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GCC down but not out for expatriates
October 1, 2016, 5:01 pm
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A recent study that ranked 67 countries on the basis of how expatriates living there felt about their overall quality of life, found Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states trailing behind others in most indices.

The 2016 ‘Expat Insider’ survey by Internations, which claims to be the largest global expat network with over 2.3 million members from communities in 390 cities, shows that Taiwan eased out two-time champion Ecuador to come out on top of overall rankings.

Malta moved up one spot to oust Mexico from last year's second position, pushing the South American nation down to fourth rank. Meanwhile, Ecuador, which lost its 2015 top billing, managed to hold on to a respectable third place.

The three countries at the bottom of the 2016 rankings were the same three from last year – Nigeria, Greece and Kuwait. Nigeria, which came in third to last in 2015, retained that position this year too. It holds last place for the Quality of Life and the Cost of Living Indices, but does slightly better in Ease of Settling-In Index, going from 42 in 2015 to 39 this year.

Greece also came in second to last in 2015, though it too did better in the Ease of Settling-In Index, going from 41 in 2015 to 27 this year, but became the last place for Working Abroad and Personal Finance indices.

Kuwait has consistently remained at the bottom of the rankings for three years running. It even managed to go down in each index this year, most notably in the Working Abroad and Personal Finance Indices. Among the other GCC states, Bahrain ranked highest at 19, followed closely by Oman at 22. The UAE came in at 40, while Qatar was ranked 60 and Saudi Arabia at 63.

Glancing at the survey, one would get the impression that hordes of expatriates are making a beeline to exit the GCC states; for why would anyone choose to live in places that are consistently ranked at the bottom in terms of living standards? However, quite contrary to the initial notion given by the survey, each year tens of thousands of expatriates strive to reach the Gulf in search of employment there.

So, what makes the GCC such an attractive destination for expatriates despite the obvious shortfalls in most standard of living indices? The obvious answer is the tax-free money they earn, the relatively low cost of living in the region and the apparent security that life in the GCC provides to its citizens and expatriates alike.

However, the trump card for the region is the enormous oil wealth on which most GCC states sit; and this wealth, no matter what climate change experts and renewable energy aficionados would like, is likely to remain the main driver of global economy for the immediate foreseeable future. 

Yes, it is true that since mid-2014, the low oil price scenario has slashed GCC government revenues, forcing authorities to introduce economic reforms and reduce state largesse. The tightening of government purse-strings, which is the main driver for market activity in the region, has led to the current economic sluggishness witnessed in all six nations. But, despite this lethargic economy, the GCC countries continue to draw in tens of thousands of job-seekers from around the world each year, and the region still remains a magnet for entrepreneurial expatriates seeking potential opportunities.

Workers from South Asia, Middle-East and Africa flock to the region attracted by employment opportunities and the lucrative exchange rates that GCC monies fetch against their own national currencies. The middle-class and professionals are drawn here by the tax-free salaries and the relatively low cost of living compared to Europe, the United States or other developed countries. The wealthy come to the UAE or Bahrain to probably park their money and also, because the wealthy could go live just about anywhere.

However, things are slowly but inexorably changing; new economic reforms, rise in cost of living, lower job opportunities and the potential Damocles Sword of taxes on salaries or remittances, are all weighing heavily on the minds of expatriates. It is probably this despondency that is being repeatedly reflected in surveys of the kind conducted by Internations.

For the record, it is also worth clarifying that the Internations survey was only a small selective sampling and hardly represents the overwhelming view of millions of expatriates living around the world. The survey represents the views expressed by14,272 participants of 171 nationalities from 191 countries around the world. Countries that polled less than 50 respondents were not included and hence the low number of 67 nations ranked in the survey.

The methodology employed in the survey asked participants to rate, on a scale of one to seven, 43 different aspects of life abroad that were then grouped under five topical indices: Quality of Life, Ease of Settling In, Working Abroad, Family Life and Personal Finance.

Despite this limited range of participants and countries surveyed, the study is a broad indicator of how many expatriates feel on a number of issues closely related to their lives and how they perceive their future life abroad.


 

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Bhaskar  Posted on : October 03, 2016 4:27 pm
Though it says that there were 171 nationalities from 191 countries, there are questions on the sample. In Kuwait (the bottom ranked), we do not know how many nationalities participated in the survey and what the weights were. Normally, 'expats' are taken to be Western Expats, those who are used to (at least on paper) superior and pampered lifestyles (Europeans, Americans etc). A South Asian is typically known as a 'migrant' even if he is an expatriate, and in many cases far more educated than a western expat (accountants, software, bankers, managers) and earning more. Surveys tend to avoid such expats whose response will differ from that of a western expat.
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