Where are expats happiest? In countries where the living is easy, according to a recent survey conducted by InterNations, a community of 2.8 million expats. And where is living the easiest? The Persian Gulf island nation Bahrain, long famed for its pearl fisheries, is ranked as the top place where expats feel at home.
Nearly nine out of 10 expats say it’s the Bahrainis’ attitude that makes the country the best place to live.
What makes Bahrain so great? The friendly local residents whose welcoming demeanor puts newcomers at ease. That’s according to the survey of nearly 13,000 people across 166 nationalities living and working abroad. In 2016, Bahrain jumped from the 19th to the No. 1 most desirable country for expats.
The small archipelago also ranks high in job satisfaction. Three-quarters of respondents said that they were satisfied with their jobs, and some 41 percent of expats say they earn more money in Bahrain than they would at home. And one-third see themselves staying for more than five years — and maybe “forever,” for 11 percent of the respondents.
The U.S. didn’t fare so well, plummeting 17 spots to No. 43.
That’s likely because within the past year, Bahrain has made it easier to move to and settle in the country, as well as improved the quality of education and the availability of child care, says InterNations founder and co-CEO Malte Zeeck. For example, while only 17 percent of expat parents considered the quality of education to be very good last year, the figure jumped to 37 percent this year. More survey respondents were happy with their ability to make new friends as well.
Costa Rica and Mexico also scored high for friendliness, rounding out the top three best countries for expats. Costa Rica ranked first for ease of making new friends, and Mexico took the top spot for having the friendliest local population in the world.
The U.S. didn’t fare so well, plummeting 17 spots to No. 43. Seventy-two percent of expats in the U.S. say health care is unaffordable, and the country ranks lowest for costs of child care and education. The U.K. also hit a slump, falling 21 places to No. 54. Some 69 percent of expats in the U.K. say housing is unaffordable, and nearly two-thirds aren’t keen on the cost of living in general.
Sure, life might be great for many expats in the Middle East, but it’s likely not a long-term arrangement. They are “more likely to move from country to country and to own a property back home, so they could settle there when they return from their expat years,” explains Rym Saker, a spokesperson for London-based banking and financial firm HSBC. In that company’s 2016 Expat Explorer survey, 57 percent of expats in Bahrain said that they plan to return home in the future, compared to 48 percent globally.
Of course, it all comes down to what you as an expat desire. In Bahrain’s case, it might be the mild winters, beautiful turquoise waters, a growing art and food scene (thanks to all those expats) and a glamorous nightlife. Or simply feeling at home fast, thanks to the welcoming nature of Bahrainis.
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