C hoosing where to set up base when you’re an LGBT+ expat can be difficult. Not only do you have the same decision making as your straight counterparts –destination, cost and language – but you also have to consider whether the culture will welcome you, and your rights and your community will be safe.

Laws change from country to country, as do values and customs. That’s why it’s important to know before you make life-changing decisions that you will be safe and well. Here’s our top 5 list of LGBT-friendly destinations for expats:

  1. The Netherlands

Taking pride of place on our list of gay-friendly countries is the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage. This modern, forward-thinking country has enacted dozens of laws over the years to protect LGBT+ people, and recently extended provisions in the Equal Treatment Act 1994 to cover trans and intersex people.

The Netherlands (3)

Dutch schools started teaching children about sexuality and sexual orientation in 2012 and now, according to official statistics, some 90% of Dutch people have a positive attitude towards LGBT+ people, up 37% since 2006.

Something else to be said for the Dutch way of life is its focus on health. For example, you won’t get far in Amsterdam without seeing a bicycle. The national diet is very healthy too, with plenty of fruit and veg, and a focus on quality over quantity – it may even be the reason for the country’s record-breaking average human height.

  1. Spain

Spain has a rich history of queer culture, from the writings of Federico García Lorca to the movies of Pedro Almodóvar. Spain also tied with the Netherlands for the number one spot in Gallup’s poll of gay-friendly countries in 2015.

Spain (3)

A lot of cities across Spain are home to gay villages. These include notable mentions like Chueca, a gay neighbourhood in downtown Madrid, Eixample in Barcelona, and the not-so-creatively titled Gay Beach in Maspalomas, a hotspot for LGBT+ tourists in Gran Canaria.

Spain’s warm, clement climate is world-renowned and adored by sun-worshippers the world over. The sun is out for most of the year, with clear blue skies even in the depths of winter. However, this doesn’t mean you can leave all your coats and winter wares behind. The Spanish have a saying that roughly translates as ‘Don’t take your coat off until May 40th’. This is because the weather can be unpredictable until the very beginning of June.

  1. Uruguay

Uruguay is ranked among Gallup’s best countries in the world for gays and lesbians and is at the vangaurd of transgender rights, instating a law that allowed transpeople to change their official documents to match their gender identity way back in 2009.

Uruguay 2

Wedged in between Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay has long been overlooked as the smaller, lesser-known sister of two Latin-American powerhouses. And yet, over the past few decades, the country has seen high levels of social spending, resulting in a well-educated, socially-progressive culture that’s started to draw in businesses and families looking to settle down.

The added wealth, particularly in built-up cities and financial hubs, has meant that the cost of living in certain parts of Uruguay is now equal to that of the US. But there are towns and cities where things like rent and the weekly shop are much lower.

Uruguay also operates a public healthcare system for those unable to afford medical treatment in private clinics. The country’s public healthcare system is very underfunded, and while public clinics are free to access, they are often overcrowded. This is why it can be worth taking out a plan to avoid the slow, often overcrowded services if you can afford global health insurance.

  1. Iceland

According to a poll by Planet Romeo, which factored in everything from public opinion to life satisfaction, gay men in Iceland are the world’s happiest, closely followed by those living in Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

Iceland (3)

The country’s strong stance on LGBT+ rights is thought to have helped, and this is reflected in the country’s political history: Iceland elected the world’s first openly-gay prime minister, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, a decade ago.

That being said, there are other things to consider before moving to Iceland. Most importantly, cost. Iceland is an island and as such, everyday items that you wouldn’t normally expect to be taxed are regularly levied due to importation. This can add up very quickly and make life difficult if you’re not expecting the sudden price jumps, so make sure you put plenty of money aside before relocating to cover even the smallest purchases.

  1. New Zealand

Currently ranked as the world’s second best country for expats by HSBC Expat Explorer, New Zealand is a great choice for straight and gay expats alike. The country made same-sex marriage legal in 2004 and legalised adoption by same-sex parents in 2013.

New Zealanders enjoy a healthy outdoor lifestyle, and the country has a plethora of breathtaking landscapes and adventure trails for you to explore, including some of the world’s most iconic mountain passes.

There are downsides to relocating to this beautiful little island, though. The low salaries and high rental prices can put a strain on your finances, especially if you have a lot of outgoings or are already struggling to put together the money for relocating.

But don’t scratch New Zealand off your list just yet. If you can find a well-paying job, the country is a shoo-in for quality of life –HSBC Expat Explorer found that while a third (34%) of all expats moved abroad to improve their quality of life, in New Zealand the figure rocketed to 60%. What’s more, over half (55%) of those who moved to New Zealand have since stayed.

New Zealand (3)

Moving abroad itself can be just like the house-buying process: it’s a minefield of red tape, unexpected expenditures and family upset. Worst of all, no one wants to hear that there’s something wrong with the foundations. Before you pack your bags, make sure the foundations to your LGBT+ rights are well laid – it will make all the difference in the long run, and ensure you and your family are well protected.

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