This Is the Best Country for Expats to Live and Work Abroad

A new survey of more than 12,000 global citizens who live abroad ranks the best places in the world to take up residence.

Image of an old church tower in the background with potted palms on a balcony in the foreground in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

San Miguel de Allende is popular with expats living in Mexico.

Photo by Tania Ramirez/Unsplash

The surge in international travel this year is a testament to how much we’ve been craving foreign destinations, along with the diverse mix of people, culture, and cuisine they serve up. And while there has always been a subset of the population that’s taken that craving a step further by completely relocating abroad, the pandemic opened the option up to more people than ever before—by creating increased remote work opportunities.

Plus, numerous countries have in recent years developed and enhanced digital nomad programs to court remote workers, making it easier than ever to install oneself in a foreign country for a prolonged period.

If you’re thinking of making the move abroad and are wondering where you might go, perhaps the experience and insight of others who have taken the plunge before you might help with the decision.

InterNations, an expat community with more than 4.8 million members, this week published the results of its annual Expat Insider survey, which it’s been running for a decade now. More than 12,000 respondents rated their satisfaction levels with various aspects of expat life in 53 countries on the basis of five indices: quality of life, ease of settling in, working abroad, personal finance, and the expat essentials index, which includes housing, administration, language, and digital life.

The results revealed both the best and worst countries for living abroad, with the top 10 countries including a mix of destinations in North and Central America, Asia, and Europe.

The best countries for expats to live abroad

  1. Mexico
  2. Spain
  3. Panama
  4. Malaysia
  5. Taiwan
  6. Thailand
  7. Costa Rica
  8. Philippines
  9. Bahrain
  10. Portugal
Four empty rust-orange booths divided by tall, linear bookshelves at a WeWork coworking space in Mexico City, Mexico

A WeWork coworking space in Mexico City, which ranked No. 3 in the 2022 global Expat City Ranking

Photo by Nahima Aparicio/Unsplash

The world’s best foreign country to live in

The best country to live and work abroad is Mexico, according to the annual Expat Insider survey. It has ranked among the survey’s top five countries for as long as the survey has been running, since 2014. In 2023, the factors expats appreciate most about living in Mexico include how easy it is to settle in and the friendliness of locals, which helps expats find a strong support network and a fulfilling social life.

According to a group called Expats in Mexico, there’s another huge reason why the destination has become so popular with the community: cost of living.

“With most of the world caught in an inflationary spiral, cost of living is uppermost in the minds of many expats who live here, as well as aspiring expats from other countries who may be planning or considering a move to Mexico,” Robert Nelson, founder of Expats in Mexico, said in a release last fall announcing the results of the group’s annual member survey.

According to the Expats in Mexico study, about 64 percent of the 364 respondents said that they live on a monthly budget of 40,000 pesos or less ($2,370 based on current conversion rates).

The cost of living, affordability of housing, personal finances, and career opportunities in Mexico ranked high in the InterNations survey results, too, as did culture and the climate.

Overall, 90 percent of expats in Mexico are happy with their life there, the Expat Insider survey found, compared to 72 percent globally. 

So, where in Mexico do expats prefer to live? Mexico City ranked third in InterNations’ most recent annual global city ranking, which was released in November 2022, with expats praising the country’s capital city for its ability to make them feel welcome and at home. International Living, a publication dedicated to overseas living, also cites Puerto Vallarta, San Miguel de Allende, Mérida, Lake Chapala, Tulúm, Huatulco, and Los Cabos as popular outposts for foreigners residing in Mexico.

Colorful buildings along the waterfront with sailboats in Valenica, Spain

Spain ranked No. 2 among countries expats prefer, and this past fall, Valencia took the spot as best global city for expats.

Photo by Ari Spada/Unsplash

Best countries for expats to live and work in Europe

In Europe, Spain and Portugal are the two best countries for expats to live and work, according to foreigners who live abroad. They were the only two countries in Europe to make the top 10 list in the 2023 Expat Insider survey, with Spain ranking 2nd, and Portugal ranking 10th. Spain placed high for its leisure options, culture and nightlife, recreation, and climate. The vast majority of expats (80 percent) say they feel at home in Spain, and 73 percent applaud the work-life balance there.

As for Portugal, expats praise how welcome they feel and the quality of life. While local job opportunities are not abundant, foreigners living in Portugal report that their household income is more than enough to lead a comfortable life there.

Other European countries that ranked in the top 25 were Finland (16), Luxembourg (19), Czechia (21), Netherlands (22), Switzerland (23), Sweden (24), and Greece (25).

Overhead view of of person in Thailand wearing a wide-brimmed hat and surrounded by grilled fish and seafood

In Thailand, the cuisine and cost of living get high marks from expats.

Photo by Lisheng Chang/Unsplash

Best countries for expats to live and work in Asia

The best countries to live and work in Asia are Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand, the Philippines, and Bahrain, according to the survey. Malaysia gets high marks for its affordability, the ability to make friends there, and for the local culture. In Taiwan, global citizens are particularly impressed with the healthcare system, as well as with job security and satisfaction.

Cost of living, cuisine, friendliness, and the ease of finding good, affordable housing contributed to Thailand’s place on the top 10 list. Expats consider the Philippines to excel in terms of being an affordable place to live where they have a comfortable financial situation and high job satisfaction, all while easily becoming friends with locals.

Bahrain, the small island nation in West Asia at No. 9, was noted for the fact that housing is easy to find and for its friendly locals. However, 43 percent of expats living there don’t feel like their disposable income is enough for a comfortable life (compared to 27 percent globally), and expats report working an average of 49.3 hours per week in Bahrain.

Best countries for expats to live and work in Central America

Costa Rica and Panama were voted as the best places to live and work in Central America by the global expat community. Friendliness, the environment, nature, and climate all get top marks from expats living in Costa Rica. And in Panama, good personal finances, culture, and the ability to easily find friends propelled the destination to No. 3. on this year’s list.

Check the full list to see how all 53 countries included in the survey fared.

Michelle Baran is a deputy editor at Afar where she oversees breaking news, travel intel, airline, cruise, and consumer travel news. Baran joined Afar in August 2018 after an 11-year run as a senior editor and reporter at leading travel industry newspaper Travel Weekly.
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