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Living abroad

How to choose the best country for immigration

The migration policy of many countries does not allow foreigners to obtain permanent residence without a temporary one. The exception is a few states that offer to get permanent residency by investment and skip the stage of temporary residence.

The article discusses opportunities for immigration in different countries, and where it is cheaper to live and easier to settle.

Best countries to immigrate to: where is the easiest place to move to permanent residence

Criteria for choosing a country for immigration

The cost of living can be estimated with the help of the data provided by locals, for example, in the Numbeo database. Numbeo's annual Cost of Living Index is based on the cost of renting and buying real estate, utilities, groceries, and education.

In 2022, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are the countries with the highest cost of living in Europe. Renting a three-bedroom apartment in Switzerland costs on average €3,000 per month, and the price per square metre varies from €8,000 to €11,000. Buying and renting a home in Romania is five times cheaper.

Bermuda is the most expensive place to live in the Americas. A two-bedroom apartment rent costs on average €5,500 per month. To buy such an apartment, one will pay €20,000 per square metre. The cost of living in Canada or the US is half that of Bermuda.

Singapore, Israel, and Hong Kong are the most expensive countries in the Middle East and Asia. In Singapore, a three-bedroom apartment in the city centre costs on average €4,000 per month to rent. To move to Singapore, one can get residency by investment in business. The minimum amount of investment is SGD 2,500,000 (≈ $1,700,000).

The quality of life. The World Happiness Report can show how satisfied people are with the quality of their lives. The study considers GDP per capita, life expectancy, social support, freedom to make life choices, generosity and perceptions of corruption. The report is compiled annually by the United Nations.

All Scandinavian countries made it into the TOP 10, with Finland in the top spot for the fifth year in a row. The most popular countries for relocation are Germany, Canada and Portugal as they are ranked 14th, 15th and 56th, respectively.

Where people are satisfied with their lives in 2022

10New Zealand
9Israel
8Norway
7Sweden
6Luxembourg
5The Netherlands
4Switzerland
3Iceland
2Denmark
1Finland

There are not so many ways to move to these countries. For example, to move to Sweden, you can get a self-employment visa and then a residence permit. To become eligible, applicants have to show the presence of at least SEK 200,000 (≈ €20,000) in their bank account. To move to Norway, one may be a self-employed person with an established business abroad and an annual income of more than NOK 407,900 (≈ €40,000). 

The level of safety can be assessed with the help of the Global Peace Index. The calculations are based on 23 metrics in three areas: militarisation, ongoing domestic and international conflicts, societal safety and security.

Iceland has been recognized as the most peaceful and safest country for the 14th year in a row. The researchers note that Iceland has a low crime rate, a reliable social security system and fair wages, due to which tensions between economic classes are reduced to zero.

The top 10 safest countries in 2022

10Canada
9Czech Republic
8Ireland
7Switzerland
6Austria
5Slovenia
4Portugal
3Denmark
2New Zealand
1Iceland

New Zealand offers residency by investment of at least NZ 3,000,000 (≈ €1,800,000). Investors can choose to invest in New Zealand’s companies and charitable foundations, property, fund shares or stocks.

In the Czech Republic, one can get a residence permit for doing business or as a financially independent person. Income requirements are calculated as a sum of the living wage and housing costs. 

Canada allows opening a company with a start-up capital of CAD 200,000 (≈ €145,000) and own capital of CAD 900,000 (≈ €650,000) if a foreigner wants to get a residence permit.

Adaptation speed. Immigration results in changing the usual way of life, language and cultural environment. Adaptation speed depends on the foreigner who has changed his country of residence and on the attitude of locals. It is easier to cope with everyday and bureaucratic issues in a friendly environment.

The international community InterNations has compiled a ranking of countries that have become the best for immigrants and expats.

The top 10 most welcoming countries

10Canada
9Vietnam
8Colombia
7Oman
6Costa Rica
5Bahrain
4Cambodia
3Mexico
2Taiwan
1Portugal
The least friendly countries for expats are Austria, Switzerland and Kuwait

Where it is easier to get a residence permit and how to do it

Developed countries most often have a strict migration policy. It is more difficult to get a residence permit in France, Sweden or New Zealand than in Latvia or Bulgaria. The terms of obtaining a residence permit in a country are published on the websites of consulates and embassies.

In Lithuania, Latvia and Germany, there are twelve ways for foreigners to get the status of a resident. It is more than in other European countries. For comparison, in Belgium, the Netherlands and Slovenia, there are seven or fewer ways.

Residence permits are most often obtained by employment, studies, marriage or family reunification. Highly qualified specialists, athletes, scientists and artists can also apply for the status of a resident. Many countries also offer residence permits for foreigners with remote work, or digital nomads.

In some countries, residence permits are allocated according to quotas. For example, Australia will issue no more than 109,900 residence visas for high-skilled workers in 2022—2023.

To obtain residency as a digital nomad, one needs to provide a work contract with a company registered outside the country of residence permit and confirm an income that does not fall below a set threshold, which is on average from €2,000 per month.

A residence permit is usually issued for a year or the duration of the employment contract. Then, the card must be renewed with the documents re-executed and the grounds for staying in the country re-confirmed. The top 5 countries for remote work are Norway, Mexico, Germany, Portugal, and Iceland.

A residence permit for financially independent persons is another way for foreigners who do not plan to work in the country to get residency. Several European countries provide such an opportunity. 

How much money is needed to be considered a financially independent person

CountryFinancial terms
Austria€80,000+ in an Austrian bank account
Greece€24,000+ in a Greek bank account 

€2,000+ earned per month 
MexicoCAD 55,655 (≈ €40,500) as an average monthly account balance during the year 

or CAD 3,339+ (≈ €2,400) as a monthly tax-free income during half a year
Portugal€8,460+ per annum earned
Spain€27,000+ in a Spanish bank account
Switzerland₣450,000+ (≈ €435,000) per annum
paid as a lump-tax

A residence permit by investment can also be obtained in many countries. Foreigners invest money in the country's economy and get residence in return. Depending on the program’s terms, an investor can buy or rent real estate, open a bank deposit, and purchase securities of local companies or investment funds. 

For example, to get Qatar residency, one needs to buy a property of at least $200,000 (≈ €185,000) worth. While to obtain a residence permit in Ecuador, applicants are to transfer at least 100 minimum wages (≈ €40,000) to an Ecuadorian bank account. In Thailand, you can get residency by purchasing securities for at least THB 10,000,000 (≈ €270,000).

Popular investment programs comparison

ProgramInvestor's expensesTime frame for obtaining the status ValidityMandatory residing in the country
Malta global residence€30,000+3—4 months1 yearNot mandatory, but you are not to spend more than 183 days a year in any other country
Portugal golden visa€250,000+6—8 months2 years7 days a year
Greece golden visa€250,000+6 months5 yearsNot mandatory
Andorra residency€400,000+2 months1 year90 days a year
Spain golden visa€500,0002—3 months2 years, then 5 yearsNot mandatory
UAE golden visaAED 2,000,000
(≈ €510,000)
2+ months10 yearsNot mandatory

How to get permanent residence

Permanent residence is the termless status, and it is usually the next stage after temporary residence. Only a few countries allow skipping temporary residency with obtaining permanent residency at once. For example, you can get Paraguay permanent residency by transferring from PYG 28,400,000 (≈ €3,800) to a deposit in a Paraguayan bank.

To get a permanent residence, one needs to live in the country for at least five years with a temporary residence permit. A foreigner also needs to confirm knowledge of the language and culture and integration into the local community.

Two European countries — Malta and Cyprus — offer to obtain permanent residency by investment without the temporary residence stage.

Programs for getting permanent residency by investment

ProgramInvestor's expensesTime frame for obtaining the status ValidityMandatory residing in the country
Malta golden visa€150,000+6—8 monthsTermlessNot mandatory
Cyprus golden visa€300,000+From 3 monthsTermlessOne needs to visit the island once every two years

Some countries offer to skip both temporary and permanent residence stages and obtain citizenship at once.  For example, Turkey citizenship can be obtained by investing $400,000+ (≈ €370,000), while Montenegro citizenship requires at least €472,000 of investment.

Frequently asked questions

What are the best countries to immigrate to?

The list of the best places for expats includes 59 countries. The rating was compiled by the international agency InterNations, which surveyed foreigners living and working abroad. Taiwan, Mexico, Costa Rica, Malaysia and Portugal are the top five.

Portugal is the only European country which made it into the top ten. 84% of foreigners who have moved to Portugal are satisfied with their choice. Experts note a high standard of living, a pleasant climate, developed infrastructure, and good places for recreation.

A Portugal residence permit can be obtained by investment in the country’s economy. Such a residence permit is also called a Portugal golden visa. Investors buy real estate of at least €280,000 worth or investment fund shares or open a business to obtain the status. Applicants get residence permits within 2 to 6 months.

Which country welcomes immigrants the most?

According to the international community InterNations, Portugal is recognized as the most welcoming country in 2022. Taiwan, Mexico, Cambodia and Bahrain have made it to the TOP 5 best countries for immigrants and expats.

What countries do not allow immigrants?

According to the international community InterNations, Austria, Switzerland, and Kuwait are the least friendly countries for expats. Yet, it does not mean that it is not allowed or impossible to move to these countries. For example, Austria and Switzerland offer wealthy foreigners a residence permit for financially independent persons.

What is the cheapest English speaking country to live in?

According to Numbeo’s annual Cost of Living Index, India is the cheapest English-speaking country. It is actually the third-cheapest country of all.

How to choose a country to immigrate to?

Everyone has their own criteria: how easy it is to find a job, what are the conditions for children’s education, and how low are tax rates for business. There is no universal way to compare countries and decide where to move to permanent residence.

Ratings compiled by world agencies may help compare the advantages and disadvantages of countries to immigrate to. To construct a rating, compilers explore different areas: the cost and quality of living, economic stability, safety, opportunities for work and business, and the attitude of locals towards immigrants.

When the country is chosen, it is necessary to explore the ways to obtain a residence permit or citizenship. A list of possible ways is published on the websites of embassies and consulates.

What is the easiest way to move and get permanent residency?

Most foreigners obtain permanent residence by naturalisation: the time the foreigner has lived in the country becomes the basis for getting the status. On average, an application for permanent residence can be submitted after 5 years of holding a residence permit.

Countries with investment programs allow foreigners to obtain permanent residence in a shorter period. For example, investors can rent or buy a property, pay the required fees and get Malta permanent residence within 6—8 months.

What are the benefits of permanent residence?

Permanent residence is a status that lets a foreigner live in the country without time limits. The permanent residence permit holder gets the same rights that citizens of the country have, but for the right to vote or participate in elections and hold public office.

With a permanent residence card in an EU country, a foreigner has the right to:

  • live and work in the country;
  • visit other Schengen countries without visas and live there;
  • open accounts in European banks;
  • obtain a residence permit for their family members;
  • get citizenship by naturalisation after a few years.

You cannot get permanent residence immediately after moving. First, foreigners obtain a temporary residence permit, then after a few years, a permanent residence one. The exception is the Malta and Cyprus investment programs, which allow acquiring permanent residence at once by investing in real estate or the country’s economy.

Which countries have residency by investment programs?

Several European countries offer residency by investment.

Malta has two programs: a temporary residence permit by investment and a permanent one. To participate, investors need to rent or buy a property in Malta and pay government fees.

The Malta Global Residence Program is aimed at entrepreneurs. An investor can take advantage of tax relief. Income earned abroad and transferred to Malta is levied at a flat rate of 15%. The minimum tax due per annum is €15,000 per family.

Malta permanent residency by investment is acquired by investors who confirm the capital of €500,000 in addition to buying or renting real estate in the country.

The Portugal golden visa program offers seven investment options, the most popular of which is the purchase of a residential or commercial real estate of €280,000 worth.

Greece residence permit by investment is obtained by buying residential or commercial property of over €250,000 worth. The expenses under the Greece investment program are the lowest among European countries, yet investors do not have to live in the country.

Is it possible to get a residence permit by investment alongside the family?

An investor can add family members to the application. Any program allows including a spouse and minor children. The terms for other family members differ.

The Malta Global Residence Program allows including a spouse, children under 25, brothers, sisters, parents, and grandparents. All family members but a spouse must be financially dependent on the investor.

The Malta permanent residence program lets investors add unmarried children of any age, parents, and grandparents to the application. Brothers and sisters cannot be included.

Portugal residence permit can be obtained by an investor, spouse, parents and children under 26 if they live with the investor or study at a university.

Greece residence permit is acquired by an applicant, their spouse, children under 21 and parents of any age if they are entirely financially dependent on the investor.

Which country gives citizenship easily?

Until recently, it was quite easy to get Vanuatu citizenship by investment. During the operation of the citizenship program, more than two thousand investors obtained Vanuatu passports, while only one application got rejected. 

However, due to the EU suspending visa-free entry for Vanuatu citizens, the Vanuatu government decided to re-check investors and enhance the Due Diligence check.

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How to choose the best country for immigration