The Best Cities for Getting Settled Abroad
- Kuala Lumpur, Manama, and Nairobi: None of the top 3 of the Getting Settled Index are much of a surprise: they’ve all already ranked in the top 5 in 2018.
- At the other end of the scale are Kuwait City, Paris, and Copenhagen, with respondents noting a lack of friendliness in particular.
- The friendliest people live in Muscat, Yangon, and Ho Chi Minh City.
- Expats feel quite at home in Madrid, while making friends is particularly easy in Mexico City.
- Language is not much of a barrier for expats in Singapore.
- Doha, Bern, and Lausanne have gained in popularity when it comes to expats getting settled, while Amsterdam and Taipei have worsened.
The Top 15
In 2019, 82 cities with a minimum sample size of 50 respondents have placed in the city ranking. The Getting Settled Index includes various subcategories — Local Friendliness, Feeling Welcome, Friends & Socializing, and Local Language — which are again made up of two single factors each. The cities’ results for these factors and subcategories determine their rank within the Getting Settled Index.
Easy Living in Malaysia’s Capital
Kuala Lumpur is the easiest city to get settled in as an expat in 2019. More than half the survey respondents in the city (52%) find it very easy to live there without speaking the local language, but this is not the only upside. “It’s easy to blend in with the culture, food, and people,” one expat from India points out. “Also, language is not a problem if one can speak English.”
Life and things are easy. There is a lot of love in Kuala Lumpur.
Nearly seven in ten expats in Kuala Lumpur (69%) are happy with their social life in the city, and 61% find it easy to make friends there, compared a global average of just 45%. Thus, it may not come as a surprise that three out of four (75%) say that they feel at home in Kuala Lumpur. According to an expat from France, “life and things are easy. There is a lot of love in Kuala Lumpur.” The city only misses the top 10 in the Local Friendliness subcategory but still ranks twelfth for this.
Manama: A Great Place to Find Friends
Another expat destination that is popular when it comes to making friends is Manama. The Bahraini capital ranks second in the Getting Settled Index, as well as in its Friends & Socializing subcategory. According to an expat from Nepal, the locals are the one of the best parts of living in Manama: “People are friendly, and it’s easy to communicate with them. There are more opportunities and an easier life here.”
People are friendly, and it’s easy to communicate with them. There are more opportunities and an easier life here in Manama.
Survey respondents are also happy with the local friendliness in Manama. In fact, 48% of expats in Manama give the general friendliness of the local residents the highest possible rating, and seven in nine (78%) agree that people are generally friendly towards foreign residents. Although 83% believe that it’s easy to live in Manama without speaking Arabic, 39% find it generally difficult to learn the local language.
An Improved Social Life in Nairobi
Nairobi is the third city in the top 3 of the Getting Settled Index. The Kenyan metropolis impresses survey respondents with a great social life — 70% are happy with this factor, and 62% find it easy to find new friends (vs. a global average of 45%). “People here are friendly and kind,” a US expat says.
I love the hospitality, the respect, and the many small things which are making me feel wonder.
While three in ten survey respondents in Nairobi (30%) find it generally difficult to learn the local language, 78% say it’s easy to live in Nairobi without speaking it in the first place. When asked what she likes about living in Nairobi, an expat from India says: “The hospitality, the respect, and the many small things which are making me feel wonder.”
Expats Don’t Feel at Home in Kuwait City
Kuwait City occupies the bottom spot of the index. Nearly half the respondents (49%) do not feel at home in the city, and 48% find it difficult to get used to the local culture. More than five times the global average (28% vs. 5% globally) also strongly disagree that people in Kuwait City are friendly towards foreigners, and 53% are generally unhappy with the friendliness of the local population. An expat from the UK agrees with this assessment: “The locals are not friendly towards expats. They seem to resent foreigners being here.” An Indian expat adds that “local citizens have no respect for expats in this country”. Only 12% of survey respondents in Kuwait City agree it’s easy to find friends, compared to a global average of 45%.
The Parisian Lack of Friendliness
Getting settled is difficult for expats in Paris, with the city ranking 81st. Although 58% of survey respondents feel at home in Paris, the local friendliness leaves a lot to be desired in this French expat hub. “The mentality of the French can be very discouraging,” says an expat from Australia about her experience of living in Paris. “French people are generally not very open or forthcoming socially. Parisian people in particular are not very welcoming.” Whether this is due to the language barrier is open for speculation. However, 72% believe that it’s not easy to live in Paris without speaking French.
Copenhagen and Its Language Barrier
Copenhagen only makes it to 80th place out of 82 cities in the Getting Settled Index, receiving very negative ratings across almost all the underlying factors. Expats in the city don’t feel very welcome: 41% struggle to get used to the local culture, and 37% do not feel at home in the Danish capital. Finding friends is also very challenging, according to two out of seven respondents in Copenhagen (29%) who give this factor the worst possible rating. “It’s difficult to make friends with the locals, and generally there’s a lot of anti-immigrant rhetoric,” says an expat from Belgium. One respondent from Germany adds, “people are cold, they’re happy with themselves.” And while 65% find it easy to live in the city without speaking the local language, half of the respondents in Copenhagen (50%) strongly disagree that Danish is an easy language to learn.
And the Friendliest People Live in…
A look at the individual subcategories of the Getting Settled Index shows that the overall top 3 of the index are not the highest performers in every subcategory. Narrowly missing out on the top 3 with a fourth place in the index, Muscat ranks first for local friendliness, gaining three ranks in this particular subcategory. “Life here is peaceful, balanced, cultured, and the local people are friendly and supportive,” according to an expat from India. Almost half of all survey respondents in Muscat (48%) are completely happy with the general friendliness of the locals, and 90% believe that people in Muscat are friendly towards foreign residents.
Newcomer Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar, also impresses with the friendliness of the local population: 88% of survey respondents say as much. One expat from the Philippines appreciates this trait: “My work colleagues are really friendly, helpful, and mild-mannered.” However, expats’ struggle with learning the local language (68th), getting used to the local culture (55th), and feeling at home (53rd) keep the city back from a better result in the Getting Settled Index where it ranks 40th out of 82 cities.
Despite a slight drop from second to third place in the Local Friendliness subcategory, Ho Chi Minh City is still one of the favorites among expats looking for a friendly environment. In fact, more than seven out of eight respondents in Ho Chi Minh City (88%) appreciate the friendliness towards foreign residents.
Paris (81st) and Kuwait City (82nd) occupy the bottom places in this subcategory, along with Vienna, which ranks 80th. Over a third of all survey respondents in Vienna (35%) are unhappy with the general friendliness of the locals, and 38% say that people are not very friendly towards foreign residents. One expat from Belgium is unhappy with “the racism and superficial people” in the city: “There are a lot of unfriendly (and frustrated) people around.”
Feeling Welcome in the Sun
Madrid comes out on top as the most welcoming city in 2019. It has gained five ranks in this subcategory, compared to 2018, and improved especially when it comes to feeling at home. Three out of seven survey respondents in Madrid (43%) are very happy with this factor, while 81% agree it’s easy to get used to the local culture.
Expats also feel at home in Miami, Florida — 75% of them say as much. The city, which is famous for its proximity to the Everglades and the beautiful weather, is making it rather easy for foreigners to settle in. Almost three out of four respondents in Miami (74%) find it generally easy to get used to the local culture. “Life here is amazing,” says a survey respondent from El Salvador. “It is a melting pot with all kinds of people from lots of nationalities, in a modern, and comfortable, environment.”
Nearly four out of five expats (79%) say the same about getting used to the culture in Lisbon. The Portuguese expat hub is a clear favorite in the Feeling Welcome subcategory (3rd) and the Getting Settled Index (6th) in general. Close to three-quarters of survey respondents in Lisbon (73%) say that they feel at home in the city. “The sun and the easy-going mentality of the Portuguese people” are what one Polish expat appreciates in particular.
Next to Kuwait City (82nd) and Copenhagen (81st), Stockholm ranks as one of the least welcoming cities in 2019. Nearly one in five expats (37%) say that they do not feel at home in Sweden’s capital. “It's easy to meet people and they are friendly,” explains one respondent from India, “but it’s harder to make lasting friendships.”
Where to Make Friends
Finding friends is easy in Mexico City, according to 71% of survey respondents. Nearly seven out of nine respondents in Mexico City (77%) are happy with their social life. This is also the experience of one expat from the US: “People are generally very friendly toward me and interested in asking me questions about my life. I do not feel alone.”
After already placing in the top 3 of the Local Friendliness subcategory, it isn’t much of a surprise that Ho Chi Minh City is also a great place to make friends. One-third of respondents (33%) are particularly content with their social life there.
Copenhagen (80th), Stockholm (81st), and Kuwait City (82nd), on the other hand, are once again found in the bottom 3. In all three cities, over two-fifths of expats are unhappy with their social life.
Language’s (Not) a Barrier
Singapore joins Kuala Lumpur and Nairobi in the top 3 of the Local Language subcategory, managing to defend its second place of 2018.
At the other end of the scale, Moscow (81st) and Beijing (82nd) join Paris in the bottom 3 of the Local Language subcategory. Close to one-third of survey respondents (32%) disagree completely that it is easy to live in Moscow without speaking the local language. Although 72% generally struggle with learning Russian, one expat from Spain finds that “the language is very difficult but manageable”. Similarly, four out of nine respondents in Beijing (44%) find it very difficult to learn Mandarin, and more than half (51%) struggle with living in the Chinese capital without speaking the local language. “They speak very little English, so it’s difficult without any Chinese knowledge. But learning the language is hard,” an expat from Germany explains.
The Biggest Changes Up and Down
Aside from the top and bottom performers in the Getting Settled Index, there are some cities that experienced major changes, compared to 2018. The Qatari capital Doha has gained eleven ranks and improved its performance particularly in the Local Friendliness subcategory. Three-fifth of respondents in Doha (60%) rate the friendliness of the local population positively, 15 percentage points more than in 2018. “Here I got more friends and the social environments are also very good,” says a survey respondent from India.
Amsterdam, on the other hand, dropped 21 ranks, having worsened significantly both in the Feeling Welcome and Friends & Socializing subcategories. Close to a third of respondents in Amsterdam (32%) are unhappy with their social life in the city, and more than half (51%) find it difficult to find friends, compared to 13% and 32%, respectively, in 2018. According to a German survey respondent, “locals are friendly but turning them into friends takes a while.” Moreover, only 54% actually feel at home in Amsterdam, ten percentage points less than the global average (64%) and an 18-percentage-point drop since 2018 (72%).
Taipei, a favorite in previous years, also shows a worse performance than in 2018 and is down from 3rd to 18th in the Getting Settled Index. However, when it comes to the general friendliness of the locals, only 5% of survey respondents in the city are unhappy, and 76% still believe that people in Taipei are generally friendly towards foreigners, compared to 2% and 94% in 2018. While most survey respondents do feel welcome in the city, some think that they will never truly fit in, as an expat from Australia points out: “You’re always an outsider.”
Although Switzerland doesn’t have a reputation for being the most welcoming place in the world, Bern and Lausanne have gained in popularity when it comes to expats getting settled. In fact, 67% feel at home in Lausanne, compared to 59% in 2018. And 57% of respondents in Bern rate the friendliness of the local population positively, a 21-percentage-point increase since 2018 (36%). A respondent from Serbia appreciates “my friends and everything” about living in Bern. “I feel at home!”
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- Expats in Kuala Lumpur
- Expats in Manama
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