If there’s one thing humans have been doing since time immemorial, it’s moving. Population shifts have always been a thing, whether people are seeking a change in their circumstances and way of life, or on the more unfortunate side of things, fleeing threats faced at home. Whatever the reason, migration is still very much a thing today. The advent of modern transportation and new migration policies around the world has made it easier than ever to settle elsewhere.

In this article, we’re going to be looking at the nine countries with the smallest foreign-born populations. As a small disclaimer, it is never easy to find completely accurate data for every country on the planet and indeed, some countries are so remote and/or unstable as to make including them here irrelevant. With that in mind, we’re going to be using statistics gathered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

9. Czech Republic

8.5% of the total population

There’s no denying that if you’re a fan of beer, the Czech Republic is the place to be. Which makes it a surprise addition to this list, because everyone loves beer, right? Joking aside, the Czech Republic’s inclusion here is strange to us because what it has to offer both tourists and expats alike is really quite exciting. The city of Prague for example, is nothing short of an architectural masterpiece, with its many Gothic, Baroque, and Renaissance-style buildings. It’s something of a party paradise too, and plays host to roughly 7 million tourists annually.

The Czech Republic is more than its iconic capital though, with Český Krumlov also being a must-see destination. It's a spectacular medieval stronghold described by National Geographic as one of the “world’s greatest places”. Admittedly, Český Krumlov probably highlights one of the reasons behind the Czech Republic’s low expat population – the country’s biggest appeal is its status as a tourist destination.

8. Finland

7% of the total population

Finland is always going to be a tricky country to pin down, what with its sublime natural beauty, fascinating culture, and oddly brilliant dining scene. Don’t forget Lapland too, home of the indigenous Sami people, Santa’s reindeers, and one of the best places on the planet to view the iconic Northern Lights (aurora borealis).

So why aren’t more expats moving here? It’s a haven for lovers of the great outdoors, with 40 forests just waiting to be trekked. There’s also the world’s longest archipelago with breathtaking coastlines to walk along, not to mention plenty of beautiful lakes to explore. As for foodies, the capital Helsinki is home to a treasure trove of Michelin-starred restaurants.

Our best guess would be that Finland is not a place to live if cold winters aren’t your thing. Temperatures in the northern parts of the country drop to a bone-chilling -50°C (-58°F) and even in the capital, winters see the mercury fall to -30°C (-22°F). It’s expensive too, costing a good chunk more to live in than both the US and the UK. Even with the high salaries, you’ll be shelling out a ton of cash just on rent and basic necessities. But either way, Finland is still a magical place to visit, if not live!

Man looking over a frozen lake with the Northern Lights illuminating the sky

With sights like the Northern Lights, it's a wonder Finland is on this list at all

7. Hungary

5.8% of the total population

With a city as steeped in history as Budapest, Hungary’s place in this list could surprise some. There’s a feeling of stepping back in time each day you spend there, and the cost of living in the capital is indeed much cheaper than in many other capitals across Europe. In fact, much of Hungary’s towns and cities carry the same vibe, with eye-catching medieval design dominating the architectural landscapes. There’s plenty to see in the countryside too, with ancient forests and lakes making for some excellent sightseeing opportunities in nature.

For us though, the reason Hungary gains a place on this list is because of its current penchant for authoritarianism. And as of writing, to be a member of the LGBT+ community in Hungary is to be a citizen without many of the same rights afforded to the country’s heterosexual population. Marriage for example, is still banned between same-sex couples and as of July 2021, a law banning “homosexual and transsexual propaganda” was put into effect. In short, despite Hungary’s obvious beauty in its urban and rural attractions, the country still lags far behind many other parts of the world in basic rights for all its citizens.

6. Lithuania

5% of the total population

If language interests you, then surely Lithuania has to be right up there on your list of places to see. The language, Lithuanian, is amongst the oldest known in the world and linguists are particularly interested in its status as the oldest-surviving Indo-European language. Already then, it’s clear Lithuania is a place steeped in history and mystery. But what is it like to live there today?

The cost of living is low, lower than in many other European countries and certainly lower than in the US. However, that unfortunately means that the average salary is far below what many expats would be used to earning elsewhere. This means people moving to Lithuania must either secure substantial funds beforehand, or accept that they’ll have little savings for when (or if) they decide to return home.

View of the Castle Trakai in Lithuania. The castle rests on a tiny island surrounded by other tiny islands.

Castle Trakai in Lithuania is truly spectacular, but is there a metaphor to be found in its isolation?

5. Chile

4% of the total population

Despite its dramatic mountains, low levels of corruption (compared to the rest of South America), and affordable day-to-day living, Chile’s foreign-born residents make up a paltry 4% of the population. It’s quite difficult to say exactly why, but one of the reasons must be the prohibitive cost of education. Sending a child to one of Chile’s few international schools will take up a significant chunk of any expat’s budget (assuming an average salary).

Another reason is the often frustrating pace of life. Of course, it can be a benefit not having to deal with constant bustle, but when it comes to getting essential stuff done, Chile has a culture of ‘mañana’, which loosely translates from Spanish to mean ‘it’ll happen when it happens’. The language is a barrier too, even for speakers of the country’s native Spanish. This is because Chileans tend to mix a lot of ‘Chilenismos’ (Chilean slang) into everyday conversations, and often speak at a far quicker pace than ordinary Spanish speakers.

No caption needed for the backdrop of Santiago, Chile's capital city. Just wow.

4. Slovak Republic (Slovakia)

3.6% of the total population

Located within touching distance of some of Europe’s most enigmatic cities (Prague, Vienna, and Budapest), Slovakia is an excellent launching point for exploration. It’s part of the Schengen area too, meaning movement from and into Slovakia is unheeded by the usual restrictions on migration and borders. It’s also a country with a great education structure for expats and has a very affordable cost of living. You probably can’t help but wonder then, just why Slovakia’s foreign-born population is so low?

Well, despite everything this country has going for it, Slovakia is well known for its unfairness towards the wallets of expats choosing to call it home. For example, many services that are usually free abroad can cost expats in Slovakia an arm and a leg. Corruption is an unfortunate element also, with an attitude of ‘we’ll promise to end corruption… eventually’ pervasive at many levels of government. Roads, traffic, and general travel around the country is a chore too, with no main highway between the two biggest cities (Bratislava and Košice).

Perhaps the most noticeable negatives of the country are the pessimistic attitude of most Slovakians, and the enormous disparity in quality of life between Western and Eastern Slovakia. This disparity is high enough that even native Slovakians travelling to the east are shocked! So if you must settle in Slovakia, our advice would be to stick to Bratislava and its immediate surroundings.

3. Turkey

2.8% of the total population

If MoveHub existed in ancient times, an article on Turkey’s foreign-born population might read something like this:

Anatolia is right up there with some of the most welcoming places around, with scores of Ionian and Aeolian Greeks choosing to call this mythical land home. There’s plenty to love about Anatolia, especially if you’re a keen fan of theatre (don’t miss the latest play from rising star Sophocles)…’

It’s quite a different story today however, with just 2.8% of the total population being born abroad. This low percentage of expats is down to the fact that movement to the country has become far more difficult than it was just a few decades ago. Before, you’d be able to hop over to one of the nearby Greek islands from Turkey, then return and easily reapply for a Turkish tourist visa with no threat of being kicked out.

This has changed and been replaced with a pernicious dedication to red tape, which makes working in the country very difficult. As a result, what expat populations do exist in Turkey are usually retirees.

Culturally, Turkey under its president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has become far more conservative, with a fairly open hostility towards elements of ‘western’ culture (there have been incidents of Turkish citizens being attacked for listening to western rock music, for example). There’s no escaping the reality that a move to Turkey will be a culture shock for many. Hopefully this fascinating country can return to more welcoming times!

View from the upper seats of Ancient Greek Theatre, Aspendos, in Turkey

A bustling, multi-ethnic place in Ancient times, Turkey nowadays is unfortunately less welcoming

2. Poland

2% of the total population

During the past few decades, Poland had a reputation for high migration rates, with Polish citizens moving abroad for work across the entirety of Europe. Whilst this is arguably still the case, these rates have declined in recent years and net migration out of Poland is now negative. The reasons behind this shift are complicated, but one is a growing sense of Polish nationalism that has begun to creep into the public consciousness, causing more people to stay in the country. Issues such as Brexit have caused émigrés to return to Poland from the UK too, looking to take advantage of their home country’s growing economy.

As for people moving to Poland, the excessive bureaucracy imposed by the Polish government is a key reason behind the low number of expats. The hoops an expat would have to jump through just to sort out essential things like accommodation and work permits make the process of settling in Poland a bit of a nightmare. LGBT+ rights in Poland have taken a hit recently too, adding to an unwelcome atmosphere at odds with the country’s more welcoming past.

1. Mexico

0.9% of the total population

We arrive now at the bottom of the list with Mexico. This country’s iconic food, vibrant culture blending old and new, and year-round sunshine make the idea of living here appealing one. However, there are hurdles to settling in Mexico that contribute to its low expat population. Sadly, crime is one of the leading issues, with violent crime and homicides at historically high rates.

Infrastructure across the country can be challenging to deal with too. It’s not unheard of for water to run dry for days at a time, leaving people scrambling to buy bottled alternatives. Gas shortages are common also, as there are no city-wide gas lines in Mexico. Traffic in the main cities can be painfully sluggish and unpredictable, with morning commuters often left stranded for good chunks of time. This also extends to deliveries – expats living in Mexico have gotten used to almost nothing ever arriving on time.

One of the few positives to living in Mexico is its healthcare, which is surprisingly good and not excessively expensive. If you’d like to find more information on healthcare in Mexico, we’ve written a comprehensive guide covering everything you’d need to know.