Just how useful are those annual "livability" surveys?
Perhaps they work best when you have just decided on a city to move to, and read that something as prestigious as the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has placed it high, or even top of its latest index, published this month – August.
So if you're just off to Melbourne, you are sure to be pleased with the announcement that it has topped the rankings as the world’s most pleasant city to live in for the fourth consecutive year.
Vienna came second – it's the top city in Europe. Vancouver and Toronto came next. Australia and Canada account for seven of the top 10 world cities. (another two are Helsinki and Auckland.)
Few people who know those cities could make much of an argument against their strong placing. However when you look lower down the list some choices are making people question if the entire exercise is a bit too pseudo-scientific.
London is a good example. Many of those who know it will agree it can be a thrilling place to live in, with unlimited possibilities for leisure, entertainment and dining out. Yet the survey named it as the third-least desirable place to live in Europe. Perversely it awarded Detroit — which filed for bankruptcy in 2013 and has 16.4 per cent unemployment — a higher rating.
Even somewhere as warmhearted and cultivated as Dublin finished well down, only 20th in Europe, well below Zurich, Lyon, Hamburg, and Madrid. But Rome, Budapest, Manchester, Reykjavik, Lisbon and Athens were deemed even less attractive places.
The survey also included a listing of cities whose liveability has declined most in the past five years. Damascus, unsurprisingly, shows the biggest decline. Other fast fallers include St Petersburg, Moscow and Athens.
Without poring exhaustively over its analysis, it would be wrong to dismiss the EIU’s findings outright. The report assesses “liveability” according to 30 separate factors, spread across the five areas of stability and the quality of healthcare, culture, the environment, education and infrastructure. And according to the EIU, those top cities “tend to be mid-sized cities in wealthier countries with a relatively low population density.”
Look online and you can find plenty of howls of outrage on behalf of a favourite city wronged. However to counter the protests, this insight comes from somebody who had bothered to do some close reading. "Chatterbox" noted on the Economist website that the 25 top performers cluster around a median density of 2,400 people per square kilometre. The 25 worst performers cluster around a median density of 7,900 people per square kilometre.
“Of course there are many ways to pack people in, some more liveable than others, but an empirical conclusion around density is clear. There is a ‘sweet spot’ that supports rapid transit, diverse amenities, walkability, and eyes on the street, but also maintains adequate dwelling space, ground-oriented living, parks, and sunlight.”
Britain’s young educated expats
Is there a new breed of British go-getter, young, eager and educated, prepared to leave Britain for good? Since 2006 the number of British retirees seeking the expat life in the traditional destinations in Spain and France has fallen sharply. According to HSBC Expat, their place is being taken by a new category of younger, hard working, often university-educated emigrant setting off primarily for the Far East and North America. And a good number are not planning to come back home any time soon, if ever.
Office for National Statistics figures suggest that emigration is down by 19% overall since the start of the Recession in 2008. However it is up by 8% among those in the 15-to-24 age range.
The call of the Far East is strongest. Here speaking English is no deterrent and a British university degree counts for a lot.
Other factors are working in the favour of young educated expats. They're not so tied down because on average they buy a house and start a family later in life than the previous generations. This makes the living costs noticeably low in, for instance, the desirable Australian cities than in some UK cities.
Lower living costs give young people the chance to travel more for leisure while abroad and indulge in more leisure outdoor pursuits and recreation.
Expats’ mountain ambition
Could that dream property abroad be somewhere on a mountainside? It certainly is for some, according to the latest findings from foreign exchange company HiFX.
The firm analysed nine years of property data to track British buyers' preferences among destinations abroad. It noted an increase in the number of people enquiring about a ski property. Over time, the search area was extending wider, beyond the traditional French Alpine locations such as Morzine and Chamonix to Canada, the USA and New Zealand.
However potential applicants, which account for 18% of all the enquiries made last year, may have to be patient. Traditionally people who own a nice home near the ski slopes have been in no hurry to sell.
The growing interest among skiers looking for somewhere convenient to follow their passion is part of a wider trend HiFX has noted among British people investigating a move abroad. Enquiries are up this year, after a sharp decline in interest during the Recession.
Spain and France still attract most interest, making up about 75% of the enquiries the firm received in 2013. But new areas of interest are emerging, notably Switzerland, the subject of 6% of enquiries, compared to just 1% in 2005. Also, 9% of those enquiring were looking for a place in the USA and Canada.
It's no surprise that there was a fall in interest in properties in "emerging market" countries, such as Brazil, and Egypt. Less predictable was the fall in enthusiasm for a move to Italy, the subject of 11% of enquiries in 2005 and just 2% in 2013.
Regulation reversed in Turkey
Retired expats in Turkey have been spared having to take out compulsory health insurance once they pass the age of 65. Just three months after bringing in the tough new regulation, the Turkish government unexpectedly reversed it, but only for older expat residents.
It seems the softening of heart by the country's General Directorate for Migration Management, which is in charge of expat residents, came after it had heard the case put by the British Consul in Istanbul.
The new policy included some tough provisions. Foreigners who wanted to take up residency in Turkey had to either buy private health cover, or join Turkey's state insurance programme SGK – working out at around £75 a month for someone of 60 or over. Press reports suggested older people were finding it difficult to obtain insurance, and were being quoted high premiums.
Timothy Fisher, British Consul in Istanbul, is the man credited with changing the government's mind. In one report he described the relaxation of the requirement as “a welcome development for people wishing to renew or take out residency in Turkey.”
Older expats now have the choice of purchasing health insurance within Turkey or carrying on funding their own healthcare.
However not everybody is satisfied. Some complained that they had only just bought their health cover when it was abolished. Others said it discriminated against younger expats who wanted to live in Turkey. They still had to meet the new health cover provisions.
Is Australia any good for the Irish?
There is plenty of information on moving abroad, and the rules and regulations for living there, with ample advice on how to make the best of the experience. But there's been comparatively little in-depth research of the expatriate's life. One Irish academic has tried to fill that gap.
Madeleine Lyes of the Clinton Institute, University College Dublin, visited Australia last winter to explore the lure of that country to Irish citizens, as “a new version of the American dream, played out in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth”.
Since the Recession, particularly severe in Ireland, began in 2008, almost 80,000 people have moved from the Republic to Australia.
Lyes tried to find out how this new wave of emigrants were getting on and to identify emerging needs and vulnerabilities in the Irish community. She found that most of the Irish workers setting up in Australia were thriving. This was especially true for those on four-year employer-sponsored “457 visas”, which offer a smooth path to permanent residency for employees with skills in demand. Overall, Irish workers are the best-paid European migrants in Australia.
Young graduates increasingly see a stint in Australia as a stepping stone on a career path that will eventually lead them back to Ireland, Lyes found.
The east of the country, especially the cities of Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Brisbane, is the destination of choice for white-collar professionals “seeking cosmopolitan lifestyles” as well as backpackers looking for short-term work in the service industry. Irish communities in these regions are long-established and flourishing, with good support systems for new arrivals who need help.
Launching a Startups in Canada
The Canadian government has pledged to speed up a programme, announced in 2013, to attract foreign start-ups to the country.
Chris Alexander, minister of citizenship and immigration, has been touring Canada this August with a pledge to reduce the time it takes to issue and process the "economic immigrant" visas to 6 months, from January 2015.
"We have sent a message loudly and clearly around the world that Canada is open for business, Canada is accepting talented immigrants and that we are one of the best places in the world to do a startup," Alexander said.
It currently takes about a year to process an economic immigrant application.
Highly qualified professionals in Singapore
Could Singapore, which is emerging as one of the most attractive postings for the ambitious, highly qualified professional expat, be about to slow the influx?
A new ruling, which came into effect this month (August), could affect the number of jobs available to expats, particularly in the financial sector, where a large number of overseas professionals are employed. Under the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF), Singapore companies have to advertise their vacancies on a government job site for two weeks before they are opened up to expats. Singaporeans will have “better visibility” of job openings, said a government spokesman. After that grace period for home-grown applicants, firms can hire the most qualified candidate regardless of nationality.
Some employment companies believe the regulation could reduce the number of jobs available to expats, particularly in the financial sector where big numbers of overseas professionals tend to be hired.
Jobs exempt from the new rules include vacancies in firms with 25 or fewer employees, jobs paying a monthly salary of S$12,000 and above, and short-term posts.
Should English football players play abroad?
One small and apparently reluctant category in the list of jobs and professions of working people leaving the UK for the expat life is that of professional footballer.
The England team stood out in the recent World Cup In Brazil for the number of players in its starting line-up who plied their trade overseas. None. Contrast that with most of the successful European national sides, stuffed with players turning out for big sides in foreign leagues.
Some say the England players' home-loving tendency contributed to the side's early exit from the competition. They may be stars at home, but by not playing abroad they missed the opportunity to develop their skills.
Now England manager Roy Hodgson, who has a good record of coaching teams abroad, has taken up the call. He says he wants English players to consider a playing spell abroad. His comments came after England Under-21 midfielder Josh McEachran became one of the few domestic players playing for his country to make such a move. He's going on a season’s loan from Chelsea to Vitesse Arnhem.
Playing football overseas will give players a better opportunity than in the English Premier League, Hodgson believes, where they can play in the shadow of so many foreign stars. The England manager believes it could help their personal development, and their ability to take responsibility.
Hodgson noted that when he managed in Sweden, a lot of English players used to go out there and play in the summer. But, he said, that doesn't seem to happen anymore.
Should UK government make better use of those living abroad?
The World Bank puts the British diaspora at nearly 5 million people. This is the biggest total among rich nations, and the eighth biggest overall. Now commentators are asking if more could be done by the UK government to make use of those living and working abroad. They could be used to boost investment into Britain, and cement stronger trading links.
Other countries certainly take advantage of their expats. Of 193 UN member states, 110 are said to run programmes to build links with their citizens abroad. Britain is not among them.
One of the strongest players in this field is India, with a dedicated ministry for its emigrants.
More rights for women in UAE
Women moving to the United Arab Emirates are being warned that, in cases of domestic conflict, local officials may respond unsympathetically and with a tendency to support the husband. The same pro-male attitude prevails when the dispute comes to court.
International campaign group Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a report published this August, said the authorities were failing to respond adequately to some reports of domestic violence.
HRW researched three cases in which women who were UK nationals married to Western expatriates said that police discouraged them from reporting domestic violence and failed to properly investigate their complaints. Two women subsequently lost cases over which parent the child should live with in hearings in which, HRW claims, the failure to properly investigate their allegations appears to have violated their right to a fair hearing.
Police allegedly told one of the women that, “In the UAE husbands are allowed to beat their wives.” In the only case in which the husband was prosecuted and convicted, his wife was also prosecuted and convicted for damaging his door as he assaulted her. The court fined them both the same amount.
HRW called on the UAE to revise its laws to recognize domestic violence as a crime.
Written by Gareth Huw Davies
In a busy journalistic career Gareth Huw Davies has contributed to UK and overseas publications on a wide range of subjects, from property to travel, and business to the environment, most recently for the Sunday Times and Mail on Sunday. He has also written five e-books, on subjects as diverse as Garfield Sobers, David Attenborough and the River Fleet.