Here's some consolation as you hunker down for another Canadian winter.

A survey of 3,100 expatriates — people who work outside their own countries — found our land of ice and snow provided them with the best improvement over their old lives compared with the place of sun, surf and sand.

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Expats in Canada more than those in any other country said their families' quality of life had improved compared with their country of origin. ((CBC))

Canada beat Australia in the second annual Expat Explorer survey by HSBC Bank International — the world's largest survey of expats from 50 countries — when it came to lifestyle, especially for families. Australia came second and Thailand third.

A bank spokesman says Canada leads the world because of the ease of finding the right house and being able to fit in, especially when it comes to making friends.

"It's predominately what I call quality-of-life attributes," Matthew Bosrock, deputy CEO of HSBC Canada, told CBC News from his office in Vancouver. In Canada, it's "easy to locate, easy to start a new life."

That resonates with John Hankins, an expat who moved to Calgary from England more than nine years ago.

"We were comfortably off in the U.K., had a good job, didn't really want for anything, but really fancied a change," he says. "Canada was always top of the list."

That's not surprising, given his job as vice-president of investment and trade development for Calgary economic development, the municipal agency with the job of promoting the city as a business destination. But it's also obvious he prefers Canada and that the decision to move was about more than money. 

"What Canada offers is the outdoor lifestyle," Hankins says. "The U.K. alone could fit into Alberta three or four times, so just the scale of the space here in Alberta and in Canada just is mind-blowing compared to the U.K."

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Why would anyone choose to work in Toronto in February over ... ((Robin Rowland/CBC))

Bosrock agrees there's an irony in releasing a report that ranks Canada ahead of Australia just before winter arrives.

He admits it might just be that the survey was done during the Australian winter and the Canadian summer. But as an American-born, self-described "career expat," who has lived in seven countries in the last 18 years, he has another theory.

 

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...Sydney's Bondi Beach in January? HSBC has a theory. ((Rob Griffith/Associated Press))

Besides geographical variety, what Canada has going for it, he says, is ethnic diversity.

"There isn't perhaps a feeling as if, 'Gee, I am an outsider here and almost everybody else has been here for their entire life or for generations," he said.  "Multiculturalism is something that is welcoming to people from other cultures and I think that's a huge advantage that Canada really does have and I think needs to exploit more than it does today."

Bosrock says expats fall into two categories: those who want a new experience and others who are motivated by financial reward or career advancement and move "almost despite the experiences they may have to endure in that country."

Another HSBC survey, released earlier this year, ranked countries by how well expats did in terms of financial compensation. Russia led that list but came in near the bottom of the lifestyle survey. Canada ranked 21st out of 26 for earnings.

Offering a good lifestyle likely means Canadian employers don’t have to pay as much as those in other countries, Bosrock says, and allows Canada to attract a broader range of candidates.

More expats buy property in Canada

The survey found expats like Canada so much that 24 per cent of them retire here compared with seven per cent globally, and 67 per cent own property here.  That's more than double the world average of 31 per cent.

John Hankins decided to stay.

"My experience on the social side was very, very positive," says Hankins. "I couldn't wait to become a Canadian citizen. I found that I integrated really, really well."

Where to find love

The place to find love while working overseas was Thailand, where 47 per cent claimed to have found romance, followed by Germany and Brazil. Thirty-two per cent of expats found their soul mates in Canada, well above the global average of 20 per cent.

The odds aren't so great in India or Qatar, where only four per cent in each met the love of their lives.

Want household staff? Vietnam, where 91 per cent of expats have someone to pick up after them, is the best bet, according to the survey. The best place for food is France, not surprisingly, according to 71 per cent of expats there.

HSBC commissioned a third-party research company, FreshMinds, to do the survey between February and April 2009. HSBC admits it's hardly a scientific sampling of the views of expats in 50 countries, but as the largest study of its kind, it does provide insights into one of its target markets.

The sample included both customers and non-customers, which HSBC found by a variety of methods, from talking with online expat communities to getting in touch with embassies based in different countries.