult to deal with, nearly 20 percentage points more than the average of 39% globally. “I dislike the inefficiency of many government agencies. Everything is very time-consuming. They do have online platforms, but these often don’t work properly,” explains an expat from the Netherlands. Kenya ranks 42nd for the availability of government services online.
10. Canada: Easy Enough for Expats to Get Started, with One Notable Exception
Canada rounds out the top 10, offering expats a smooth start abroad in many respects. First of all, 64% find it easy to deal with the local authorities (vs. 40% globally). “Once you are here, it is so easy to contact the government with questions,” an expat from Spain states. The country even ranks in 2nd place for the ease of opening a local bank account ― a factor 90% of expats rate positively (vs. 64% globally).
Canada also makes it into the top 10 of the Digital Life Subcategory (8th). For example, 92% appreciate the ease of paying without cash (vs. 84% globally). Another 91% are happy with the unrestricted access to online services (vs. 82% globally), and 88% consider it easy to set up high-speed internet access at home (vs. 79% globally).