Every expat community has its unofficial watering hole. When I lived in Siem Reap, it was a great little bar called The Warehouse. In Bangkok, an outdoor spot called Cheap Charlie's has held down the fort for a generation of foreigners. Americans in Paris gather in and around the Shakespeare and Company book shop and its nearby Latin Quarter pubs.
These bars, often dives, spring up for a reason. They're a chance to connect with the local scene, to get to know your fellow strangers in a strange land. They're where you get tips and swap stories and, for those in foreign-dominated industries like the NGO and energy sectors, a place to blow off some steam after work.
They also offer a chance to talk to someone in your own language, which can be a big deal.
Although expatriates are an adventurous lot, language and cultural barriers can still make life pretty difficult sometimes. Yes, figuring out how to adapt to your new home is part of the thrill of moving overseas, but sometimes you don't want casual conversation to be thrilling. You'd rather not politely nod through complicated vocabulary, and having to translate everything in your head can feel like living life on a time delay.
Yes, even adventurers get lonely.
Does that mean you should chuck those plans to move overseas? Certainly not! Some travelers might be more worried about the language barrier than others though. Whether you don't pick up new languages well, or just don't want to make the time, there are still plenty of opportunities. For example try on these five countries, recommended by InterNations as the top English-speaking destinations for expats around the world:
Editors' pick: Originally published March 15.
"The place to go," according to InterNations, "for those in search political stability and personal safety."
Political stability is a big draw for many expats, and this country leads the global pack with 56% of foreign residents rating Singapore's as "very good." If that statistic depresses you, consider that it's more than double the global average.
The thing is, though, despite Americans' frequent threats to move abroad after each presidential cycle, politics isn't a dominant force in global expatriation. (This is, of course, true only if we consider the refugee population distinct from the voluntary expatriate population.)
"There are so many different reasons, and it's so individual," said Nuri Katz, the CEO of Apex Capital Partners who specializes in helping expatriates find new homes. "Some people love France, and just love the way it is there. Some people love America and the way it is there. And some people feel that there are more opportunities in different countries."
"It's for all of the reasons," he added, "whether it's marriage or family or a bad political situation."
Still, whatever your cause, Singapore is an excellent choice for the English speaking expat. Safe, with a strong economy and conveniently located near the food meccas of Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, anyone with a passport should consider a trip.
Here's the thing about Canada: it's boring.
Now, in America this is generally the setup to a lazy punchline. We like to make fun of our neighbors up north, such as the late Robin Williams's quip: "Canada is like having a loft apartment above a really great party."
The thing is, though, countries are like banks and boyfriends. You want them to be at least a little bit boring. Excitement is fun for a while, but it also comes hand-in-hand with instability. Exciting banks issue subprime loans, and that dangerous guy probably has the credit of an unemployed William Shatner body double and a buddy who needs to crash on the couch.
But boring? That's just a Twit-worthy way of saying that the trains run on time and the financial system doesn't crash. Those infrastructure issues can be critically important.
"Expats with children may want to consider moving to a country with a high quality of education," said InterNations founder Martin Zeeck. "Those afraid of the uncertain future of their country may want to look for a place with a high level of political stability, career-minded people may want to move to one of the best countries for moving abroad."
"The first step in deciding where you want to go is figuring out your priorities," he adds.
If your priority is adventure, or at least some culture shock, Canada may not suit. Expats who just want to set up a good, stable life? They might want to scope out rentals in Toronto.
Not long ago I discovered an undeservedly-buried gem on Netflix called Dreamland. An Australian workplace comedy, it made me think of two things: First, this is so much better than most of The Office. Second, Australia looks terrific.
Well, it appears that the expat community agrees with that second point at least.
"Australia is known for its hospitality," InterNations found, with 82% of foreigners surveyed finding the country friendly and welcoming. That said, Americans might feel rather far from home… only 6% of the expats down under hail from the United States. For some people, that can be a real challenge.
"Expats in general consider missing their personal support network (friends and family) the biggest problem," Zeeck said. Half of American respondents say that this is something they are struggling with, which is on par with the global average.
But, he added, Americans do seem to right the ship ultimately. Of expats around the world, Americans are more likely to make friends primarily with locals instead of seeking out only each other. And the Australians? They're about the best group of locals you could care to meet.
One of the most beautiful corners of the world, still surprisingly untouched thanks to its remote location, New Zealand is second place overall for best Anglophone expat spots, but it takes top billing in an odd category. This appears to be the best country to work in.
Nearly four-in-five expats are happy with their work/life balance in this lovely, upside down country, unsurprising given that New Zealand has one of the world's shortest full-time work weeks (a mere 42.2 hours in all).
This is no small thing.
One of the parts of real life that many expats forget when planning their grand adventure is the Tuesday afternoon factor. Sooner or later the rush will wear off and real life will set back in. You'll need a job, a retirement fund and a bit of health insurance. Moving to an English speaking country can not only help this, it can make the whole trip actually possible.
"Language is a funny thing," said Katz. "If you were moving to China and you didn't speak Chinese, it would be a disaster for you to be able to get a job. How difficult is it to buy milk if you can't speak Chinese? Just think about going to the supermarket and saying, 'Where is the milk in English.' You're not going to find it, and that's not even counting professional language."
For expats, finding and holding a job is one of the hardest parts of the entire project, and generally a critical one given that many visas require employment. Perhaps make life a little easier and consider a country known for its work environment.
Quickly, find Malta on a map. We'll wait.
Yep, there it is, tucked away under the island (Sicily) under the toe (Calabria) of the boot (Italy) of Europe.
But what an island.
"It has the highest rank among Anglophone countries for the quality of life, ease of settling in, and personal finance," found InterNations. "Almost all expats in Malta are pleased with their choice of destination… [and] every single respondent in Malta rates the climate and weather positively."
As a warm, Mediterranean island layered with architecture and culture from the Greeks to the Crusaders to the Venetians, it shouldn't surprise anyone that Malta is a beautiful place to live. What might surprise potential expats, though, is that it's a surprisingly affordable one. In fact, this little island is often rated as having one of the lowest costs of living in the entire European Union.
"[It] may be the destination of choice for those concerned with finances," Zeeck said. "Malta actually does quite well in this regard: 59 percent of expats there say that their disposable income is more than enough for daily life, compared to the global average of 48%… and not a single respondent said that they were not satisfied with this at all."
So, to sum up: cheap and sunny, with gorgeous beaches and old cities in which the restaurants serve classic Mediterranean food. Why aren't we all already there?