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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

Where Expats (Don’t) Find a Good Urban Work Life

German cities get impressive results for working life. However, with Luxembourg City and Amsterdam, other European cities rank at the top, while Rome and Athens are found at the bottom.
  • In first-ranking Luxembourg City, nearly all respondents (97%) rate the local economy favorably.
  • Expats in Amsterdam (2nd in the Urban Work Life Index) love their working hours: 44% give them the best possible rating.
  • Hamburg (3rd out of 66) also receives a spot on the podium, with nearly two in five (39%) saying the local economy is very good.
  • European cities in general tend to perform well in the index, with all of the top 10 found on the continent.
  • However, with Rome (66th) and Athens (64th) joining Salmiya (65th) in the bottom 3, all is not perfect for expats working in the EU.

The Top 10


The Urban Work Life Index includes three subcategories — Job & Career, Job Security, and Work-Life Balance. Each subcategory is based on two factors each: overall job satisfaction and local career opportunities, job security and the state of the local economy, working hours and work-life balance. For a city to be featured in the Expat City Ranking, a minimum sample size of 50 respondents is required. In 2020, 66 cities have met this requirement.

Luxembourg City in the Lead

Ranking 18th out of 66 cities overall, Luxembourg City snags the top spot when it comes to working abroad. Expats are particularly satisfied with their job security and the local economy — consequently ranking the city first for the latter. In fact, nearly every respondent in Luxembourg City (97%) rates the local economy favorably; 61% even say it is very good (vs. 19% globally). “I really appreciate the excellent state of the economy and public affairs (funds),” a Belgian expat shares. Not quite as many expats, but still a considerable share at 80%, are satisfied with the job security in Luxembourg City. Only Graz, Austria, ranks even better for this factor.

I really appreciate the excellent state of the economy and public affairs in Luxembourg City.

Luxembourg City also ranks fifth for local career opportunities, with two-thirds of the respondents (67%) regarding this factor favorably (vs. 43% globally). An above-average share actually relocated to Luxembourg City for job-related reasons (70% vs. 36% globally). Over three-quarters (77%) also rate their work-life balance in Luxembourg positively, with a third (33%) completely satisfied with this aspect of their life abroad (vs. a respective 64% and 24% globally).

Amsterdam’s Work-Life Balance Delights

Amsterdam may only land in a slightly above-average 27th place out of 66 in the overall city ranking; however, expats rate it the second-best city when it comes to urban work life. They are particularly happy with their work-life balance and working hours: at least four in five respondents give each factor a favorable rating, compared to fewer than two-thirds worldwide. An impressive 44% of expats in Amsterdam even give their working hours the best possible rating (vs. 28% globally). A US American expat in the city makes sure to point out their appreciation of Dutch labor laws: “I love the work culture that finds it acceptable to take a minimum of 25 days off.

I love the work culture in Amsterdam that finds it acceptable to take a minimum of 25 days off.

What is more, nine in ten (90%) say the state of the local economy is good, compared to 63% of respondents worldwide. Close to two in three (65%) are also satisfied with the available career opportunities in Amsterdam (vs. 43% globally), over a fifth (22%) even completely so — good news for the 11% of respondents who say they are currently looking for work in Amsterdam.

With one in five expats (20%) working in each of these fields, finance and IT are very prominent in Amsterdam. However, there is also an above-average share of expats working in law & legal services (6% vs. 2% globally) and leisure, sports & tourism (5% vs. 2% globally). Overall, three-quarters of respondents in Amsterdam (75%) say they are satisfied with their job, ten percentage points above the global average of 65%.

A Top-Notch Economy in Hamburg

The German port city completes the top 3 of the Urban Work Life Index, though it only ranks 33rd overall. Expats in Hamburg are satisfied with all factors related to their working life, with the city placing in the top 10 for each subcategory in the index. Four in five respondents (80%), for example, rate their working hours in Hamburg favorably, 43% even very much so (vs. 65% and 28% globally). “I appreciate the general work-life-family balance here,” one respondent shares, “I did not have that in the USA.” In fact, expats in a full-time position in Hamburg work over two hours less than the global average (41.3 hours a week vs. 43.5 hours worldwide).

I appreciate the general work-life-family balance here in Hamburg.

Respondents are also happy with their job security in Hamburg (5th), as well as the local economy (9th). Nearly nine in ten (87%) rate the latter positively (vs. 63% worldwide); nearly two in five (39%) even say it is very good (vs. 19% globally). This result may be partly connected to the Port of Hamburg, Germany’s biggest seaport: an above-average 12% of expats working in Hamburg do so in the field of transportation & logistics, four times the global average of 3%. Hamburg is also a major player in the German IT sector, particularly regarding startup businesses, and this is reflected among working respondents, too: close to one in four (24%) cite IT as their field of work (vs. 11% globally).

European Cities Predominate in the Top 10

It is not only the top 3 cities in the Urban Work Life Index that are located in Europe: in fact, all of the ten best destinations are European cities. Five of them are in Germany: Hamburg (3rd) is followed by Dusseldorf (4th), Frankfurt (5th), Stuttgart (6th), and Munich (9th). All five rank in the top 10 for both the Job & Career and Job Security subcategories. Even the “worst” result in the index, Munich’s 22nd place in the Work-Life Balance subcategory, is still in the upper third of the ranking.

At least four in five respondents in these German cities rate the local economy favorably. And while the share of expats who rate the local career opportunities in Dusseldorf positively (58%) is noticeably below the percentage in Stuttgart (71%), for example, this result is still considerably better than the global average of 43% positive ratings for this factor.

Dublin (7th), Graz (8th), and Stockholm (10th) complete the top 10 of the Urban Work Life Index. All three receive good to excellent results for all the rating factors used in the index. While expats in Dublin love the local career opportunities (82% positive ratings vs. 43% globally) and respondents rank Graz first with regard to job security, Stockholm is the undisputed winner when it comes to expats’ work-life balance (more on this below).

Economic Woes among the Bottom 3

At the other end of the ranking scale, Rome (66th), Salmiya (65th), and Athens (64th) make up the bottom 3.

More than twice the global share of respondents rate the local career opportunities in Rome negatively (74% vs. 34% globally), while over three in five (62%) consider the state of the local economy to be bad (vs. 18% globally). “The weak economy makes career advancement difficult,” a Canadian respondent in Rome points out, “and I don't like the work-life balance I have.” Others agree: one in four expats in the Italian capital (25%) is dissatisfied with their working hours (vs. 17% worldwide), and three in ten (30%) rate their work-life balance negatively (vs. 18% globally).

Second-to-last Salmiya in Kuwait does not do much better. While it manages to avoid the bottom of the list for its local economy (47th out of 66 cities), respondents are not at all satisfied with their jobs, work-life balance, and job security. Over two in five (41%) give the latter factor a negative rating (vs. 22% globally), and a similar share of expats (39%) say they are dissatisfied with their job in Salmiya (vs 18% globally). Nonetheless, work remains a crucial factor for relocating to Salmiya: close to three in five respondents (59%) gave a job-related reason for their move (vs. 36% globally).

Ranking 64th in the Urban Work Life Index, Athens receives its worst results regarding career opportunities (64th), job security (63rd), and the state of the local economy (62nd). More than half the respondents (55%) regard the latter negatively, while an even higher share of 60% rate the local career options unfavorably (vs. 34% globally). Interestingly, a third of the expats working in Athens (33%) are freelancers, which is three times the global average of 11%.

Quite the Mix among the 10 Worst-Rated Cities

In the bottom 10, Rome and Athens are joined by Milan (57th), which receives bad results across the board when it comes to the Urban Work Life Index, as does Istanbul (63rd).

African destinations Johannesburg (58th), Cape Town (60th), and Nairobi (62nd) do not perform too badly in the Work-Life Balance subcategory — results range from Cape Town’s 28th to Nairobi’s 46th place. However, these results cannot make up for expats’ dissatisfaction with the local career opportunities and with the state of the economy in these cities.

In the Urban Work Life Index, Asian cities Seoul (61st) and Hong Kong (59th) do not fare particularly well in general and receive their worst results in the Work-Life Balance subcategory, ranking 66th and 61st, respectively. The share of respondents in these two cities who rate their working hours negatively is — at 38% and 34%, respectively — at least twice the global average of 17%.

Places to Be for Your Job & Career

If we take a closer look at the different sections of the index, there are both some familiar and some new destinations among the best and worst cities in the Job & Career subcategory: Dublin places first, with over four in five respondents (82%) giving their career opportunities a positive rating (vs. 43% globally). More than twice the worldwide share of expats even says their career options are very good (28% vs. 12% globally).

Expats in Stuttgart also regard this factor favorably (71% positive ratings), but they are even more satisfied with their jobs: 83% say they are happy with this aspect of their life abroad, compared to 65% of expats worldwide.

Not quite such a large share of respondents (73%) are satisfied with their job in New York City. However, with three times the global average giving the local career opportunities the best possible rating (36% vs. 12% globally), the Big Apple’s third place in the Job & Career subcategory is easily explained.

At the other end of the scale, Rome and Salmiya — which have already been covered above — are joined by Málaga, Spain. Nearly two in there respondents there (65%) say the local career opportunities are bad, not quite double the global average of 34%.

Of Local Economies & Job Security

The clear winner of the Job Security subcategory, Luxembourg City, is joined by Dusseldorf and Frankfurt. Nearly nine in ten respondents give the state of the local economy in these German cities a positive rating (88% in Dusseldorf and 89% in Frankfurt, vs. 63% globally). And expats are just as happy with their job security there: more than four in five (82% in Dusseldorf; 81% In Frankfurt) rate this factor favorably (vs. 59% globally).

Buenos Aires, on the other hand, doesn’t impress the respondents and actually ranks last in the Job Security subcategory, even worse than Rome (65th) and Athens (64th). A Bolivian expat does not like “the economic instability in Buenos Aires. You can't plan for your future.” Close to two-thirds (65%) agree and rate the state of the local economy negatively (vs. 18% globally).

Better Hours Up North?

Amsterdam does not only rank second in the index but also comes third in the Work-Life Balance subcategory. Two Nordic cities perform even better than the Dutch capital, though: Stockholm ranks first and Copenhagen second in this subcategory.

Respondents in the Swedish capital are particularly happy with their working hours (87% positive ratings vs. 65% globally), with nearly half (46%) even completely satisfied. This may be connected to their lower-than-average hours: expats in a full-time position in Stockholm report working nearly two hours a week less than the global average (41.6 vs. 43.5 hours).

The majority of expats in Copenhagen (51%) is also very happy with their working hours (vs. 28% globally); with 40.7 hours, the average full-time work week is even shorter than in Stockholm! Overall, not quite four in five respondents in Copenhagen (79%) agree that their work-life balance is good (vs. 64% globally). These results are also in line with the findings of the OECD Better Life Index: Denmark ranks third for work-life balance here.

Full Ranking

Further Reading