“And the winner is...”
The countries that follow frequently top expat surveys – though not necessarily across every factor or index. Looking beyond these latest survey results (2018/2019), we’ve caught up with a team of expert, expat parents who’ve added their insights on the ups and down of life abroad.
Singapore is positioned at number one for raising a family abroad in in HSBC’s 2019 Expat Explorer survey. The Asian powerhouse is ranked 2nd overall out of 33 countries (beaten only by Switzerland) and scored consistently high in all three categories: sixth for living, seventh for aspiring, and first for little expats. Respondents cite excellent schooling, better overall quality of life and political stability as positives. Dana Bachar, founder of mediation firm Medi8 and the author of Fight or Flight: The Survival Guide for Flying with Kids, lives in Singapore with her husband and four boys. Originally from Israel, Dana has called Singapore home for the past ten years. She has many great insights into what makes the island nation top the league table for raising little expats. “Singapore is a very safe place,” she says. “Older children can use public transport, the bus, taxis, the metro. The streets are safe and that brings huge peace of mind.” The tropical weather is also hugely appealing. Dana says, “They can crawl easily, they can wear their diaper and walk everywhere. They are hardly sick because it’s always hot. They can be outdoors all the time. It’s fantastic.”
Dana praises the international school system in Singapore. “For expats there are so many options of beautiful, high quality, international schools, so there is the opportunity to give our kids a high class education with amazing facilities, many languages, and international sports events.” Expats are also attracted to Singapore’s cultural identity. “Your kids go to school with 80 different nationalities,” agrees Dana. “You live in a condo block with people from all over the world. You get to be exposed to the culture, the cuisines, the languages. This is very highly valued as parents look to raise global citizens.” Dana goes on to list, access to wonderful travel destinations in the region; high salaries; help in the home and diverse activities for kids of all ages as major draw cards. “Everything just comes together to make raising kids in Singapore easy, enjoyable and safe.”
“Singapore is a city, an island and a state. It’s the greenest place I’ve seen in my life,” says Dana. “Its an urban jungle. There’s an ocean all around, you get the fresh air and you enjoy being on an island with the best facilities in the world. They have the best healthcare system. They manage the country as a company.”
Switzerland ranks 4th for Little Expats, but comes in 1st overall in the HSBC Expat Explorer Survey, and 2nd in Mercer’s Quality of Living Rankings. Claire Hauxwell, the voice behind expat blog My Theory On Blooming recently moved to Switzerland from South Africa. Originally from the US, Clare and her family have also lived in Mexico.
Claire says, “Switzerland has an abundance of good things to offer families. In my opinion, the number one benefit of living here has been safety. Our previous expat postings (Mexico and South Africa) did not allow for much freedom outside of our home or gated community. It took my children and I some time to get used to our newfound freedom, but now my kids roam the forests and visit the city on their own.” Claire says the transportation system is a major benefit. “My 10 and 13 year olds have really been enjoying their independence and have become responsible bus, train and tram users. It’s extremely convenient, easy to manage and reasonably priced. Children under 12 ride for free with a parent, and the app is very user friendly.”
Enjoying an outdoor lifestyle has always been important to Claire and her family. “Switzerland offers a wide array of outdoor activities for the entire family. We’ve really enjoyed getting 'above the clouds' to enjoy the sunshine, soaking up some Vitamin D and taking in the picturesque mountain views. No matter your level of fitness, there’s something available for everyone. On a beautiful sunny day (or even a dreary rainy one) you’ll see loads of people outside — walking with their families, biking and running.”
Claire says she values the clean air and streets and notes the enviable recycling program, which teaches children to think about the Earth. “And of course, it’s central location in Europe offers great opportunity to visit loads of destinations with ease.”
“Swiss life is quiet. It’s slower and somewhat simpler. As international as Switzerland is, we have not had much issue with language barriers. In Zug, a large percentage of the local population speaks English. This has allowed us to be more open to interacting with locals since our German language skills are not strong yet. Overall it’s been a good transition for my family. The kids have adjusted well, and we’re enjoying life in a beautiful country.”
Australia ranks consistently well and is a popular destination for expats and immigrants with families. The HSBC survey ranks Australia sixth overall out of 33 countries. Good weather, the standard of education and safety are what drew Lauren Watson to make the move with her husband and two children from Durban, South Africa to Sydney. “The main advantage for us is that we have excellent infrastructure and transport, a great free public schooling system, free medical care for all permanent residents and citizens, and a strong feeling of safety” says Lauren.
She also says, “freedom is our favourite thing about Australia compared to South Africa. Playing in the street or running next door to a friend’s house is something we never really did in South Africa, but having it here makes me realise that this is an important part of growing up and feeling independent.” In terms of challenges, Lauren notes that she found it “difficult to make connections with people that you have no history with, although having younger children definitely helped in making school connections.” Lauren also mentions the extremely high cost of living in Sydney, specifically housing and food.
Was moving so far away from family worth it? Lauren replies with an emphatic yes: “no matter how many hard times we face, or financial challenges we have making this move, nothing will ever compare to the feeling of knowing that we’re giving our kids the best start they can possibly have with every opportunity at their fingertips.”
Germany is an interesting case. It ranks highly on all surveys considered here: fifth for working life aspirations (HSBC), seventh overall for raising a family (HSBC), with Munich ranking joint third place (with Auckland and Vancouver) in the world for quality of life (Mercer). Yet anecdotal evidence suggests that Germany is one of the most difficult countries to adapt to as a foreigner.
Difficulties in learning the language rank highly. “Making friends if you don’t speak German is tricky” says Eylem Canatadurucu who made the move from Texas to Germany with her husband and twin daughters. “When I first moved here I used to greet people on the street but they would mostly avoid eye contact or look at me as if I was from another planet!”
Rebecca Hilton, the voice behind the expat blog Making Here Home, moved to Germany with her husband and daughters, and has the same concerns regarding speaking German. “We live in a very international city where English is widely spoken. In other places I think you could feel isolated if you don't speak the language.” Language difficulties aside, Rebecca feels Germany is a great place to bring up a family with “lots of fresh air, green spaces and lots of activities geared towards children.” She also values the amount of freedom children are given at a young age, “It's normal for children to walk to school by themselves from the age of seven.” However, she does say “The stereotype of Germans being rule-abiding is true to an extent; and when you don't know what the rules are, you can feel like you're constantly being told off!”