Last updated: 06:00 PM ET, Fri October 23 2015

Which Countries Have the Happiest Expats?

Features & Advice | Josh Lew | October 23, 2015

Which Countries Have the Happiest Expats?

Photo courtesy of Visit Malta

If they work in specialized fields, expats often move overseas because that is where they have to be if they want to make the most money and have the best career prospects. For many others, though, the motivation for living and working abroad is escaping the rat race.

This kind of international escape doesn’t always go as well as planned. The wrong qualifications (or a lack of qualifications) can often lead to a low-wage ESL teaching job or something else that leaves you feeling similarly underpaid and under appreciated.

Rely on luck or choose the right country?

There are always those stories of wannabe expats who found themselves falling into a job that they never imagined. (Like the non-Japanese speaker who found herself tending bar in a Tokyo pub). But these stories are exceptions to the rule.

The most important thing that would-be expats can do is choose the right country. Whether they are doing something corporate, freelancing, teaching or opting for a more entrepreneurial route, finding a place that offers a good quality of life matters.

The countries with the highest percentage of expat satisfaction

The living abroad portal InterNations publishes a survey that focuses on expat life. According to the results of this year’s questionnaire, if you want to have a good overseas experience, you should look small. Two of Europe’s tiniest countries topped the list of best places to be an expatriate.

Luxembourg and Malta joined Norway in InterNations’ top three. Malta took the No. 1 spot overall. Of the expats surveyed 27 percent said they were “completely satisfied” with their job and life on the Mediterranean island. That is much higher than the average, which is only 16 percent. In addition, 70 percent of Malta’s transplants said they were “generally satisfied” with their expat experience. If you do the math, that only leaves 3 percent who were unhappy with their Maltese lifestyle.

Reasons for the high scores

Malta’s high marks probably have something to do with the laid back pace of life and living in a culture that values a favorable work-life balance. The overall satisfaction could also have to do with the kind of jobs that are available on Malta. The island is an IT center and also one of the biggest players in the online gaming marketplace. Expats usually end up working in fields that they have trained for and that have respectably high salaries.

While not the main language used between Maltese people, English is widespread, so the need for native speakers to staff language learning centers is very low.  

Job security matters

Norway, which beat out Luxembourg for the second spot, also offered a good work-life balance. That, coupled with useful public services and a generally welcoming vibe, was enough to trump the expensiveness that Scandinavia is so well-known for.

And what about the other small European country that topped the rankings? Once expats move to Luxembourg for work, they can stay indefinitely. Unlike most countries, where jobs for foreigners are considered very temporary, Luxembourg has great job security. Once you’re in, you’re in for good (if you want).

Other havens for happy expats

Who else made this “best of” list? Germany, Austria, low-tax Panama, Switzerland and Sweden earned high praise from their foreign residents, as did New Zealand and Ecuador, which has a very low cost of living.

New Zealand, Germany and Sweden were also at the top of another major expat survey, the HSBC Expat Explorer.

Yes, countries with a high InterNations survey rank are probably worth considering if you are looking to relocate. But, in the end, personal preference probably matters the most of all.  

For more information on Malta, Luxembourg

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