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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

The Best (and Worst) Cities for Expats in 2017

With an unexpected winner in first place and the famous “City of Lights” in the bottom 3, the Expat City Ranking 2017 offers some interesting insights into urban life abroad.
  • #1 Manama makes it easy for expats to get settled: an impressive 92% of respondents agree that living there without speaking Arabic is not hard.
  • #2 Prague shines in regard to work, making it into the top 10 for every subcategory of the Urban Work Life Index.
  • #3 Madrid may not be the place to go for your career but delights with excellent leisure options and great weather.
  • Expats in Lagos and Jeddah are unhappy with their work life and the local quality of living, while expats in Paris have a hard time getting settled.

Expat Destinations: The Top Cities in 2017


For the Expat Insider 2017 survey, respondents were also invited to share their opinions on the city they are currently living in.

Participants were asked to rate more than 25 different aspects of urban life abroad on a scale of one to seven. The rating process emphasized the respondents’ personal satisfaction with these aspects and considered both emotional topics as well as more factual aspects with equal weight. The respondents’ ratings of the individual factors were then bundled in various combinations for a total of 13 subcategories, and their mean values were used to draw up four topical indices: Quality of Urban Living, Getting Settled, Urban Work Life, and Finance & Housing. These were further averaged in order to rank 51 cities worldwide.

For a city to be featured in the Expat City Ranking 2017, a sample size of at least 45 survey participants per city was required. In total, the responses used for the city ranking represent 7,985 expats living in 40 countries.

Offering a Very Warm Welcome: Manama

Just like Bahrain in the country ranking, its capital also makes it to the top of the overall ranking in 2017. The city does well or even very well in all indices except for the Quality of Urban Living Index, where it ranks 35th out of 51 cities due to average or below-average ratings across all four subcategories. A third of the respondents (33%), for instance, thinks that local transportation options could be better. And while the majority (53%) gives the quality of the urban environment a positive rating, this is a significantly lower share than the two-thirds of respondents worldwide (67%) who say the same.

Manama achieves its best results in the Getting Settled Index, where it follows Kuala Lumpur in second place. Expats particularly appreciate how easy it is to live in the city without speaking the local language: an impressive 92% of respondents agree that this is the case. The majority (59%) even considers it very easy to live in Manama without Arabic language skills. Respondents in Manama are also significantly more likely than the global average to agree that there’s a friendly attitude towards foreign residents (84% vs. 67%), and close to two-thirds (65%) have few problems finding new friends abroad (vs. 48% worldwide).

Bahrainis are very friendly and welcoming. Everyone speaks English.

Expats have an easy time settling in Manama when it comes to housing and finances, too. The city ranks fourth in the respective index, with 88% generally agreeing that it is easy for expats to find accommodation — in cities around the world, only about half of all respondents (53%) say the same. Once found, housing is considered expensive by less than a quarter of survey participants in Manama (24%) compared to an average of 44% of respondents worldwide.

Finances in general do not seem to pose a big problem, with the city ranking fourth in the respective subcategory — good news for the one-fifth of respondents who cite financial reasons as their main motivation for moving to Manama (vs. 4% globally). Expats in Bahrain’s capital are twice as likely to have an annual household income of over 200,000 USD as respondents worldwide (11% vs. 5%). This might be connected to the fact that they are also twice as likely to work in management (31% vs. 14%)

Ranking 12th out of 51 cities, Bahrain’s capital does well for urban work life. The city shows generally good results in both the Job & Career (10th) and the Work-Life Balance (7th) subcategories. This is slightly offset by a below-average rating for the state of the local economy (55% vs. 60% favorable ratings worldwide), although Bahrain’s economic growth is expected to surpass official forecasts of 2% in 2017. Over a quarter of expats in Manama (27%) say they primarily moved there because they found a job on their own. 

A Pleasant, Affordable, and Productive Life: Prague

While Manama makes it extremely easy for expats to find their feet, Prague receives its worst ratings in the Getting Settled Index, ranking 35th out of 51 cities. Respondents are particularly dissatisfied with the friendliness of the local population, both in general (35% negative ratings) and towards foreign residents in particular (38% negative). They also struggle with the local language: close to one-third (32%) say it is not easy to live in Prague without speaking Czech, and over four in five (81%) consider learning it difficult.

Luckily, any potential communication difficulties do not seem to affect the respondents’ work life in Prague: the city ranks second in the respective index, only beaten by Amsterdam. In fact, Prague makes it into the top 10 for every subcategory of the Urban Work Life Index! Respondents particularly appreciate the local career opportunities, with 68% rating them favorably compared to less than half of all survey participants (49%). Its “worst” result in terms of work is a 12th place regarding the state of the local economy, though just 2% give this factor a negative rating, while globally 18% do the same.

Prague is also found in the top 10 regarding the quality of urban living. Survey participants especially praise the local transportation options: not one respondent gives this factor a negative rating, and three-quarters even say it’s excellent — a result that is in line with the city’s top 5 rank in the 2017 Sustainable Cities Mobility Index. Prague’s eighth place in the Quality of Urban Living Index is further cemented by significantly above-average satisfaction with local leisure options (86% positive ratings vs. 73% worldwide), personal safety (91% vs. 76%), and the affordability of healthcare (81% vs. 56%).

The city is accessible and alive with things to do. There are a lot of cultural activities available, and it has a long rich history. The city itself is beautiful. The public transport infrastructure is excellent.

Speaking of affordability, expats living in the Czech capital are mostly satisfied with their financial situation, with the city ranking 22nd out of 51 for finance. Interestingly, the majority of respondents is satisfied with the affordability of housing (59% vs. 38% globally) and agree that it’s easy for expats to find accommodation (68% vs. 53%), despite a two-digit spike in property prices in the past few years and a comparatively low number of available rental homes. Prague also ranks second after Berlin for the local cost of living, with three-quarters rating this factor favorably — this result does not directly factor into the overall ranking, though.

Great in Every Regard — Except for Work: Madrid

Working is to Madrid what getting settled is to Prague: the Spanish capital receives its worst results in the Urban Work Life Index, ranking 34th out of 51 cities. Three in ten respondents give local career opportunities a negative rating, and a similar percentage (29%) do not have a favorable opinion of Madrid’s local economy. In fact, 14% of respondents say they are currently looking for work, compared to 8% worldwide. Interestingly, at 13%, nearly double the global average of respondents are business owners and entrepreneurs, though. All in all, close to a quarter of expats (23%) are not particularly satisfied with their jobs, although nearly seven in ten (68%) at least like their work-life balance, compared to 60% of all respondents worldwide.

When not working, expats in Madrid seem to have plenty of things to do: the majority (53%) considers the local leisure options excellent; 20 percentage points more than the global average! This good result is helped further by Madrid’s sunny weather and climate: thanks to average temperatures of over 30°C in summer, it hardly seems surprising that 85% of respondents rate this factor positively — over two in five (43%) even consider it very good! Madrid also ranks first for the availability of healthcare and earns a second and third place for the affordability and quality of medical care, respectively. These great results in the Quality of Urban Living Index are only slightly tempered by a rather average rating in regard to the quality of the urban environment: three-quarters still consider it good.

The vibe, the feeling, the people are relaxed and accepting. I love the feeling of the city and the family focus that Spanish people have.

In terms of getting settled, the majority of respondents in Madrid reports that the local population is friendly in general (82% vs. 65% globally) and towards foreign residents in particular (74% vs. 67%). The city achieves similar results when it comes to feeling at home in Madrid (76% vs. 64%) and getting used to the local culture (82% vs. 64%), which results in an overall 12th place in the Getting Settled Index.

Madrid only ranks one place below when it comes to finance and housing: in the respective index, it makes it into the top 15 on 13th place. This is mostly due to its good results for housing: around three in five respondents consider housing in Madrid affordable (57%) and easy to find (62%). Among all survey participants, only 38% and 53% respectively say the same.

The Bottom 3 Cities for Expats

A low quality of life and a problematic work life see Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos, at the bottom of the Expat City Ranking 2017. Close to three-quarters (73%) give the state of the local economy negative ratings, and the city does badly across all four subcategories of the Quality of Urban Living Index. The majority of respondents rates the quality (67%), affordability (70%), and availability (55%) of healthcare in Lagos negatively, for example. Over a third (34%) even call the affordability of medical care very bad.

There’s the national economic insecurity, a raging inflation, the worst corruption I have experienced in any country, and the appalling lack of infrastructure.

Respondents in Lagos are more than three times as likely to regard the local political stability negatively as expats around the globe (73% vs. 23% globally). And while around one in nine expats worldwide (11%) are unhappy with their personal safety, in Lagos, more than half (52%) say the same. Even the above-average results in the Finance & Housing (17th out of 51 cities) and Getting Settled (22nd) Indices can’t make up for Lagos’ performance, although close to three-quarters (73%) consider the local people’s attitude towards foreign residents to be generally friendly.

Ranking second to last, Jeddah in Saudi Arabia sees similar results to Lagos: a low quality of life (47th) and bad ratings for work life (51st) cause the city to plummet in the ranking. It comes in last and second-to-last for the Job & Career and Work-Life Balance subcategories, respectively, with just three in ten respondents in Jeddah giving the local career opportunities a favorable rating. In cities around the world, close to half (49%) say the same. Around two in five (39%) are not happy with their work-life balance, either, nearly double the global average (21%). What is more, the same share of respondents does not feel particularly welcome, with nearly two in five (39%) not feeling at home in the Saudi city.

Somewhat surprisingly, the French capital, Paris, ranks third from the bottom in the Expat City Ranking 2017. While respondents report a slightly above-average quality of life — ranking it 24th out of 51 cities in the respective index — Paris is last when it comes to getting settled. Over two in five expats in Paris (43%) consider the local population unfriendly towards foreign residents, and more than double the global average of respondents (31% vs. 15%) think it is very hard to live in the city without speaking the local language, for instance. Apart from the cold welcome, it is also difficult for many expats to find and afford housing in Paris: 62% and 71% respectively give these factors a negative rating. Over a third (34%) are also dissatisfied with their financial situation in general, nearly ten percentage points more than the global average of 25%.

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