The Best (& Worst) Cities for Expats in 2020
- Expats in Valencia (1st out of 66) are particularly happy with the local healthcare and climate.
- In Alicante (2nd), over four in five expats feel at home in the city.
- No respondent has anything negative to say about their personal safety in Lisbon (3rd).
- Five of the top 10 cities are found on the Iberian Peninsula.
- Results at the other end of the ranking are geographically diverse, with Salmiya (66th), Rome (65th), and Seoul (64th) in the bottom 3.
Valencia Delights Expats — But Not for Work
The clear winner in the Expat City Ranking 2020, Valencia also ranks first in the Quality of Urban Living Index (see Looking for a Better Quality of Life Abroad?). Expats particularly appreciate the affordable and readily available healthcare, next to plentiful leisure options and great weather, with the Spanish city ranking first for the two corresponding subcategories of the index. Respondents are also very much satisfied with their finances (10th) and report few struggles when it comes to the availability and affordability of housing (2nd; see Top (and Bottom) Cities for Budget-Conscious Expats). In fact, 82% rate the affordability of accommodation positively, twice the worldwide average (41%)!
Health and culture are great here in Valencia.
Valencia narrowly misses out on a spot in the top 3 of the Getting Settled Index, too, ranking 4th out of 66 cities. Two-thirds of expats (67%) agree that it is easy to find new friends there, for example, 20 percentage points above the global average of 47%. Over nine in ten (91%) rate the general friendliness of the local population positively (vs. 68%), too, and 84% agree that it is easy to get used to the local culture (vs. 61% globally).
“Health and culture are great here. However, it has always been difficult regarding employment,” a French expat shares. Others agree, with the city only ranking in the lower half of the Urban Work Life Index (46th out of 66). Valencia even lands in the bottom 10 of the Job & Career subcategory (62nd). Close to half the expats (46%) regard their local career opportunities negatively (vs. 34% globally), and only 54% give the state of the economy in Valencia a favorable rating (vs. 63% globally). It is worth pointing out, however, that more than three times the global average of respondents in Valencia are already retired (36% vs. 11% globally), with an average age that is nearly ten years higher than that of the average survey participant (54.5 years vs. 45.7).
Alicante, a Retiree’s Paradise?
Runner-up Alicante’s results are rather similar to Valencia’s: the city ranks very well in the Finance & Housing Index (2nd) and even first worldwide in the Getting Settled Index. For example, 81% of expats are satisfied with their financial situation, 20 percentage points more than the global average of 61%. Another 83% feel at home in Alicante, compared to 64% of all respondents. For more details on these two indices, please refer to the Top (and Bottom) Cities for Budget-Conscious Expats and From Friends to Language: Where It Is (Not) Easy to Settle In articles.
I really like the climate, healthcare, and low monthly costs in Alicante.
Alicante’s results in the Quality of Urban Living Index are not quite as good, though its 19th rank is still respectable. Expats in Alicante consider the affordability (10th), availability (3rd), and quality (3rd) of healthcare to be very good, and they love the local weather (3rd). “I really like the climate, healthcare, and low monthly costs,” a British expats shares. However, results regarding the public transportation system are rather average, with 66% of respondents voicing their satisfaction (vs. 66% globally). What’s more, Alicante just about ranks in the top half for personal safety (29th out of 66), compared to Valencia’s twelfth place for this factor.
Alicante receives its worst results in the Urban Work Life Index, though, where it places 39th. While expats’ overall job satisfaction is only slightly below average (63% positive ratings vs. 65% globally), respondents are particularly dissatisfied with their local career opportunities: 44% rate them negatively (vs. 34% globally). However, like in Valencia, a large share of expats in Alicante (40%) are already retired (vs. 11% globally).
Friendly, Relaxed & Sunny Lisbon
Lisbon joins its Spanish neighbors on the podium, coming third in the Expat City Ranking 2020. Expats in the Portuguese capital give it top grades for the ease of getting settled (3rd in the respective index) and the local quality of life (4th); you can find detailed information on the former in the From Friends to Language: Where It Is (Not) Easy to Settle In article.
Portugal is a weirdly wonderful country.
Close to nine in ten expats in Lisbon (89%) say they are happy with the local leisure options (vs. 71% globally), the majority (54%) even very much so (vs. 31% globally). An even larger share (96%) is satisfied with the local climate and weather (vs. 64%), which is hardly a surprise, considering Lisbon sees close to 300 days of sunshine a year, with mean temperatures in the double digits even during the coldest months. According to one Irish respondent, Portugal in general is “a weirdly wonderful country, with plenty of idiosyncrasies but the people are kind, life is relaxed, the food and drink are excellent, and the weather is generally great.“ However, expats like more about life in Lisbon than just the sun and the sea: not one single respondent has anything negative to say about their personal safety (vs. 9% globally), and close to nine in ten (87%), for example, rate the urban environment positively (vs. 65% globally).
In comparison, Lisbon’s results in the Urban Work Life (23rd) and Finance & Housing (27th) Indices are rather mediocre. While around four in five respondents are generally satisfied with their job (79% vs. 65% globally) and work-life balance (83% vs. 64% globally), ratings for the local economy are rather average (62% positive answers vs. 63% globally). A higher-than-average share (37% vs. 34% globally) is also dissatisfied with their local career options.
Despite what seems to be a not-so-affordable housing market — 51% give this factor a negative rating, ten percentage points more than the global average (41%) — expats in Lisbon do not struggle with their personal finances. Nearly two in three (66%) are satisfied with their financial situation (vs. 61% globally), ranking the city tenth for this factor.
Top 10: The Iberian Peninsula Is Ahead
The trend that can be observed in the top 3 also holds true for the top 10 of the Expat City Ranking: five of the ten best cities are located on the Iberian Peninsula, with Málaga (6th) and Madrid (9th) joining Valencia (1st), Alicante (2nd), and Lisbon (3rd).
All five cities see some of their best results in the Quality of Urban Living Index (Alicante’s 19th place is the worst result here), as well as the Getting Settled Index. In the latter, only Madrid does not make it into the top 10, ranking 13th. While Alicante (2nd), Valencia (3rd), and Málaga (9th) all rank in the top 10 of the Finance & Housing Index, though, Madrid (34th) and Lisbon (27th) stand out with fairly average results. In both capitals, expats face more of a struggle when it comes to finding housing: around a third think that this isn’t easy in Lisbon (37%) and Madrid (32% vs. 27% globally).
The rest of the top 10 are more of an international mix, with Panama City (4th), Singapore (5th), Buenos Aires (7th), Kuala Lumpur (8th), and Abu Dhabi (10th) completing the list. Their results have quite a wide range in both the Quality of Urban Living Index — from Singapore’s 9th place to Kuala Lumpur’s 51st — and the Urban Work Life Index: Panama City places 18th here, while Buenos Aires only ranks 47th. What these five cities have in common, though, are top-20 results in the Getting Settled Index and even top-15 ranks for finance and housing — with one exception: Abu Dhabi ranks 23rd in this index.
Unhappy Expats in the Bottom 3
At the other end of the ranking, there are Salmiya (66th), Rome (65th), and Seoul (64th).
Expats in Salmiya are not at all happy with their quality of life and the ease of getting settled; the city ranks last in both indices (see Looking for a Better Quality of Life Abroad? and From Friends to Language: Where It Is (Not) Easy to Settle In). An expat from India for example points out “the local-expat divide, an unprofessional and rude bureaucracy, and the one-day weekend” as downsides to life in this Kuwaiti city. Salmiya’s result in the Urban Work Life Index is not much better, with the city ranking 65th out of 66 destinations; only Rome performs even worse (see Where Expats (Don’t) Find a Good Urban Work Life). In fact, the Finance & Housing Index is the only area where Salmiya does not rank in the bottom 10 — but it still places only 55th out of 66. Salmiya’s best result here is still very much below average: close to two in five respondents (38%) do not agree that it is easy for expats to find housing (vs. 27% globally). A similar share (37%) is not satisfied with their financial situation, either (vs. 21% globally).
Ranking second to last, Rome (65th) ends up among the bottom 5 in two out of four indices: it ranks 63rd in the Quality of Urban Living and last in the Urban Work Life Index (66th). In fact, Rome receives bottom-10 results for all underlying factors in this index (for more information, see Where Expats (Don’t) Find a Good Urban Work Life). In the Quality of Urban Living Index, Rome’s great results for the local climate and weather (12th) cannot make up for concerns regarding political stability (64th), personal safety (61st), the availability (57th) and quality (51st) of healthcare, and what is regarded as an insufficient public transportation infrastructure (62nd) — 64% rate the latter negatively (vs. 24% globally). Results in the Getting Settled (44th) and Finance & Housing (48th) Indices are not quite as dire, though expats in Rome are less likely to agree that their disposable household income is enough or more than enough to cover expenses (66% vs. 79% globally).
On the other side of the globe, expats in Seoul (64th) are particularly dissatisfied with the ease of getting settled in the South Korean capital (64th; see From Friends to Language: Where It Is (Not) Easy to Settle In), as well as their urban work life (61st). Ranking last in the Work-Life Balance subcategory, Seoul features nearly two in five expats (38%) who are dissatisfied with their working hours (vs. 17% globally). What’s more, only about half (51%) are happy with their job in general (vs. 65% globally), and an even lower share (46%) is satisfied with the job security in South Korea (vs. 59% globally). Results in the Finance & Housing Index (51st) are more mixed: while Seoul ranks roughly mid-field for housing (39th), it places in the bottom 3 of the Finance subcategory (64th). Over a third of the respondents (35%) are in fact dissatisfied with their financial situation (vs. 21%). Expat life is not all bad in Seoul, though: the city ranks a good 21st place in the Quality of Urban Living Index. Respondents are particularly happy with the public transportation infrastructure (95% positive ratings vs. 66% globally), their personal safety (97% vs. 82%), and the quality of medical care (88% vs. 69% globally).
Regional Trends in the Bottom 10
The bottom 10 of the Expat City Ranking 2020 feature quite a mix of cities all across the globe, from Salmiya (66th), Rome (65th), and Seoul (64th) to Milan (63rd), Nairobi (62nd), Paris (61st), Johannesburg (60th), Santiago de Chile (59th), Dublin (58th), and Hong Kong (57th).
With Milan (63rd), a second Italian city joins Rome (65th) in the bottom 10. Expats in both cities are rather dissatisfied with safety and politics (56th Milan, 60th Rome in this subcategory), the availability of healthcare (53rd and 57th for this factor), as well as their finances (66th and 57th). And both cities receive some of their worst results in the Urban Work Life Index, where Milan (57th) and Rome (66th) rank in the bottom 10.
The other two European cities in the bottom 10, Paris (61st) and Dublin (58th), are both dragged down by their results in the Finance & Housing Index (62nd and 66th, respectively): Dublin even ranks last worldwide here, with over three-quarters of respondents describing housing as unaffordable (88% negative results vs. 41% globally) and hard to find (76% vs. 27% globally). Results across the rest of the ranking are less uniform, though expats in both destinations report struggles with living in the respective city without good local language skills: Paris ranks 62nd and Dublin 60th for this factor.
Expats in the Asian cities Seoul (64th), Hong Kong (57th), and Beijing (which narrowly escapes the bottom 10 in 55th place), find it somewhat difficult to get used to the local culture and feel at home. Results in the respective subcategory range from Hong Kong’s 42nd place to Beijing ranking second to last (65th). The affordability of housing in any of these cities is not great, either (Seoul 46th; Beijing 51st; Hong Kong 65th). However, one of the biggest points of contention is the (lack of a good) work-life balance: all three rank in the bottom 10 of this subcategory. In fact, only about half the respondents in each city (from 45% in Seoul to 55% in Hong Kong) rate their work-life balance positively, compared to 64% worldwide.
African destinations Nairobi (62nd) and Johannesburg (60th), as well as Cape Town in 56th place, delight expats with the local climate and weather: each city makes it into the top 10 for this factor. However, expats are less happy with other aspects of the Quality of Urban Living Index, voicing particular dissatisfaction with the political stability, their personal safety, and the public transportation infrastructure. As a result, all three cities rank in the bottom 10 of this index. All three also rank among the bottom 10 when it comes to the Urban Work Life Index. The state of the respective local economy is a particular concern among expats in these destinations: at least 55% of respondents in each city rate this factor negatively (vs. 18% globally).