Countries with the Highest Quality of Life in 2014

picture of HSBC survey interactive map

Where in this big, glorious world can you find the countries with the highest quality of life?

There’s no single answer to that question.

Mark Twain famously said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Keep that in mind when you’re reviewing “best of” and “worst of” rankings.

Several organizations produce a list every year of the best and worst countries or cities for quality of life. But what makes one place enjoyable for you might make it torture for someone else.

That’s true even within my own family — my oldest son adores cold weather and wilts in the heat. I don’t expect him to ever visit me here in Panama, and I only enjoy visiting him in Vermont during July and August.

Keep in mind that these lists might place a lot of weight on something that’s unimportant to you, or no weight at all on something that’s very important to you.

In other words, don’t choose your expat retirement location based solely on these lists.

With that said, though, they can offer some useful guidance, especially if you dig into how they arrived at their rankings.


Mercer has been ranking quality of life across the globe for years. This year’s results are based on a 39-item survey.

Keep in mind that the Mercer survey is designed to help multinational companies figure out how much to pay employees sent overseas to various locations. So they may not be looking at the same things that you’d be interested in.

  1. Vienna, Austria
  2. Zurich, Switzerland
  3. Auckland, New Zealand
  4. Munich, Germany
  5. Vancouver, Canada
  6. Dusseldorf, Germany
  7. Frankfurt, Germany

Singapore is the highest-ranking city in Asia.


Numbeo relies on responses from readers for its data. It considers factors like purchasing power (comparied to New York City), safety, health care, consumer price index, property (price to income ratio), traffic commute time and pollution.

Its top-ranked cities include:

  1. Canberra, Australia
  2. Ottawa, Canada
  3. Frankfurt, Germany
  4. Zurich, Switzerland
  5. Denver, CO, USA
  6. Bergen, Norway
  7. Calgary, Canada
  8. Trondheim, Norway
  9. Boston, MA, USA
  10. Edmonton, Canada
  11. San Diego, CA, USA
  12. Wellington, New Zealand
  13. Seattle, WA, USA
  14. Adelaide, Australia
  15. Chicago, IL, USA

HSBC Expat Survey

HSBC has been surveying expats for years, and providing data to the companies that employ expats around the globe. Last year they updated their approach by creating a nifty, interactive map. You can see what the rankings are based on “all criteria,” or you can take a few minutes to tell the app what’s important to you. That will generate a set of rankings more in line with your own preferences.

Here’s the “all criteria” ranking for 2013, by country:

  1. China
  2. Germany
  3. Singapore
  4. Cayman Islands
  5. Australia
  6. Canada
  7. Russia
  8. Belgium
  9. UAE
  10. Hong Kong
  11. Turkey
  12. USA
  13. Qatar
  14. New Zealand
  15. South Africa

An interesting thing happened, though, when I went in and changed the criteria to reflect what a retiree would more likely be looking for. I took out all references to work, commuting, and childcare and education. Here’s what it looks like on their map.

interactive map showing retiree priorities

And here’s the revised list:

  1. Thailand
  2. China
  3. Switzerland
  4. Bahrain
  5. Taiwan
  6. Singapore
  7. Germany
  8. Turkey
  9. India
  10. Qatar
  11. Cayman Islands
  12. Australia
  13. Canada
  14. Malaysia

You can also compare two specific countries using the interactive map — just click on the country’s circle to start the comparison.

picture of countries, compared

Next time we’ll look specifically at the places that offer the best quality of life for expat retirees.

What does quality of life mean to you?


  1. Interesting surveys and information, especially areas where a retiree might be happiest. Thanks for sharing!

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