Moving abroad can be an exciting and life-changing experience, but choosing the right destination can be a daunting task. There are countless factors to consider, such as job opportunities, cultural differences and quality of life. Thankfully, the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) provides a helpful benchmark for measuring the quality of life in different countries.
The HDI takes into account several factors, including access to education, healthcare and a decent standard of living. In the latest 2022 report, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, Hong Kong and Australia have emerged as the top five countries with the best quality of life. In this article, we explore each of these countries in depth and provide insights and tips for – and from – expats in these top-ranked destinations.
Switzerland is a country that consistently ranks as one of the best places to live in the world. It currently holds the top spot in the 2022 HDI report. This small, landlocked country in the heart of Europe has a lot to offer expats looking for a high quality of life. James, a British expat living in Coppet, says he enjoys "the cleanliness, functionality and lifestyle of the country", adding that "the quality of life is infinitely improved, not least because of the weather and the culture."
One of the most significant factors contributing to Switzerland's high ranking is its excellent healthcare system. The country has a well-developed network of hospitals and clinics that provide high-quality medical care to its residents. Switzerland also has a strong focus on preventative care, which helps to keep its population healthy and reduce healthcare costs in the long run.
Whether you prefer city living or a quieter, more suburban lifestyle, Switzerland has something to offer everyone. Tanya, an American expat living in Zurich, notes that she can easily walk to almost everything she wants to do in Zurich, including her children's school, shopping malls and the local farmer's markets.
Switzerland also boasts a top-notch education system, with some of the world's most prestigious universities, such as the ETH Zurich and the University of Geneva. Education in Switzerland is known for its high standards and emphasis on innovation and creativity. Parents moving to Switzerland with children can be assured of an excellent education for their kids.
Switzerland is also a very family-friendly country, with plenty of activities and opportunities for children of all ages. Jennifer, an American expat living in Zug, says, "I love the fact that my kids can confidently and safely use public transportation and that so many shopping and recreational possibilities are literally on our doorstep."
Norway is another country that consistently ranks highly for quality of life, sitting at second place on the 2022 HDI. Expats often rave about the stunning natural beauty of Norway, with mountains, fjords and clean air aplenty. Selina, a Brit living in Bergen, says, "I love almost everything about my new city, especially being able to live so close to the centre of town and yet still be so close to nature. Being able to wake up and see mountains from your window is truly one of life's blessings."
In addition to the natural beauty, Norway's healthcare system is regularly praised by expats. According to Selina, "The healthcare is fantastic here. I have unfortunately had to see doctors and dentists in emergency situations, including at times when money was tight, but I never had any problems. The work was excellent, as was the standard of care."
Education is another area where Norway excels. Laura, an American living in Oslo, says, "I work for an international school, which is a great place to send your kids, especially if you are not planning to be in Norway for the long haul. Other than that, the school system in my opinion is fantastic. All schools are generally equal when it comes to quality, so any school you choose will probably be great."
When it comes to working in Norway, many expats remark that there's a more relaxed culture than back at home. Jay, a Canadian living in Stavanger, says, "The work culture is much more laid back in Norway as compared to Canada. The locals typically work their 7.5 hours per day and head home. While people enjoy their work, it often takes a back seat to family commitments."
Finally, Norway's user-friendly and efficient systems often come as a pleasant surprise to expats. Gisele, a Central American living in Oslo, says, "If Norway were a company, one of their brand values would have to be 'user-friendly'. Oslo is so neat, administration procedures are fairly simple, and you can do most of it online."
Iceland is a stunning country with a vibrant culture and friendly locals, ranking third for quality of life according to the HDI. The natural beauty of Iceland is truly awe-inspiring. From the Northern Lights to the geothermal pools, there is always something amazing to see and experience.
Healthcare in Iceland is highly regarded, with a universal healthcare system available to all residents. Education is also of a high standard, with free education up to and including the university level. Icelandic is the primary language of instruction, but many courses are taught in English as well.
Working in Iceland can be a unique experience, with a focus on work-life balance and a shorter working week compared to other countries. Icelanders also have a strong work ethic, with a culture of punctuality and dedication to their jobs.
For those considering moving to Iceland, there may be some culture shock to adjust to. The cost of living in Iceland can be high, and the weather can be challenging. However, the friendly and welcoming locals make it easy to feel at home in this beautiful country.
4. Hong Kong
Hong Kong is a bustling city with a unique mix of Eastern and Western cultures and is ranked fourth by the HDI. "It’s cosmopolitan, friendly and weird," notes Lindsey, a British expat, and other expats tend to agree. "Hong Kong is kind of magical when it comes to convenience, speed and safety. People are disciplined, follow the rules, and criminal activity is very low," reports Edouard, a French expat.
One of the biggest draws of living in Hong Kong is the high-quality healthcare system. The public healthcare system is affordable and accessible to everyone, and private healthcare options are also available. As Edouard puts it, "the public healthcare service is quite good, but you need to be ready to wait in a very long line before meeting the doctor… The private clinics/hospitals are like 5-star hotels with very good service and healthcare."
Education is also highly regarded in Hong Kong. There is a wide range of top-notch international schools available for expats, though American expat Lisa warns, "The international schools here are very difficult to get into and very expensive."
Working in Hong Kong can be a rewarding experience, with many opportunities in finance, technology and other industries, but one thing that expats may need to adjust to when living in Hong Kong is the cultural differences. "The work culture is different – people work much longer hours, and it is important to pay the proper respect to your colleagues," Alison, a British expat observes. Australian expat Kate agrees, saying, "No one leaves the office at 5.30pm! Working on a Saturday is not uncommon."
The city is known for its fast-paced business culture, but it's also a great place to balance work and play. Hong Kong has a vibrant nightlife scene, plenty of outdoor activities and a wide range of dining options. As American expat Beth puts it, "There are beautiful mountains for hiking, beaches for swimming, an exciting city life, and events or festivals going on nearly every weekend."
Australia is a beautiful and diverse country with a high quality of life, ranking fifth on the 2022 HDI report. With its beautiful beaches, warm weather and diverse landscape, Australia is a popular destination for expats from around the world, offering a high standard of living, excellent healthcare, and a well-regarded education system.
One of the biggest draws for expats is the weather. The climate in Australia is generally warm and sunny, making it ideal for outdoor activities year round. "The weather in Perth is truly unbeatable; it is almost always nice out," says Mike, a Canadian expat.
Australia's healthcare system combines both public and private services. "Being on a visa, we are forced to have private insurance and have had good experience with the facilities we’ve used," notes Mike. Medicare is available for permanent residents and citizens, providing access to affordable healthcare. American expat Danielle reports that "the doctors seem good, and it is not nearly as expensive as it is in the US."
The education system in Australia is also highly regarded. "Schools in Melbourne, I think, are good, but private schooling is more popular here than in America," notes Tonia, an American expat living in Melbourne. With a range of private and public schools available, parents have plenty of options to choose from.
"Melbourne and surrounds is amazing! It is very multicultural with people from all corners of the globe," says Tonia. This diversity has contributed to the vibrant culture of Australia's cities, with excellent food, arts and music scenes.