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HSBC survey says Ireland's a terrible place to live if you're an expat

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The International Financial Services Centre in Dublin. One place in Ireland where
expats can be found in sizable numbers.

“There is no such thing as bad publicity” goes the old saying. Well, I'm not sure that holds true for Ireland this week following the publication of HSBC's “Expat Explorer Survey” for 2013.

This marks the first time Ireland has featured in the “Expat Explorer Survey,” now in its seventh year. The views of those expatriates living in Ireland who took part in the HSBC survey must be sending a nervous shudder up the spines of those whose job it is to entice overseas investment to Ireland.

Let's face it: Ireland has done remarkably well attracting FDI (foreign direct investment). Most of that investment comes from America, of course, but HSBC surveyed expatriates from all over the world, living all over the world.

This highlights the greatest issue with this report: HSBC doesn't tell us how they selected the respondents to their survey. How did they find them? How was the survey administered? Are those who took part representative of the expat community that lives in Ireland? How do the views of those who took part in the survey match those of the American business executives whose views would be pretty important to Ireland?

We simply don't know, which makes the survey less useful, but still it cannot be ignored. The Washington Post featured it on the World Views section of their web site. It will probably be picked up elsewhere. And the HSBC imprimatur may not mean much to you, but it may well mean a lot to those executives who are weighing up where to locate their European base.

So what did the report say about Ireland?

Well, nothing good. HSBC broke down the findings into four categories: Expat Economics, Expat Experience, Raising Children Abroad and Expat Expenses. Which ones did Ireland do well in? None.

The first category measured the expats' satisfaction with their earnings and the economy of the host country. Ireland finished 36th out of 37. Only Italy fared worse. Maybe this is to be expected given what has happened to the Irish economy lately, but if this is true then these are not the sort of expats who I would have expected to answer a HSBC survey.

I don't know why HSBC separated out expenses from earnings for the measure of Expat Economics, but Ireland finished 37th out of 37 on this list. Italy jumped up to 34th so we can say with certainty that in terms of standard of living for expats, the HSBC puts Ireland firmly in the bottom: below every other EU country surveyed, below America, Canada and Australia, below Taiwan and Brazil. Heck, Egypt, South Africa, Vietnam and Indonesia were all well above Ireland.

Obviously life for the average person in Egypt, Vietnam and Indonesia is much tougher than for the average person in Ireland. These are the expats' experiences. Still are the expats in Ireland that much different than those in Indonesia? If not, why do they rate Ireland so badly?

Those were the money categories. What about the Expat Experiences and Raising Children Abroad, the so-called “quality of life” factors?

Again, the results are abysmal. Childcare is expensive and overall, expat parents see Ireland as pretty poor for children in terms of education, health and experience. There were only 24 countries in the 'raising children' comparison. Ireland was 23rd, above Qatar, but below Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Mexico.

Then there's Expat Experience: quality of life, ease of setting up and integrating into the local culture. This was where Ireland fared best. Well, least badly. Ireland was ranked 30th of the 37 countries. However, of the seven states listed below Ireland only one could be called “western” - the Netherlands. The others are Indonesia, Vietnam, Kuwait, Oman, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Again, it doesn't seem a scientifically credible survey, but that may not matter. HSBC is a trusted source for many and the Washington Post for many more. With this sort of thing reality matters far less than perception and the perception is Ireland's not that great a place to live.

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