Which Countries Rank Highest for Social Life, Making Friends and Feeling Welcome?
Living overseas doesn’t have to mean loneliness, homesickness and being made to feel unwelcome by the locals. At least that’s true if you’re living in Russia (yes, you read that right), Bahrain or Mexico.
These are the three friendliest countries for expats, where they can most easily make friends, integrate into the community, enjoy an active social life and be made to feel welcome at work, according to the most recent HSBC Expat Explorer Survey.
Russia – which comes top when the “friendliness” factors are aggregated – gets the best responses for social life and making local friends. The country of 143 million scores less well on being made to feel welcome at work and integrating into the community, however.
“Get to know the Russian people. They are wonderful”
“Get to know the Russian people. They are wonderful” says one of the survey respondents. Another warns, however, that “if someone doesn’t smile, don’t take it personally”. While Russian expats emphasise the cultural differences between Russia and the West, the vast majority are positive about their moves. One respondent is philosophical about the change, though, writing that “the most important thing is not to be afraid of change, because it prevents changing your life for the better”.
HSBC surveyed more than 9,000 expats between April and June last year, with a minimum of 100 expats responding in each country for the results to be counted as statistically sufficient. The annual survey forms one of the most authoritative sources of expat attitudes and perceptions of their temporary homes currently available.
In the number two spot is the tiny Middle Eastern island of Bahrain, which – if the open responses of its resident expats are anything to go by – more than meets the reputation of Arab hospitality. “Enjoy the friendliness and hospitality of the Bahraini people!” writes one expat from the country, while another notes that, in their view, Bahrain is “the most progressive, liberal and family-orientated country in the gulf”.
Expats in Mexico, which places third in the rankings for friendliness, are glowing about the friendliness of the Mexican people. A number of expats in Mexico praise the “lovely locals” and the “warm welcome” they have received.
Expats Face Challenges in Some Countries
For the five “friendliness” variables the lowest scoring countries were Saudi Arabia, Switzerland and Egypt. The United States and the United Kingdom (my current home and my native country) come mid-table.
Expats in Switzerland note that the Swiss predilections for privacy and conservatism can make it difficult to make local friends. One respondent further notes that “despite many locals speaking English, a knowledge of either French or German is required in order to successfully integrate”.
Expats in both Egypt and Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, highlight language difficulties, highly conservative cultural norms and difficulties adjusting to the the countries’ attitudes towards women as the main roadblocks to integration.
In fact, with the notable exception of the tiny kingdom of Bahrain, the Middle East scores badly for friendliness across the board: Kuwait, the UAE and Qatar all join Egypt and Saudi Arabia at the lower end of the table.
Across all of the questions, which also cover work life, finances, quality of life, environment, education, health, safety and travel opportunities among others categories, the top three countries were Switzerland (which attracts polarised responses – a high quality of life and high satisfaction with the economy, but very poor results for friendliness factors), Singapore and China/Germany (tied in third position).
What do you make of the results in the HSBC survey? Do you agree Russia, Bahrain and Mexico are the friendliest countries for expats? What are your tips for best integrating into the local community and making local friends? Share your thoughts in the comments!