Europe is one of the most popular continents in the world for expats and those living in the European Union can currently move easily from country to country, but not all provide the same quality of life, new research has found.

The best quality of life in Europe is in Finland, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands, while the worst is in Romania and Bulgaria, according to the EU Regional Social Progress Index published by American charity the Social Progress Imperative.

The index, which covers 272 regions across the 28 EU member states, compares the like for like experience of people based on assessments of opportunity, knowledge, health and education.

There are huge differences and it is not a simple split between older and newer members of the EU, with social progress in regions of new member states from Central Europe, such as Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia, is on a par with that of regions of old member states in Southern Europe, such as Portugal, Italy and Greece.

The research also shows that being a wealthy country does not make for overall top well-being. For example, the highest performing region, Upper Norrland, is not among the richest. It has the same GDP per capita as Bucharest, Romania but scores more than 30 points higher on social progress.

The lowest performing region, South East Bulgaria, is one of the poorest regions of the EU, but Podlaskie, Poland scores 20 points better with a similar GDP per capita. Brussels, the capital of Europe, is among the richest regions of Europe yet this economically privileged region does not score spectacularly well on social progress. Eastern Slovenia has a level of GDP per capita less than a third of that of Brussels, but achieves a near identical Social Progress Index score.

Inner London, Europe’s richest region, is ‘distinctly average’ in its social progress outcomes according to the report. It ranks just 81st out of the 272 regions measured, behind North Eastern Scotland, Devon and Northern Ireland. A total of 21 UK regions are more socially progressive than Inner London.

The report says that several other significant capital regions are major under-performers, including Brussels, the Ile de France in Paris, Lazio in Rome, Athens, Mazovia in Warsaw, Prague and Bratislava in Slovakia.

Even within countries there are considerable differences. In the UK, for example, the Scots enjoy a better quality of life than the English, and they are more tolerant of minorities, have a better education system and a better environment.

But life expectancy in Scotland was much lower than in England, and the Scots have the worst ratings for personal safety of anywhere in the UK, and the lowest score for nutrition and basic medical care.

But access to the internet and broadband is better in England than Scotland. Also, the report points out that while London may be the wealthiest part of the country and wealth in Cornwall and west Wales may be much lower, their social progress is on a par with inner London.