10 January 2012

India Tough Country to Live in: Expats

India is the most challenging country for expats to live in, revealed HSBC’s Expat Explorer Survey. Based on 3,385 expats among 31 countries, there were questionnaires on life in overseas; that ranked India as the toughest country to live based on their experience. Economies, experience and raising children abroad, were the three main parameters of the survey which were further subdivided into various categories.

India’s was seen on the 31st position, the lowest in overall ranking. It ranked 16 on the ‘Economy’ parameter while ranked 14 on the ‘Raising Children Abroad’. It ranked the lowest in terms of ‘Experience’ and fared well on the “Social Life” and “Learning the local language” criteria with 10th rank. This could be because India has plenty of people who speak English, making it easier for expats to learn the local language. Secondly unlike most Middle East countries, India does not pose too many restrictions on social gatherings, parties and night-life. India ranked below average on 11 categories and it ranked lowest at 31 on 2 categories – ‘Setting up utilities’ and ‘Fitting in new culture’.

On the other hand, Singapore topped the charts followed by Hong Kong at the second position. U.A.E. was seen taking the third position. Based on the ‘Expat Experience’ criteria Thailand is grabbed the 1st postion, followed by Canada and South Africa. It is interesting to note, that most of the countries in top 10 were smaller developing nations while the countries at their worst on friendliness were India, Russia, United Kingdom, China and Qatar ranked 31, 30, 29, 28 and 27 respectively.

Based on criteria’s such as income, house, cars, holidays, domestic help etc, that is segregated under ‘economies’ India ranked 16th, just behind United States. The best country under this parameter was Saudi Arabia while the worst was Italy.

The key finding from the survey were: money doesn't equal happiness for the global expat community; China was seen to be the most cost effective place to raise children while France topped the 2011 ‘Raising Children Abroad’ league table. It was also noted that a lower cost of living can lead to a luxurious lifestyle for expats in developing countries.

The other findings were that high flying expats are more likely to opt for international schooling.  The Financial Wealth and Security drives expats to Saudi Arabia as expat wealth continues to look east; UK expats benefit from a stronger economy than many European destinations, yet increased numbers are looking to return home. It was also seen that expats benefit from higher earnings but have more complicated finances; natural disasters shape expat economic outlook in Japan and New Zealand. It was noted that Expats in the Euro zone remain resilient in the face of economic deterioration, while those in the Middle East head home.

There are various reasons that make India a challenging place for expats. Living and working in the world's second-most populous nation could be hectic and challenging. Also, keeping in mind that drawing comparisons with the way things are done back home or in other countries is inevitable. Most expats encounter a culture shock in India or what seems more like being too ‘conservative’.

Low ranks in the charts raise a question -- Is India really the most challenging country for expats to live in? Surprisingly, a very contradicting statement was seen in January last year in a report by Economic Times which suggested that India was the work destination choice among many corporate expats. Karl Slym, Head of India Operations at GM said he thanked his good fortune that he was in India during recession, because even when his parent company in the U.S. filed for bankruptcy, the Indian operations survived and did well. "Coming to India was an opportunity to grow the GM brand in a place dominated by local brands and others who were here longer than us, this is clearly the place to be right now; and for the near future as well," he said.

It can be said that every coin has a flip side and the flip side in this case would be that many expats revealed their view, that turns out to be different from the survey findings. As reported by chilli breeze, Pierre Verneulem, a gentleman from the Netherlands who works with LeasePlan, the car leasing firm owned by Volkswagen says “Now we love it! There is nothing you cannot get here. Anyone from anywhere in the world can live here”. He also added “Back home we have to do everything ourselves but here we get so much support. We’ve made some lifelong friends here, we make it a point to attend all the social events in our condominium, and the people are warm and welcoming.” Jim Howland, an American professional who works for an electromagnetic test and measurement solutions company says “India just throbs with life.”