Before you start reading, there’s something important for you to keep in mind. My idea of the “best” places could be different than yours. I’ve worked hard to make a well-rounded list, taking out some of my personal biases (except #1, that’s totally biased) but I’m sure everyone reading this at some point will either think, “How could she have forgotten XX” or “Wow, I really didn’t think that country was the best when I visited.”
That’s simply because there are a lot of really amazing places in the world and I’ve taken on the tough job to narrow it down to only include 10 places.
A few of the criteria I looked for when making this list:
- Openness towards foreigners
- Cost of Living
- Quality of Life
- Things to do
- General Visa Options
- Variety between the countries (in terms of location, weather, culture, etc.)
Moving abroad is a big step. It involves a lot of change and typically a lot of unexpected sacrifices, especially if you’re moving somewhere different than you grow up. Sometimes those sacrifices are small like you can’t fried chicken biscuits for breakfast whenever you’d like, and other times they’re larger like government bureaucracy might seem like an endless maze when you try to renew your visa, rent an apartment or get a license.
Moving abroad also comes with rewards like getting to live in a travel hub where your weekends away could mean short trips to over 10 countries. It could also mean a cheaper, better quality of life or a way to challenge yourself and wake you up a bit.
Tips for a smooth move abroad
When planning for a move abroad, there are a few things you should keep in mind, regardless if this is your 1st move or 27th:
- Things will work differently than in your country. It’s your responsibility to bend and adjust to your new environment. Refrain from getting trapped in the, “This isn’t how they do you back home” mindset, that will make your adjustment period an uphill battle.
- Learn some of the local language. I’d be lying if I said I took classes and got to a conversational level everywhere I went but at the very least, it’s nice to show your community you care. It will also make life easier for you if you can at least order your favorite food and understand the prices at the market.
- Open your eyes and your mind. My favorite part about living abroad, and one of the biggest reasons I keep moving from one country to another, is how much you learn from the experience. Pay attention to the nuances of daily life, how they celebrate special occasions, etc. It will most likely make you a better, more well-rounded person, being influenced by so many wonderful cultures but it also makes your experience a lot more fun.
- Give it at least 3 months until you make any rash decisions. Culture shock is real and it can be a difficult process to get comfortable somewhere new. Usually, after 3 months in a country, you start to get a routine and are less quick to judge somewhere so before you decide if you love it or are ready to get out, give it a fair chance.
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Alright, let’s jump into the 10 best countries for expats. Keep in mind, this list is not organized from top to bottom but by regions, starting with Asia.
Vietnam has a lot to offer, in terms of the criteria I listed above. In general, the locals are friendly and many know some basic English vocabulary and are happy to help you stutter over their language and give you a laugh along the way.
The cost of living is also one of the cheapest I’ve experienced. In Da Nang, Vietnam, my husband and I live in a spacious 1-bedroom apartment only a 10-minute walk from the beach and we pay $300usd in rent (including water and internet). A meal from a street vendor averages around $1-3usd and a nice night out, including cocktails, usually won’t be more expensive than $20usd for the 2 of us. Like most places, there are ways to be more frugal and ways to spend much more, so take the prices as an average.
NomadList averages the monthly cost of living in Da Nang to be around $1000usd/person. I would say my husband and I spend on average $1000usd combined though but we tend to eat locally, cook at home, and don’t shop very often.
Bigger cities like Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi will be a bit more expensive to live in but still low, compared to most big cities.
Given the cheap prices, the beautiful nature, and the big expat community, we have a great quality of life that we might not be able to afford other places. Because of all of this, Vietnam has been more and more popular for remote workers to use as their home base. Living here allows you the freedom to chase your dreams, try out a new career or start building something from scratch without having to worry too much about the bills.
Of course, no place is perfect, even Vietnam. The traffic is absolutely wild and to get the hang of driving, especially in Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, you’ll need nerves of steel to get the confidence to drive your own motorbike. Pollution can also be a big problem, especially in Hanoi and littering is still very abundant.
Currently, Vietnam does not offer a visa for remote workers but they’ve been lax on people living long term in the country on a tourist visa. It’s yet to be determined how COVID will affect the future of visas here as the country has had their borders shut to tourists for nearly a year now.
Most foreigners in Vietnam are English teachers, remote workers or have opened their own businesses.
A few of the most popular cities to live in are Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Hanoi, Da Nang, Hoi An, and Nha Trang.
Taiwan ranks highly on most of these lists, regardless of the source. I have many friends, from a variety of nationalities, who all love living in Taiwan.
They all work in a variety of industries as well, proving it’s possible to get a business visa even if you’re not an English teacher, which can prove difficult in many Asian countries. Taiwan also has possibilities to live on a student visa to learn Mandarin, giving you a few different options to living legally in Taiwan.
Although Taiwan is a small island, Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, is a fast-paced megacity. You definitely won’t get bored living in this metropolis. And given the size of the country, if you need a break from city life, public transportation makes it easy to plan a weekend away on it’s beautiful coast. It’s also a short plane ride to many other SE Asian nations for international weekends away.
Taiwan is a great option to enjoy both the old and new. Taipei is modern and advanced but you’ll find plenty of hidden alleyways that look at those they haven’t changed in 100 years.
The cost of living is more expensive than in Vietnam but is cheaper than in nearby countries, China, South Korea, and Japan. NomadList states the average cost of living in Taipei to be just slightly over $2000usd/month.
Some of the best places to live in Taiwan are Taipei, Kaohsiung, Taichung, and Tainan.
Australia is a popular place for many recent graduates (under the age of 30) to live and work abroad for a year or 2 thanks to it’s Working Holiday Visa. Unlike the same visa in Japan, the Australian Working Holiday Visa is open to more nationalities and according to friends who have moved to Australia on the visa, it’s a pretty simple and stress-free process.
A few of my friends have mentioned that finding work in Australia was difficult, while others have claimed it came relatively easy. Since it is tough for some people to find work and given the higher cost of living in Australia, I would recommend moving here with some savings, just in case.
Speaking of cost of living, NomadList states that the average cost of living in Melbourne is $3200usd/month but Sydney is closer to $3900/month. As always, these numbers are just guidelines but your reality could be much cheaper or even more expensive.
Expats enjoy living in Australia primarily because of the friendliness of locals. Australians are generally welcoming and since it’s an English-speaking country, it can be easier to make friends and integrate than in a country that doesn’t speak your language.
It’s also a fantastic place to live if you’re an active person who enjoys outdoor sports. From surfing to cycling, Australians are typically active and adventurous. Just don’t forget the sunscreen!
4. South Africa
South Africa is home to unparalleled landscapes. The natural scenery and the unique animals makes it an exotic place to call home for most of us coming from the Americas and Europe.
Cape Town is a city for everyone, meaning whatever you're into, there is a group for you. If you love surfing and being in nature there are plenty of beaches and so many trails to hike in this town. If you are a self-proclaimed wine connoisseur, you’ve lucked up, as there are over 140 wine farms in just one part of Cape Town. If you are into the arts and love dancing, theatre shows and stand-up comedy, there are plenty of venues that cater just for your crowd.
Cape Town and Johannesburg, the two most popular cities to move to in South Africa, are both advancing rapidly and are starting to attract more digital nomads and workers in the tech industry.
It can be tricky to get a work visa in South Africa, but if you’re from the U.S., I suggest seeing how this expat got a 3-year residency card.
Safety is typically the top concern in South Africa. Many of my friends abroad have been South Africans that like me, wanted to see the world and get out of their home country, but also safety concerns have been an extra push to leave. Although it hasn’t been a recurrent thing for every local or expat friend who has visited or move there, it’s always best to err on the side of caution when you’re new in a country.
NomadList averages the cost of living in Cape Town as $1700usd/month and in Johannesburg as slightly cheaper at $1600usd/month, which are also the 2 more popular places for foreigners to live in South Africa.
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Portugal is a country that seems to be on everyone’s lips at the moment, mine included. The dreamy coastline, old architecture, and seemingly friendly people sipping wine in the plazas definitely has an allure to it.
Also, thanks to it’s freelance visa, it’s now easier for non-EU citizens to move to Portugal for longer than the typical 3-month tourist visa allows. Just be prepared for a lot of paperwork and to potentially jump over a few hurdles during the visa process.
Portugal also has a lower cost of living compared to the rest of the Europe. Most people say the biggest expense you’ll face in Portugal is rent, especially if you prefer to live in a city, not the outskirts. NomadList averages the cost of living in Lisbon to be around $2000usd/month, $1800usd/month in Porto, and $2300 in the Algarve.
Portugal hosts a variety of immigrants and is becoming more and more a diverse country. It’s typically noted to be a safe country that is welcoming to foreigners.
Most expats tend to live in Lisbon, the Algarve, and Porto.
6. The Netherlands
There’s a lot more to the Netherlands than just Amsterdam, although pop culture might make it seem otherwise. Although it is a small country, there is a lot squeezed into a relatively tight space. Because of this, it’s easy to travel around the country for weekends away but be prepared, public transportation can be pricey.
Within the city you choose to move, if you adopt the local culture, your transportation will be free. Once you buy your own bike, you’ll be ready to freely go wherever you can take yourself. Just be ready to do it, rain or shine!
If English is your native language, you’re in for a treat, especially since Dutch is known to be a difficult language to learn. Many Dutch people speak English so you’ll be able to get around and meet new people.
NomadList averages the cost of living to be steep in Amsterdam at $4400usd/mont and $3800usd/month in Groningen. Many people who come to live in the Netherlands work for international companies or organizations or many young people come to work as au pairs.
Spain has been one of the most popular places to teach English abroad for...ever. The Spanish culture, delicious food, and sunny, warm weather continue to be attractive year after year.
Although it’s possible to move on a retirement visa or student visa, most people opt to teach English. A unique benefit to teaching English in Spain is that their two biggest programs, BEDA and Auxiliares de Conversación, hire teacher assistants. Meaning, you’ll work less hours than in the most countries and will typically always be in the classroom with another teacher.
Many people use this as an opportunity to also work remotely in their free time either teaching English online, blogging or as a virtual assistant. Some people use this to supplement the relatively low salary as a local teacher, but that need will depend on your lifestyle.
NomadList averages the cost of living in Barcelona as $2900usd/month, $2800usd/month in Madrid, and $3100usd/month in Mallorca.
If you choose to teach English in Spain, the BEDA program places teachers typically in and around Madrid, while the government-sponsored Auxiliares de Conversación, places teachers all around the country, even the Canary Islands.
Mexico has typically been seen as a popular vacation spot, especially for people coming from the U.S. But it has so much more to offer than just all-inclusive resorts.
Mexico is rich in culture, abundant in flavorful food, and doesn’t lack friendly, open people. Not to mention it’s long coastline offers stunning Pacific and Caribbean seas. Plus, it’s home to guacamole and tequila, which is a great starting point for most of us.
Mexico is also a unique country that allows most tourists to stay in-country for up to 6 months, instead of the international norm of only 3 months. They even offer a 1-year visa that most remote workers choose to take advantage of to work legally and avoid visa runs.
Mexico is also home to many expats from around the world so it should be a relatively easy place to make friends, just don’t get too stuck in the expat bubble. In general, Latinos are welcoming and curious people, but speaking Spanish will make integration much easier.
NomadList averages the cost of living of most cities in Mexico as around $1500usd/month.
Popular places for expats to live in Mexico are Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta, Tulum, Merida and Huatulco.
Colombia also has a soft spot in my heart. My husband is from Bogota and my in-laws still live in the city center. To be honest though, I debated between including Colombia or Ecuador on the list, just don’t tell him that!
Like Mexico, Colombia has a bright and colorful culture. Locals are typically inquisitive and warm. I’ve never been able to leave the house on my visits to Colombia without locals approaching me on the street to ask random, sometimes personal questions about myself. Personally, I appreciate bold, upfront cultures but some people might find that lack of privacy to be a turn-off.
For the record though, most of these conversations happen in Spanish so if you’d like to quickly get to know your neighbors, speaking Spanish is a must.
With it’s proximity to the equator, most cities only offer two seasons: rainy and dry. Depending on the altitude of the city, that’s the weather you’ll get year-round. For example, Cartagena is a coastal city at sea level, so it’s summer year-round. While Bogota sits up 8600 feet above sea level, making it feel like fall year-round. Pick your favorite season and there’s a city to match that climate!
NomadList averages the cost of living in Medellín and Bogota as $1000usd/month and $1600usd/month in Cartagena.
Medellín is typically where most expats choose to move to in Colombia, Cartagena and Bogota are both also popular choices.
Canada has a great reputation, so long as you’re ok with long, cold winters. The natural beauty and ability to ski and snowboard during winter would make those months pass by quicker than in other places though.
Canada is typically welcoming to foreigners and offers a variety of visas for students, recent graduates or people hoping to work seasonally as ski lodges, for example.
Canada is also usually ranked as one of the safest countries. It’s also a very diverse country with locals who all come from a variety of countries, cultures, and languages.
NomadList averages the cost of living in Vancouver to be around $3000usd/month, $31000usd/month in Toronto and $2200usd/month in Edmonton.
Many people choose to move to Vancouver, Toronto, Edmonton, and Montreal (French Canada), although it’s a big country, with many, many other places to choose from.