New York (MainStreet) — We live in the Age of Mobility. People of every generation are constantly on the move these days, changing cities and states to follow jobs, passions and occasionally even love. Thank goodness for cell phones, or we’d never know how to find each other.
The thing is, not all of these new homes have to be traditional or even stateside. Lots of Americans move overseas for any number of reasons, and life as an expat can be an extraordinary adventure if you know where to go. How do you figure that out? Try asking the people who’ve already done it. Here are three of the best (and three of the worst) countries in which to to be an American expat, according to a survey Expat Insider Survey 2014 published by InterNations. Read on, even you veteran travelers out there. The results will surprise you.
On a list of best places to live as an expat, almost no one would have picked Ecuador. Paris? You bet. Vietnam? Thailand? Sure! You can’t take five steps in Chiang Mai without tripping over a farang, and the Latin Quarter’s backpacker-staffed Shakespeare and Company is legendary. But Ecuador, a country most famous for its proximity to the equator? It might have slid in somewhere between “getting a sublet in East Lansing” and “staying home.”
Evidently we’ve all been missing out.
Ecuador ranked first on almost every metric surveyed, including personal finance, making friends and personal happiness. “It is,” according to the Expat Insider report, “unsurprising that over nine out of ten expats (91%) report being satisfied with their life in Ecuador. [And] it makes sense that almost half the expats in Ecuador plan to stay there ‘possibly forever.’”
The moral of the story? All those Americans filling up the bar at Cheap Charlie’s may just be missing out…
This is the home of a career expat, the company man who’s spending a few years abroad in a foreign office. Like virtually all wealthy countries its size, Luxembourg is a major financial capital, and plenty of foreigners move here for its banks and markets. (For a fictionalized insight into life as an outsider in this beautiful, tiny nation, look no further than Chris Pavone’s The Expats.)
“Luxembourg comes in second place...primarily due to its ranking among the global top three in the Working Abroad Index," said InterNations Co-CEO Malte Zeeck. "Two out of three expats said that the career opportunities were their most important reason for moving to Luxembourg. However, about 20% are only planning to stay there for a few years, as opposed to making the move more permanent.”
Indeed, work isn’t everything. While an overwhelming majority of expats in Luxembourg say that they’re happy with their lives right now, they're not in it for the long haul. Their biggest motive for moving out of a fairy tale country within a few hours of Amsterdam, Paris and the Black Forest? Companionship. Overwhelmingly expats in Luxembourg report that they struggle to make friends.
Unlike Luxembourg or Ecuador, Mexico fits expats like a glove. It is “the clear winner in the Ease of Settling In Index,” with nearly 44% of expats saying that they’d like to simply stay there forever enjoying the beautiful weather, spectacular food and outgoing culture.“Apparently, people are still very happy," Zeeck said. "Interestingly enough, this corresponds exactly to the results of the OECD Better Life Index. Mexico has one of the highest crime rates in the OECD – but it also has one of the best ratings for personal satisfaction. Locals and expats alike are aware of the problem – but they still enjoy life.”
All in all, it’s a pretty darn good showing for a country that most Americans still regard with fear and suspicion, but also somewhat surprising given that many expats living in Mexico agree with them. Less than two-thirds of respondents were happy with their level of personal safety, leading to a bizarrely high number of people who claim to be perfectly content while living in fear.
Perhaps this is the destination for the retiree adrenalin junky.
Meanwhile, anchoring the other end of the list are the three top places for a U.S. expat to avoid:
#60. Saudi Arabia, and
No surprises about Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Middle Eastern countries have long had steep learning curves for Westerner expatriates. Indeed, both of these countries nearly or dead last on metrics such as Quality of Life, Settling In and Personal Happiness.
Greece, on the other hand, is a bit of a surprise.
Although expat life in Greece can be excellent, with a culture that emphasizes joie de vivre and some of the world’s most beautiful landscapes both inland and coastal, none of that was enough to overcome the country’s current economic struggles. Greece took last place in jobs and careers overall, last place in job security and last place in personal finance, making it an excellent destination perhaps for retirees or the self-employed, but a clear loser for anyone who’s looking for work.
--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.