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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

Urban Living: The Best Cities for Expatriates

Typical expat hubs are few and far between in the Expat Insider 2016 city ranking, which shows respondents’ favorite cities based on newly analyzed data from this year’s survey — and a big surprise awaits in second place.
  • Melbourne ranks first worldwide, due to excellent results for settling in and working abroad
  • In second place, Houston, Texas, attracts expats with friendly locals and low costs
  • Despite Spain’s economic struggle, Madrid boasts a great quality of life and lands on third
  • Cities in Germany and Austria rank first in three out of five topical indices

Expat Destinations: The Top-Rated Cities in 2016

Top-Rated Expat Cities in 2016 — infographic

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For the Expat Insider 2016 survey, InterNations has not only taken a close look at more than 60 countries across the globe: the results also include a ranking of 35 cities that prove to be common destinations among the participants.

Participants were asked to rate their city of residence on a scale of one to seven, according to such factors as quality of living, ease of settling in, working abroad, and personal finance. At least 50 respondents were required for a city to feature in the ranking, but quite a few exceed this minimum requirement by far, with nearly 400 participants in one destination.

Among the 35 cities analyzed, Melbourne turns out to be the favorite location for expats.

Melbourne: Every Expat’s Darling

The worldwide number one in the Expat Insider 2016 city ranking, Melbourne excels especially with regard to working abroad and settling in. In both topical indices, Australia’s second-most populous city features among the global top 5.

Its fourth place out of 35 destinations in the Working Abroad Index is mainly due to its stellar performance in the Work-Life Balance subcategory: here, too, Melbourne is the best-ranking city around the world. Among the expats living in Melbourne, 79% are generally pleased with their work-life balance, and 27% give this aspect of life abroad the best possible rating — a considerably higher result than the global averages of 60% and 17%, respectively. Moreover, the city does very well in the Job & Career subcategory, making it to third place worldwide. Indeed, 71% of survey respondents express overall satisfaction with their job, and another seven in ten are generally happy with their career opportunities down under.

In the Quality of Life Index, however, Melbourne narrowly misses the top 10, ranking eleventh. While its ranking in this index receives a boost due to the Leisure Options and Health & Well-Being subcategories, the relative geographic isolation and the resulting issues with travel and transport bring the overall result down. Still, the survey participants know how to enjoy life in Australia to the fullest: 55% think the available leisure activities are excellent.

However, you need to have a generous income to truly sample everything that Melbourne has to offer: its ranking in the Cost of Living Index, a 24th place out of 35, is rather below average, and 46% of the respondents consider the local living expenses to be generally high. Nonetheless, the survey participants are apparently able to cope: only one in nine respondents (11%) judges their personal financial in Melbourne situation negatively, compared to a worldwide average of 17%.

A Big Moment for the “Space City”: Houston on Number Two

Houston, Texas, the largest city in the “Lone Star State”, is the surprise shooting star of the Expat Insider 2016 city ranking. It makes it to 2nd place out of all 35 cities around the globe, largely thanks to its outstanding result in the Ease of Settling In Index.

Houston owes its top rank with regard to settling in abroad to a friendly population that offers expats a warm welcome. In fact, about one in three expats (31%) couldn’t be happier about the general friendliness in the “Space City”, and an even higher number (40%) thinks that its residents are perfectly friendly towards foreign nationals in particular. This makes it easier for expats to get used to local life and socialize: 72% of respondents feel at home in Houston, and about two out of three expats (65%) have no difficulties in finding local friends. However, the data was collected before the US presidential elections: it is yet to be seen if the election results will have an impact on such ranking categories as "Friendliness" or "Feeling Welcome", which the Ease of Settling In Index is based on.

But expats don’t just appreciate Houston for socializing: life in the fourth-largest US city definitely has its financial benefits, too. Houston ranks fifth in the Cost of Living Index and seventh in the Personal Finance Index, respectively. While one in seven respondents (14%) complains that their disposable income isn’t enough to cover expenses, three out of four survey participants, on the other hand, rate their financial situation in Houston positively. What is more, three in five consider local housing to be quite affordable — a huge difference to the global average of 45%.

However, Houston’s performance in the Job Security and Health & Well-Being subcategories, amongst other things, adversely affects its rankings when it comes to working abroad and the quality of life. Three out of ten expats are unhappy with their individual job security, as opposed to 22% worldwide, which helps to explain Houston’s sub-par 19th place in the respective category.

When it comes to expats’ health, it’s not the quality of medical care, or even the quality of the environment, which has a negative effect on the rankings: it’s the affordability of healthcare that seems to be a huge problem in the US in general. In Houston, one in four expats even thinks that medical costs are not affordable at all.

Living la Vida Loca in Madrid

After two metropolises in the Asia-Pacific region and the Americas, a European capital rounds out the top 3 of the Expat Insider 2016 city ranking. Just like Houston and Melbourne, Madrid boasts impressive results in the Ease of Settling In Index, where it ranks third worldwide. As far as the quality of life is concerned, it even makes it to 2nd place out of 35.

In fact, Madrid achieves above-average to excellent results in nearly every subcategory of the Quality of Life Index. Expats love its manifold leisure options, as is evident from the 51% who give this factor a top rating. The sunny weather may also help with overall happiness: 53% think the local climate is perfect, and nine in ten respondents living in Madrid report that they are happy with their life in general (globally: 78%).

Unlike expats in Melbourne, survey participants in Madrid rate their travel opportunities very highly (88% vs. 66% positive ratings), and as opposed to the respondents in Houston, participants in Madrid needn’t worry about healthcare, either: 79% each think that medical care is both of high quality and affordable to boot. The only subcategory in the Quality of Life Index where Madrid could do a lot better is safety. Here, the Spanish capital only ranks 21st out of 35. However, that disappointing result is mainly due to expats’ dissatisfaction with political stability in Spain rather than concerns about personal safety and crime.

The bad ratings for political instability are probably linked to the ongoing economic and financial crisis in Spain. The latter, an obvious disadvantage, should be taken into consideration when it comes to Madrid’s stellar result in the Cost of Living Index (3rd worldwide). The relatively low living expenses can’t make up for the respondents’ lack of satisfaction with their personal finances, though: only 56% rate this aspect favorably, compared to 64% globally. Moreover, Madrid only comes 29th out of 35 in the Working Abroad Index: 29% of expats rate their current career prospects poorly, and only 2% think that the state of the economy is very good.

Brush Up Your German: Austrian and German Cities Coming Out on Top

With Houston, the “winner” of the Ease of Settling In Index is already featured among the global top 3. However, not all top-ranking cities in the individual indices make it into the list of three, or even five, best-performing destinations overall. Therefore, the following cities are also worth a closer look.

Expats looking for a great quality of life, the perfect career abroad, or a relatively low cost of living might want to brush up their German language skills: in these three indices, German or Austrian cities come out on top.

Vienna ranks first out of all featured destinations in the Quality of Life Index: in all of its five subcategories — Leisure Options, Personal Happiness, Travel & Transport, Health & Well-Being, and Safety & Security — Vienna manages to land, at worst, on a still respectable ninth place. With regard to travel and health in particular, the Austrian capital really shines: 83% of expats are completely satisfied with the local transport infrastructure, and 92% appreciate Vienna for its various travel opportunities. The quality of medical care, its affordability, and the relatively clean environment also find favor among the respondents.

If Vienna is the go-to destination for a high quality of living, expats interested in an international career should rather look into Frankfurt, the number one in the Working Abroad Index. It doesn’t do quite as well as Melbourne when it comes to work-life balance, and job security is rated just a tad better in Munich. However, as far as job satisfaction and career prospects are concerned, you can’t beat Frankfurt: over three out of four expats working there (77%) do like their job, and roughly the same percentage (78%) feels optimistic about their career opportunities.

Another German city makes it to first place in the Cost of Living Index: Berlin. Though the German capital is currently undergoing a rapid gentrification process, the local expat population still seems to love the fairly affordable living conditions: 21% report complete satisfaction with their cost of living while another 64% is overall content with the prices on the housing market. However, incomes in Berlin appear to be lower as well: in the Personal Finance Index, the capital only scores a below-average 23rd rank out of 35.

In Beijing, the best-ranking city in the Personal Finance Index, it’s exactly the other way round. Expats in Beijing have fairly high satisfaction levels as regards their financial situation: 73% rate this factor positively. More than seven in ten respondents (72%) also think that their income is more than what they need to make a living. Nonetheless, expats clearly have to deal with considerable expenses: while 35% judge the cost of living in China’s capital negatively, even more struggle to find affordable housing (56%). The respective figures for Berlin amount to a mere 8% and 17%.