Settling abroad with a disability: Where should you go?

Published on 2019-08-07 at 09:50 by Mikki Beru
Settling down abroad is an exciting adventure. It is a journey to discover others, but also the self. There are so many things to decide on, starting with your host country. How do you make the right choice? What are the things to look out for? And when you’re disabled, these become even more important. Settling abroad with a disability narrows down your choices. But how can you make it work? And what countries are making progress on issues related to accessibility and inclusiveness? We launched a discussion on this topic our forums last week and in view of the answers, takes stock of the challenges of moving abroad with a disability.


We walk all the time we hardly even pay attention to how much we do walk. We walk to get from the bedroom to the bathroom, from the bathroom to the living room. We leave the house to take the bus, the metro, the car. We walk all the time.

But this activity takes a different turn when one is handicapped. The state of the street and borders, the presence or lack thereof of braille marking: everything becomes complicated. Although there is more and more pressure to make infrastructure disabled-friendly, this proves harder in some countries.

In Tokyo, Japan, almost every street has Braille markings. It is called "tenji burokku". Other big cities like Osaka or Yokohama have also adopted the system. However, moving away from the city centres and cities in general, Braille markings tend to disappear.

Nantes and Grenoble are often cited as examples in terms of accessibility. Both cities have invested to make the street a transit zone for all: widening of tracks, flattening / leveling of pavements to avoid borders. Grenoble has set up a telephone number for citizens to report any road problem. Again, not everything is perfect, and difficulties remain.

Sofia, the capital city of Bulgaria, seems to be a little less accessible to the disabled in terms of infrastructure, however. Impractical sidewalks, no accessible parkings etc... Phil, a Belgian expatriate in Bulgaria and member of confirms that being disabled in Bulgaria is not an easy task. "Not everything is suitable [for] wheelchairs. Sidewalks, especially.” He notes, however, a slight improvement: in the center of Bourgas (or Burgas), a coastal city in Bulgaria, where most of the sidewalks have been redone.


Depending on the nature of the disability, there is a need for adapted housing. Canadian authorities have created an Accessibility Resource Center, which centralizes all available support for people with disabilities. The Center also has the responsibility to keep an eye on all the advances in housing. The challenge is twofold: on the one hand creating new housing, adapted to every disability and, on the other, rehabilitate existing housing to make them accessible to people with disabilities.

Frédéric , a real estate agent in Canada and member of welcomes efforts made by the relevant authorities. "The situation is improving,'' says Frédéric. "New buildings are [often] equipped with flashers to announce a fire alarm to people who have lost their hearing. Access ramps are also a requirement now, making it easier to move out of or into the public areas. "The country is advancing, of course, slowly, but it is moving forward.”

Finland is also trying to promote inclusiveness towards the disabled. The country has launched two new types of housing. "Supportive housing" is designed for people who need infrastructure adapted to their needs but can live independently. "Service apartments" are designed for people in need of help, but without quite needing hospital care.

Health Services

Another sector requiring profound transformations: access to care. In the United States, the modern infrastructures allow proper care of all individuals although the medical insurance can be inaccessible to the disabled if they are unemployed.

Portugal seems to be experiencing difficulties in taking care of people with disabilities. For this one member of who suffers from myopathy, if the quality of care is up to standards, it is accessibility to care that can be problematic because medical coverage is complicated for expatriates.