With an estimated 50 to 60 million expats across the globe, expats make up a growing share of the population of certain countries. To gain a greater understanding of their motivations and needs, InterNations, the world’s largest community for expats, annually conducts the Expat Insider survey: in 2018, for the fifth year in a row, the survey provided valuable insights into the lives of those who work and live abroad. In addition to general information on expats and their demographics as well as considerations and reasons for moving abroad, the survey helps understand the key attracting features of expat destinations. More than 18,000 survey respondents shared their personal opinions about life abroad, making Expat Insider 2018 one of the most extensive reports on expat life.
Wealth — what one has accumulated but also the sum of one’s knowledge, talent, and connections — has traditionally been a buffer against chaos as well as a path to further success. Yet even wealthy individuals and families, if they are not globally connected, will remain limited by the particular context, policies, and resources of their birth citizenship. These factors can hinder their ability to respond to new threats or opportunities or to access the global travel, culture, and residence options that appeal to them. Traditionally, the term ‘expat’ has been used to describe skilled professionals and executives sent abroad by their employer. With the increasing globalization of the world’s travel destinations and working habits, we think that this narrow perspective no longer adequately represents the diversity of expats and the reasons behind their decision
to move abroad. Therefore, InterNations uses the term ‘expat’ in a much broader sense, describing any person who lives outside their native country, normally on a temporary basis; no restrictions are made in terms of employment, origin, or residence. Other institutions, such as Finaccord, go further by adding a time restriction — the person should live abroad for a minimum of twelve months and a maximum of five years.
Over the past five years of the Expat Insider survey, the gender split has remained fairly equal, with women representing just over half of expats (51% in 2018 versus 53% in 2014). The average age among survey respondents is 44.2 years, and expats tend to be highly educated: 7% have a PhD, and more than two in five (41%) have completed a postgraduate/master’s degree (or similar). This is closely followed by more than one-third (34%) with a bachelor’s degree as their highest level of education.
In 2018, a better quality of life (28%), finding a job abroad on their own (24%), and the simple enjoyment of life abroad (23%) remained the most common reasons for moving abroad (multiple answers were possible). However, the desire to live in a particular country has lost in importance, dropping from being one of the most common reasons in 2014 (22%) to a share of 14% in 2018. Likewise, the share of expats moving abroad because of being sent by their employer has also seen a slight decrease from 16% in 2014 to 13%. Love, on the other hand, has gained traction in its importance in expats’ lives. While in 2014 just 14% stated to have moved for love (or wanted to live in their partner’s home country), a larger 17% gave this as one of their reasons for moving in 2018. In addition, financial motivators have become more prominent: as opposed to just 10% that moved for financial reasons in 2014, 16% of expats named the lower cost of living or financial reasons as one of their motivations in 2018. Thus, it seems that expats are becoming more pragmatic about where they move, leaving them also less particular about their new destination.
In 2018, InterNations presented a comprehensive expat typology based on the primary motivations for moving abroad and categorized expats into common groups: finding a new job and the search for a better quality of life were found to be the most important reasons for expatriation. The three most common types of expats are the Go-Getter (21%), the Optimizer (16%), and the Romantic (12%).
Making up the largest share of expats (21%), Go-Getters move abroad for work-related reasons and dedicate a significant amount of time to their jobs. In fact, 93% of them work full time (vs. 84% globally), and they spend an average of 44.7 hours per week at their jobs (vs. 44.0 hours globally in full-time positions). Close to three in five Go-Getters (58%) found a job abroad on their own, while 31% were recruited by a local company, and 10% planned to start their own business abroad. An Italian Go-Getter reports being happy about the “better career opportunities” in the USA and also mentions the fact that she makes “more money [here] than [she would] be making for the same job in Italy” as a positive factor of living abroad. The top industries for Go-Getters are education (16%), IT (12%), and manufacturing and engineering (9%).
The Go-Getter is closely followed by the Optimizer (16%), the second most common type of expat. Optimizers move abroad in search of a better life: 60% of them move in search of a better quality of life, 28% for financial reasons, and 12% for political, religious, or safety reasons. They value a good work–life balance and find it easy to settle in their new destination. A Spanish Optimizer living in Germany emphasized the “work–life balance. The Germans have it pretty clear that we do not live to work but work to have a good life”, while an Optimizer from Ireland living in Switzerland liked that the “quality of life is generally very good, people put (their) focus on health and happiness rather than work”.
The Romantic (12%) includes all expats who move for love to live in their partner’s home country. A British expat living in Bahrain explains the key benefits of the Romantic’s move abroad: “I have more time with my partner and more opportunities to do things as a family.” A Romantic from Mongolia stated that their partner was the “best thing” about life in the Czech Republic. Romantics find it easy to make local friends, since 38% describe their social circle as consisting of mainly local residents — this is twice the global share (19%) and also the largest share among all expat types. However, their career situations are less favorable: more than one-third of Romantics (34%) are dissatisfied with their career prospects, compared to one-quarter of all expats (25%). A Brazilian expat in Australia reported having to “step down in order to get a job”. Though there have been some constant top performers over the years there have also been changes among the best-rated expat destinations in the world. With countries such as Bahrain and Portugal gaining ground in the Expat Insider survey, it is interesting to take a look at what makes them popular among expats.
Bahrain: Friendly Locals Who Speak English
Starting off at just 48th out of 61 countries in 2014, Bahrain came 1st in 2017 (out of 65) as well as in 2018 (out of 68). Over the years, the country has seen improvements across all areas and expats continue to appreciate the lack of a language barrier: in 2018, more than nine in ten (94%) stated that it is easy to live in Bahrain without speaking the local language (versus 46% globally), and 72% say that it is no problem at all (versus 17% globally). Combined with the feeling of being at home in the country (1st out of 68), it might be no surprise that 88% of expats in Bahrain are generally happy with their lives (versus 76% globally). An Indian expat in Bahrain explained: “I don’t feel like an expat, I feel at home.” Lastly, Bahrain also boasts favorable working conditions: expats are very satisfied with their work–life balance (77% versus 61% globally), career prospects (70% versus 55% globally), and job security (70% versus 59% globally).
Portugal: Inviting Weather and People
Portugal’s mild winters and sunny summer climate appear to be attractive to more than holidaymakers. The European country ranks 6th in the Expat Insider 2018 survey thanks to its high quality of life (2nd). In fact 28% of expats in Portugal name the search for a better quality of life as their most important reason for moving. This makes it a popular destination among Optimizers, together with destinations such as Costa Rica, Cyprus, Ecuador, and Mexico. “The weather certainly plays a big part in my well-being”, stated an expat from the UK, who added: “The local Portuguese could not be friendlier or more accommodating.” Close to two-thirds of expats (64%) find it easy to make local friends in Portugal (versus 45% of expats worldwide), and almost four in five (79%) are generally satisfied with the local social and leisure activities. Maybe this also contributes to Portugal’s high ranking for ease of settling in (5th) — more than four in five (82%) feel at home in the local culture, compared to just three in five (60%) globally.
Israel: Healthy and Happy Families
In the Expat Insider survey, Israel has seen a steady rise from 50th out of 61 countries in 2014 to 22nd out of 68 in 2018. This has been helped by large improvements in the Quality of Life (28th to 10th) and Working Abroad (40th to 22nd) indices. In 2018, nine in ten expats (90%) rated the quality of healthcare positively in Israel (versus 67% globally), and a similar share (87%) said it was affordable (versus 59% globally). Expats seem to have great leisure activities at their disposal — 87% regard this factor favorably (versus 75% globally), and 54% give the available leisure options the best rating (versus 37% globally). What is more, Israel ranks 6th out of 50 countries in terms of family life. Almost all expat parents in Israel (96%) reported being satisfied with their family life abroad (versus 79% globally), and nine in ten (90%) rated their children’s general well-being positively (versus 81% globally), with an American expat emphasizing that Israel is a “great place to raise kids”.