It’s never too late to see the world, but it can be tough deciding where you want to go if you’re indecisive or nervous or overly excited. You’ll probably be a little bit of everything if you’re planning an extensive vacation, travel plan, or even thinking about settling down somewhere new. The best countries for you, no matter what your plans, all depends on what key cultural, political, and social factors you prioritize most.
In this guide, we’ll use the Legatum Institute’s Prosperity Index to measure the top three best countries to live in, measured in terms of economy, entrepreneurship and opportunity, education, health, safety and security, and overall prosperity.
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To measure the quality of a country’s economy, the Legatum Institute examined its market size, unemployment rate, inflation rate, percentage of high-tech exports, its population’s perceived job availability, satisfaction with living standards, and more. If you want to feel financially secure in a country, you need to take a look at its national economy.
Located in Southeast Asia, the island country and sovereign city-state of Singapore ranks #3 in the world for best economy. Home to one of the most innovative, competitive, and business-friendly economies in the world, Singapore also boasts an extremely low tax rate on personal income. According to studies conducted by the Legatum Institute, a whopping 99.3% of surveyed Singaporeans reported having access to adequate food and shelter, as opposed to the global average of 71.2%. The country’s unemployment rate is only 2.9%.
Snuggled between France, Germany, Austria, Italy, and Liechtenstein is Switzerland, a relatively small country that boasts one of the world’s most prosperous and stable economies. It’s home to several significant, multinational corporations, and some of the lowest taxation rates in the world. Because of its highly skilled labor force, the majority of Switzerland’s exports are considered “high-tech” products, which make up 24.4% of its manufactured exports. Additionally, 95.5% of Swiss citizens surveyed confirmed their access to adequate food and shelter, and 94.8% were satisfied with their living standards.
It may be freezing cold, but Norway at least enjoys a prosperous, mixed economy, ranking #2 in the world for highest GDP per-capita, and an unemployment rate of only 3.3%. Monetarily, it is second wealthiest country in the world, with an equally impressive standard of living. Not only is Norway doing great now – given the health of its economy and its hefty gas and oil exports, among other things, Norway’s wealth and prosperity is only expected to grow!
Entrepreneurship and Opportunity
Looking to start a business overseas? These countries have all been measured in terms of business start-up costs, environment for entrepreneurship, royalty receipts, internet bandwidth, and the population’s overall confidence in the benefits of hard work. If you’re looking for a place your start-up can call home, look no further than this!
Neighbor to Sweden and Russia, the sparsely populated Nordic country of Finland ranked #3 in the world for entrepreneurship and opportunity. Out of its surveyed citizens, 79% agreed its fellow countrymen and women could get ahead with just a little hard work, and 78.9% felt their country is a good place to start a business. It certainly helps that most of its population is connected to the internet, and nearly all of them have access to a cell phone. Access to important resources and services means opportunity, and Finland definitely has both.
Looking for one of the easiest places to start up your own business? In Denmark, you can establish a business in a matter of hours – on the internet! – without the “red rape and bureaucracy” that keeps entrepreneurs back elsewhere. No wonder 84.9% of surveyed citizens agreed that hard work in their country actually pays off. Like Finland, Denmark’s population is also highly connected, with 95.3% of people reporting access to a mobile phone.
Bordering Norway, Finland, and connected by a bridge-tunnel to Denmark, the Scandinavian country of Sweden is in some pretty good company. It also steals first place in the world for entrepreneurship and opportunity, and according to The Flight of the Creative Class by Richard Florida, boasts the most creative business practices in all of Europe. According to the book, it’s talent, technology, and tolerance that proves most valuable to business, and Sweden has it all. Need some numbers to prove it? 94% of those surveyed agreed their hard work pays off, and 79.2% believe Sweden is a good place to start a business.
Education was measured based on the ratio of pupils to teachers, gross secondary and tertiary enrollments, the population’s satisfaction with the quality and opportunity of its nation’s educational system, and more. Planning on raising children abroad, or seeking higher education in another country? This is the category for you!
When it comes to literacy, Canada ranks among the top countries at 99%. Class sizes are generally smaller in Canada, with approximately 12 students per teacher, as opposed to the 25 worldwide. Smaller classes are usually considered a better learning environment, which comes as no surprise knowing 80.5% of Canadians have a high school diploma, and 53% of them a college degree. When asked if they believed children in their country had the opportunity to learn and grow, 88.7% of surveyed Canadian citizens answered with a resounding, “Yes!”
Compared to the global average of 70.2%, a majority 91.5% of Australians felt their country’s children had good education opportunities, and 77% reported feeling satisfied with that education’s quality. Like Canada, Australia counts itself within the top ranks of literacy at 99%. Like Canada, it also boasts a good amount of educators, with 15.7 students for every teacher, meaning less of the issues that come with overcrowding, and more time to learn!
1. New Zealand
The small, island country of New Zealand ranks #1 in the world for education for its second year in a row. This comes as no surprise, with a literacy rate of 99% and 89.9% of its population enthusiastic about their children’s learning opportunities. Similarly, 81.7% of those surveyed were satisfied with the quality of their country’s education, compared to a global average of just 66.3%. New Zealand is also home to the University of Auckland, which is ranked in Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2013-2014 top 200. The one downside is New Zealand’s frighteningly high rate of cyber and physical bullying among students – one of the worst in the world.
A country’s overall health score was determined based on the water quality, individual satisfaction with health and surroundings, access to sanitation measures, number of hospital beds available in relation to the population, levels of undernourishment, and more. If you’re someone with a lot of health-related issues who wants to travel for long periods of time, or who plans on making a home in another country, it’s good to know if that country’s healthcare system will meet your needs.
And we’re back to Switzerland! In case you needed another reason to move to this beautiful country, Switzerland ranked #3 in the world for health. Switzerland’s life expectancies are the world’s highest. Thanks to private insurance companies, which are required to accept 100% of their applicants, just as all Swiss citizens are required to apply, the Swiss people are some of the best taken care of. 91.4% of surveyed citizens were satisfied with their own personal health, and no wonder – 100% of its population has access to sanitation methods, 95% are satisfied with the country’s water quality, and only 5% reported undernourishment, compared to the 13.3% global average.
2. United States
It’s strange to see the United States ranked #2 in the world for health, given it ranks among the highest in the world for obesity rates. Despite this, 81% of surveyed Americans reported satisfaction with their personal health. And yet, with the constant debates about health care in the country, it’s still hard to see how it ranks so well compared to some of the runner-ups, like Germany, Norway, and Japan. If you want the numbers to do the talking, the United States is home to clean water (88% of citizens were happy with its quality) and high sanitation (at 100%).
The tiny, landlocked country of Luxembourg – bordered by Belgium, Germany, and France – ranks #1 for health in the entire world. Its state-funded healthcare system is considered one of the world’s best, providing coverage for each of its citizens with plenty of private options available too. 88.6% of surveyed citizens reported satisfaction with their personal health. Like the other two countries on this list, Luxembourg’s access to sanitation is at 100%, and its water quality satisfies 87.9% of its citizens.
Safety and Security
A country’s safety and security rating was determined by levels of theft and assault reported by its citizens, individual feelings of safety walking alone at night, state sponsored political violence, individual feelings of safety freely expressing political opinions, and more. If you find personal safety is an uncompromisable priority in your travels, whether physical or political, do not overlook this important factor.
In the last five years, Sweden’s seen a huge leap in safety ratings, moving four places up to #3 due to declining theft and demographic instability, among other factors. 83.9% of Swedish citizens reported feeling safe walking alone at night, an impressive amount compared to the global average of 62.8%. Similarly, only 5.1% of citizens reported being assaulted in the past year, and only 10.6% reported incidents of stolen property. As a traveler in Sweden, the worst you’ll have to worry about in most cases is a stray moose wandering around traffic in the darker hours. Watch out!
Iceland is known as one of the safest countries in the world. Violent crimes are mostly non-existent in both rural and populated parts of the country. Its number of intentional homicides per 100,000 people rarely strays from an average of 1 per year, with an overall rate of 0.3. 84.6% of Icelanders reported feeling safe walking alone at night. Within the past year, only 10.6% reported having property stolen and only 2.7% reported being assaulted.
1. Hong Kong
While Hong Kong is not a separate country from China, it does maintain its own political system from the mainland, under the “one country, two systems” principle. In the past few years, the region – home to over 7 million people – jumped to first place in terms of safety and security. This is thanks to huge decreases in theft, assault, and individual feelings of safety among its citizens. 89.4% of people reported feeling safe walking alone at night, and only 0.7% reported being assaulted in the past year.
So based on all these studies, and reports, and numbers, what are the top three countries in the world in terms of overall prosperity, based on the Legatum Institute’s findings? Let’s take a look!
Oh, Canada. We’re back to you again. Not only is Canada ranked third in education, it’s also #1 when it comes to personal freedom, with 94.1% of its population expressing the country’s high tolerance for immigrants. Good education, great personal freedom – no wonder Canada’s ranked #3 overall in the world. Low crime rates, and a clean environment too!
Switzerland scores second place overall in the world, having jumped six placed up since 2009. Next to being second overall in economy and third overall in health, as mentioned earlier, Switzerland is also #1 when it comes to governance, a characteristic judged on government stability, political rights and restraints, confidence in the judicial system, efforts to address poverty, environmental preservation, and more. 82.2% of Switzerland’s surveyed citizens expressed confidence in their nation’s government, as opposed to the global average of just 51.5%. Things are looking pretty good in Switzerland!
I hope you like cold weather, because Norway steals the top place overall, a ranking it’s held quite comfortably since 2009! Norway’s #1 when it comes to economy, #2 for personal freedom, and #1 yet again for social capital, an attribute based on the personal reliability, donations, volunteer work, trust, and the kindness of strangers exhibited by its citizens. Not only will you feel security under one of the world’s most stable economies, but you’ll be in some awesome company too.