Making a new life abroad is easier than ever – but it depends on what you’re looking for. Whether you want to find a job in your dream country, or if you’re going to run a location-independent business, Expatica takes a look at the easiest countries to immigrate to.
Fed up with work, life, and the rain? Perhaps you’ve got a case of the Brexit blues? Or maybe you just want a change of pace. Breaking free of the grind and starting anew has never been so easy. With a little cash, a smidgen of confidence, and a truckload of patience, you could soon embark on a grand adventure in an entirely different environment, working from anywhere so long as you have a roof over your head. So, what are the easiest countries to immigrate to without shelling out a wad of cash for a golden visa or moving to an offshore tax haven – and where you can live cheaply and comfortably?
Pour yourself a cup of coffee and sit back while Expatica lays out the options for your next big move. First up, a few assumptions. We’ve leveled the playing field by looking at a wide variety of nationalities. Secondly, we’ve assumed that you aren’t looking for citizenship, but merely a place to move to for a couple of years to try out the expat life. Lastly, this isn’t a list of the cheapest countries to move to; it takes into account the needs of the transient expat.
The land-locked, sub-tropical heart of South America frequently pops up on lists for retirees looking to stretch their pensions. Expats moving to Paraguay are attracted by the stable economy, low taxes, and low cost of living. However, like many other developing countries, life here has its downsides, including corruption.
To obtain permanent residence, you only need to make a local bank deposit of at least US$5,000. Investor visas are available at around double the cost. You’ll need to visit Paraguay at least once every three years or your residence papers could be canceled.
By law, permanent residents may apply for Paraguayan citizenship within three years. However, expats need to demonstrate significant local ties before they can call the 24th-most powerful passport in the world their own. These include marriage, ownership of land or a company, continuous fiscal residence, or a local job; in addition, basic knowledge of Spanish and of the country’s history, geography, and politics are required. In practice, it can take a lot longer.
Beyond the traditional teaching roles, jobs for expats are hard to come by. If you actually want to live in Paraguay, your best bet is to have a job that lets you work anywhere.
What does it cost to live in Paraguay? Renting an apartment in the center of Asunción will set you back PYG8 million.
Smaller than the Philippines but larger than the United Kingdom, Ecuador often pops up on lists of retirement havens. The romantic picture-postcard appeal of this oil producer lies in a diverse landscape that takes in the Amazon jungle, the Andean highlands, and over 2,200 kilometers of coastline, including the wildlife-rich Galápagos Islands; Paraguay is also a country with a history that takes in the Inca and Spanish empires. With its location at the top of South America, it’s also a wonderful base to explore the entire continent.
Moving to Ecuador on a retirement visa is easy; just prove a monthly income of US$800 per month with a certificate from a pension authority, employer, or other income provider. You can apply for permanent residency after 21 months on a temporary residence visa. Residency by investment on the other hand only requires putting US$27,000 into real estate or an Ecuadorian bank. The country’s virtual consulate offers information on the kinds of visas available.
After three years of legal temporary/permanent residence, a foreigner may request a naturalization letter. However, in practice, they will need to demonstrate ties to the country, such as continuous residence or marriage.
Life is cheap here, with low consumer prices, inexpensive rent, and public healthcare. Monthly costs for a single person in Quito, the capital city, are estimated at under US$1,000 including rent.
Its status as an offshore tax haven – and the ensuing raids – has done little to dent Panama’s appeal as an expatriate destination. Panama makes it easy for expats to make their homes in Central America’s most cosmopolitan city; a tropical climate, a low cost of living, and strong safety credentials make Panama an ideal choice.
Two visa programs facilitate the process. The 2012 launch of the tropical nation’s Friendly Nations visa allows citizens from 50 different countries, including the United States, most European Union nations, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico, to apply for fast-track permanent residency. If that’s you, you’ll need to deposit US$5,000 in a Panamanian bank and establish a local company. Five years down the road, you become eligible for a passport; however, you need to demonstrate ties to the country, ideally by having spent most of your time there.
Retirees can explore the pensionado visa scheme. Introduced in 1987, it’s available to anyone who has a lifetime pension income of at least US$1,000 per month; this amount lowers to US$750 per month if you buy property worth at least US$100,000. There are no age restrictions; senior citizens get all kinds of discounts, including on hotel stays, flights, and entertainment.
Jobs for expats who don’t speak Spanish aren’t easy to come by. In addition, foreigners aren’t allowed to work in some sectors, including medicine, engineering, accounting, and journalism. Depending on the profession, salaries can be lower than elsewhere, but that’s balanced by a low cost of living. A one-bedroom city center apartment can set you back US$1,268 per month. Enough reason to surf on over?
If the thought of all the tacos you can eat has you salivating, Mexico might just be where you should head next. With its high quality of life, superior healthcare system, and vibrant culture, this westernmost cradle of civilization is home to between 1.2 million (UN estimates) and 4 million (unofficial estimates) foreign-born people.
There are a variety of different visas and permits available to those looking to move to Mexico; your first port of call should be the country’s Instituto Nacional de Migración (in Spanish). Americans, Western Europeans, and citizens from parts of Latin America can visit visa-free for up to 180 days; others can obtain a visa for MX$332. While that’s perfect for those with a location-independent business, if you want to work for a Mexican company you’ll need a $155 work permit that you can apply for after you arrive. Temporary (four-year) and permanent resident visas for those who want to stay more than six months are also available from $40 subject to bank balance requirements, but again, these visas do not allow you to work. You must apply for residence visas before you enter. Mexico has introduced a points system for immigrants, but details have yet to be announced.
Working in Mexico
Once you’ve got a work permit, local recruitment agencies will take you more seriously; in general, multinational companies will act as a sponsor as required. It’s also becoming common for Mexican companies to hire staff as independent contractors or through job agencies because of stronger labor regulations.
Mexican citizenship – the passport is the 17th-most powerful with visa-free travel to 145 countries – requires five years of residency prior to the application date. If you come from a Spanish-speaking country, you can apply for naturalization after two years; on the other hand, Britons, Americans, and Australians can apply for dual citizenship straightaway.
Life in Mexico is far cheaper than in the rest of North America. A one-bedroom apartment in the city center rents for MX$24,207 per month.
With its gorgeous medieval villages, dramatic natural contrasts, yachting appeal, and unlikely status as an adventure sports hotspot, tiny Montenegro is paradise for Instagrammers. Its low taxes and business start-up costs and multicultural population simply enhance that appeal. It’s been called the next French Riviera and is home to 64 millionaires.
Since declaring independence in 2006, Montenegro’s economy has been service-led, with some dependence on the tourism and renewable energy sectors. A candidate country for accession to the European Union, Montenegro enjoys a stable credit rating and an economy with a 4.1% annual growth rate.
Anyone can apply for a one-year residence visa in what appears to be one of the easiest countries to immigrate to on grounds of employment, education, medical treatment, or family reunion. Residence through employment is considerably easy with non-residents setting up a company and appointing themselves as employees. The country also launched a new citizenship by investment program; this is a faster (though significantly more expensive) route, requiring a minimum investment of at least €350,000. Head over to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for more information.
Life in Montenegro is markedly affordable. A single person could live on €451 per month in the 10th-century capital city of Podgorica; for an additional €300, you can find a one-bedroom apartment in the center of town.
Since joining the European Union in 2004, Czechia has greatly diversified its economy. The country is no longer solely focussed on manufacturing; Czechia is moving into the high-tech, services-led knowledge sectors, too. The country’s strong labor market means that Czechia now has the highest rate of job vacancies in the European Union – at 6%, nearly twice that of Belgium and Germany.
At over half a million, foreigners make up just under 5% of the country’s population and 11% of the country’s workforce, according to statistics from the Ministry of Interior. Although expats here tend to earn more than nationals, general attitudes towards foreigners are positive, with over half the population welcoming immigrants who have a business reason to live in the country. The majority of expats are citizens from fellow EU countries who have moved with employment contracts. The nation’s appeal to people from outside Europe lies in its status as the world’s seventh safest country, according to the Global Peace Index.
Working in Czechia
Non-EEA nationals can apply to move to Czechia as self-employed persons, on an EU employment Blue Card, on a family visa, or under a working holiday scheme. People with permanent residency for five years may apply for citizenship and need to pass a Czech language test. Fluency in Czech requires 1,100 class hours for a native English speaker, according to estimates by the U.S. Department of State.
Although Czechia lies at the heart of Europe, setting up a business is harder than in other EU countries; the nation ranks 35th on the latest World Bank index. However, it remains a relatively reasonably priced place to live. A one-bedroom city center apartment costs about CZK29,314.
United Arab Emirates
Little more than a sleepy backwater just 50 years ago, the United Arab Emirates has repositioned itself as an international center for trade and commerce; it has done so by capitalizing on its hydrocarbon reserves and a geostrategic location at the crossroads of Asia, Africa, and Europe. Now home to the tallest building in the world and the planet’s biggest mall, the federation attracts some 20 million tourists each year.
Ranking an impressive 11th on the World Bank’s ease of doing business index (just behind the United Kingdom and the United States, and well above Germany and the Netherlands), the country has also become a magnet for millionaires looking for security, safety, better healthcare and education, and a higher quality of life.
Being an expat in the United Arab Emirates
Expatriates comprise 89% of the population and the country has a vibrant, cosmopolitan culture. Although recent changes have prioritized local talent, finding work in the Emirates from overseas remains relatively easy. Financial and legal experts and network engineers are among the most in-demand roles. The economy has recently returned to growth in the countdown to Expo 2020; Expo 2020 is a world fair expected to create 277,000 new jobs, inject nearly AED146 billion into the economy, and attract 25 million tourists.
The process of acquiring residency makes it one of the easiest countries to immigrate to – though certainly not the cheapest. Unless they’re a national of a Gulf Co-operation Council country, anyone who wants to move to the United Arab Emirates must either be employed or have their own company. The cheapest freelance permit, GoFreelance, and a single associated residence visa, can cost in the range of AED25,800 for three years. Acquiring Emirati citizenship is notoriously difficult, with Emirati fears that a significant influx of expatriates could lead to a loss of national identity.
A one-bedroom city-center apartment in Dubai, the commercial capital, rents for about AED6,200. Monthly expenses are about an additional AED3,400.
Have a hankering to live in one of the world’s richest countries? With an average per capita income of about QAR$490,000, resource-rich Qatar offers expats a high standard of living that is relatively easy to access. As the nation readies to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, a raft of new development projects are underway that promise to further elevate the nation’s quality of life – and possibly push up living costs.
A city center one-bedroom apartment likely to set you back QAR4,615 per month. Consumer prices are not nearly as high as others in the region, however, so there’s some relief.
Working in Qatar
Finding work in Qatar as an English-speaking expat is easier than in several other countries. The growing economy means jobs are available in different sectors, from finance and industry to media and marketing. Setting up a business is another route, but these must be in designated free zones or in conjunction with local sponsors.
Qatar is one of the few countries in the Middle East to offer a path to permanent residency. However, foreign nationals need to be married to Qataris or have lived in the country for 20 years.
Squeaky-clean (they say you can eat off the roads, but we wouldn’t risk the fine) Singapore has long been a popular draw for expats, with its strong economy, political stability, and family-friendly society. With Chinese and English being the main languages of business, it appeals equally to Western and Chinese expats. That being said, soaring prices and increasingly tight visa restrictions have dimmed its charm in recent years.
Nevertheless, the Lion City consistently ranks among the top expat destinations, topping HSBC’s list for the fourth year in a row in 2018. Expats comprise about a quarter of the city-state’s 5.6 million residents, according to the Department of Statistics. Technology, finance, manufacturing, and healthcare are the biggest industries, with one in three highly skilled jobs remaining unfulfilled for at least six months.
Working in Singapore
To make a life in Singapore, you’ll either need to find a job that pays over SGD3,300, qualify for one of the country’s EntrePass entrepreneur visas, or make a business investment of SGD2.5 million under the Global Investor Program. Once you’ve got a job, it’s easy enough to apply for permanent residence, two years after which you become eligible for citizenship. Singapore is the second-easiest place in the world to do business (after New Zealand); several cash grants are available to start-up companies, including those run by foreigners.
Singapore remains an expensive place to live, however, with life on the Red Dot resulting in elevated consumer costs. A city-center apartment can set you back SGD1,745 in rent.
For many, the expat experience is about being able to immerse oneself in another culture entirely. If that sounds like you, and you’ve a hankering to live in Asia, Thailand could be the answer. With its fantastic street food, endless massages, and beach parties, Thailand is an exciting place to call home.
As a developing country, living in Thailand is more affordable than many places. A one-bedroom apartment in the center of the city is likely to set you back THB40,500 each month.
Unlike nearby Bali, where you need a work permit to take up residence, Thailand’s Elite Easy Access visa gives you a renewable, multi-entry five-year residence visa for a one-time fee of THB500,000. Although the process takes about four months, it makes Thailand one of the easiest countries to immigrate to. The first-of-its-kind visa is aimed at high-net-worth individuals; depending on the tier you choose, comes with shopping discounts and golf, spa, and private jet privileges. A shorter-term option is non-immigrant ‘A’ visa; this visa is for people older than 50 who can deposit THB800,000 in a local bank or show a monthly income of at least THB65,000. However, both types of visas do not allow you to work.
Working in Thailand
If you’re looking for gainful employment or you want to start a business in Thailand, you’ll need to apply for a non-immigrant ‘B’ visa at the cost of THB5,000 for a year’s validity. Typically, as with other expat markets, your employer will need to provide a range of financial documents.
If you want a Thai passport, you need to live in the country for five years, show a minimum proof of income, and renounce your nationality. Tourist and non-immigrant work permits do not allow you to apply for citizenship.
Jobs for foreigners range from teaching languages or scuba diving to working in information technology – or entrepreneurial activities. With a population of 69 million people and a long history of homeless Westerners, Thailand today isn’t an easy place to find work. If you’re independently wealthy – or can afford to take a few years off – there are few more exciting places to live.