What country is best for me? Well, that of course, depends. It depends on a lot of factors, including personal preferences, your motives for expatriation, your financial circumstances, and whether you plan to work or start or run a business while abroad, or simply retire on a pension or Social Security. Below you will find a summary to help guide you to a short-list.
One thing I have noticed is that smaller countries (both in terms of area as well as population) seem to have a tendency to be more liberal and less politically repressive than larger ones. It is a trend with a lot of exceptions, of course, but there seems to be a noticable, if somewhat weak correlation. The major exceptions are small countries where the United States has a long history of intervention (Central America and the Caribbean is an obvious case), but where Foggy Bottom leaves people alone, they seem to do better at governing themselves in smaller countries than in bigger ones, for reasons I won't go into here.
This apparent trend goes out the window, however, when Foggy Bottom intervenes - so if a country has a history of being the victim of outside intervention (which almost always comes from Washington these days), it is best to think carefully about the history of outside intervention as well as the current situation and the likelihood of change, before committing to going there. The more frequent (or harsh) the intervention, the more cautious you should be, particularly if you are a political activist.
Here are some rankings by both cost of living and quality of life in a two-column table below. The cost of living rankings of 144 cities worldwide, as quoted on CNN (7/7/05), was put together by Mercer Human Resources, a company that specializes in helping corporate clients settle their expatriate employees overseas. The most expensive city, Tokyo, has a cost of living 160% of that of New York (which co-ranked with Dublin as no. 13), and Asuncion, Paraguay, has a cost of living only 44% of New York. So this will help you pick the appropriate countries for shortlisting. These rankings are based on typical expatriate corporate employee spending habits, and so they should be taken as only a rough approximation if you are inclined to live either simply or extravagantly. Some cities are low in base cost of living, and high in the cost of luxury goods and entertainment, and others vice versa. Other factors don't play into the rankings - you'll spend a lot more money on security in Buenos Aires, for example, than you will in Tokyo. So consider this to be only a rough guide, and your experience, as they say, may vary. Also, be aware that as the U.S. dollar declines in value, these rankings will change - highly dollarized economies (such as Ecuador and Panama) will become cheaper relative to non-dollarized economies, which will rise on the Mercer list.
The ranking of the top 111 countries in quality of life, as measured by The Economist Intelligence Unit, is in the second column. For information on how the countries are scored for quality of life, check the document from which this information was obtained. Rankings were based on such factors as cost of living versus average wages, crime, availability of goods and services, health and sanitation, political stability, etc. If you are planning to live on a foreign income as a retiree, pay particular attention to the first column - it is most important to you. If you are planning to support yourself by working in your new home, the second column is the most important.
Cities by Cost Of Living:
Rank, City, Country
1. Tokyo, Japan
Countries By Quality Of Life
Rank, Country, Score (1-10)
1. Ireland 8.333
Do your research. From the information below, you can create a short list of countries which may be suitable for you, and you should research all of the countries on your short list extensively, before prioritizing them into your best and worst choices. I would strongly advise you to do a search of Amazon using the search box at the bottom of this page to find books about all the choices you are considering, and getting one or two books (preferably not tourist guide books) about each of those countries, if you can find suitable ones. Researching on the Internet is fine, it is cheap and easy to do, but it is fraught with uncertainties. Reliability of the information is the biggest problem; much of the information available is unreliable and biased because of the fact that much, if not most of it is provided by people with an agenda, often well-concealed. Be particularly cautious in using large sites that purport to be helping you expatriate, but which link extensively to real estate listings or which are sponsored by real estate companies or immigration services, or are tourist related. Nearly all of these offer very selective information carefully calculated to give a false impression while appearing to be honest and credible. The best sites are those created by governments which are there specifically to provide reliable information regarding immigration policies, etc. Below, I have put together a summary of the major pluses and minuses of the more significant destinations, based on what I know or have heard, but you will need to do a lot of investigation on your own. Don't rely on this information alone. It is intended only to help you draw up a short list of four or five countries, based on what you want to do once you get there, and then do your own investigation of them - a lot of investigation. And please share with me what you find out, so I can pass on what you have learned to others in this space.
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