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New Survey of British expats shows Spain, Canada, and Germany are where they are happiest

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A brand-new expat survey shows some very interesting results, but also shows that it’s hard to take any one of these surveys too seriously. Specifically, a new poll of British expats done by Lloyds TSB International of people who’ve relocated to 10 different countries shows that Spain, Canada, and Germany get the highest marks for “greatest overall happiness,” but there are also some mixed signals here.

First off, here is the best chart I could find for this data, which shows that overall happiness is just one of four things the survey tried to measure.

Spain does well across the board

Not only does Spain rank highest (by a bit) in overall happiness, the country also does well for better quality if life, lower cost of living, and financially better off. It’s the clear winner when averaging the categories, though the UAE is also a serious contender except for its higher cost of living.

One odd thing in the data is that New Zealand ranks on top for “better quality of life,” which confirms results from a different survey we discussed recently. But New Zealand ranks last (by quite a bit) in the “Greater overall happiness” category. Those categories seems almost identical so it seems very odd that New Zealand would be on top in one and at the bottom out of 10 countries in the other.

Canada also does well in all four categories, and the US also has reasonably high scores across the board. France, New Zealand, and Australia also do generally well but get dragged down by low scores in the cost of living category.

Who are these expats surveyed?

One reason to take these kinds of surveys with a grain of salt is that they are almost always scientifically flawed. One we recently saw was done by a UK newspaper that promised a free iPad to one of the participants, so anyone motivated by such a prize could fill in nonsense just to speed things up.

Other surveys (perhaps like this one) are mostly comprised of executives who’ve been transferred by British companies to positions in the field. Those respondents are likely to have a different view of their new country compared to someone teaching English there, or someone who has retired there.

For example, the United Arab Emirates is actually a relatively cheap country for most expats, evidenced by the fact that most of them make well under US$1,000 per month. But if you move into a large house on a golf course and shop only at the supermarket filled with imported goods then it will seem very expensive compared to your modest home back in the UK.

Those of us who are using this information to try to find where we might be happiest, or even to see if our own experiences match those of other expats could easily be misguided by a poll where the takers are from a totally different group.


5 thoughts on “New Survey of British expats shows Spain, Canada, and Germany are where they are happiest

  1. Totally agree with your conclusion.

    How is it possible to consider Spain as the happiest country when 40% of its youth is jobless ? The spanish population is starting to decrease because of emigration…

    Let’s not speak about the Mercer studies, which are published for elderly people (Vienna and Zurich, best cities in the world, come on …)

    Everytime time I moved to a new country (Germany and China), I made my own study to make sure I would not be in a professionnal/age/social class in “trouble”.

  2. Many retired expats are unhappy that their pensions they paid for from the UK are not indexed, and that their income from Britain has decreased by up to 30% in the past few years because of both the pension being pegged and the depreciation of the £ v the Aussie $.

    Other than that I find they are generally happy with their lot in Australia, although some people tell me the cost of living is expensive. If you convert prices in the UK into Aus$s that may be the case and I think it is an unreal comparison. I find this complaint of a high cost of living here remarkable for I find I live quite reasonably in Australia. However I have been here now for over 40 years and I am staying “put”.

  3. Guillaume, exactly. Spain might be the happiest country, but only for retired expats drawing a good pension who don’t have to worry about the economy crumbling around them. I really wish there were more data and surveys of non-executives and non-retirees, as the picture would look quite different. -Tom

  4. Jim, that’s an interesting point that I hadn’t thought about. Australia’s surging currency could really be a problem for almost anyone living on foreign wages or a pension. And New Zealand’s dollar has more or less come along for the ride. Fortunately, it seems like exchange-rate shifts normally balance out over the years, though some things might be different this time. -Tom

  5. Yes many Expats are happy in Spain including me – the secret is too try and understand the local culture and don’t assume that your own is always best. Adapt and be patient hen the benefits are easily obtained and all with that amazing blue sky and low cost of living.

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