10 best countries for expats

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Over the last year, we’ve seen several ‘best places for expat living’ type lists. More often than not, these have been based on HSBC’s Expat Explorer study (e.g. WSJ, Business Insider, HuffPo). Rather predictably for a bank, it seems to value economic strength extremely highly: Switzerland, Singapore, China, Germany and Bahrain take the top five places in its overall list.

Now we’re not saying that these countries aren’t full of colour, flavour, passion and soul* but they’re not the first ones that come to mind when you think of the je ne sais quoi that attracts creative people and fosters a thriving community. And, so, we turned to Nomad List, a super-informative, crowdsourced list of the best countries for expats in which to live and work remotely.

It’s not foolproof (Thailand with its hard-partying, beer-swilling reputation has no fewer than four cities in the top 10) but it is a better indicator for backpackers that want to settle somewhere other than home. The list uses a number of factors in its ratings including cost of living, weather, safety, size of expat community and internet speed – an important factor for remote workers. It gives extra weighting to financial considerations but this is more can-I-afford-some-beans-on-toast than can-we-usurp-the-USA.

And, so, without further preamble, here are the best countries for expats.

1. Thailand

City: Chiang Mai
Cost of living (pm): $641 USD
Temperature: 30°c
Internet speed: 20mbps
Chiang Mai on Nomad List
Also on Thailand’s list: Bangkok ($1,353), Phuket ($995) and Pai ($1,007)

Thailand ranks highly due to its extremely low cost of living and beautiful weather. It is a secular country that is friendly towards foreigners, making it an attractive option for expats. Chiang Mai pictured above is the fifth largest city in Thailand with a population of 170,000. That said, it is much greener and quieter than Bangkok and is located on a plain at 316m, surrounded by mountains and lush countryside.

2. Czech Republic

City: Prague
Cost of living (pm): $1,133 USD
Temperature: 22°c
Internet speed: 40mbps
Prague on Nomad List

best countries for expats: czech

Prague is said to be one of Europe’s most charming cities. With cobbled alleyways, walled courtyards, intricate cathedrals and imposing spires, the city has an old-world romantic feel complemented by modern art, culture, music and energy.

3. Indonesia

City: Ubud in Bali
Cost of living (pm): $1,145 USD
Temperature: 28°c
Internet speed: 5mbps
Ubud on Nomad List

Ubud is a charming town, far from Bali’s Kuta where drunken trysts and ill-advised antics abound. A collection of 14 villages, Ubud is an arts and crafts hub, brimming with workshops and galleries. Its infrastructure is starting to struggle with the number of visitors but locals continue to welcome new additions with friendly smiles and open arms.

4. South Korea

City: Jeju Island
Cost of living (pm): $1,903 USD
Temperature: 27°c
Internet speed: 60mbps
Jeju Island on Nomad List

best countries for expats: south korea

Jeju is an island off the southern coast of South Korea. Named “the Hawaii of Korea”, it is a popular honeymoon destination for both Koreans and tourists alike. Dominated by Halla-san, a volcano that stands at 1,950 metres, Jeju has a dramatic landscape perfect for hiking.

5. Rwanda

City: Kigali
Cost of living (pm): $1,537 USD
Temperature: 28°c
Internet speed: 10mbps
Kigali on Nomad List

Kigali is developing fast and is said to be “showpiece capital” designed to impress tourists, investors and dignitaries. It is a clean and comfortable city, home to a large expat community of NGO volunteers and young church workers. Modern conveniences like coffee shops and restaurants abound. Perhaps the only criticism of it is that it makes you forget you’re in Africa.


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6. Philippines

City: Davao
Cost of living (pm): $1,023 USD
Temperature: 33°c
Internet speed: 5mbps
Davao on Nomal List

Davao is the Philippines’ fourth most populous city, known for activities like wild river rafting, river tubing, wakeboarding and mountain trekking. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, many governments including that of the UK, US and Australia discourage any travel to the area due to terrorist threat.

7. Malaysia

City: Penang
Cost of living (pm): $1,023 USD
Temperature: 32°c
Internet speed: 5mbps
Penang on Nomad List
Also on Malaysia’s list: Kuala Lumpur ($1,157)

Penang is an island off the northwestern coast of Malaysia. It is known for its rich multicultural history which takes in Malay, Chinese, Indian and European influences. Although its beaches aren’t as stunning as others in Malaysia, it is known as the “food paradise” of Malaysia, going a long way to balancing out its disadvantage.

8. Cambodia

City: Siem Reap
Cost of living (pm): $1,040 USD
Temperature: 31°c
Internet speed: 5mbps
Siem Reap on Nomad List

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Siem Reap is Cambodia’s biggest tourist stop due to its world-renowned Angkor temples. Despite the throngs, it maintains a laidback attitude and offers a good compromise between local Cambodian life and modern services and conveniences. Plus, being a stone’s throw away from Angkor can’t be a bad thing.

9. Taiwan

City: Taipei
Cost of living (pm): $2,096
Temperature: 32°c
Internet speed: 40mbps
Taipei on Nomad List

One of the more expensive cities in the top 10, Taipei’s inclusion on the list is a testament to its rich history and contemporary allure. A mixture of Chinese, Japanese and Western influences, it boasts vibrant energy, fantastic food and lots of free wifi.

10. Portugal

City: Porto
Cost of living (pm): $2,562
Temperature: 24°c
Internet speed: 30mbps
Porto on Nomad List

best countries for expats: portugal

Porto is one of the oldest European settlements, dating back centuries to when it was an outpost of the Roman Empire. In 1996, its historical core was proclaimed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Today, it is a city of two halves: medieval architecture sits alongside modern city living atop its extremely hilly landscape. With its mild climate and peaceful atmosphere, it’s a perfect place for the backpacker no longer interested in wild parties and excess alcohol.

We’ve been to 6 out of 10 of the countries and our vote goes to Malaysia.

* Okay, so maybe we’re implying it.

(Additional photography: Dreamstime)

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