The Safest Countries for Expats
- Switzerland ranks first for safety and security, followed by Norway and Singapore.
- South Africa and Brazil remain in the bottom 5, with Nigeria in last place.
- The US is the biggest loser, with significant drops in political stability.
- Portugal and Saudi Arabia are the biggest winners, gaining 13 places compared to 2016.
The Safety & Security subcategory feeds into one of the six main indices, the Quality of Life Index. Three single factor rankings make up this subcategory: personal safety, political stability, and peacefulness. The minimum sample size per country is 75 respondents, but almost 50 countries have over 100 respondents.
East Asia is where expats are most likely to feel safe according to the Expat Insider 2017 survey; Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea make up most of the top 5. One Nigerian expat likes that “life in Japan is peaceful, safe, and calm”. Switzerland is the only European country to make it into the top 5, taking third place — a significant improvement on 2016 (11th place).
Life in Japan is peaceful, safe, and calm.
At the other end of the scale, expats in South Africa, Brazil, and Nigeria are most likely to feel unsafe. Respondents in Nigeria are particularly unhappy: 68% rate their personal safety negatively. The risk of kidnapping is likely to be a contributing factor; a report from the Combatting Terrorism Center links the high number of expats working in the Niger Delta’s many oil companies to increased kidnappings in the region.
A variety of countries from across the world make it into the top 5 for political stability. Despite a scandal about secret service misconduct causing an early snap election in 2013, Luxembourg now tops the tables for political stability. A new entry in the top 5 is the UAE, which jumped from 11th in 2016 to 5th place in 2017. One German expat living in the UAE is happy that “national and state leaders are persons of action, investing the oil and gas money into the economic development of the country”.
However, expats in Turkey, Brazil, and Greece are concerned by the political tumult in their host country. One US American in Turkey described how “[s]ocio-political and religious views run deep and are extremely divisive. When meeting someone new, I don't feel like I can be myself or honest about my viewpoints”. Overall, a quarter of respondents in Turkey (25%), 29% in Brazil, and a third of expats in Greece (33%) describe the political stability as very bad.
For a peaceful expat experience, Finland is the number one place to go. An incredible 99% of expats rate the peacefulness positively, causing Finland to jump from 5th place in 2016 to the top spot. Portugal, Norway, Switzerland, and Japan make up the rest of the top 5, with Portugal gaining twelve places compared to 2016, taking second place in 2017. The sunny escape also ranks in the top 5 of the Global Peace Index.
In contrast, India, Turkey, Brazil, Israel, and Nigeria are the countries where expats are most likely to experience conflict. While the latter three were also in 2016’s bottom 5, Turkey has dropped from 58th place out of 67 countries in 2016 to second-to-last in 2017. The attempted coup in 2016 and subsequent ongoing constitutional changes are likely to be the main factors behind Turkey’s negative ratings.
Overall Winners & Losers
Ranking in the top 5 for all three factors, Switzerland takes the top spot as the safest place for expats; 97% of respondents feel safe in Switzerland, 18 percentage points more than the global average (79%). There was a particular improvement in personal safety; while Switzerland didn’t make the top 10 in 2016, it takes third place in 2017. One Kenyan expat praised Switzerland, saying “my kids will grow up safe, speaking different languages, which is pretty awesome”.
Norway and Singapore make up the rest of the top 3. Expats in Norway are particularly happy with its peacefulness, with 74% giving it the best possible rating for this factor. Though Singapore dropped one place in the overall subcategory compared to 2016, 99% still say they feel safe there, and nine out of ten (90%) are completed satisfied with their personal safety — the highest percentage worldwide.
In Switzerland, my kids will grow up safe, speaking different languages, which is pretty awesome.
At the bottom of the ranking, there’s not much change compared to 2016. Kenya, South Africa, Brazil, and Nigeria remain in the bottom 5 with slight shifts in the exact order, with Nigeria taking the bottom spot. These countries are joined by Turkey, whose poor scores regarding both peacefulness and political stability place it 62nd out of 65 countries.
What’s Changed since 2016?
Though some countries may have avoided the bottom 5, it’s still been a year of significant changes in the Safety & Security subcategory.
The US is 2017’s biggest loser; having dropped by a significant 20 places, it now ranks 51st out of 65 countries for safety and security. Though there was a slight drop in terms of peacefulness and personal safety, the real decline was in terms of politics: 43% of respondents rate the political stability negatively, and the country falls 25 places in this single factor ranking. This is echoed by the Global Peace Index, where the US ranks 103rd out of 163 states and territories.
The other partner in the “special relationship” has faced similar challenges; the UK has dropped 16 places in the Safety & Security subcategory. Much like the US, this is mainly due to weak political stability scores, with almost one in three expats (28%) rating this factor negatively. It’s worth noting that the Expat Insider survey was conducted before several terror attacks in spring 2017.
Additionally, Malta experienced similar declines in peacefulness as well as political stability; while the country ranked fifth in 2016, it doesn’t make the top 20 in 2017.
It’s not all bad news: Portugal takes the prize for the most improved. The country increased its ranking by at least 12 places for all three factors. Saudi Arabia also improved across the board, climbing 13 places; in 2016, 66% of expats were generally satisfied with their personal safety, which increased to 75% in 2017 — only slightly below the global average (79%). Similarly, 87% of expats are now happy with Qatar’s peacefulness compared to 80% in 2016, and the country comes twelfth in the overall Safety & Security subcategory.
Russia also boosted its overall ranking by eleven places with improvements in personal safety and political stability. The country does, however, remain significantly behind the global averages for both of these factors.
- Combating Terrorism Center: Held Hostage Report
- Institute for Economics & Peace: Global Peace Index 2016
- Expat Insider 2017 — A Place in the Sun? Where Expats Enjoy the Quality of Life
- Expat Insider 2017 — No Olympic Gold for Brazil
- Expat Insider 2017 — South Africa: Easy to Settle Down, Not Always Safe
- Expat Insider 2017 — Switzerland: More Than Just Clocks, Chocolate & Cheese
- Expat Insider 2017 — Happy Families Under the Northern Lights
- Expat Insider 2017 — Tiger States Show Very Different Stripes
- Expat Insider 2017 — Dissatisfied with More Than Just the British Weather
- Expat Insider 2017 — Shifting Politics Trouble Expats in the USA
- Expats in Switzerland
- Expats in South Africa
- Expats in Norway
- Expats in Singapore
- Expats in Brazil
- Expats in Nigeria
Please note: The Expat Insider 2017 survey data was collected in February and March 2017. Results therefore do not reflect any events which occurred after this time.