New York (MainStreet) - 232 million.
No, that’s not the budget for Michael Bay’s next slow motion robot catastrophe. It’s the number of expats around the world. According to the United Nations, more than 3.2% of the world’s population now lives abroad, and that number is going up. For the adventurously minded out there, joining the ranks of that 3.2% could amount to a dream come true.
First thing, though, comes figuring out where to go. While the United States is the world’s most popular destination and Asia gets the most immigrants as a continent, there’s a lot of world out there to choose to suit our eclectic tastes. To make that search a little easier, here are ten destinations recommended by Internations for ten different would-be expats.
Any one would be a good reason to dust off that passport.
Expat: The Parent
Only the Danish, or someone lucky enough to live among them, can truly appreciate the idea of hygge. English doesn’t have one word for it. Hygge means coziness and warmth and contentment. It means that pleasant glow after dinner with everyone still sitting around the table. It's the way time flies over a cup of coffee among friends.
To understand hygge is to take a big step toward understanding Denmark, one of the leading countries in the world for personal balance and family well-being. The school systems in this northern European country are among the best in the world and the government even ensures 52 full weeks of leave for new parents. In other words, while Denmark is certainly a great place at just about any time of life, travelers looking to settle down might want to start scouting out apartments in Copenhagen.
Expat: The Businessman
On the other end of the spectrum, not every Gordon Gecko wants to stay shuttered in a Wall Street office all day. There’s nothing wrong with satisfying a sense of adventure while making a few bucks along the way, especially given that there aren't many opportunities booming in many parts of the developing world.
Leading right now for the career-minded is Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic with breathtaking scenery and an economy poised to take its place on the world stage. In fact, when surveyed by InterNations, one-third of expats living in Kazakhstan report a household income of $100,000 or more. Most also receive extra perks from their employer to bolster that income, ranging from company housing to free health insurance.
Career comes at a cost here. Quality of life takes a big hit, with the country’s capital of Astana described as “a kind of soulless place.” Not the best pitch to make to a family dreaming of, say, beautiful Thai beaches, but on the other hand that bartender over on Koh Samui couldn’t even dig up your lunch money.
Expat: The Outdoorsman
If this surprises you even a little bit, go out and meet a few folks from down under. Once you enjoy an evening losing push-up contests to some of the nicest folks in the world, it’ll be clear: Australia is for the sun-kissed, barbecuing surf lover in all of us.
“Both tourists and expats agree on the attractions of ‘Oz,’” writes InterNations. “…you could go and marvel at ecospheres like the Great Barrier Reef, merrily drink – sorry, taste! – your way through the wineries of Yarra Valley, or volunteer with behavioral scientists to study the local Koala population.”
For both culture and climate, this is one of the top destinations for anyone who wants to spend his life staying fit out in the sun, but save up for that move. Australia is also one of the most expensive countries on Earth to inhabit. A whopping one in three people who move there describe their income as “just enough” to cover their costs, making it wise to plan carefully before heading off to hunt drop bears.
Expat: The Social Butterfly
“When it comes to the ‘Personal Happiness’ ranking in the Expat Insider, we simply asked expats to rate how happy they were with life in general and also how satisfied they were with their relationship (if applicable)," wrote InterNations founder Malte Zeeck. "Ecuador, the Philippines and Colombia came out as the top three in this category.” In Colombia, that has a lot to do with general friendliness, since “the country also stands out as the place where expats have the highest percentage of mostly local friends.”
Although this South American nation is only just emerging as an international destination, it’s doing so with a fierce pride and popularity that are quickly leaving Colombia’s difficult past behind it. With a local culture built around spending time with family and friends, it’s easy to become a part of the local community. Expats who move here tend to create plenty of friendships among both locals and foreigners.
Few travelers would admit it, but looking for that sense of belonging is one of the reasons we keep putting on our hats and heading out the door. Bogota might just be the answer.
Expat: The Penny Pincher
Here’s what InterNations had to say about Hungary's affordability:
"Hungary ranked 5th out of 61 countries when it came to the cost of living. Two out of five expats living there even went so far as to describe their daily expenses as excellent (i.e. very inexpensive)… Housing in particular stood out as being extremely affordable: Six in seven people had no complaints about the cost of accommodation in Hungary, whereas among survey participants from all other countries, half were less than happy about this expense. This even holds true for Budapest, the country’s priciest location: Renting a three bedroom apartment in the city typically sets you back around 400-500 EUR ($456 - $570) per month, depending on location, size, and your personal lifestyle."
When travelers think of a budget destination, not many consider Hungary, or even Eastern Europe. That may need to changing. Although Vietnam and South America remain fantastic for backpacker sets, Hungary’s access to the European Union and professional marketplaces might make this the perfect place to settle down for someone looking to keep his white collar job and save some money at the same time.
Expat Category: The Lovelorn
Destination: The Philippines
Move over Virginia; evidently Manila is for lovers.
Not many Americans know much more about the Philippines than the fact that they’re there, but this island nation is home to some of the most extraordinary wildlife and landscapes in the world. Spread across more than 7,000 islands, the Philippines offers volcanoes, beaches, rainforest and three UNESCO sites, but none of that seems to matter all that much to the expats. Foreigners, it seems, move there for love.
“In the Philippines, for example, romance seems to play a major role [in happiness],” Zeeck wrote, “as this country had the highest percentage of expats in a relationship (82%) as well as a very high number of married expatriates (62%). What is more, more than half of those in a relationship in the Philippines stated they were completely happy with it.”
Expat life in the Philippines reads like the start to a bad romance novel. Move to an island paradise? Check. Meet the love of your life? Check. Settle down and live happily ever after? Check, check and double check. It would make a lousy screenplay, but plenty of people seem perfectly happy anyway.
Expat: The Laid Back Professional
Destination: Costa Rica
Work-life balance plays an important role in many parts of life, and most of us back home are still pretty aggressively chasing it. (We won’t seem to concede a war that was lost with the invention of the pocket office.) It’s important to maintaining a family life and romance can’t survive without it, but for the traveler who’s just looking to establish some “me” time for its own sake there’s always Costa Rica.
This small nation is renowned for its laid back attitude, and has often been named one of the happiest, most stress-free on Earth. Even expats who wear a suit and tie should have little trouble punching out in time for drinks with a few new friends, who’ll likely greet you with a hearty “pura vida.” Although literally translated to “pure life,” the local meaning is closer to “this is living!”
When was the last time they said that at happy hour by you?
Expat: The Retiree
More expats feel at home in Mexico than anywhere else -- over 80% do, in fact. Mexico also has some of the friendliest people on the planet, a peerless food culture and a vastly, profoundly, astonishingly underrated capital city.
Maybe that’s why half the people who move there “temporarily,” according to InterNations, never plan on coming home again.
The local economy has struggled in recent years, making this a tricky place for the career minded or young families. On the other hand, someone looking forward to warm days on the beach will love Mexico’s cheap cost of living and booming expat scene (more than one million Americans alone at last count). For thrill seekers with a gold watch wondering “what’s next,” this might just be the option.
Expat: The Writer
Destination: New Zealand
New Zealand is the place to look for peace and quiet.
Laid back, isolated, beautiful, peaceful, pretty much every variation of these words has been used to describe New Zealand, and they’re all pretty accurate. When this country was picked as the setting for the film series The Lord of the Rings, one reason was because of how much it resembles a real world Shire.
That’s not to say the modern world has completely passed this nation by. You can still get an Italian cup of coffee while surfing the Internet on your laptop, and Western expats will feel right at home in a culture largely established by the British. Still, that connection will probably run a little slower and that culture comes with influences from the native Maori. For anyone who wants something a little different, with the volume turned down to a seven, New Zealand might be just the place.
As for writers? A slow Internet connection and nowhere to go on a Tuesday night might help finally get that damn novel finished.
Expat: The Realist
Germany is booming. Although troubling times may lie ahead given how much growth has depended upon the country’s favorable position within the Eurozone, right now a trip to Frankfurt or Berlin can offer high paying work, great job security and a set of benefits that would make most American companies blush. Strong worker protections have even led to a country with a surprisingly pleasant work-life balance.
“Expats are happy to find that the average work week consists of 39 hours,” InterNations wrote, “leaving plenty of time to spend with family and friends and engage in leisure activities. At first, many expats find it difficult to adjust to the fact that stores in Germany are closed on most Sundays and in some states shut their doors in the early evening during the week. After a while, though, most learn to plan ahead and enjoy their leisurely Sundays. Indeed, one in five expats say they are completely satisfied with their work-life balance.”
All in all, the perfect pick for expatriates who want to try on a new life without having to roll the dice.
--Written for MainStreet by Eric Reed, a freelance journalist who writes frequently on the subjects of career and travel. You can read more of his work at his website A Wandering Lawyer.