The US is one of the worst countries in the world for expats to educate and care for their kids

Not so great.
Not so great.
Image: Reuters/Mike Segar
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When it comes to raising a family abroad, the US fares so-so: 26th out of 45 countries, according to an annual survey of globe-trotting expats.

But when it comes to finding high-quality, affordable education and child care, the US ranks embarrassingly low. On the costs of child care and education, the US comes in at 45th out of 45. On the availability of child care and education, it’s 36th out of 45, higher than Greece or Saudi Arabia, but lower than Oman and Uganda. On quality of education the US is middling: 27th of 45, below obvious education superstars Finland and Singapore, but also below Russia, Malta, and Qatar.

The best places to raise a family, according to the survey, are Finland, Sweden, and the Czech Republic.

The reasons? Quality and availability of affordable child care and education. In Finland, which also won the top slot in 2016, 72% of respondents reported that the education system was excellent, compared to a global average of 26% (in Sweden, they were happier with the availability than the quality of schooling).

The survey was conducted by InterNations, a networking group for expats. It solicited people inside and outside its network, including foreign assignees (“expats” in the classical sense of employees on a corporate assignment) and people living and working abroad for other reasons. A total of 12,519 expats participated, representing 166 nationalities and living in 188 countries or territories.

The numbers were small, so potentially easily skewed. For example, for a country to be listed in the family life index, a sample size of only 40 respondents raising children abroad was required (of the 188 countries, only 45 made the cut). And the question is about how expats—often a rarefied group—experience another country; the survey doesn’t say anything about the quality of life for each country’s own citizens. Bahrain ranked number one in the Working Abroad Index among expat women, a trophy it might not win among non-expat women.

But the report’s indictment of US education and child care are borne out by more thorough research: Finland and Singapore rank as the top two countries in terms of quality of education; their students also both consistently rank highly in the OECD’s PISA test, a critical thinking test given to a large sample of 15-year-olds around the world. In 2016, the US ranked 25th out of 70 on science, 24th out of 70 on reading and 40 out of 70 on math.

And the US is a well-known basket case when it comes to affordable child care and high-quality education for everyone. According to the OECD, the US had one of the lowest enrollment rates for children in early childhood and pre-primary programs among the world’s richest 35 countries in 2014. One 2016 study found that in 23 US states, full-time preschool for four-year-olds was more expensive that in-state public college tuition.