Any list of the best places to live abroad has to start with a base marker or distinct methodology, which you can then use to gauge how the writer is measuring the quality of the locations chosen, and whether they are likely to also appeal to you.
If you read data from one source it could be selecting destinations based on their affordability for those retiring abroad on a fixed pension perhaps. If you read data from another source, it could be comparing countries for the work/life balance it offers expats workers for example.
We are going to provide you with plenty of facts about each country in turn – but in truth, the list is about as subjective as they come.
The point of this report is to help you look at some of the countries on the list of, especially if you’re not sure about where you want to live and you need inspiration…
But much more than that, the point of this report is to show you how you can create your own short-list when planning where in the world you would like to live.
Guiding your country choice research
Throughout this report I’m going to cite my sources where they agree with my own opinions! In so doing I hope you can easily find other resources to help your ongoing research.
And by the end of this list, I hope I will have given you food for thought to enable you to compile your own list of nations suitable for you to move to overseas, no matter what life stage you’re at.
Where in the world would I like to live? Where in the world would you like to live?
My own choices about where I’d love to live abroad are always going to be governed by the elements of my life that are important to me…
So if I’m choosing a country to move to right now, I’m going to be thinking about: –
– Family – where would suit my family?
– Safety – where can my daughter grow up safely?
– Education – where is the state schooling of a high enough standard?
– Accessibility – where is suitable so that my friends and extended family can regularly visit?
– Internet connection – I work from home via the Internet, so where can I get well connected?
But if I’m thinking about where I will want to live abroad when I retire, my personal requirements are going to be very different: –
– Affordability – I will probably be on a fixed income in retirement like most people, so where will that money go further?
– Healthcare – as we age our health can naturally deteriorate, I will need to be somewhere with affordable and decent healthcare
– The weather – I don’t want to be anywhere with worse weather than Britain!
– Who wants me? – When you retire, some nations such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US don’t actually want you and getting a visa can prove impossible
– Family – I won’t want to be too far away from children and grandchildren
If you’re trying to choose a country to move to, or you’re trying to determine whether a certain nation will suit you, have you thought about what’s important to you, and which country or countries offer you everything you need and want?
What matters? Choosing the right country for you
A great way to begin thinking about the best place to live abroad is to make a list of what’s important to you. Suggested subject headings for you to have in mind as you compile your own list include these: –
1. Visas and permissions – where are you allowed to live and work abroad? This may be restricted depending on elements such as whether you have a job offer or if you can financially support yourself.
Look into a country’s immigration rules before committing to relocate – you don’t want your dreams dashed just because you don’t qualify for a visa.
2. Employment options – if you’re of working age can you get a job in a country that appeals to you?
If you have a job offer abroad what are the employment options like generally, because if you decide you don’t like your job or you get fired or made redundant, will you be able to get another job?
Alternatively, if you want to start a business overseas, is yours a viable business idea, and are you even allowed to own your own company outright? In some countries you need a majority shareholder who is a local citizen.
Also, do your qualifications and experience translate abroad or will you need to re-qualify?
3. Family requirements – if you have children or even aged relatives accompanying you, think about elements such as education, health, accessibility, and even employment options for a spouse or older children.
4. Healthcare – not many countries have a state healthcare system like the NHS, and in the majority of nations you will need to pay for medical insurance – or at least top up insurance. Can you afford this?
Also, what are the standards of healthcare like abroad?
5. Climate – what’s your ideal climate? Coming from the UK most of us are sun-seekers – but is the reality of extreme heat going to be too much to bear?
Would you be better off in a country with a more temperate climate?
6. Safety – does a country have a decent safety record? What’s the police system like? Do you need to think about taking extra precautions personally and at home if you choose a given nation?
Think not just about safety and security on a personal level, but as a national concern as well when thinking about the suitability or otherwise of a country.
7. Money matters – this is a very broad category and it requires honest and equally broad thought.
Firstly you need to think about the affordability of a move.
Is your ideal country very expensive to relocate to? What about travelling to and from it if you want to visit family and friends ‘back home’. Think also about the cost of living – housing, schooling, health insurance, food and fuel…
You will need to also consider whether your money will be safe in that country, does it have a stable currency and economy? Or will you need to bank and save offshore or back home?
Think also about the long-term affordability of your move – can you afford to buy a home, retire to that country etc.?
If you’re planning on retiring abroad will your pension income go far enough in a new country to afford you the lifestyle you’re seeking – and don’t forget to factor in currency conversion and moving money and how much this could cost you.
8. Holiday versus reality – there is a world of difference between having a holiday in a resort in a country and actually setting up home and your new life in the same nation…
In order to work out whether you really want to commit to a country it can literally pay you to take an extended break there, and spend time doing real-life stuff like shopping for groceries, looking at properties to rent, comparing costs of living, and just experiencing life as an expat rather than a holiday maker.
9. Barriers to integration – be honest on this point. The secret to enjoying your new life abroad may come down to how well you can integrate, especially if you want to make your move a long-term or even permanent one.
Will you need to learn a language to settle in, what about the local religion and culture and customs? Can you embrace these, tolerate these or simply accept and live alongside these if they are so different to your own?
Do other expats integrate and settle in? How easily will your spouse and children find it to integrate and make friends and establish a new social circle?
10. Lifestyle – finally, what’s the lifestyle like locally in the new country you’re thinking of? Is it an outdoor centric existence – does this suit you?
Do people work hard and play hard? Is it a very laidback place where you will have to learn to hurry up and wait?
What are your hobbies and what do you like doing in your free time – can you still continue with the things that make you and your family happy in your new country?
Degtev’s top 10 places to live abroad
Hopefully these subject headings will give you some really strong food for thought as you look abroad to find the best country for you to move to. And now for the Degtev top ten places to live abroad…as chosen by me!
I’m not alone in thinking Switzerland is the best place in the world to live. The findings of the 2014 HSBC Expat Explorer Survey also ranked this stunningly beautiful nation the best place to live, work and raise children.
However, Switzerland is expensive – and that’s possibly the biggest understatement you will come across this week!
According to comparisons done on Numbeo it’s almost one and a half times more expensive to live in Zurich than it is in New York, not taking rent into the equation. And if you look at another comparison site, Expatistan, it still shows Zurich as more expensive than New York, albeit by a smaller margin.
But then again, I’d far rather live in this clean, safe, beautiful, sophisticated, historically fascinating European city than New York – how about you?
Switzerland ranks so highly for me because it ticks all my lifestyle and employment boxes, and it ticks the healthcare and education ones too. The only trouble is, I can’t really afford to live there – can you?
According to website 10bestplacestoretire Italy should be on your shortlist if you’re looking for a fascinating and beautiful place to put your feet up in retirement.
It cites Italy as being brilliant because of its architecture, history, culture, weather and natural landscapes…
I choose Italy to be in my top 10 for the same reasons, added to which the cost of living can be cheap if you head south, choose to live like the locals, and don’t count the tax you will pay!
Whilst a barrier to integration could be needing to learn Italian, I note the thousands of other Brits who have happily successfully traded life in Blighty for La Dolce Vita.
On paper at least, Malta has it all – and it is beloved of expats, so much so that it ranked in the number 3 spot in the most recent InterNations ‘Best and Worst Places for Expats’ survey.
It has the weather, the employment options, the lifestyle, the heritage, history and culture. What’s more, like Italy and Switzerland, it is easily and quickly accessible from the UK.
To me Malta is a very appealing choice – it’s also a great choice for retirement overseas. However, a real downside is the cost of property, and according to the InterNations survey, the major issue locally in Malta is the travel and transport infrastructure.
Having lived in Cyprus, on both sides of the Green Line, I have insider knowledge of life on this beautiful Mediterranean island. It doesn’t rank in my top 3 however, because of a fair amount of corruption – again, prevalent on both sides of the island.
The UK has an ugly reputation for being ‘rip off Britain’ but at least most charges and fees are transparent! Never knowing what something is going to cost, from getting your household effects into or out of a port, or paying to renew your residency is boring after a while. What’s more, corruption abounds in the property market on both sides of the Green Line in my personal experience…tread carefully.
Beyond these downsides you have to consider the economies on either side, and the stability or otherwise of the respective currencies (lira and euro) – and you may well decide to keep all your money out of the island’s banking system.
Positives include the fact that if you’re retired you pay a flat 5% tax on your pension if you live on the south, and the cost of living on either side can be relatively cheap compared to the UK.
The beauty of the landscape and stunning climate make Cyprus a great place to live.
Cyprus scrapes into 20th place in the Telegraph’s poll of the World’s top 20 places to live for the good life.
I love Canada in spite of the climate! If you’re a lover of snow and winter sports the climate could be a bonus however…
Getting a visa to relocate to Canada can be onerous, which is a downside…but economically and in terms of employment prospects, it ranks highly for me.
In 2015 Canada was ranked as the “most admired” country with the “best reputation” in the world, according to an annual report from the Reputation Institute.
According to the institute Canada is the most reputable country in the world based on a variety of environmental, political, and economic factors.
To me personally, having temporarily lived in Canada for half a year, I found it to be a really easy place to integrate. It ranks highly for me too because it’s so stunningly beautiful, and the wildlife offering is really diverse.
I spent all my free time exploring this element of the nation – and whilst I know if I lived there permanently more of my life would be given over to working for a living rather than travelling and exploring, I think Canada ticks enough of my other boxes in terms of the high standard of living achievable and the relatively acceptable cost of living to make it a real contender.
6) Cayman Islands
In all honesty I am placing the Cayman Islands in my top 10 despite never intending to even consider living there! I don’t think I could ever afford to! However, we all need dreams…and the Cayman Islands is my dream destination.
It has it all – the beautiful beaches, the stunning climate, the friendly locals and fellow expats, the laidback lifestyle, and a great work/life balance…not to mention a very high standard of living.
However, it is ridiculously expensive.
The Guardian recently published the fact that it costs £8.50 for a box of fishfingers! Not sure why you would want to buy fishfingers when living in a tropical island paradise where the fish on your plate at any restaurant will be among the freshest in the world…but the point is, it’s expensive…
In part that’s because the Cayman Islands are a tax friendly jurisdiction of course, and no one pays any tax on income – another bonus! But unless you’re really rich and can afford a fabulous home and to pay over the odds for goods and services, the Cayman Islands might not be on your shortlist!
7) New Zealand
To me New Zealand is a blend of Australia without the snakes, and the UK without the ever-increasing cost of living and property…
It’s also another stunningly beautiful place to live, where a language barrier won’t hamper integration, and where the standard of living is on a par with the UK.
In HSBC’s latest Expat Explorer Survey New Zealand topped the quality of life index, with well over half of all respondents stating that they had become much more physically active since moving to the country.
It can be quite hard to get a visa however, but then again, if you’re a skilled person and you have the talents or qualifications New Zealand is looking for, you will be accepted with open arms.
The International Living website also ranks New Zealand as a great place to retire, and the travel site Thrill List ranks New Zealand as one of the easiest countries to live and work in overseas.
The only downside to New Zealand that I can see is that it is so far away from the UK, and therefore expensive to get to and from. This would restrict me a lot because I’d want to travel back to the UK to see family and friends, and I’d want them to come and visit me – so this is why NZ is low down my top 10.
I spent 7 years living and working in Germany and loved every single moment of the experience. I found it easy to integrate, easy to learn German as a result of working in a German-speaking environment and being immersed in the language, and I loved the standard of living.
The cost of living was lower than the UK, the lifestyle was much healthier, and culturally Germany had so much to offer me.
I also think Germany is a really beautiful nation, and the German people are good fun – their reputation for not having a sense of humour is totally unfair.
As someone with a British passport I found it easy to move to Germany, and I also found it really easy to get a job and maintain consistent employment, even when I was on short-term contracts and needed to move on quite regularly.
Germany ranks highly as a great place to study, and the standard of schooling outstrips the UK’s by a mile in my opinion.
Germany isn’t higher up my top 10 because of concerns about its safety at the moment, and because of its political situation. Also the fact that I’ve already lived there means I’m much less likely to move back there, preferring always to see new sights!
This is another of my dream destinations and is where I’d love to move to if I was planning (and able to afford) early retirement!
Malaysia has a visa programme called Malaysia My Second Home, (MM2H for short). It allows expats to live in Malaysia on a long-stay visa for up to 10 years.
Qualification for the program isn’t difficult, and there are all sorts of benefits and incentives such as the fact that foreign sourced income is not taxable in Malaysia.
Besides the thought of being able to live tax free in a lovely country with a great climate where I’d be wanted…Malaysia is on my dream destination list because it offers a high standard of living for a low cost.
It consistently ranks on various websites’ lists as one of the best places in the world to retire – for example, International Living ranks it because it is great value for money and a cultural melting pot.
I took a contract in Vienna, Austria, and lived and worked there for 6 months. I didn’t speak German (it was pre my Germany move) and so I didn’t make the most of my time there by integrating at all – and this was a real lost opportunity.
Despite the fact I barely communicated with the locals unless they spoke English, I loved living in Austria. It’s a really stunning nation with dramatic scenery, it has a great climate with distinctly different seasons, it offers an exceptionally high standard of living, and yet it is far more affordable than Switzerland for example.
You don’t just have to take my opinion at face value either, according to the Mercer 2015 Quality of Living rankings Vienna in Austria is the best place in the world bar none!
So, that’s it, that’s my wholly personal and subjective top 10! I hope the links and sources I cite give you wider reading material so you can get some more insight into where it’s great to live in the world whether you want to retire, study, find work or just get the best quality of life.
What’s more, I hope the earlier ideas about what’s important to consider when compiling your own shortlist helps guide you as you think and plan where to live abroad.