In January 2021, more than 12,000 expat respondents from across the globe took part in the latest Expat Insider survey. Together, they represent a total of 174 nationalities and live in 186 countries or territories around the world. In general, the Expat Insider 2021 survey report aims to shed some light on what living and working abroad has been like during a global health emergency.


In 2021, Taiwan, Mexico, and Costa Rica are the best expat destinations worldwide: all of them attract expats with their ease of settling in and good personal finances.  In #1 Taiwan, not a single expat feels personally unsafe, #2 Mexico places first worldwide for personal happiness, in #3 Costa Rica, over nine in ten expats describe the population as generally friendly. South Africa (#57) joins Kuwait (#59) and Italy (#58) in the bottom 3.

Within the region, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines all perform above average for personal happiness and finding friends, but there are also downsides.

Compared to the global average, expats in these countries are more likely to have decided not to move back home because of the pandemic.

In fact, close to one in three expats in Vietnam (31%) decided not to move back home in comparison to 18% of expats worldwide who said the same. Asked about the pandemic’s biggest impact on their personal life, except for Indonesia (22%), these expats are more likely than the global average (28%) to say personal travel was impacted the most. In Malaysia, as many as two in five respondents (40%) gave this answer.

Social media is one of the most important sources of information regarding COVID-19 and related regulations for expats in Indonesia (53%), Malaysia (49%), and the Philippines (44%). Respondents in Thailand (50%) similarly refer to social media as a source but also heavily rely on expat news (55%), as do expats in Vietnam (45%).             

Thailand: Great for the Budget…

Ranking 14th out of 59 countries overall, Thailand performs best in the Cost of Living Index (10th). While only 48% of expats globally rate the cost of living in their country of residence positively, 70% of respondents in Thailand are happy with this aspect of life abroad.

An expat from the USA says: “The cost of living is lower than in other large and developed places.” Similarly, Thailand performs well in the Personal Finance Index (12th): two-thirds of expats (67%) are satisfied with their financial situation (vs. 64% globally). Additionally, 82% of expats say their disposable household income is enough or more than enough to cover their living expenses (vs. 77% globally).

Thailand lands in a mediocre 33rd place in the Quality of Life Index. On the one hand, the country performs very well for the quality of its medical care (7th), with 85% of expats rating this factor positively (vs. 71% globally). “I like the first-class medical facilities and healthcare in Thailand,” shares a British expat.

Thailand also ranks among the top 10 in the Leisure Options subcategory (7th), with most expats (82%) satisfied with their socializing and leisure activities (vs. 67% globally). Moreover, the country comes 7th out of 59 in the Personal Happiness subcategory, with 85% of expats being happy with their life in general (vs. 75% globally).

On the other hand, Thailand does not do well in the Quality of the Environment subcategory (51st). In fact, over half the expats (51%) rate Thailand’s air quality negatively (vs. 20% globally).

A US American expat in Chiang Mai is unhappy with “the smoky season” and further explains that “in Thailand, there is the worst air quality in the world for about three months every year”. Similarly, 22% of expats are dissatisfied with the water and sanitation infrastructure (vs. 12% globally). Thailand also lands in the bottom 10 for its political stability (55th): 40% of expats rate this factor negatively (vs. 16% globally).

Thailand’s performance is weakest in the Working Abroad Index (42nd): 45% of expats are unhappy with the career opportunities (vs. 33% globally), and 29% rate the state of the local economy negatively (vs. 19% globally). Most expats (72%) are satisfied with their work-life balance (vs. 66% globally), and over two-thirds (69%) are happy with their working hours (vs. 66% globally). In Thailand, full-time employed expats work an average of 44.4 hours a week (vs. 43.2 hours globally). However, only about a third (34%) work full time in the first place (vs. 55% globally).


Trends in the Top & Bottom 10

With its 5th place out of 59 destinations, Portugal is in fact the only European destination to make it into the top 10 of the overall ranking. Expats appreciate most aspects of life in Portugal — its 36th place in the Working Abroad Index is the country’s worst result in an index ranking, while expats particularly appreciate the high quality of life (3rd).

Malaysia (4th) and Vietnam (10th) join Taiwan to represent Asia among the ten best expat destinations worldwide. While respondents in all three of them appreciate the local cost of living and its impact on their personal finances — Vietnam even places first in both indices — results in other areas of the survey vary. Expats rate Malaysia the second-best country in the Ease of Settling In Index, for example, while respondents in Vietnam report the highest levels of overall job satisfaction worldwide.

A bit further south in the Asia-Pacific region, New Zealand and Australia have both gained ground to rank sixth and seventh, respectively. This is the first time since 2016 that both countries have made it into the top 10 at the same time. With both placing among the top 15 in the Working Abroad and Quality of Life Indices and getting good results for the ease of settling in, expats’ only major struggles seem to be living expenses and limited travel opportunities.

On the other side of the world, Ecuador (8th) joins Mexico (2nd) and Costa Rica (3rd) in the top 10. Similarly to the results for the latter two destinations, expats in Ecuador are particularly happy with their personal finances (5th in the index) and the ease of settling in (10th).

Respondents in Canada (9th overall) agree with the latter, but definitely not with the former: while the North American country does well in the Ease of Settling In Index (12th) — in addition to excellent results in the Quality of Life (5th) and Working Abroad (12th) Indices — it loses ground in the overall ranking due to a place in the bottom 10 for personal finance (50th out of 59).


At the other end of the list, fellow Mediterranean destinations Malta (50th), Turkey (52nd), Cyprus (53rd), and Egypt (55th) join Italy in the bottom 10. While all four receive at least average results when it comes to the ease of settling in, expats are particularly dissatisfied with their working life and financial aspects: Turkey, Cyprus, and Egypt land among the bottom 10 in the Working Abroad Index, while Turkey’s 44th place out of 59 destinations is the best result in the Personal Finance Index for one of these four destinations.

Russia (56th), Japan (54th), and India (51st) complete the list of the ten worst countries for expats.