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New Survey Shows Nearly Half of the Top 10 Countries for Expats are in Southeast Asia

Indonesia was ranked 3rd in the best places for expats | Image Credit: Pacific Prime
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InterNations’ latest Expat Insider survey revealed that Southeast Asia is a rising star for expats – however, two countries are notably absent from the top of the list.

Southeast Asia continues to shine as a top destination for expats, with four ASEAN countries securing spots in the top 10 of InterNations’ Expat Insider 2024 survey. However, a notable development is the absence of two countries in Southeast Asia: Malaysia, often considered one of the most advanced nations in the region, did not manage to make the top 20 places for expats, ranking 22nd out of 53. Singapore, an even more highly developed country, fared surprisingly worse, coming in at 30th place.

Panama did impressively well in the survey, taking the honours as the best country for expats in 2024 | Image Credit: Unsplash


One common thread among the top 10 countries is their warm weather, many of them located in the tropical zone. Panama, named the best country for expats in 2024, exemplifies this trend with its favorable climate, affordable cost of living, and welcoming atmosphere. Other top-ranked countries include Mexico, Indonesia, Spain, Colombia, Thailand, Brazil, Vietnam, the Philippines, and the UAE.


Among the ASEAN countries, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines have all earned high marks from expats. Indonesia surged to third place from 13th last year, thanks to its low costs, friendly people, and excellent work-life balance. Thailand maintained its sixth-place ranking, praised for its quality of life and ease of settling in. Vietnam and the Philippines, ranked eighth and ninth respectively, were highlighted for their affordable living, vibrant cultures, and welcoming communities.

InterNation’s Expat Insider survey results may hold a few surprises for you


In contrast, Malaysia’s position at 22nd unmistakably reflects a decline in its attractiveness to expats. Once a top contender, Malaysia has faced challenges that have tarnished its appeal. The country has seen increasing difficulty for expats in obtaining work permits and navigating bureaucratic processes. This, coupled with what appears to be a rise in anti-foreigner sentiment and nearly six years of inconsistent and unappealing policies regarding the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) programme, has perhaps contributed to a less welcoming environment for expatriates.

Expats have reported feeling less welcome in Malaysia compared to years past. The MM2H programme, which once attracted thousands of retirees and long-term residents, has been plagued by abrupt policy changes and far stricter requirements, leading to frustration and uncertainty among applicants.

Despite its mediocre ranking in this particular survey, Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia have fared well in other similar studies | Image Credit: Malay Mail

For TEG Media, the parent organisation of this website, this leads to frustration as the company was founded specifically to promote Malaysia and its many positive attributes to the international community. And while we still believe the country is a wonderful place to settle (see why below), we cannot deny that the last few years have unquestionably taken a toll on Malaysia’s once-enviable appeal to global expatriates.

Meanwhile, Singapore, despite its reputation as a dynamic, global financial hub with a high quality of life, ranked 30th in the survey. The incredibly high cost of living and super-competitive job market are likely factors in its lower ranking. While Singapore doubtlessly offers excellent infrastructure, healthcare, and education, all in a clean and safe setting, the financial pressures and work demands may outweigh these benefits for many expats.

It’s rather uncommon for Malaysia to beat Singapore in a global ranking, but the results from this survey, at least, seem to reinforce what we ourselves often say: Malaysia offers expats a great lifestyle and a lot more bang for their buck than neighbouring Singapore.

Expats looking for a ‘value for money’ cost of living will not find it in Singapore | Image Credit: Al Jazeera


Despite its drop in rankings, Malaysia retains many qualities that make it a fantastic place for expats. The warm weather, diverse and delicious food, good infrastructure, and multicultural society are significant draws. Malaysia is also known for its ease of settling in, low cost of living, and strategic location within Southeast Asia, offering excellent travel opportunities.

Expats who live in Malaysia often praise the country’s vibrant cultural scene, with its mix of Malay, Chinese, and Indian influences. The natural beauty, from beaches to mountains, adds to the country’s appeal. Malaysia’s cities, particularly Kuala Lumpur and Penang, offer a blend of modern amenities and traditional charm, making them attractive places to live.


Over in East Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak are coming into their own as appealing expat destinations, drawing on their own multiculturalism, close ties to Borneo’s incomparable natural appeal, and what is often described as a very different vibe to that of Peninsular Malaysia. One expat remarked that it’s East Malaysia that often more successfully achieves the ‘1 Malaysia’ slogan once championed by the government. The many indigenous tribes, along with Malays, Chinese, Indians and international residents, seem to coexist in a peaceful, enjoyable, and respectful harmony that sometimes seems a bit less lacking in Peninsular Malaysia (likely because of the dynamics of politics being keenly pronounced in the far more populous Peninsula).

Sarawak’s capital city of Kuching has been praised as a great place for expats to settle | Image Credit: Live in Malaysia

For Malaysia to regain its standing as a top expat destination, a few strategic adjustments could make a significant difference. Addressing the challenges with work permits and immigration policies is crucial. A more consistent and welcoming approach to the MM2H programme would help restore confidence among potential long-term residents.

Combating anti-foreigner sentiment and promoting a more inclusive and tolerant society, a virtue in which Malaysia has long taken pride, would also enhance the country’s appeal. Initiatives to improve administrative processes and reduce bureaucratic hurdles could make life easier for expats and locals alike. We need hardly mention that striving to undo the considerable damage done to the MM2H programme would go a long way to restoring Malaysia’s international appeal – though regaining some of the lost trust by policy changes and poor communication could take some time.

Southeast Asia remains a hotspot for expats, with countries like Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines leading the way. While Malaysia and Singapore have seen their rankings slip, the region as a whole continues to attract those seeking warm weather, affordability, and vibrant cultures.

Malaysia, with its many strengths, has the potential to climb back up the rankings with a few targeted improvements. By addressing the concerns of expats and fostering a more welcoming environment, the country can once again become a top choice for those looking to live and work abroad. For now, regardless of the ranking in InterNations’ Expat Insider survey, Malaysia’s rich cultural tapestry, low cost of living, and strategic location continue to offer much to those who choose to call it home.


The Expat Insider 2024 survey was conducted by InterNations from February 1 to 29, 2024.

The online questionnaire was promoted through the InterNations community as well as the company newsletter and social media profiles, but responses were not limited to InterNations members.

The target audience included all kinds of expats, from international retirees and self-made expats who looked for work abroad to foreign assignees (i.e., employees sent on a corporate assignment abroad), and others who moved for a variety of reasons. A total of 12,543 expats participated in the survey, representing 175 nationalities living in 174 countries or territories worldwide.

The results are published in the form of an overall ranking of popular expat destinations, with additional information on five topical indices: Quality of Life, Ease of Settling In, Working Abroad, Personal Finance, and Expat Essentials. For a country to be listed in any of the indices and in the overall ranking, a sample size of at least 50 survey participants per destination is required. In 2024, 53 destinations met this requirement. In most destinations the sample size exceeded 75 respondents. For example, in Germany and the UAE, over 1,150 and 680 expats, respectively, participated in the Expat Insider 2024 survey.

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