The World's Friendliest Countries
“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home,” author James Michener once noted about visiting foreign lands. Expats, then, must certainly learn to embrace it all. Luckily, that embrace is heartily returned to those living abroad in the Cayman Islands, Australia and the United Kingdom.
Those are the three nations where it’s easiest to befriend locals, learn the local language, integrate into the community and fit into the new culture, The Cayman Islands scored well in all those categories, putting it first on our list of the Friendliest Countries. Seventy-five percent of expat respondents living there reported that they were integrating well in the local community; in Australia it was 72% and in the U.K. 73%.
“What’s not to love?” says Glaswegian Steve McIntosh about the Cayman Islands, where he settled and founded a staffing firm for financial and IT professionals, CML Offshore Recruitment, in 2004. “There’s no income or payroll tax, summer all-year-round, hardly any crime, and no pollution. Grand Cayman has all the amenities of a city with the close-knit community of a town. That’s why most people who come here for a short assignment end up staying long-term.”
McIntosh, who met his wife, April, shortly after she relocated to Grand Cayman from Minnesota in 2011, added, “The vibrant social scene attracts young professionals; the safety, schools and short commutes appeal to families. There are not many places in the world with such broad appeal.”
HSBC surveyed 5,339 expatriates in nearly 100 countries between May and July 2012. Respondents rated their host countries on a slew of factors related to economics, raising children and overall experience. (Because countries with fewer than 30 respondents were deemed statistically insignificant, its final rankings include only 30 countries.)
To determine which were the friendliest, Forbes isolated the results in four categories: ability to befriend locals, success in learning the local language, capacity for integrating themselves into the community, and ease in which they fit into the new culture. All play into the ability of expats to create a new support structure, which Dallas-based expat coach Doris Fuellgrabe says is among the most important steps one can take to ease the trepidation and loneliness that often come with relocating.
“Research in neurology and neurobiology proves that we humans are wired for connection. For some expats, maintaining relationships with old friends through online social media is a workable solution, but the success of organizations that offer real-life meetings cannot be denied. For example, Internations.org is one expat organization taking their virtual community into the real world with monthly meetings in cities across the globe,” says Fuellgrabe, a founding member of the Expat Coach Association.
“Successful expats come in all shapes and sizes, and the traits they have in common include self-awareness, openness and a sense of curiosity about the new country, patience, the willingness to add some new behaviors, a sense of humor, and the ability to deal with uncertainty—sometimes over prolonged periods of time,” she says.
Landing in welcoming, easily navigable countries tend to help, of course. The least friendly country for expats, according to the Forbes formula, was India. The country most challenging for expats overall, when considering every category on the survey, was Kuwait, according to this year’s HSBC survey results, while Hong Kong ranked highest overall.
In second place on our list of the Friendliest Countries is Australia, which also ranked second overall in the HSBC survey. A whopping 75% of expats in Australia said that they want to remain in the country.
“Overall, Australia is friendly to English-speaking newcomers, as it’s a growing nation eager to attract talent with overseas experience and credentials,” notes Larin Sullivan, a filmmaker who relocated to Sydney and Melbourne from New York City in early 2012. “It’s appealing to me as an American tired of the bad economic, political and cultural events in our country. Also, I think professional women are treated a little bit better here. The best thing here is the lifestyle—cleaner air and water, better transport, nationalized health schemes, more time for activities like travel, and great food.” Downsides, she adds, include a comparatively high cost of living.
The U.K. was third friendliest by our estimation, and ranked eighth overall in the HSBC survey. “While the U.K. mirrors the uncertain economic outlook seen across the majority of European countries in this year’s report, the country ranks much higher for quality of life than we have seen in previous years,” notes Dean Blackburn, head of HSBC Expat, the expatriate-focused arm of HSBC. He posited that it is likely to do with the wealth of cultural events that took place over the past year: the Royal Wedding, the Diamond Jubilee and the preparations for the Olympics.
Last year’s friendliest countries—New Zealand, Australia and South Africa—were helped to the top of the list by the fact that more than half the expats surveyed in each were native English speakers. Obviously Anglophones will have an easier time in another English-speaking country. This year, the question about native languages was removed from the survey, though it can be assumed by the survey results that answers would have been similar.
Lagging behind the top choices in terms of friendliness was the United States, in seventh place with the Forbes formula.
Hong Kong, the HSBC survey’s top overall scorer, impressed expats with its high salaries and plentiful job opportunities. It didn’t fare so well in categories relating to community integration and befriending locals, however.
“There are so many foreigners here that sometimes it does not feel much like Asia, and I would say that most of us do not really integrate into the Hong Kong culture,” says Johannes Eckold, a German transplant and global data services manager who arrived there in 2008 and shared his story with HSBC Expat. “If anything, I assume we benefit from the British influence, which created an openness among the locals to foreign cultures.”