Surprise Winner in the Quality of Life Index

Surprise Winner in the Quality of Life Index

There’s a new champion. A surprise winner of our annual Quality of Life Index.

Eleven months of the year, we consider where you can live well for less, pay less tax, enjoy better weather and leverage the growth of emerging markets. Where you can best escape, retire, start over, and take off on a grand adventure…

But each January, we take a different perspective. We scour official sources and statistics, considering every number we can get our hands on, tapping into outfits like the World Health Organization, government departments, UNESCO and many more to rate and rank almost every country on Earth and ask: How do they stack up against one another?

This year we cleaned house on our data sources, adding brand new ones for our culture and health categories and we revamped our environment category to make the most of new         in-depth research from Yale.

This Index is unique. It’s the only one of its kind…and this year’s winner?

The good ol’ U.S. of A.

We know…not exactly what you’d expect.

But the numbers tell their story. On a macro level, it’s this: The U.S. has more paved roads than anywhere else, more airports and a lot of cell phones. It’s got good Internet access, the world’s biggest economy (though not necessarily the best), and it’s got tens of thousands of doctors and hospitals (if you can afford them). The numbers say: The United States has a convenience that’s hard to match.

Of course, thousands of satisfied expats are living proof that, in return for sacrificing a little of that convenience, a truly healthy, happy and more affordable life overseas is possible.

If a cheap cost of living and a good climate are what matter most to you, then bear in mind that’s only 30% of the weight we give a country. This Index is big-picture stuff. It paints a “broad strokes” picture of the quality of life…and there are seven other categories considered here in addition to climate and cost of living: Culture, economy, environment, freedom, health, infrastructure and safety. Each have a significant effect on the final outcome.

So a word of caution: Numbers and stats about a nation’s development can’t reflect what’s going on in specific communities on the ground.

If your budget is $2,000 a month and you want a great lifestyle, a perfect climate, friendly neighbors and good health care, but can live without those convenient extras like late-night pizza delivery, and Wi-Fi in every café, then head to Cuenca, Ecuador, or Merida, Mexico—they’re better options than the Index winner, the U.S.

If, like us, you eschew convenience for opportunity then study our Quality of Life Index with your priorities in mind and you’ll find out a lot of what you need to know.

Our 2011 Quality of Life Index can’t tell you where to find a midnight steakhouse, a 24-hour convenience store or a mall with everything under one roof. What it can tell you is that with a warm, dry Mediterranean climate, low crime rates, good medical facilities and English-speaking population, Malta is a good place to start looking for a life overseas.

Or that New Zealand is a First-World retirement haven. It tells you that you can find an amazing climate in Mexico, and that it’s one of the culturally richest countries in the world. It shows you that Uruguay, 22nd overall this year, earns solid marks in infrastructure and health (which is partly why more and more potential expats consider it an attractive option.)


Here are some highlights from this year’s Quality of Life Index winners, in the words of Americans who are living there:

•        Choosing to live in this year’s runner up country was one of the easiest decisions of Chris Tell’s life: “It’s English speaking…an un-crowded and beautiful environment where I can enjoy the fruits of my labors without sacrificing a healthy lifestyle…”

•        Health care is so good in our health category winner that it’s “almost a pleasure to get sick” according to Adrian Leeds. “You can call for an at-home visit by a doctor who arrives within 30 minutes, all for the cost of a normal office visit. Or, be rushed to the nearest hospital and no one asks to see your proof of medical insurance prior to treatment! And drugs are so inexpensive; it’s a joke by comparison…”

•        It does well every year but never wins. For Robert Presiko though, quality of life in our 10th-place country will always top his list. “Health care is much cheaper here. My wife required major surgery soon after our arrival, and the cost was half of what it would have been in the U.S. We find that most food is cheaper, too. When we last visited the U.S. we experienced sticker shock in the supermarkets…”

•        Michelle Nott and her husband felt like lottery winners after moving to our 6th-place country, and in a very real sense they were as the cost of living was so low…

•        Two countries tie at first place in our climate category. They’re both English-speaking but only one has a flat 15% tax rate, great health care and ocean views…

•       One Latin American country where many IL readers live comes fourth in climate and 10th in culture…if you already live there, you’ll know why…

Get the full and unabridged Quality of Life Index issue when you subscribe to International Living magazine here.

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