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Best countries for LGBTQ+ expats

Updated 6 Dec 2023

For LGBTQ+ expats searching for a new home, there's a lot to consider. Safety is undoubtedly a top concern across the board, but beyond that, the wants and needs of LGBTQ+ expats can be just as varied as the wide range of bright colours and identities represented on the Pride flag.

For some, moving to an area with a tight-knit LGBTQ+ community is a high priority, especially for expats looking to meet that special someone or simply to hang out with like-minded people. Same-sex couples may be concerned about the legality of same-sex marriage and laws around adoption or IVF. Meanwhile, for many transgender individuals, finding easy and affordable access to any medical services they may require will be high on the list.

Taking these factors into consideration, here are our recommendations for the best countries for LGBTQ+ expats to live in.


The Netherlands

Considered by many to be the world's most gay-friendly country, the Netherlands has a proud history of leading the way when it comes to progressive legislation.

In 2001, it became the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage, although homosexual activity was decriminalised as far back as the early 1800s. Changing one's legal gender doesn't require surgery, and those who do change their legal gender can choose between male, female and intersex. Though non-binary is noticeably absent as a possible legal gender, this is still a more progressive stance than found in most countries.

Cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam are home to the country's largest LGBTQ+ communities. From colourful Pride parades along the canals to bustling gay bars, there are plenty of places to meet and mingle with like-minded people in the Netherlands.

Read more about Diversity and Inclusion in the Netherlands.


Spain

Spain has long been a bastion of LGBTQ+ rights and is, on the whole, an incredibly inclusive society. Close to 90 percent of the population agrees that gay and lesbian people should be accepted, and same-sex marriage has been legal since 2005.

Culturally, much of Spain's greatest and most beloved artwork has been created by LGBTQ+ individuals, from filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar to poet Federico García Lorca. In addition, Spain is also notable for having some of the most robust transgender rights and protections in the world.

Expats looking for a city with an inviting and welcoming LGBTQ+ community will have plenty of options in Spain. Barcelona and Madrid are particularly LGBTQ+ friendly, though Seville and Valencia are also recommended.

Read more about Diversity and Inclusion in Spain


Canada

With progressive leadership, protective laws and a largely pro-LGBTQ+ community, Canada is a great choice for LGBTQ+ expats.

In 2006, it became the first country outside of Europe to legalise same-sex marriage. No surgery is required to change legal gender in Canada, and there are three legal genders: male (M), female (F) and X, for non-binary or intersex individuals. Discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is illegal, and conversion therapy is banned.

Several Canadian cities have thriving LGBTQ+ scenes – notably, Toronto is home to one of the world's largest Pride celebrations, attracting up to 2 million festival-goers a year. Other vibrant LGBTQ+ cities include Vancouver and Montreal.

Read more about Diversity and Inclusion in Canada.


Belgium

Renowned for its progressive stance on LGBTQ+ rights, Belgium stands out as an appealing destination for LGBTQ+ expats. As one of the first countries to legalise same-sex marriage in 2003, Belgium demonstrates a longstanding commitment to equality and inclusiveness. The legal process for gender change, implemented in 2007 and further refined in 2018, is based on self-determination, removing the need for medical or court interventions.

The presence of influential LGBTQ+ figures in the political sphere, such as Elio Di Rupo, one of the world's first openly gay heads of government, and the appointment of the first openly transgender government minister, further underline Belgium's progressive approach.

Belgium's vibrant LGBTQ+ community is centred in major cities like Brussels, Antwerp, and Ghent. These cities offer a plethora of LGBTQ+-friendly spaces, ranging from lively bars and clubs to cultural events and pride celebrations. The Belgian LGBTQ+ scene is known for its openness and diversity, creating a welcoming environment for locals and visitors alike.

Read more about Diversity and Inclusion in Belgium.


Denmark

Denmark, known for its socially liberal policies and inclusive culture, is a prime destination for LGBTQ+ expats.

Legal recognition of same-sex relationships in Denmark dates back to 1989, with same-sex marriage being legal since 2012. In 1930, Lili Elbe became one of the first people in the world to legally change their gender via reassignment surgery, and since 2014, Danish citizens have been able to change their legal gender by filling out a simple form. Denmark's consistent early adoption of LGBTQ+ rights showcases the country's commitment to equality and inclusivity.

Copenhagen, the capital city, is particularly renowned for its gay-friendly atmosphere and is home to a diverse LGBTQ+ community. The city's old Latin Quarter serves as a central hub for LGBTQ+ nightlife, characterised by a blend of bars, clubs and cultural venues that welcome LGBTQ+ people and allies. This level of integration signifies the open-mindedness prevalent throughout the city.

While challenges remain, particularly in the public acceptance of transgender people, Denmark's continuous efforts in promoting LGBTQ+ rights make it an attractive option for expats seeking a supportive and vibrant community.

Read more about Diversity and Inclusion in Denmark.


South Africa

Fondly nicknamed the 'Rainbow Nation', South Africa is home to a diverse and welcoming population and has one of the world's most progressive constitutions.

In 1996, the country became the first in the world to specifically outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. Since then, South Africa has continued to be a trailblazer in the realm of LGBTQ+ rights. 2006 saw South Africa become the first country in the continent of Africa to legalise same-sex. As of 2023 – nearly two decades later – it remains the only country in Africa where same-sex marriage is legal.

Major cities such as Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban are particularly LGBTQ+ friendly, and all play host to vibrant communities.

Read more about Diversity and Inclusion in South Africa.


Portugal

Portugal is emerging as a preferred destination for LGBTQ+ expats thanks to its commitment to equality and inclusivity. 

Since decriminalising homosexual activity in 1982, Portugal has made significant strides. Same-sex marriage has been legal since 2010, and same-sex adoption was legalised in 2016. Additionally, one can change one's legal gender without surgery since 2018, although non-binary and other genders are not yet recognised.

The country has a strong approach to transgender discrimination protection and support for gender-affirming care for teens, alongside its prohibition of LGBTQ+ discrimination in employment and housing.

Portugal's major cities, such as Lisbon, Porto, Braga and Funchal, are known for their lively LGBTQ+ scenes. These cities not only host vibrant Pride events but also offer various LGBTQ+-friendly social venues, providing expats with ample opportunities to connect with the community.

Read more about Diversity and Inclusion in Portugal.


Ireland

Ireland stands as a beacon of progress for LGBTQ+ rights, making it a top choice for LGBTQ+ expats. The nation's equal age of consent, progressive transgender laws and comprehensive anti-discrimination protections showcase its dedication to equality.

The legal landscape for LGBTQ+ people in Ireland is one of the most advanced in Europe. Since legalising same-sex marriage through a historic referendum in 2015, Ireland has continued to advance LGBTQ+ rights, and LGBTQ+ couples in Ireland can now adopt children. The country has also enabled transgender people to change their legal gender through self-declaration since 2015.

Ireland's largest cities, particularly Dublin, offer vibrant LGBTQ+ scenes. Dublin is the heart of Ireland's LGBTQ+ community and hosts the majority of events and gatherings, with several popular queer bars. Although smaller, other cities like Cork, Galway, Limerick, and Waterford also provide inclusive and diverse environments for the LGBTQ+ community.

Read more about Diversity and Inclusion in Ireland.

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