Bahrain is the number one place to live and work in the world, according to expats surveyed for a study analysing the top destinations for quality of life.
While Bahrain led the Expat Insider poll as a good place to work and raise a family, and for making foreigners feel welcome, the UAE - in 26th position overall - was the third most popular expat destination in the Arabian Gulf , behind Oman. Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar all ranked in the bottom 10 of the 65 countries surveyed.
“While Bahrain barely made the top 20 in 2016 (19th place), improvements across all indices that factor into the ranking have seen the Gulf state take pole position in 2017,” the report stated.
“However other Gulf states struggle, especially regarding job security; discounting those living in Bahrain, less than half of expats in the Gulf region were content with this factor.”
The annual study by InterNations, now in its fourth year, polled 12,500 respondents from 166 nationalities. The final ranking is based on how countries were rated by expat residents with factors analysed including the cost of living, safety and security, family life, personal finances and working abroad.
The UAE fared well for safety and security, just missing out on a top five spot overall. It was also one of the ranking’s biggest movers, shifting up 14 positions from its 2016 position of 40th overall.
However, while the Emirates was among the top 10 nations for expats earning more than they would in similar positions back home, when it came to the cost of living and personal finances, it fared less favourably. According to the report, 65 per cent of UAE expats aren’t happy with schooling costs.
Sam Instone, chief executive of the financial advisory company AES International, said the conflicting data highlights "the biggest challenge for all expats in the UAE".
"Yes, you can advance your career and may earn an excellent tax-free salary, but when you have a poor work-life balance and a restrictive cost of living, your personal happiness is going to be affected," he said.
"However, I believe the UAE is the best place in the world to live. It’s safe, secure, my children are benefitting from a great education and a fantastic way of life. Having said that, even for those for whom salaries are high, the ever-rising costs of living, accommodation, educating children etc, puts an uncomfortable squeeze on a family’s income."
The report also noted a key attraction for relocating to the Gulf states was the “non-existent tax rates”.
However this is set to change in the coming months with the roll out of VAT in January 2018 in the UAE and Saudi Arabia and excise duties in the UAE in the fourth quarter . Saudi Arabia introduced excise taxes in June, the first Gulf country to do so. Other Gulf countries will follow with VAT and excise duties at a later date.
"Financially, the average UAE and Bahrain expat are very different," said David Daly, Partner at Argent Gulf Consulting. This reflects the UAE’s status as a destination and Bahrain’s as a contemporary working environment.
"VAT will always have a larger impact on those domiciled in destination environments. With Bahrain more family orientated, the big ticket items of education and residential contracts will be, respectively zero rated and exempt from VAT, whereas the UAE is a more consumptive environment and a destination location, therefore for residents here VAT will be a larger part of their lives. On that measure Bahrain should continue to retain the top GCC position in the future.”
Elsewhere, the United Kingdom and United States’ reputations as good expat locations were under threat, according to the poll. The UK ranks 54, down 21 places from last year’s survey, after its June 2016 vote to leave the European Union. Before the referendum, 77 per cent of expats in the UK had a favourable opinion of the nation’s political stability—down to 47 per cent this year.
The US also seems to have lost some lustre after a year of political volatility, said Malte Zeeck, a founder and co-chief executive officer of InterNations. Just 36 per cent of expats have a positive opinion of America’s political stability, down from 68 per cent in last year’s survey.
The country expats considered the worst to work and live in is Greece, which is weighed down by the country’s economic problems.