Where in the world is expat heaven, that imaginary state of being?
In their inimitable way, HSBC appear to have created an economically-weighted index of where in the world it might be best to be an expat. According to its recent study, the British bank thinks the best six countries for expats are:
4. The Cayman Islands
The bottom is solidly reinforced by Egypt. Second-last is Ireland and then an unsuspected clutch of western European countries in ascending order:
HSBC also suggests that the best country on the planet to raise expat children is Germany. The best work-life expat experience is offered by Thailand. And the most favourable economy for expats is Switzerland.
All of this has led The Washington Post’s Max Fisher to create one of his brilliant world maps (see right) with the bluer countries inclining towards expat heaven and redder ones going the other way. All of which is fine as a cartographical exercise.
But it’s hard not to see some of the problems that bedevil such laundry lists. The data might not tell the whole story.
China is a case in point. It is surprising to see it heading any listing of expat paradise, with all the watchfulness, to mention just one point. And though companies in Asia’s developing economies tend to pay expats 15 per cent more than elsewhere, that is not the whole story. A lower cost of living than the West does not necessarily mean it’s a better life. In the global south, it’s not always easy to get things done even if they’re cheaper, systems and processes being either looser and correspondingly lax or so regimented as to be threatening.
All in all, as the eternal expat, I’m starting to incline to the view that expat heaven is an imaginary state of being ringed around by the angst of departure; the anguish of arrival and everything in between.