Survey of the Expat Experience

Today, HSBC International released the final set of results from its Expat Explorer survey. Focussing on the ‘Expat Experience’, I think it offers some interesting objective insights into how easy it is to move from one place to another. Obviously, who you are, what you are doing and where you are moving are the factors which define each person’s individual experience; but it is clear that it is easier to adapt to some places than others, some societies being more or less open to outsiders. One thing to take into account is that respondents were skewed towards mainly ‘Western’ nationalities, so take this into account if you are evaluating what this might mean for you personally.

Learning the language

Expats in Germany were the most likely to have learnt the local language, with Spain, France and the Netherlands following close behind. People moving to Singapore or the UAE were less likely to have learnt the language, but that probably just reflects the fact that English is widely spoken in both places.  The low rankings of English-speaking countries just reflect the fact that people already spoke the language so did not need to learn it. Brazilian and Irish expats get ‘polyglot’ awards for learning new languages (50% and 41% respectively); confounding the stereotype were US citizens with 51% of them learning to speak another language.

Making friends with the locals

Canada comes out top for people making local friends, with Germany, Australia and the UK all getting good marks for being welcoming at a social level. The UAE, Singapore and – surprisingly – Belgium rank last as the places where people are least likely to make local friends; however, this could have a lot to do with the fact that they all have very large expatriate communities as a proportion of the total population.

Getting involved

45% of all the people surveyed said they had joined a local community group in their new country, with Germany and Hong Kong heading up the league.

Settling down

People are most likely to buy a home in France, with almost two-thirds of expats doing so. Spain, Canada and the US also were popular, probably for lifestyle and market liquidity reasons. It seems expats in India and China don’t plan to stick around as they don’t buy, but maybe local bureaucracy and restrictions are a larger factor.

Top ranked countries

Rank Local friends Joined group Learnt language Brought property
1st Canada Germany Germany France
2nd Germany Hong Kong Spain Canada
3rd Australia Canada Belgium Spain

UPDATE: We have published a new section with research on expatriates.

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