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Stay Or Go? Our Survey Of Potential Places To Live

At the end of last year I mentioned that we would likely make a change in residence this year. So perhaps a few of you are waiting for an update on that...

We are always in search of that ideal situation. John's career allows us to travel and experience different cultures by living as expatriates. The more we move around, the more I appreciate the ways that a location has such a variety of unique positives and negatives that makes it more or less desirable as a place to live. And those can really change depending on the life stage of the person considering them. Global shifts also make it appealing for us to stay flexible -- one place may be very attractive for a few years and then that can completely change because of world events.

baku azerbaijan

Baku, Azerbaijan - photo by Seferçik from Flickr

All that said, we are at a point where we don't want to be moving to a new country every year. John is in search of the best move for his career and we both look to places that are the most appropriate for raising a young family when we have one. Our time in Norway has been completely frustrating. Have you ever moved somewhere or undertaken a project where it felt like at every step forces were working against you? Where every move you made was met with opposition or strife? That pretty much sums up our time here. With a few (a very few) exceptions, it's been almost as if the universe is saying: "Get out..." (Remember Eddie Murphy's poltergeist voice in Delirious? Yeah, that's become kind of a running joke in our house).

Too bad we can't stay, baby.

So we've been looking around. I thought it might be interesting to share some of the destinations we've seriously considered. I just came across the HSBC Expat Explorer Survey, which I had not seen before but seems to be very popular. Singapore and Thailand are the highest ranked overall. I am a little surprised by Thailand being second, not so surprised by Singapore, though for me it's not so appealing because of the humidity and how far away it is from Europe and North America. If we were to go there we might as well just move to John's hometown of Perth. Cayman Islands or Bermuda? Uh, yes please. Too bad those aren't really an option for us work-wise. South Africa ranks higher than Australia? That's interesting. I've never been to South Africa but I would not have picked that one just based on economic indicators. Norway isn't even listed. I should note that if you tick the box for "Raising Children Abroad" (in addition to the other ones) you get a completely different list, with Hong Kong, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands leading the pack.

But never mind about everyone else's opinion. Here are some of the places we've seriously considered:


A job opportunity in Baku came up at the end of last year. It was a rotational position, which would have meant that we spent eight weeks in the city and then had two weeks off (repeat). Very appealing for travellers. Not so much when the contract would require the selection of only one destination to fly in and out from every time. These packages are really geared towards workers who leave their families in their home country when they go away for the 'on' rotations. We don't have one home city we would choose. And even if we did, going back there every two months is not appealing to us in the slightest. We didn't want to fork out the extra money for onward flights so we had to let this one go.

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I don't know much about Baku. The culture would have been interesting to explore for a year or so and the location is pretty central. I liked the fact that there is a decent sized expat population and that I could potentially learn Russian and practice it there. More on that later.

Expat Explorer Survey says: Not listed

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St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada - photo by natalielucier from Flickr


O Canada - why not? We've always wanted to travel there. I visited Vancouver and Victoria many years ago and enjoyed it. Canadians are friendly and we wouldn't have a language barrier. They have a public healthcare system that is similar to that of Australia and Norway, so we wouldn't have to deal with private insurance waiting periods and premiums, etc. Of course, the job was in St. John's, which isn't exactly Toronto or close to anywhere else in the country. Things would be expensive there as they are in most places that are presented to us. The weather would not be an improvement to Stavanger, in fact, it sounded slightly worse. In fact, the entire island sounded a bit like Stavanger based on things I read in a few expat forums. But Canada remains on our list as a potential place to live should the right opportunity arise.

Expat Explorer Survey says: #21 (#3 if you have kids)


I've lumped the European countries all together because that's about the way we talk when we look at jobs anywhere in the EU. If you aren't qualified to work in the European Union (either as a resident or because you have a UK passport), the visa restrictions can be a huge pain in the arse. An agent dealing with a job in France told us it can take six months for a work permit - just a preview of the French bureaucracy if we actually moved there, I suppose. Netherlands employers never seemed to get back to us, we assume for the same reasons. Ditto for Spain and Italy. These would be amazing places to live for the cultural experience, of course, but salaries are also lower, taxes high and languages would have to be learned. At least we have a head start with our Spanish and Italian.

Expat Explorer Survey says: Only Switzerland, Spain, Germany and Belgium make the top 20. If you have kids, the Netherlands ranks number four for raising children.


Both Qatar and Oman have been on our minds for the last couple of years as potential places to live. The latter is the most appealing for us as a Middle Eastern destination but we have not seen a single job advertised there. Qatar looks good for salaries and taxes, good infrastructure for expats, cultural interest and location. Doha would be a smaller city compared to a place like Dubai. We are still considering both of these.

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Expat Explorer Survey says: #16 (not enough data for those raising children)

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Doha, Qatar skyline - photo by etnobofin from Flickr


I would absolutely love the chance to live in Moscow. Russian history fascinates me, both past and present. I'm also really keen to learn the language. Of course, Moscow is very expensive and I'm not sure how it stacks up when it comes to things like healthcare. But the salaries are high, taxes are low and the cultural experience factor tremendous. Unfortunately we've seen fewer and fewer job opportunities here as the months go by. Those that we do see are in places like Sakhalin, which doesn't really appeal to us. If I'm going to a place like Russia, where the language barrier is going to be huge and the culture and politics completely different than places I've experienced before, I want to be in a major city.

Expat Explorer Survey says: Not listed

United Arab Emirates

Dubai isn't exactly my idea of a fabulous travel destination but I think living there wouldn't be so bad. The heat is, of course, a factor. But it's a transportation hub with great airlines and affordable flights to anywhere in the world. It's a middle point between the United States and Australia. The culture is very westernized, with more foreigners than locals as well, which means a depletion in cultural appeal but an increase in ease of lifestyle, including language and availability of goods and services. Healthcare services are also modern and widely available. Something that comes into play for us is the issue of private health insurance in a location. Not that we necessarily want it, but should our expat status make us ineligible for the government or public healthcare system, then concerns arise regarding things like waiting periods. More on this when I get to the United States.

Expat Explorer Survey says: #20 (#5 if you have children)

United Kingdom

Unless a company is willing to jump through the requisite hoops to sponsor John for a visa, forget it. The UK is currently killing itself with its oppressive immigration regulations. Salaries are also lower here than elsewhere, which doesn't necessarily knock it off our radar. But we are looking to maximise earning potential and the UK isn't a cheap place to live. I have not done too much research on other aspects of living there because the visa issue has never made it seem feasible to us.

Expat Explorer Survey says: #27 (#8 if you have children)

moscow night

Moscow by night - photo by Alpert from Flickr

United States

And finally we have my home country. For as many things that I love and miss about the US that make me want to move back there (conveniences, diversity, travel opportunities, etc), there are probably just as many that give me pause. At the moment, the two looming largest are the situations with the economy and healthcare. Because Obamacare is on the horizon and will tightly regulate private insurance companies from January 2014, those companies have become very aggressive in their policy structures. This means that things like maternity riders and coverage for pre-existing conditions are unheard of for private insurance. Buying into a group plan is costly if the employer doesn't cover it for spouse or family and waiting periods would apply to us. And unlike in many other countries, with the US there is no government health system to fall back on unless you have a very low income. For some people, their access to healthcare dictates everything they do - from staying in a job they are unhappy with to the quality of the care they receive in general. Considering the relatively lower salaries on offer in the United States, this makes it tough to consider.

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Like the UK, the US also suffers from crippling immigration policies.  While some skilled worker visas do exist and can be quite easy to obtain, they may also be restrictive in some aspects. When you look, for example, at what happens if you lose or decide to leave your job in Norway as a foreigner (you get six months to find another one), versus what happens should the same occur in the States (you have to leave the country in 10 days), it's hard to say that putting ourselves in such a situation is appealing. Getting John a Green Card on the basis of our marriage is easier said than done as well. I would need to move back to the US and re-establish my residency first. This would mean getting set up with a home and a job on my own. I would then have to sponsor him to come over. This could take many months. He has applied for the Green Card lottery, just to have another option should he be successful. This would simplify the process and allow us to apply from offshore without my having to become a sponsor with all that entails. We will find out in May if he got it.

Expat Explorer Survey says: #22 (#6 for raising children)

And then there's the option of just staying in Norway. Not a bad one at the moment, though by no means ideal or long-term. John has work here for the foreseeable future in a job he's happy with. Our visas are valid until sometime in 2014. We have healthcare. Of course, my experience with the public healthcare system here has been shocking so far, but, hey, at least if we have some kind of medical emergency we can be assured it won't bankrupt us. Megan Starr and I covered some of the pros and cons of living in Norway in our posts about things expats should know before moving to Norway. We've given up the lease on our house so the biggest inconvenience for us would be having to move. Of course, locking ourselves into another year lease means that we lose that flexibility. It's a tough call. At the moment we are seeing what the next several weeks bring in terms of job opportunities. We'll keep you posted...

Are you considering an international move at the moment? What are some of your thoughts and feelings on the matter?


  1. Alina 20 August, 2013 at 06:30 Reply

    Give Azerbaijan a go next time! I’ve lived here for the last 20 months and am enjoying it a lot. It’s the best place to learn more about the Islamic culture without major lifestyle commitments as Baku is fairly ”western” in many ways (drinking, clubs, restaurants, tollerance with clothing etc). Apart from it – the food is great, the people very friendly and there’s lots to do in your free time.

    Check out this blog to find out more about the country. Let me know what you think about it too – I’ll greatly appreciate any feedback as I’m just starting to blog.

    • inspiringtravellers 22 August, 2013 at 18:11

      Sounds like a great place! Didn’t work out for us, unfortunately but it’s on our radar =)

  2. Ali 5 April, 2013 at 16:38 Reply

    Sounds like an overwhelming list of possibilities. Health insurance is a big factor in the decision making process. Language issues are tough too. I didn’t realize it would be so difficult for John to get a green card in the US since you’re a US citizen, that’s a bit crazy. I hope you guys can sort through all these possibilities (and more I’m sure you haven’t even listed) and figure out a good plan for your next step. It’s a shame Norway doesn’t seem to be working out, but hopefully something better is just around the corner.

    • inspiringtravellers 6 April, 2013 at 11:59

      The green card is just difficult because I’m not a resident in the US at the moment. I would have to basically go there first, set up residency and then bring him over. That would mean maybe a year being apart, which makes no sense. Keep you posted! =)

  3. Natasha von Geldern 4 April, 2013 at 00:26 Reply

    We’ve come to the end of our expat contract here in Australia and have decided to have another spell in the UK rather than stay in Australia. It was a tough decision to make but the cost of living here and the distance from the rest of the world were big factors in that decision. The UK is going to seem so cheap by comparison. We’re lucky that my husband has a European passport! There will hopefully be further international assignment opportunities going forward though. Canada is very attractive. But once our daughter starts school… where to be?? Keep moving around or stay put, so difficult! Good luck with your job hunting and decision making guys xx

    • inspiringtravellers 5 April, 2013 at 16:23

      I think we have definitely hit a point where moving every year or even two is not attractive at all. We were hoping that Norway would be home for at least 3-5 years but it’s not for us so it’s time to go. Thanks for the well-wishes and good luck with your next move! I do know how exxy Oz can be…

  4. Ayelet - All Colores 1 April, 2013 at 11:10 Reply

    This is so interesting, and some of your considerations surprised me – perhaps because I haven’t seriously looked into moving to another country. Your post was a great reminder for me to be grateful for the almost free healthcare we have in Israel. Not sure how it is for expats here, though. It’s too easy to get caught up in what’s not working in this healthcare system, yet it’s important to remember some people are dependent on jobs they might not like or visas they have no control over to get basic care.

    Wishing you and John the best, and that your next location is everything you want it to be. Looking forward to seeing what you decide.

    • inspiringtravellers 1 April, 2013 at 15:01

      Thanks, Ayelet! I would love to know which public healthcare systems do actually work really well all the time. My experience with them so far has not been great…

  5. Kevin Post 1 April, 2013 at 08:04 Reply

    I would personally chose Azerbaijan due to its proximity to other regions and geographical features (Turkey, Iran, Georgia, Middle East, Central Asia, Russia, etc). I’m not sure if you’d have trouble getting in and out of Armenia but if you’re able to go frequently Armenia has some of the best rock climbing I’ve ever seen. There is so much cultural variety and outdoor activities. Not to mention the 2 weeks off; that sounds fantastic!

    However, I don’t see flights out of Baku being reasonable. That’s one of the few upsides for me living in Orlando, Florida: I can catch a flight to anywhere in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Central & South America for a lot less than most locations.

    • inspiringtravellers 1 April, 2013 at 15:00

      We’ve heard this too about the cost of flying in and out of Baku. I think it is probably similar to Stavanger – looks like it would be convenient by looking at the map and all the direct flights on offer, but the fares are super high to most places.

  6. Chris 1 April, 2013 at 04:23 Reply

    You were never really meant to stay in Norway. Reading your blog it’s obvious, and you didn’t fit in for various reasons. I hope you find somewhere you can fit in.

  7. Jess @UsedYorkCity 31 March, 2013 at 18:33 Reply

    Wow! Well at least you have a huge and varied list to choose from! Completely agree with you that, depending on your current life phase, where you choose now versus 5 years ago (or 5 years from now), could be completely different.

    Looking forward to hearing the result! And in the meantime…happy travels!:-)

    • inspiringtravellers 31 March, 2013 at 21:17

      Taiwan is so high on my “must visit in Asia list” – would definitely consider it if we heard of a job!

  8. Randy (Mr. TWS) 30 March, 2013 at 21:09 Reply

    What a useful post. It’s very interesting to see how well you are analyzing this. You provide a lot of short cuts for someone else beginning such consideration. We have talked about this but not done much more, and certainly have not begun analyzing pros and cons of moving, let alone analyzing choices of destinations. Thanks for the informative post.

    • inspiringtravellers 31 March, 2013 at 21:15

      So glad you found it helpful, Randy! We had all these thoughts in our heads and so many conversations that I thought it might be interesting for our readers to get inside our heads. If it actually helps someone else with their own conundrums, even better!

  9. Vit 29 March, 2013 at 23:09 Reply

    Not sure what kind of specialization you are but I would assume you have background in Civil Engineering given all the above places you mentioned job possibility. I am a Civil Engineer (specialised in Offshore Geotechnical Engineering). I am currently working in the UK and as much truly as you said that UK is killing itself on restricting the immigration policies — which limiting the skilled workers chance to work in the Kingdom. I was lucky enough to have company sponsored me (after UKBA omit the 2-years post-study visa policy).

    Anyway, I have spent 3 years in the US for my Bachelor degree and have always want to get back — but, once again, as you mentioned up there, I an my girlfriend want to find a country with good assurance of heathcare and living benefit. UK works fine for us just now. It is true that they don’t pay as high as other country does (I got paid 25% less than the engineer with the same position (the same degree qualification) based in Houston).

    Anyway, for the places you mentioned above, seems no much love for South East Asia? Singapore would work? :)

    • inspiringtravellers 30 March, 2013 at 12:14

      Southeast Asia is a little too far from North America for us – after spending so many years in Australia we wanted to be a little closer to the US. John is a process engineer so you were close =)

  10. Krista 29 March, 2013 at 11:47 Reply

    I’m not considering a move anymore, but I do understand your quandary. I experienced so many of those feelings and thought those questions when I was figuring out where to start a new life. Healthcare becomes more and more important to me as I get older, so that would be a major component in my decision-making. I can speak from the experiences of family and friends that the Netherlands is a fantastic place to have and raise children. Their care of mothers and fathers is incredible. :-) Really excited to see where you end up. :-)

    • inspiringtravellers 30 March, 2013 at 12:10

      I agree, Krista – healthcare is SO important…great to hear such good things about the Netherlands!

  11. Jenna 29 March, 2013 at 06:21 Reply

    I think about this a lot and have written similar posts recently. We have decided not to move anywhere, at least for a while, because we have good, secure jobs that give us 4 months a year off, and we love living in California. The travel opportunities just in this state are almost endless. About health insurance, we have Kaiser and get excellent care from them (and we’ve tested it with a few serious health issues that we’ve needed really good care for). I have always dreamed of living in Europe, but the more I hear about it, the less attractive the reality is to me (i.e. it would be hard for us to make enough money to raise our kids comfortably). I have thought a lot about the Netherlands, though (and recently read about how Vienna is supposed to be the best city for raising kids).
    We didn’t have any problems with my husband getting a visa…If you move back to the U.S., places like Portland might be worth considering. Of all the places you mentioned, Moscow was the most surprising–the stories of discrimination coming out of there really turn me off. Looking forward to seeing what your next move is, and sorry to hear that Norway didn’t work out.

    • inspiringtravellers 30 March, 2013 at 12:09

      Hi Jenna – I think if you’re in a great situation, why make a change? Especially with kids, it’s tough to justify. Europe is struggling right now…

      4 months holidays a year in the United States is brilliant – and almost unheard of!

    • Jenna 30 March, 2013 at 22:12

      Good point, but being so far away from Europe (including expensive flights) makes it hard to get there, and I miss the opportunity to travel to different countries so easily and all the other perks that Europe offers. But I know I would spend most of my time working if we lived there, so…maybe when I retire :-)

  12. Sand in my Suitcase 28 March, 2013 at 16:53 Reply

    We’re always dreaming of places we’d like to live for the dreary winter months (like Thailand, Buenos Aires or San Miguel de Allende in Mexico). But come summer, we’re so grateful we live in Vancouver. (You’d probably like Canada :-).

  13. Mel 28 March, 2013 at 07:34 Reply

    Thanks for sharing an update on your plans and possibilities – wherever you go hopefully our paths will cross sometime soon :)

  14. Poith Boy 28 March, 2013 at 06:56 Reply

    Perth, Western Australia –

    Best weather anywhere in the world.
    Kool new bars popping up everywhere.
    Great beer.
    Great wine.
    Aussie Rules.
    Great for raising families.
    You have heaps of family here.
    You have heaps of mates here.
    No bullshit visas to deal with.
    No atttudes.

    • inspiringtravellers 28 March, 2013 at 11:09

      It’s all true! But we lived in Australia for many years and it would be nice to be closer to some of my relatives for a change – also easier to travel on this side of the world without the long distances. But we’ll still be visiting!

  15. Stephanie 28 March, 2013 at 02:59 Reply

    Looks like you and John have quite a bit to think about; no small chore.
    Best to you
    Love and more love
    A. Steph

    • inspiringtravellers 28 March, 2013 at 11:06

      Haha – well, as much as that is our ultimate destination, I think it’s more of a “later in life when we have a lot of money saved” location for us. Bottom line is that there is no work for John there right now and we aren’t set up to go somewhere that we’ll have no income…

  16. Victoria 27 March, 2013 at 09:01 Reply

    What a great dilemma you have :) I have to intervene on behalf of Singapore. I am an Aussie (Melbourne) who has lived in the US (Salt Lake City), England (London) and now Singapore is my home. I never planned on moving here, it just happened that way with my husband’s work. I loved London and didn’t really want to leave because of the proximity to Europe and the US. But Singapore has been the best move we ever made. Yes, the humidity is stifling, but as a safe and easy place to live (and bring up a family) you cannot fault it. As for accessibility to Asia and some of the best travelling destinations I’ve ever had, it is faultless also. And really, it’s only 12.5 hours to London (I just went back for a couple of weeks) and no jet lag. And then also it is still close to Australia. There is more life here than people give it credit for, lots of places to go out at night and interesting places to discover. I cannot give it enough accolades. Plus I think Asia is the place to be in terms of the global economic climate and general feeling of a positive outlook. Anyway, I’m sure you’ll make the right decision for you, and hopefully there’s something that just tips you over to the perfect destination. Good luck!

    • inspiringtravellers 28 March, 2013 at 10:52

      Thanks, Victoria! I definitely know the merits of Singapore, having spent a lot of time there when my Dad was an expat in the country over a decade ago. I didn’t mean to make it sound like a bad destination, sorry, it’s just not right for John and me at the moment. I’m so glad you shared your insights here for others considering it as a place to move there – I know it is one of the best places in Asia to live. We were just there in March last year and had a great time. Certainly a perfect place to live if you have kids and want a safe, reliable country with great connections to the rest of Asia as you mention…

  17. Ryshia Kennie 27 March, 2013 at 14:59 Reply

    A great dilemma to have. Where in the world… I’m Canadian but St. John’s is as beautifully foreign to me as it is to any foreigner. But as a place to live, coming from the prairies, I’d be apt to choose someplace with year round good weather.

    Looking forward to hearing the outcome.

  18. Laurel 27 March, 2013 at 12:36 Reply

    Wow, you really are considering all your options! Must be exciting, but also frustrating at the same time. Looking forward to seeing what you guys decide to do.

    • inspiringtravellers 28 March, 2013 at 10:53

      Cheers, Laurel! It is nice to have lots of options, definitely not complaining about that =)

  19. nicole @thewondernuts 26 March, 2013 at 19:43 Reply

    What an amazing set of opportunities! It sucks that you feel the universe is telling you to get out of Norway. I know that feeling, it’s awful. =(

    Canada and Azerbaijan seem like some beautiful places. =)

    • inspiringtravellers 28 March, 2013 at 10:39

      Yes, the feeling that the universe is kicking our bottoms to get out of there is uncanny…it has continued in the last week, haha

  20. A Montrealer Abroad (@amontrealer) 26 March, 2013 at 18:00 Reply

    What a cool post. One thing you should consider yourself lucky for, though, is the possibility of choosing where you want to live, as opposed to being mutated without so much as a notice. That is very precious!

    Of course, as a Canadian, I would suggest Canada any day. Not sure about St. Johns though, but Canada, yes. I like to think of Canada as the US, without the downsides and with a funkier accent :-)

    And as a current expat in France, I wouldn’t recommend it, especially if you don’t speak the language. Unless your company can sort out a visa for you, it takes months and months, and countless meetings at the Immigration Office for your residency card, then your work permit, then your driving licence, then your hospital card, etc. They can’t do anything online, or in a simpler way, around here.

    • inspiringtravellers 30 March, 2013 at 12:45

      Yeah, as much as I love France, I only speak enough of the language for basic conversation – would not be enough to deal with more complicated stuff — though I would love the chance to improve my language.

      Even though we seem to have a lot of choice, it really comes down to the jobs that are on offer. I always feel like in life there is really one choice being presented at any one time if you really do a careful analysis of it. We shall see…

  21. Jay 26 March, 2013 at 16:58 Reply

    We’ve talked a lot about this in person but I’ll leave my two cents here too 😉

    Selfishly, I’d like you to stay 😉

    It’s so hard to gage a country as a “home” when you’ve never lived there. Usually, it’s the things we never even thought of that frustrate us the most once we have to make it all work. I’ve heard expats complain about every single place you’ve listed above and for a variety of reasons. Living in a country is so personal and what works for one person maybe a nightmare for another. I think you’ll have to choose a handful of ‘Musts’ and narrow it down from there. A culturally interesting (from your point of view ) country may be unstable & lacking good healthcare. The cost of travel may be simply too high (like we’ve learned here) despite being in a seemingly good location. The ability to secure a second work permit may play a factor (some countries don’t give the spouse a working permit meaning you wouldn’t be able to secure anything if that was important to you.) Each place will have its positives & negatives and you’ll just have to decide which positives appeal most to you and what are the deal breakers.

    In any case, I hope you get some clarification soon – living in limbo sucks!

    • inspiringtravellers 28 March, 2013 at 10:33

      Such a shame that we only just started hanging out! Some things are happening and I will fill you in when we get back 😉

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