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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

The Biggest Winners & Losers in 2019

Kazakhstan, Indonesia, and Qatar show huge improvements in 2019, but a lack of leisure activities, high expenses, and a weakened economy have taken their toll on some countries.
  • Kazakhstan, Indonesia, and Qatar are the biggest winners in 2019.
  • Cyprus has lost 15 ranks compared to 2018.
  • Expats struggle with the cost of living in Costa Rica.
  • South Korea faces a weakened economy.

Kazakhstan: The Biggest Winner

Kazakhstan shows the biggest improvement in 2019, gaining an impressive 27 ranks and achieving its best result since the survey was first conducted in 2014. The country has made big strides across the board and expats seem satisfied: 79% are happy with their life abroad, compared to 68% in 2018 and 75% globally. However, it is worth mentioning that the Expat Insider 2019 survey was conducted before the president stepped down and political unrest ensued across the country.

In the Working Abroad Index, Kazakhstan has improved by 21 ranks, making it into the top 5 for career prospects and satisfaction. In 2019, 58% of respondents are generally happy with their career options — 22% very much so.

When it comes to the ease of settling in, Kazakhstan has improved for all factors, but especially in the Feeling at Home subcategory, where it has gained 31 ranks. Over a quarter (26%) find it very easy to get used to the local culture, compared to 13% in 2018, and 27% agree completely that it’s easy to settle down, 16 percentage points more than in 2018. This includes an expat from the Philippines who appreciates “the place, its people, and its rich culture”.

I love Kazakhstan, its people, and its rich culture.

Kazakhstan has also made it out of the bottom 10 for quality of life. When it comes to socializing and leisure activities, 23% of expats are even very happy with this factor, compared to only 10% in 2018. The country shows some major improvement regarding the transportation infrastructure: 74% are generally satisfied, compared to 51% in 2018. “Everything is not far on foot or by taxi,” an Indian expat says about Astana. “You can reach every place in less than 30 minutes.”

Moreover, ranking in the top 10 of the Personal Finance Index since 2016, Kazakhstan even lands in second place in 2019. Only 4% are unhappy with their financial situation, compared to 10% in 2018.

Indonesia: Where Expats Feel at Home

Indonesia gains 21 ranks in 2019, making it into the top 30 (29th out of 64) but not quite reaching its 2014 result (20th out of 61). In general, expats in Indonesia are rather satisfied with their life abroad — 79% say as much, compared to 72% in 2018.

In the Working Abroad Index, Indonesia has improved across nearly all factors, especially for working hours: 68% are generally happy with this factor, 13 percentage points more than in 2018. Although the average full-time working hours in Indonesia have increased slightly from 46.0 to 46.4 hours, expats are a little less likely to work full time (79% of working expats vs. 82% in 2018).

The people in Indonesia are very warm and friendly.

In the Ease of Settling In Index, the biggest changes have taken place in the Feeling at Home subcategory, where Indonesia has gained 13 ranks. Seven in ten expats (70%) find it easy to get used to the local culture, compared to 61% in 2018. Expats find it generally easy to make local friends in Indonesia, 16% even very much so. The country ranks in the top 10 for this factor. “It's a home away from home,” an expat from India thinks. “The people here are very warm and friendly.”

In the Quality of Life Index, Indonesia shows some noticeable improvements in the Digital Life subcategory, particularly for the availability of government services online. Although 7% of expats still give this factor the worst rating possible, this is a huge improvement compared to 20% in 2018. Unfortunately, this development has not reached everyone in Indonesia yet. A US expat living in a small town complains that “access to the internet infrastructure is limited and challenging”. Indonesia also does better for socializing and leisure activities: 65% of respondents are happy with this factor, six percentage points more than in 2018.

Indonesia only shows significantly worse results in the Personal Finance Index (from 15th to 28th). Still, expats seem to be generally content with their financial situation. According to one British expat, “the cost of living is very good compared to the UK, and taxes are very low.”

Qatar: More for Your Money

Qatar has been on an upwards trend since 2016, when it ranked 60th out of 67. Since then, it has slowly worked its way up to the top 20 in 2019 (18th out of 64), with only 5% generally unsatisfied with their life abroad (vs. 12% globally).

In the Working Abroad Index, Qatar has improved across all factors, and the overall job satisfaction has increased by ten percentage points (69% positive ratings in 2019). A Greek survey respondent agrees that the “potential for excelling at work is there”. Expats also see an improvement in their work-life balance: 63% are satisfied with this factor, compared to 53% in 2018.

Qatar is a cool place which makes you feel at home.

Close to two-thirds of respondents (66%) find it easy to settle down in Qatar (vs. 56% in 2018), and 64% agree it’s easy to get used to the local culture, compared to just over half (52%) in 2018. Qatar has also gained 23 ranks for the general friendliness of the population — with 34% of expats giving it the best possible rating — and 19 ranks for the friendly attitude towards foreign residents: 70% are generally happy with the latter. An expat from India sums it up: “It’s a cool place which makes you feel at home.”

The country has also made gains for every factor in the Quality of Life Index, where it is the biggest winner. For instance, 49% give the political stability the best possible rating, an increase of 15 percentage points since 2018. In the Personal Finance Index, Qatar has moved up 16 ranks. Nearly three in four (73%) rate their financial situation positively, compared to 68% in 2018 and 64% globally. “Here, I can save up for travelling and the future,” a Canadian expat states.

The Biggest Losers in 2019

Cyprus has lost 15 ranks, placing 45th in 2019. Unsurprisingly, the general satisfaction with life abroad has worsened: while 13% are still completely satisfied, this is a drop of 14 percentage points since 2018.

Cyprus is a boring place if you are middle-aged and single.

In the Quality of Life Index, Cyprus is the biggest loser, dropping for nearly all factors. Only 61% of expats in Cyprus rate the available leisure activities positively, a result well below that of 2018 when 77% said the same. “It is a boring place if you are middle-aged and single,” a German respondent in Cyprus points out. Only four out of nine (44%) find healthcare affordable, compared to 57% in 2018. The quality of medical care seems to have decreased as well: nearly five in nine (55%) still rate this factor positively, a result ten percentage points below that of 2018. The recent switch to a national health insurance scheme has caused many problems: expats and Turkish Cypriots have been denied registration, and the mandatory contributions might make private health insurance more difficult to afford.

Costa Rica is another big loser in 2019. It ranked in the top 10 from 2016 to 2018 but places only 21st in 2019. This drop is also reflected in the respondents’ overall satisfaction: 79% are generally satisfied with their life abroad, compared to 86% in 2018.

Costa Rica is expensive.

Costa Rica has undergone a massive drop in the Personal Finance Index. In 2019, only 46% of expats believe their disposable household income is more than enough to cover daily expenses, and a quarter (25%) says that it’s not enough, compared to 17% in 2018. “Costa Rica is expensive,” a Canadian survey respondent states. Only 59% rate their financial situation positively, a 19-percentage-points drop since 2018.

South Korea, which has been on a downward trend since 2014, ends up among the bottom 10 (55th out of 64). The overall satisfaction with life abroad is also down: only 9% of expats in South Korea are completely satisfied, compared to 19% in 2018.

Expats seem to be especially unhappy with the cost of healthcare in South Korea, compared to 2018. While more than five in six expats in South Korea (84%) found healthcare generally affordable in 2018, only 65% say the same in 2019. And although career prospects have actually improved — 49% are happy with this factor, compared to 39% in 2018 — the state of the economy has worsened. In 2019, 61% of expats in South Korea are happy with the latter, compared to 79% in 2018. In fact, the country experiences a seven-year low in the midst of the US-China trade war affecting all of Asia, as well as the trade dispute between South Korea and Japan.

Further Reading