Dateline: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
You’ve been itching to live abroad or start working towards a second passport, but one thing stops you.
“Do you speak English?” – asking this over and over again and fumbling for the right words to order a coffee or even register at your new address in your new country has little appeal.
While some will find the total immersion in a foreign language enticing, romantic even, there are plenty of others who shudder just thinking about it.
And that’s why they keep putting off moving abroad and lessening their tax burden.
It can certainly feel isolating not knowing the language that the majority of the people speak. Sure, you can get by with English at touristy spots and hire a local to help you navigate finding a property and the bureaucracy, but it’s not quite the same as connecting with a place on a more personal level.
Yet, if not being able to speak a second language is stopping you from living overseas and gaining tax advantages, don’t let it.
I’ve got you covered – here’s a quick run-down of this article:
- What’s In a Language, Anyway?
- 15 Expat Countries that Speak English (and Make Sense Tax-Wise)
- Other English-First Scenarios
- Norway, Sweden, Denmark – the Scandinavian Trifecta
- The Netherlands
- The Balkans – Serbia, Croatia, and Bulgaria
- The Baltics – Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia
- And the Very Best English Speaking Country in the World Is…
What’s In a Language, Anyway?
Prior to moving to a new place, the number one fear faced by expats is… the language barrier.
It comes before the fear of being too far away from friends and family, and way before things like culture shock or lesser healthcare and infrastructure standards.
I know this all too well, having lived and worked in many new countries in my life.
And although I can speak Spanish and communicate well enough in Russian, there is nothing like the feeling of seclusion that comes with not being to understand the news, the shop vendor, or the taxi driver.
A kind smile and hand gestures go a long way, but that’s not really a fulfilled life, is it?
There is so much value in these micro-interactions that there is little wonder people who don’t speak a second language are hesitating to move abroad.
But with so much to gain, both personally and financially, don’t let it become the reason you’re missing out on life.
The great news is that you can decrease your tax burden and move to a new place without having to make compromises on your quality of life.
There are a good dozen of English speaking countries that are great for you tax-wise.
Which one you go for all depends on your outlook, your financial goals, and your offshore strategy.
15 Expat Countries that Speak English (and Make Sense Tax-Wise)
I’ve gathered up the ultimate list of expat-friendly countries where you can get by with English perfectly fine.
Actually, not just get by, but adapt to a whole new culture without speaking a foreign language, create relationships with not just expats but locals too, and really thrive.
Here are the 15 best English speaking countries to move to if you want the tax advantages of living abroad without having to learn a new language.
Now, just to get over some funny-sounding accents…
Obtaining a residence permit for the Bahamas is easy and living in the Bahamas is tax-free.
Considering millions of tourists and an endless number of cruise ships head there each year, it doesn’t sound like a bad life. Beyond the beaches, 87% of Bahamans speak English well.
So, if the island life appeals to you and you’re unphased by the potential devastation that tropical storms can cause (think back to Hurricane Dorian which killed 53 people), it could be a good choice.
And if you want to do business in the Bahamas, it’s a well-recognized tax haven, with favorable tax laws that welcome foreign investment.
The EU has just removed Belize from its tax haven blacklist and it’s now an even better place to consider for offshore banking.
In fact, you might actually want to move there yourself as the country’s official language is English and a reported 63% of the population speak it.
Sure, there are pockets where Belizean Creole or Spanish are used more often, but English should be enough to go about your affairs and social life.
And needless to say, it’s a beautiful paradise along the coast of the Caribbean Sea: you can explore Mayan ruins or go snorkeling, fishing, sailing, caving…
It only makes sense that Bermuda, as a British Overseas Territory, would be among the list of countries where people speak fluent English.
Bermuda is one of the most livable countries with no income tax, although it’s extremely expensive to live there (think $15-a-gallon milk). Finding a property will also be a tall order as it’s in short supply and relatively expensive.
Yet, if you have the cash and want to live on a highly developed island with close travel connections to the United States, Bermuda may be for you.
It is also an excellent offshore banking hub. And at 97%, more Bermudans speak English than do mainland Americans.
Please note, this bit is about the island of Dominica and NOT about the Dominican Republic – two separate countries.
As home to the world’s most affordable citizenship by investment program, Dominica isn’t just a place to get a second passport, it’s also a Caribbean paradise, where over 2,000 Americans live. These are mostly retirees and sun-birds, so if you’re after an upbeat lifestyle, Dominica is possibly not for you.
Unlike Saint Kitts and Nevis, where English is also very widely spoken, Dominica does have an income tax, so be careful spending too much time there.
Gibraltar has long been a European tax-haven and the perfect place to set up shop whether you’re incorporating a business (no capital gains tax) or deciding to become a tax resident (maximum effective tax rate of about 25% with the possibility for a lump-sum tax).
Obviously, being a British Overseas Territory, albeit on the southern coast of Spain, it’s official language is English, so you would have no problem getting by.
Residence permits are easy to come by and the overall culture is rather welcoming. Plus, you can always pop over to Andalusia for the wines, cured meats, and flamenco if you feel bored.
Keep in mind that some uncertainty remains with the impact of Brexit.
It will be quite easy to keep a pulse on life in Ireland because, although Irish Gaelic is recognized as the official language, a mere 5% of the population actually speak it on a regular basis.
Ireland runs on English, which is great news for you. And while it’s not exactly a recognized income tax haven, it is an offshore paradise.
Companies such as Apple and Google have long recognized this and have established businesses in Ireland decades ago – the 12.5% corporate tax is the main appeal there.
Virtually everyone in Ireland speaks English. Sure, there is some vocabulary that will be different and the accent will take some getting used to, but Ireland ticks many boxes:
- A highly reputable country on the international scene
- Member of the EU, it’s very close to the continent
- Modern infrastructure, high-standard health care, and education
- A great quality of life enjoyed by both expats and locals alike
Personal income tax ranges from 20%-40%, but with some smart planning, your decreased corporate taxation could make up for the relatively high-income tax.
7. Isle of Man
Could you see yourself living on a tiny island in between Ireland and the United Kingdom?
It’s well-connected to both and to Europe too.
It’s a self-governing territory of the British Crown and it features sleepy fishing towns, medieval castles, and vast rural landscapes.
Needless to say, everyone there speaks English, so if you’re after an island that’s a bit closer to where life is happening (as opposed to, say, Mauritius), then the Isle of Man could be a good choice. London, Dublin, and Edinburgh are all just a quick plane ride away.
Income tax operates in two bands of either 10% or 20%, so it’s not too high in exchange for an English speaking environment that has all the amenities that a low-key island life could require.
Don’t be fooled by the town names on Jersey – St Helier, St Ouen and La Pulente all sound suspiciously French.
However, Jersey has two official languages, and one of those is English.
Located in between the UK and France, it’s a so-called ‘channel island’ that offers stability, a relatively high quality of life and a booming finance sector.
There is no capital gains tax on Jersey and the income tax is a flat 20%.
While not that low, you can opt to pay a lump-sum tax that may make it worthwhile to gain access to the Jersey infrastructure and the countries nearby too.
I’ve had a base in Malaysia for many years now and I don’t place learning Malay high on my priority list, even though I spend a good deal of time there.
Here in Kuala Lumpur, practically everyone speaks English to some degree, and if you stay in the city, you don’t need to learn Bahasa Malay. English is the de facto official language.
I’m a huge advocate for living in Kuala Lumpur and don’t mean to insult the locals, but outside of similarities with Bahasa Indonesia, there isn’t a lot of utility for Malay in global business or when traveling elsewhere.
There are also some islands where you can immerse yourself fully in the local culture and speak only English, for example, Langkawi and Penang – and both offer a great quality of life.
Plus, foreign-source income is not taxed in Malaysia, so if you’re bringing in your dollars, pounds or euros into Malaysia, you can spend them tax-free.
Malta may as well be the best place to live in Europe when it comes to countries that speak English.
And it certainly helps that it’s a tax haven, allowing offshore companies domiciled there to claim a huge credit on taxes they pay and get their corporate tax rate as low as 5%.
Setting up a company in Malta also allows non-EU citizens to obtain residency in the country. Plus, the territorial tax system means that foreign income will not be taxed unless it is remitted to Malta, at which time it will be taxed at a rate of just 15%.
If living on an island that’s said to be quite traffic-ridden gets boring, you’ll have access to all of Europe without having to do the ‘Schengen Shuffle’, which is great.
On top of Malta’s benefit as an offshore hub for easy banking, low taxes, and openness to industries like gambling, 89% of all Maltese speak English.
All of this makes living in Malta more than just a Mediterranean paradise.
English is the official language in Mauritius, so why isn’t it on more people’s radar?
The beaches, underwater waterfalls, snorkeling opportunities galore… This petite Indian Ocean island surely packs a punch.
Yet, what really caught my eye is the ease of doing business there. Its favorable tax laws and expansive banking system mean that you can take your offshore incorporation to Mauritius quite easily.
Income tax rates stand at 10-15% and there are laws saying that only income remitted to Mauritius is taxable. In other words, not all of your worldwide income would be affected.
Finally, Mauritius recently became the very first country in the world to introduce custodian services to digital assets such as Bitcoin. Want to keep yours away from prying eyes?
The answer is Mauritius.
12. The Philippines
I bet you’ve never thought of the Philippines as your English-speaking country of choice, have you?
Through historical ties, English has been the unofficial language of the Philippines for decades. It is widely taught in its schools, although I’d say you should stick to mostly urban areas to experience the 64% of the people who speak English in the country.
As a nice bonus – only income derived from sources within the Philippines is taxed, so if you have foreign income, this would be exempt.
Retirees especially love the Philippines for the relatively low cost of living and the low-key island lifestyle, feet in the sand.
13. Puerto Rico
Imagine having the quality of life similar to that of the United States, yet living in a tropical paradise, with abundant flora and fauna.
English and Spanish-speaking Puerto Rico is an unincorporated US territory, which means it gets some of the benefits of being associated with the US, but not all of the rules and regulations.
You can read more about the Puerto Rican tax incentives for US citizens here, but if you’re just interested to see what life is like there, then it would suffice to say that it’s an eclectic mix of the English and Spanish cultures.
Singapore is a place where so many nationalities and cultures intermingle that it’s hard to imagine it as a place where English is widely spoken.
But forget the preconceptions – most Singaporeans are native bilinguals. If you want to do business, English is also the de facto language of banking, hand-shaking, and contract signing.
You should know that one in five of the expats in Singapore is a millionaire; it’s an extremely pricey place to live and you’ll need some good capital to make the move.
I wouldn’t recommend burning the ships and severing all ties with your home country if you were to come live in Singapore, however.
Sure, it can be great, but it can also feel a tad too sterile and uneventful, as far as countries go.
Vanuatu is far, far away.
It might make sense to New Zealanders or Australians to move there because, for them, it’s relatively close. But for everyone else…?
Imagine visiting family back in Los Angeles every Christmas – a logistical nightmare at worst, and an extremely long journey of 3+ flights at best.
However, if you want to take the plunge and give Vanuatu a chance, you’ll be glad to know that 62% of the population speaks English.
Plus, it’s one of the easiest places on earth to pay zero income tax and get a second passport in a matter of months.
Other English-First Scenarios
If you’re not so much concerned about the lessening of your tax burden or if you are simply looking for the best English speaking countries to live in for a part of the year (thus not becoming a resident as per my Trifecta Strategy), here are some more set-ups.
But first, let’s take a walk down memory lane.
While my family traveled rather extensively when I was a child, I’ll never forget one of my first solo trips as an adult.
Owing to my partial Norwegian heritage, I went to Norway. And I had figured that languages like Spanish or Chinese would be of little use, so I took a few months before the trip to learn Norwegian.
Not exactly the first language most people would want to learn, right?
So, one early autumn morning, I arrived at Oslo airport, made it through the amazingly efficient immigration desk in short order, and headed into the city center.
Oslo’s central station was largely empty on a Sunday at 8 am, but I was eager to practice my new language skills, as there aren’t exactly a glut of Norwegian speakers outside of, well, Norway.
I asked one of the few people working outside the train station “Hvor er Storting gate”, or “Where is Parliament Street?”
Without missing a beat, the guy looked up at me and replied, “It’s the second street over there on the left.”
Months of listening to old cassettes – yes, that was the only product available for learning Norwegian back then – seemed to have all been for naught as no one in Norway wanted to speak Norwegian with me.
As one of the world’s wealthiest countries (and not a bad place to bank offshore), Norway has encouraged learning English and most of the population speaks it rather fluently.
So, there is little surprise that among a few of the other English-first scenarios that I have listed below, you’ll find Norway first.
Just to be clear, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend becoming a tax resident in the following countries, although a place like Lithuania with its rate of 15% might seem appealing.
1. Scandinavia – Norway, Sweden, Denmark
These Viking lands are economic powerhouses, where the lingua franca is English. So, while it might not be an obvious choice, you should give them a fair chance.
Norway, Sweden, and Denmark are rated as some of the happiest places on earth, so you know that the quality of life there is through the roof.
What they are not, however, are tax havens. Featuring some of the highest rates of income tax in the world, it won’t be suitable for everyone to move there on a permanent basis.
However, if you plan it out carefully and don’t become a tax resident, Scandinavia is an amazing place to live.
High-quality food, top public services, unspoiled nature – this could be all yours and you’d get to enjoy it in English too.
2. The Netherlands
Recently, Rotterdammers were named as the most adept at speaking English as a second language… in the world!
Amsterdam, the Hague, and other Dutch cities are not that far behind, making the Netherlands one of the biggest English strong-holds in Europe (outside of the UK, of course).
If you have ever dreamed of spending your days strolling along the romantic canals of Amsterdam, you’ll be happy to know that over 90% of Dutch speak English. More than 15 million of them, in fact.
While becoming a permanent resident of the Netherlands may not be the best move for tax purposes, Western citizens can easily spend half of their year in Europe’s Schengen area, giving you plenty of time to enjoy a second home in Amsterdam.
Bonus point, the Netherlands has some favorable corporate arrangements in place, thanks to its copious tax treaties and tax participation exemptions (e.g., dividends and capital gains realized are exempt from corporate tax).
It’s a highly stable country with access to all of Europe, extremely modern health, transport, and educational facilities.
What’s not to like? Well, the income tax is the stinger, so watch out and don’t overstay your non-resident welcome.
3. The Balkans – Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria, and More
Depending on where you are in the Balkans, you might have some luck with Italian or German. However, the main second language of the younger generation is English.
Sure, the older generator might still be monolingual or speak Russian as their only foreign language. But stick to bigger cities like Zagreb, Sofia or Belgrade, and you shouldn’t encounter any problems assimilating into the community as an English speaker.
So, if you are looking for an English speaking expat country that’s a bit under the radar, the Balkan countries might be a good choice for you.
4. The Baltics – Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia
The Baltics are usually skipped over in favor of someplace else, usually with richer cultural history, better food, or a milder climate.
And if you think this way too, you’re really doing yourself no favors. These three countries have been experiencing some of the fastest growth rates in the EU over the last three years.
There’s loads of investment potential and the programs for foreign capital, as well as some terminated tax exemptions, are really generous.
With more and more foreign investment and tourism, the Baltics can provide quite a comfortable life that comes at a fraction of the cost of Scandinavia, but many of the same amenities.
Especially in Vilnius, Riga, and Tallinn, you can work towards lower tax rates and fully immerse yourself in the social life speaking English only.
And the Very Best English Speaking Country in the World Is…
… the one you move to after you do your due diligence.
I’ve given you lots of food for thought as to which world country you can call home and still go about your daily life solely in English.
Yet, as my team and I always say, “go where you’re treated best.”
Choosing an English speaking country is a puzzle that needs to be picked apart:
- Will it make sense for you to become a resident in the country?
- Would you want to invest there too?
- Are you going to take your business there?
At the end of the day, where you choose to live is all part of a holistic strategy that you can use to create a life of greater personal and financial freedom. If you want help figuring out which country fits best into your individualized plan, feel free to reach out.