Expats say Nordic countries are great for family life but costly

by Ray Clancy on September 21, 2017

Finland is the best country in the world for family life with expats saying that Nordic countries are also great for health and well-being, but the population can be distant and learning the language is hard.

Short working weeks, a top notch work-life balance and family orientated policies mean that Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden all rank in the top 10 for health and well-being in the latest global survey of expats from InterNations.


Over two thirds of respondents in all four countries said they are positive about the quality of medical care, which may be connected to the fact that healthcare spending is extremely high in each of these nations. Expats are also happy with the cost of healthcare, with around two in five respondents giving this aspect the very best rating.

Over the years, the Nordic countries have performed continuously well in the family life index and all make it into the top five again. Finland retains its top spot, partly because of the country’s strong performance in the quality of education subcategory, in which the country takes first place.

All four countries also perform well in the family well-being subcategory, with both Finland and Norway making it into the top three. At 13 Denmark, however, falls significantly behind its neighbours and it’s the only country in this group not to make it into the top 10.

Still, Denmark has come a long way, gaining 19 places in the overall family life index compared to 2016. One British respondent in Denmark described the country as very family friendly with a workplace culture that is very supportive of families.

The research also found that over a third of female expats in these nations have dependent children living abroad with them, however, very few stay at home to look after their kids. Finland is the exception to this rule, where 17% of female respondents list this as their main employment status. In general, however, it is relatively easy for women in Nordic countries to find a job, as these nations have some of the lowest gender discrimination rates in the world.

This is also helped by childcare, which over half and even up to 70% of expat parents in the Nordic countries describe as affordable and easy to find. Furthermore, over three quarters of expat parents across the four countries are pleased with the leisure activities for children, which, no doubt, provide parents with more free time.

The Nordic countries perform very well in the working abroad index, with Denmark, Norway, and Sweden making it into the top 10. Over two-thirds of respondents in the region rate their work-life balance positively.

Denmark came first in the work-life balance subcategory. The report suggests that short working hours across the Nordic countries helps with this. In Finland, for example, the full time average is 38.5 hours, nearly six hours less than the global average of 44.3 hours.

However, the Nordic countries are regarded as expensive places to live. All four countries are among the most expensive places to live in the world and in the bottom 15 of the cost of living index, with less than three in 10 respondents in each country rating costs positively.

A few other downsides to Nordic living were flagged up by the survey. All four Nordic countries fall into the bottom 10 in the finding friends subcategory with Norway, Denmark, and Sweden making up the bottom three.

More than half of expats across the Nordic countries said they find it difficult to make local friends, and over two fifths in each country describe the local population as distant. This results in a high proportion of expats sticking mainly with fellow foreigners. Nearly a half of respondents in Denmark, 46%, say their social circle mainly consists of other expats.

Language barriers often pose problems when making local friends as half of the respondents in Denmark with mostly expat friends say that the language prevents them from befriending the local residents.

The report suggests that the varying difficulty of the languages spoken across the region probably contributes to language problems. In Finland 85% of expats claim the local language is hard to learn, while only 49% of expats in Sweden feel the same way. Finnish is one of the most challenging languages, requiring 1,110 class hours to become proficient, while the official languages of the other Nordic countries require less than 600 hours.


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