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by Dean Blackburn

Head of HSBC Expat

A world away

The rise of expat “hotspots” in emerging markets is evident from the latest Expat Explorer survey

Working abroad can be challenging but also stimulating and rewarding. Learning about a new culture, and often a new language, takes time. Those with families must settle in to new homes and schools and managing finances in a new country requires careful attention.

Yet for many, living abroad can be a positive experience with better pay and a lower cost of living. Children often thrive in a new environment, while single expats frequently find romance and a long-term partner.

At HSBC, we have been surveying expat life for the past six years. This time the survey considers the opinions of more than 7,000 expats from nearly 100 countries. It provides an insight into what expat life is like by covering four key aspects: economics, experience, raising children and expenses.

The rise of expat “hotspots” in emerging markets, particularly in Asia, is evident from our latest Expat Explorer survey. Five Asian countries are in the top ten for overall quality of life. Some of the best-paid expat workers are elsewhere – in Switzerland, Qatar or the Cayman Islands.

For many, living abroad can be a positive experience with better pay and a lower cost of living

But salary levels in some developed countries, notably in Europe, are offset by worries about the economy, high taxes and living costs. The combination of an attractive salary and lower everyday living costs is the “double whammy” that makes places in Asia, such as Thailand, Vietnam and Taiwan, so rewarding.

Many expats are also pleased how easy it is to settle in Asia, integrate with the local community and have a good social life. For single people, this is particularly important. Around 40 per cent of our sample told us they had found a life partner while working abroad.

For families, the important issues can be homes, schools, safety, access to sports and the chance for holidays. European countries, led by Germany and France, are rated family friendly destinations that score well on educational standards.

Children’s ability to adapt to change is impressive. In Asia, 58 per cent of expat children are learning new languages such as Chinese and Thai.

The expat community is varied. The biggest age group is 35 to 45, but more than one-fifth of expats are aged 55 or above. Across all ages, needs are diverse. Although many save and invest in their host country, others look to established regions to plan their retirement.

The role of expats is becoming increasingly important, but choosing the right country is key. Balancing higher earnings against the cost of living, including essentials such as taxes and public transport, can be the difference between a successful adventure and a fraught one.

The Expat Explorer survey, now in its sixth year, is commissioned by HSBC Expat and conducted by independent research company YouGov, who questioned 7,004 expats through an online survey. The survey ran from 29 April to 11 June 2013, with expats from nearly 100 countries taking part.

A sample size of 30 or more respondents from each country was required for inclusion in each league table, to be considered indicative of the views of the country’s expat population, with many countries far exceeding the minimum sample size. The league tables are based on a series of sub criteria to ensure a fair assessment of how individual countries rate across a range of factors. Each criterion is weighted to arrive at a score which determines the country ranking.

The full set of sub criteria measured for each of the individual league tables is available on the Expat Explorer Interactive tool: www.expatexplorer.hsbc.com

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