Skip to main content
Updated 18 Sep 2009

We live in a globalised, integrated economy and that means recessions are never localised. What happens in one part of the world can have a major impact around the globe. 

However, one thing that is becoming clear as we take stock of the global economic crisis, is that not all countries are affected equally. For expats there are still some destinations that offer attractive prospects for employment.

Two things to note first:

  1. Speak the language: a key expat skill is fluency in the local language, and cultural knowledge, particularly if it’s Arabic, Mandarin or Russian.

  2. Skills are still the best insulator against redundancy: sales, software, and finance/accounting are still strong employment sectors in most countries

So if you are a skilled, local-lingo speaking expat looking to relocate, here are six recession-proof expat destinations:


With abundant oil and natural gas, and a booming retail sector, Russia’s economy is still buoyed by strong cash inflows and is consequently riding the storm better than most. The workforce is literate, well educated and low-cost which further drives the health of Russian companies and multinational operations based there. There is still strong demand for managers, IT experts and engineers.

South Africa/Johannesburg

Once derided as arcane and restrictive, South Africa’s exchange control regulations prevented its banks from playing in the sub-prime minefields that detonated worldwide in 2008. The other factor in South Africa’s favour is high interest rates and a consumer credit act which limits access to the unrealistically cheap credit that drove the US housing market over the edge. The net result is that South Africa’s economy is doing okay and still hiring skilled expats in crucial sectors such as engineering, telecoms, medicine, and sciences.

South Africa/Cape Town

Favourable exchange rates and plenty of natural beauty continue to attract growing numbers of tourists to Cape Town, and plenty of jobs are created in their wake. Growing employment sectors here include media, advertising, filmmaking, and of course industries related to tourism such as hotels and niche travel agencies. The relative security of the job sector, coupled with the high quality of life, make Cape Town a hugely popular expat destination.


Cities that have strong governmental, NGO and education sectors are better insulated than most during economic downturns. As capital of the EU and NATO, Brussels remains an expat hotspot for the multitude of support services the European Union government requires. It also enjoys an optimum location in the heart of the continent. Plus, as host to over 2,000 multinational companies, and with an innovative 80% tax reduction for foreign business, Brussels’ employment market has more diversity and depth than just about any other European city.

USA/Washington DC

The US government is one job sector that is never going to downsize and the resulting steady levels of employment and job security trickle through the city's other industries. While expats are unlikely to find jobs directly in the US government, they do find many jobs in the enormous support industry the centre of US power requires or through unrelated industry doing well from the city's unshakable economy. Coupled with foreign government representation, NGO's and publishing, DC may be the only American city still alluring to expats.


Geneva is the European headquarters of the UN, WHO and several key multinationals like IBM, Dell, Gillette and Proctor & Gamble. There is also a strong financial sector that has attracted a lot of cash inflows in response to the banking jitters affecting the UK and US. The cost of living is high, but so are the salaries, and opportunities still abound for expats in this most expat-friendly of Swiss cities

No country can be recession-proof, but its pretty clear that some are far more recession-resilient than others. As Time magazine recently put it “Jobs are the new assets” and for expats locating themselves in the right place such assets will prove to be of critical value in the year ahead.