Taiwan, Malta and Ecuador top the list of the best places to live abroad in the third annual InterNations Expat Insider 2016 survey.

With more than 14,000 respondents, it is one of the most extensive studies ever conducted to explore the general living situation of expatriates.

The “Tiger States” of Hong Kong and South Korea appear to have mixed fortunes, with above-average ratings in the Quality of Life Index, but considerably lower scores for the Cost of Living Index, especially in Hong Kong.

Thailand ranks 18th in the general top expat destination index, and 27th in the Quality of Life Index. Thailand also scores better in the “Leisure options” sub-category (13) and “Personal happiness” (7) and of course for “Cost of living index” (2), second only to Ukraine.

The rise and fall of Hong Kong

Hong Kong has suffered a massive drop in the rankings over the last two years, dropping from 10th place in 2014 to 44th in 2016. On the other hand, Taiwan and Singapore do exceptionally well, ranking 1st and 13th this year.

The costs of housing in Hong Kong are unsurprisingly just as exorbitant, with nine in ten expats saying it is not easy to afford accommodation.

Workhorses in Taiwan and Malta Better Off than Retirees in Ecuador

The InterNations Expat Insider survey ranks countries by a variety of factors such as the quality of life, personal finance, working abroad, and settling in.

After ranking first for two years, Ecuador has now lost its crown and has been dethroned by career boosters Taiwan and Malta.

While Ecuador has dropped from 7th to 30th position in the Working Abroad Index, mainly due to heavy losses in the Job Security subcategory, Taiwan and Malta come in second and fifth for working abroad.

In addition to the best overall rating, Taiwan also holds first place for personal finance and quality of life, and second place for its working conditions. An impressive 85 percent of expats are satisfied with their financial situation, compared to a global average of 64 percent saying the same.

An even higher percentage of expats in Taiwan praise the quality and affordability of the local healthcare system, with 94 and 95 percent respectively.

Malta, ranking second this year, has jumped from 42nd to 6th position for personal finances, despite the fact that one-third of working expats in Malta say their income is generally lower than back home.

This may be due to the high rankings for general cost of living and affordable housing, which are both rated very well by 30 percent of the survey respondents, as opposed to a global average of only 14 and 13 percent respectively.

High Quality of Life and Well Connected in the Tiger States

This year’s breakout star Taiwan tops the Quality of Life Index, but fellow “Tiger State” Singapore is not too far behind in 8th place, South Korea follows in 11th, while Hong Kong is some way behind in 25th.


Taiwan’s second place for health and its tenth rank for safety help to make it a great destination for expats. Singapore performs even better in the Safety subcategory ranking 2nd, but drops to 29th in the Health subcategory.

South Korea does not do too badly in these categories, either, coming in 16th for health and 22nd for safety, whereas Hong Kong struggles somewhat: it only ranks 30th for the Health subcategory and 48th when it comes to safety.

The reason why Singapore and Hong Kong do not rank well with regard to expat health may be due to the lack of affordable healthcare: 36 and 32 percent of respondents, respectively, do not find medical care easy to afford.

Expats also praise the ample travel opportunities available in Taiwan, South Korea, and Hong Kong, with 84 percent, 86 percent, and 93 percent voicing their satisfaction, respectively.

In fact, not one respondent in Hong Kong had anything negative to say about this aspect, putting it in second place in the Travel and Transport subcategory, beaten only by fellow “Asian Tiger” Singapore at the very top.

Therefore, it does not come as a surprise that infrastructure in general was the most common factor that expats considered as a potential benefit prior to moving to South Korea, Singapore, or Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Falls Behind on the High Quality of Family Life

Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan all make it to the top 20 when it comes to the Family Life Index. However, Hong Kong is the only Tiger State that lags in this area, falling behind at 37th position out of the 45 countries that qualified for the Family Index.

This is likely due to the fact that expats in Hong Kong are not happy with the cost of education, according to 76 percent of respondents. Although education is an aspect that is regarded highly, with at least 77 percent of expat parents in each country being satisfied with its quality.

Expat parents in Singapore, similarly to Hong Kong, are far from enthusiastic about the cost of education: Only 14 percent rate this factor positively, which is not even a third of the global average of 45 percent. However, expats with children seem to be happy with the state of their children’s health, particularly in Taiwan, where the figure is almost nine in ten (89 percent).

Mixed Results with Regard to the Ease of Settling In

Taiwan comes top of the Asian Tiger States when it comes to settling in, ranking in the 10th positon overall. Singapore, South Korea, and Hong Kong rank 26th, 52nd, and 48th out of 67 countries respectively.

This might partly be caused by the difficulty of making local friends in Hong Kong and South Korea, as more than four in ten respondents have issues with befriending local residents. However, almost half the expats in Taiwan (47 percent) find it easy to socialize with locals, smoothing the process of getting used to the Taiwanese culture.

Only eight percent of respondents in Taiwan and nine percent in Singapore faced difficulties in coming to grips with a new culture.

The figure is somewhat higher in Hong Kong and South Korea at 24 and 28 percent, respectively. Although the overall results in the Ease of Settling In Index are rather low in South Korea and Hong Kong, due to this category, among other things, moving to one of the Tiger States does not necessarily pose major problems: 78, 77 and 60 percent of expats in Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong, respectively, find it easy to adapt to their new surroundings.

Taiwan Goes Easy on the Wallet – Hong Kong Not So Much

The state of the “Asian Tiger” economies is very highly regarded, with not one respondent in the four countries giving it the lowest score. However, when it comes to the cost of living, Taiwan and Hong Kong are on opposite sides of the spectrum.

Taiwan’s favorable living expenses put the country 3rd in the reversed Cost of Living Index, while Hong Kong is in second-to-last place, ranking 66th just ahead of Nigeria. Around one-third of the expats in Taiwan (35 percent) rate the cost of living very positively, in contrast to just 3 percent who share the same opinion in Hong Kong.

Indeed, almost three-quarters of the expats in Hong Kong (72 percent) actually rate this aspect negatively. Singapore does not fare any better, with only one percent rating the cost of living very positively. Thus, it finds itself at the lower end of the Cost of Living Index at 56th place, while South Korea ranks an average 35th out of 67.

The costs of housing in Hong Kong are unsurprisingly just as exorbitant, with nine in ten expats saying it is not easy to afford accommodation.

Find more InterNations Expat Insider 2016 rankings, reports and infographics on insider.


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