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Top 15 places to live and work abroad in 2013

Visitors look at the Opera House being lit up by a projection during Vivid Sydney, the annual festival of light, music and ideas, in Sydney on May 28, 2013. More than 60 interactive and immersive light sculptures and installations across Circular Quay, The Rocks, Walsh Bay, Darling Harbour and North Sydney took part in the festival. City skyscrapers will light up along with 3D mapped projections on Customs House, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, and Cadman?s Cottage. AFP PHOTO / Saeed KHAN (Photo credit should read SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images) SAEED KHAN

(MoneyWatch) Even though global economic growth is limping along, businesses are still increasingly sending employees overseas.

According to a recent study by the Cartus Corp., a top provider of relocation services around the globe, 57 percent of multinational companies expect to increase the number of employees they transfer this year. That trend isn't new: Cartus transferred 160,000 people last year -- up 5 percent from the year before.

Technology companies lead the pack in transferring employees globally for both short- and long-term assignments, followed by oil- and gas-producing companies, financial companies and then manufacturing and pharmaceuticals.

Overall, 15 countries stand out as the best places for businesses to send their employees and their families. While the annual list remains relatively constant, countries tend to trade spots within it. China was big last year but dropped slightly in the rankings this year. Britain, on the other hand, has emerged as a more popular destination. And despite its recent economic woes, the top global destination remains unchanged.

See how this list compares to the 10 best countries to live and work abroad in 2012 as well as the 2011 list.

Top 15 places to live and work abroad in 2013

15. Italy

Like most countries in Europe, Italy has struggled economically, with reports of 1,000 Italian companies going belly-up every year.

For transferred employees though, Italy's natural beauty and relatively inexpensive cost of living are attractive.

Top 15 places to live and work abroad in 2013

14. Australia

Isolated as an island continent, Australia relies heavily on imports such as electrical appliances, cars, clothes and footwear. Its international trade and investment result in the presence of a high number of international retailers. As for costs, living here is pretty similar to that of the U.S., according to cost-of-living indexer Numbeo.

Top 15 places to live and work abroad in 2013

13. Japan

Japan's reputation for building some of the best cars and electronics in the world still attracts businesses to this densely populated country. Life here is expensive, as Tokyo ranks as the most expensive city in the world, according to the Mercer 2012 Cost of Living Survey.

Top 15 places to live and work abroad in 2013

12. United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates is a small country just east of Saudi Arabia, and like most of the Middle East, its  economic strength is based largely on oil.

But the UAE knows that resource will one day be exhausted, and it is beginning to focus on trade as a means of growth, said Cartus executive vice president Matt Spinolo.

The cost of living in Dubai, the largest city in the emirates, is similar to a major U.S. or British city.

Top 15 places to live and work abroad in 2013

11. Netherlands

With scant natural resources, the Netherlands became a trading powerhouse in northern Europe hundreds of years ago. That still holds for today, and many businesses still send employees to the country to build and maintain those trading relationships. But living in the Netherlands can be tough, as foreigners are eligible only for "free-sector" apartments, which means there is no cap on how much the landlord can charge. Expats can expect to pay big money for minimal space.

Top 15 places to live and work abroad in 2013

10. Hong Kong

Hong Kong has an incredibly powerful economy, and a lot of business is done within its borders. It affords businessmen and women access to other Asian countries and to mainland China, with which it has strong economic ties. Space is at a premium in Hong Kong, so it's no surprise rent is expensive: Expect to spend $4,000 a month for a three-bedroom apartment, according to Numbeo.

Top 15 places to live and work abroad in 2013

9. France

Many French companies are still family-owned and medium-sized. Though they still send employees to other realms and transfer them back to France, the assignments tend to be short-term.

Many expats head to Paris, where life is not cheap, but not overwhelmingly expensive either. These employees should plan to spend more than $1,300 a month for a basic one-bedroom apartment in the city center.

Top 15 places to live and work abroad in 2013

8. India

India is rapidly changing from the land of call centers to a technological hub, attracting businesses from around the world.

However, a sizable chunk of employees headed for India are actually Indian nationals being sent back to develop new locations for their employers, Spinolo said.

Life in India is inexpensive, however: An apartment runs to just a few hundred dollars.

Top 15 places to live and work abroad in 2013

7. Canada

Unlike its next-door neighbor to the south, Canada has a very open policy on immigration. As such, it has attracted plenty of companies, many of which are setting up IT centers. Canada also remains the biggest trading partner of the U.S., and employees tend to move seamlessly between the two countries. Most Canadian expats wind up living on the border, as 80 percent of the nation's population lives within 100 miles of the U.S.

Top 15 places to live and work abroad in 2013

6. Singapore

For centuries, Singapore has been a popular trading destination and that remains true today. Its location allows it to serve as a trading hub for most Asian countries and Australia. According to Spinolo, the city-state has also been trying to attract very high value pharmaceuticals manufacturing companies. Rents in Singapore are also high -- ranging from $2,000 to $4,000 a month--for a very compact space.

Top 15 places to live and work abroad in 2013

5. Switzerland

Switzerland is popular among multinational companies for two reasons: its business-friendly financial regulations and tax laws and its emerging prominence in research and development. Housing here is expensive: The country's top two cities, Geneva and Zurich, have median rents of nearly $2,000 a month.

Top 15 places to live and work abroad in 2013

4. Germany

Despite its relatively small size, Germany has one of the strongest economies on the globe. It has also weathered the recent economic storm and rebounded, with 75 percent of its citizens telling the Pew Research Center that the economy there is good. By comparison, only 33 percent of Americans said the same thing about the U.S. economy. Apartments in Germany are less expensive than those in the U.S. Numbeo says a one-bedroom in a major city will fall in the mid-$500 range.

Top 15 places to live and work abroad in 2013

3. China

Many companies send employees to mainland China, but the reasons for sending them have changed over the years.

"Initially, when you had expats go to China, it was for access to inexpensive resources and labor," Spinolo said. "Over time, as the Chinese economy developed and consumer economy developed, it was to sell things to these emerging consumers."

Life in China, however, can be a big shock for foreigners, who must acclimate to a different culture, different legal system and substandard air quality.

Top 15 places to live and work abroad in 2013

2. United Kingdom

Like Germany and China, the U.K. is a center for foreign investment -- particularly by the U.S., which brings employees to the country in part because of its long-standing international relationship with the kingdom. The U.K. also tends to be the first place U.S. companies post employees in the event of international expansion because British law and culture are comparable to those of the U.S., and the two nations share a language, said Spinolo.

Living in the U.K. is expensive. Its main business hub, London, ranks as the one of the most expensive cities in the world.

Top 15 places to live and work abroad in 2013

1. United States

Americans may view their economy as still struggling in the wake of the economic crisis, but it is hard for the rest of the world to see it in that light. Recession or not, the U.S. gross domestic product tops $15 trillion. By comparison, China, now considered a U.S. competitor -- ranks a distant second, with a GDP of $7 trillion a year.

"In general, the U.S. is still at the top of the list of global destinations because the U.S. remains the largest economy in the world," Spinolo said. "Although we may think we're still in low gear economically speaking, compared to investment opportunities elsewhere in the world, the U.S. remains high atop everyone's list of business places to be."