When you look at various expat surveys you will find a lot of interesting information about the larger patterns of who is moving where, although some of it is conflicting. This last week quite a few publications were discussing the recently revealed results of the HSBC Expat Survey, which showed increasing numbers of people are moving to the big cities in Asia in order to make more money, but also more people are heading to France and Spain to retire.
The lone exception in the data is Germany, which is the only place in Europe where foreigners are going to find good earning jobs, but it doesn’t sound like many people are moving there to retire. Singapore and Hong Kong both rank high on the survey for economic factors and as overall expat destinations, but I’d have to guess that it’s because HSBC was doing the survey.
Much harder to sort out trends in the bigger picture
These expat surveys get a lot of press, and I’m adding to that by mentioning it here, but I don’t really think they provide a clear picture of the real trends. Something like 6,000 people participate in this HSBC survey, and I don’t know how they are chosen, but something tells me they had come in contact with HSBC another way before answering questions.
HSBC is a huge bank in Asia and among wealthy expats and those working for large companies, so if you are dealing with them you probably aren’t teaching English in Chiang Mai. I’m much more familiar with people who’ve saved up money in a long career in Europe or America and then moved to Thailand or Indonesia for a comfortable retirement. Those people, I’m guessing, aren’t being asked to participate in this survey.
Cayman Islands tells the tale
Looking deeper for data that might be missing, I think the inclusion of Cayman Islands in place of Costa Rica proves that this survey is very skewed. The Cayman Islands, as you probably know, is a Caribbean island with about 50,000 residents and almost as many banks. If you are considering moving to the Cayman Islands, there’s a very good chance that you not only earn a high salary, but you probably work for a bank as well.
Weirder still, the only Latin American country they list is Mexico. So countries like Costa Rica, Honduras, and Guatemala, where many Americans and Canadians retire, aren’t there. Neither is Brazil nor Argentina, which both have HSBC divisions, interestingly enough.
So when looking at these surveys, and especially this highly publicized HSBC one, it’s important to consider that these people probably represent employees of international banks or other large corporations, but probably not those choosing a sunny place to retire on a modest pension.