World's Friendliest Countries
Those in search of a fresh start might head to these welcoming spots
Photo: Associated Press/Lo Sai Hung
They top a list of the countries most welcoming to expats. There, relocators have a relatively easy time befriending locals, joining a local community group and learning the local language.
Behind The Numbers
The study surveyed 2,155 expats in 48 countries, spanning four continents, between February and April 2008. Respondents rated their country in four categories: ability to befriend locals, number that joined a community group, number that learned the language and percentage that bought property.
"We conducted this survey to better understand expatriate needs and get insight into the emotions of expats. The banking business is all about trust, especially with the recent credit crisis," says Martin Spurling, CEO of HSBC Bank International and Head of HSBC Global Offshore. "We want them to build a relationship with their wealth manager regardless of where they travel."
For Americans, traveling abroad to start over is becoming increasingly common. America used to have it all: good jobs, booming economy, skyrocketing stock market and plentiful housing. What a difference a year can make. The boom has gone bust and people are now heading for the exits en masse with an eye abroad.
It's no wonder they likely find Canada so welcoming. It has an accessible language, diverse culture and low levels of government corruption, says Patricia Linderman, editor of Tales from a Small Planet, an online newsletter for expats.
It also has other expats. This is important, Linderman says, since even the most gracious locals already have busy, established lives and can be unwilling to put in the effort to befriend someone they know could leave within several years.
"I'm not suggesting that it's good to live in an 'expat ghetto'. It's immensely rewarding to live among local people and make friends with them," she says.
Linderman says other expats are important because they share similar needs like making friends and adjusting to life in a new country. They also understand the frustrations daily life brings.
Canada is the most welcoming; almost 95 percent of respondents to HSBC Bank International's Expat Exploreer Survey, released today, said they have made friends with locals. In Germany, 92 percent were so lucky and in Australia 91 percent befriended those living there. The United Arab Emirates was found to be the most difficult for expats; only 54 percent of those surveyed said they'd made friends with locals. The U.S. ranks sixth among the 14 nations surveyed.
"A significant expat community," she says, "also means that there will be at least one truly international school, expat support groups and amenities like English-language bookstores."
Joining a recreational sports team or community group can help speed integration. Almost half of respondents reported taking this action, with Germany leading the pack at 65 percent. Churches, organizations and schools provide good places to forge friendships with people who possess common interests and beliefs.
"When I was an expat in Hong Kong, I became a member of the local football club and found it was a fantastic way of meeting like-minded people," says Paul Fay, head of marketing and communication at HSBC Bank International, of his expat experience in Hong Kong. "Particularly in Asia joining these clubs works to your advantage."
Australia scored high in friendliness but ranked last when it came to joining a group. That's because expats in Australia tend to be younger, with 51 percent in the 18-34 age group, and may not need organized groups to facilitate meeting new people.
Groupthink is less of an issue in Germany, since meeting people there is relatively easy.
"I'm not surprised that Germany is a popular choice whether you are going for a short-term cultural experience or a long-term job assignment," says Robin Pascoe of expatexpert.com, a Web site for families living and working abroad. "Germany has fantastic international schools for the kids of expats."
Germany is also considered middle-of-the-road culturally, according to Neil Payne, who works for Kwintessential, a translation services company in the U.K. Anyone you stop on the street can talk to you in English, he says. What's more, "working conditions are also very well respected and there is a nice delineation for work life and social life, which we don't have in England."
This doesn't surprise Payne.
"Our experience is that people do struggle and find it hard to adapt," he says. "It's the psychological difference: so far removed from what Western expats are used to."
Still, says Fay, don't eliminate a country simply because of a language barrier.
"Cantonese and Mandarin can be very challenging for Western expatriates," he says, "though for those who are resilient and do invest, it can be an incredible experience."