Join now
Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

Working Abroad: Cities to Go For and Cities to Avoid

The best destinations for working abroad impress with secure jobs, good career opportunities, and a great work-life balance. The cities in the bottom 3, however, offer none of these and make expats feel left behind.
  • #1 Aachen impresses expats with great working hours and a high job security but could offer more career opportunities.
  • When it comes to overall job satisfaction, #2 Taipei is unbeaten.
  • #3 Prague is a great destination for job seekers in 2018.
  • In the bottom, #72 Rome and #71 Athens suffer from a shaky economy, while the working hours are rather high in #70 Riyadh at 46.1 hours per week.


Altogether, 72 cities with a minimum sample size of 45 respondents placed in the city ranking in 2018. The Urban Work Life Index covers three subcategories — Job & Career, Job Security, Work-Life Balance — with two factors each. The Job & Career subcategory looks at overall job satisfaction and the local career opportunities, while the Job Security subcategory deals with general job security and the state of the local economy. The Work-Life Balance subcategory covers working hours, as well as work-life balance in general.

#1 Aachen: All Is Fine at the Dutch Border

Survey newcomer Aachen manages to snatch first place in the 2018 Urban Work Life Index, as well as placing seventh in the overall ranking. Expats living in the German city are especially happy with their job security: five out of six survey respondents in Aachen (83%) rate this factor positively. However, the destination also impresses with its working hours: with a below-average 39.1 hours per week, it does not come as a surprise that 87% of expats in the city are happy with this factor. A survey respondent from Venezuela mentions the “balance of work and personal life” as one of the perks of living in Aachen, and a Spanish expat points out that “job conditions are much better than in Spain. Here I feel valued and respected.”

Job conditions are much better than in Spain. Here I feel valued and respected.

The state of the local economy also seems to be no reason for concern: although Aachen “only” places 17th for this factor, 85% rate it positively. However, not all is rosy in the German city at the Dutch and Belgian border: Aachen only places 36th out of 72 cities for local career opportunities, with 24% being unhappy with this factor.

#2 Taipei: Happy Employees All Around

Taiwan’s capital is another newcomer to the city ranking in 2018 and another expat favorite. It even ranks first for overall job satisfaction: 84% are satisfied with this factor, and almost one-third of the survey respondents in Taipei (32%) even say that they are very happy. The city is also popular for the work-life balance expats can enjoy there, with 78% positive responses, compared to 61% of expats worldwide.

Although “only” two out of three survey respondents in Taipei (67%) are satisfied with local career opportunities, companies all over Taiwan are looking for professionals to expand their production and services. At the end of 2017, a survey by Manpower Group predicted Taiwan to have the highest number of new hires in the following year, with a “net employment outlook of 25%”.

Job security also seems to be rather good in Taipei (72% rate it positively), and the state of the local economy offers little reason for concern. Although the city ranks 24th for this factor — Taiwan’s worst result in the Urban Work Life Index — only 2% of expats go so far as to rate it negatively. 

#3 Prague: Where Job Seekers Can Take Their Pick

Prague, which ranked 2nd out of 51 cities in 2017, remains in the top 3 in 2018 and also places in the top 10 overall (8th out of 72). Survey respondents there are particularly satisfied with local career opportunities: the city could even further improve its performance for this factor in 2018, with 76% of respondents giving positive feedback, compared to 51% globally and 68% in 2017. One reason for this could be the fact that many jobs remained vacant throughout the Czech Republic in 2018: with 5.4% of unoccupied positions, the country is well above the EU average of 2.2%, and employers are pressed to up their offers or look abroad for new employees.

Another factor which expats in Prague value is job security. In fact, five out of seven expats (71%) rate it positively, and 34% are even very happy with it. Although the city places in the top 10 across all three subcategories, Prague only comes in 20th for the state of the local economy, its worst result in the index. However, survey respondents are not particularly unhappy with this factor, either: only 5% rate it negatively. For instance, one Portuguese expat praises Prague not only for “the job opportunities” but also for its “economic stability”.

#72 Rome: New to the Ranking and Coming in Last Place

Rome is another newcomer to the ranking. Unfortunately, the city not only comes last in the Urban Work Life Index, it also places among the bottom 3 overall. The Italian capital in fact shows a sub-par performance across all three subcategories of the index.

There is a lack of job opportunities.

The overall job satisfaction seems to be one of the biggest areas of concern for survey respondents — 38% give this factor a negative rating — together with local career opportunities, which receive 58% negative ratings. “Career opportunities are non-existent,” an expat from Albania complains, and a survey respondent from Hungary lists the “lack of job opportunities” among the negative aspects of living in Rome.

Survey respondents in Rome are also concerned about the state of the local economy: nearly three in five respondents (58%) give this factor a negative rating. When it comes to expats’ job security, 37% are unsatisfied and 16% very much so. The struggles of Italy’s economic system may have something to do with the weak growth of the country’s economy in combination with the rising debt. The government, aiming to make good on their campaign promises, plans to borrow even more, which would increase the country’s existing debt even further. Due to Italy’s stagnating GDP, this could, in the long run, make the situation worse for expats and locals alike.

#71 Athens: Still Dealing with the Crisis

The economic crisis that has shaken the country for years still seems to have an effect on expats and their careers. In fact, 64% are unsatisfied with the state of the local economy, and one in four (25%) gives it the worst rating possible. Local career opportunities also seem to be scarce: close to five out of nine (55%) are unhappy with this factor.

The economic uncertainty makes many people pessimistic and anxious about their future.

Interestingly, Greece’s economy has started to show some signs of recovery in recent years. With a modest growth of 1.6% in 2017 and an estimated growth of 2.5% in 2018, as well as a sinking unemployment rate and a booming tourism industry, things are starting to look up. However, all these positive changes seem to not have reached expats in Athens just yet. A survey respondent from Jordan laments the “bad economy, with no career development or long-term work contracts.” And a British survey respondent in the country points out: “The economic uncertainty makes many people pessimistic and anxious about their future.”

Although still not great, things look up when it comes to expats’ work-life balance in the country. In fact, 53% are happy with their working hours, and almost half of all survey respondents (49%) appreciate the general work-life balance in Athens. It should be mentioned, however, that Athens still comes in 62nd in this subcategory.

#70 Riyadh: Not an Easy Place to Find Work

In 2017, Riyadh came in 43rd out of 51 cities in the Urban Work Life Index. In 2018, the city has dropped even further, placing in the bottom 3. Survey respondents are particularly unhappy with their work-life balance and job security in the city (38% negative ratings respectively). More surprising, however, is Riyadh’s performance in the Job & Career subcategory: having occupied a mediocre 26th place in 2017, the city now performs in the bottom 3. In fact, 36% of respondents are unhappy with the local career opportunities, more than one in seven (15%) even very much so.

As unemployment among Saudi citizens keeps rising, the government is getting stricter about allowing expats to work in certain professions and granting work visas to foreigners. The goal is to give jobs in the private sector to Saudi citizens first, reducing the unemployment rate, especially among younger people. For expats, this means that it is getting harder to secure a work visa or branch out in order to develop their career.

The ‘Saudization’ of jobs narrows down our options to generate the income someone in my position and with my experience can earn.

A survey respondent from India points out that there is a lot of “discrimination towards the expat community, in terms of job opportunities, investments, and legal work”. A Jordanian expat living in Riyadh says, “the ‘Saudization’ of jobs narrows down our options to generate the income someone in my position and with my experience can earn.” Unsurprisingly, overall job satisfaction has also declined, with just over three out of ten respondents (31%) giving it a negative rating in 2018, compared to 17% in 2017.

Other Top Choices for Career Expats (and Places to Avoid)

Let's take a closer look at the subcategories: Ho Chi Minh City, which ranks seventh in the Urban Work Life Index, occupies third place in the Job & Career subcategory. Nearly five in six survey respondents there (82%) are happy with their job overall, and 27% are even very happy. The city also offers many local career opportunities: three-quarters (75%) are satisfied with this factor.

Luxembourg City, the clear winner of the Job Security subcategory, mostly impresses with its strong local economy: not a single respondent has anything negative to say about this factor, and 63% are even very happy with it. In the overall index, the city only makes it to 21st place, though, due to below-average results in the Work-Life Balance (39th) and Job & Career (48th) subcategories.

Munich and Stuttgart, placing 5th and 6th, respectively, in the Urban Work Life Index, come in 2nd and 3rd place out of 72 cities in the Job Security subcategory. In Munich, seven out of nine respondents (78%) are satisfied with their job security, and 56% are very satisfied with the state of the local economy, well over double the global average of 24%. Stuttgart also impresses expats with a high level of job security — 41% are very happy with this factor — as well as a good economic situation, considered positive by 81%. The economy is what worries expats in Johannesburg, though: 43% give this factor a negative rating, landing the city in 70th place for the subcategory and 66th out of 72 cities in the index as a whole.

Copenhagen, which ranks ninth in the Urban Work Life Index, makes it to the top of the Work-Life Balance subcategory: just under five in nine survey respondents (54%) are very happy with the working hours in the Danish capital, and 84% value their work-life balance. In third place in this subcategory, The Hague impresses with its working hours — 88% are satisfied with this factor — and just over five in six expats (84%) are happy with their work-life balance. Not only thanks to this result, the Dutch city makes it to 11th place in the Urban Work Life Index.

In Jeddah, however, expats struggle with their work-life balance (or lack thereof): 34% are unhappy with this factor, and the city comes in 71st place in the Work-Life Balance subcategory, while the city ranks 69th out of 72 in the overall index. In comparison, Hong Kong may not place in the bottom 10 of the Urban Work Life Index (57th out of 72), but it still only ranks 70th in the Work-Life Balance subcategory. One-third of survey respondents (33%) is unhappy with their work-life balance, and 32% give their working hours a negative rating.

Full Ranking

Further Reading