Where are the best places for expats to start a new life?

Bahrain, the UAE, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are ranked in the top 10 global destinations for foreign workers, InterNations survey finds

Foreign workers voted the UAE as the number one country globally when it comes to the ease of obtaining a residence visa. Pawan Singh / The National
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The UAE has been ranked the second-best nation among 52 global destinations for foreign workers to start a new life abroad, as the country offers easy communication and minimal bureaucratic issues, according to a report by global network InterNations.

Bahrain topped the Expat Essentials Index in terms of offering a smooth transition to people moving to the country, according to InterNations, which polled 11,970 foreigners in 181 countries or territories last year for information on various aspects of life as an expatriate.

Singapore was in third place while Estonia and Oman were fourth and fifth, respectively, InterNations said in its annual report released on Tuesday.

Rounding off the top 10 was Indonesia in sixth place, followed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kenya and Canada.

The Expat Essentials Index ranked destinations based on four categories: housing, language, digital life and administration topics.

However, the countries in which expatriates struggled the most with settling in were Germany, in 52nd place, Japan (51) and China (50).

“Foreigners in all three countries struggle with the local language and a lack of digitalisation,” said InterNations, which has more than 4.5 million members.

Last September, the UAE was ranked first across the Middle East, Africa and Asia, and was among the top 10 countries around the world for expatriates to relocate to, a survey by health insurance company Cigna found.

Four per cent of expatriates around the world said they wanted to relocate to the UAE because of its progressive policy changes, recent visa reforms and economic rebound after Covid-19, Cigna's 360° Global Well-Being Survey showed.

The UAE, the Arab world’s second-largest economy, has undertaken several economic, legal and social reforms in recent years to strengthen its business environment, boost foreign direct investment, attract skilled workers and provide incentives to companies to set up or expand their operations.

In 2019, amendments were introduced to the golden visa initiative to simplify the eligibility criteria and expand the categories of beneficiaries.

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The 10-year visa is granted to investors, entrepreneurs, skilled professionals who earn a monthly salary of more than Dh30,000 ($8,167), as well as exceptional talents, scientists and professionals, outstanding students and graduates, property investors, humanitarian pioneers and frontline heroes.

A green visa provides a five-year residency for skilled employees without the need for a sponsor or employer. The minimum educational level is a bachelor’s degree or equivalent and the salary should not be less than Dh15,000.

Meanwhile, the UAE introduced a one-year digital nomad visa in March 2021 that allows people to live in the Emirates while continuing to work for employers in their home countries.

Dubai also offers a five-year visa for retirees older than 55.

While the accommodation subcategory in the Expat Essentials Index focuses on the affordability of housing and ease of finding housing for foreign workers, the language section deals with the ease of living abroad without speaking the local language and the ease of learning the local language.

Administration topics include the ease of dealing with local bureaucracies, opening a local bank account and obtaining a visa.

The digital life subcategory includes the availability of administrative services online, the ease of obtaining high-speed internet access at home, ease of paying without cash and unrestricted access to online services.

The UAE scored highly in the language subcategory, with 85 per cent of foreign workers polled saying that it was easy to live in the country without speaking the local language, compared with 51 per cent globally.

Four in 10 residents said that learning the local language was easy in the UAE, according to InterNations.

Foreign workers are also “very pleased” with the way administration topics are handled in the UAE, ranking the country first globally in terms of the ease of obtaining a residence visa.

Additionally, 61 per cent said that it was easy to deal with the local bureaucracy in the UAE, compared with 40 per cent around the world.

In the digital life subcategory, foreign workers voted the UAE third out of 52 in terms of the availability of administrative services online, as well as 10th when it comes to the ease of getting high-speed internet access at home.

Three quarters of residents said they considered it easy to find housing in the UAE but only 38 per cent said that it was affordable, InterNations found.

First-placed Bahrain also scored highly in the administration subcategory, with 67 per cent of respondents saying it was easy to deal with the local authorities.

Seven in 10 expatriates also said that it was easy to obtain a visa to move to Bahrain, InterNations said.

When it comes to digital life, Bahrain is in the top 10 in terms of the availability of government services online.

Expatriates in Bahrain are also not held back by language barriers, with 82 per cent saying it was easy to live there without speaking the local language.

“Oman ranked among the top 10 in both the housing and the language subcategories, while Saudi Arabia offers expats relatively worry-free bureaucracy, easily available housing and not much of a language barrier,” InterNations said.

“Qatar claims a place among the top 10 in the language and admin topics subcategories.”

Top 10 countries for expats to get started

  1. Bahrain
  2. UAE
  3. Singapore
  4. Estonia
  5. Oman
  6. Indonesia
  7. Saudi Arabia
  8. Qatar
  9. Kenya
  10. Canada

Bottom 10 countries for expats to get started

  • Malta
  • France
  • Czech Republic
  • Vietnam
  • Greece
  • Italy
  • Kuwait
  • China
  • Japan
  • Germany

Source: InterNations

Updated: March 21, 2023, 8:16 AM