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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

Enjoy a High Quality of Life in These Cities

No surprises here: Mostly European cities dominate the Quality of Urban Living Index, continuing the trend from previous years. A global mix of metropolises feature in the bottom 10.
  • Expats in Vienna (1st) love the urban environment: 94% rate it positively.
  • In Basel (2nd), an impressive 100% of respondents are happy with the public transportation system.
  • Singapore (3rd) receives its best results in the Safety & Politics Subcategory.
  • Eight of the top 10 cities in the Quality of Urban Living Index are in Europe — like in 2020.
  • Unhappiness with public transportation is almost universal among the bottom 10 cities.

The Top 10


For a city to be featured in the Expat City Ranking, a minimum sample size of 50 respondents is required. In 2021, 57 cities meet this requirement. The Quality of Urban Living Index includes four subcategories — Leisure & Climate, Transportation, Safety & Politics, and Health & Environment. The results in the subcategories are based on one to four ranking factors, which expats rated on a scale of one to seven: local leisure options and climate & weather; public transportation system; political stability and personal safety; affordability, availability & quality of healthcare, and the urban environment.

Vienna: A Uniquely Wonderful Place for Expats

Impressively, the Austrian capital has consistently ranked in the top 10 of the Quality of Urban Living Index since 2017. In 2021, Vienna owes its first-place ranking to a variety of aspects — but urban environment and healthcare-related factors stand out most.

In terms of aspects like green spaces, noise levels, and eco-friendly architecture, Vienna is hard to beat: the vast majority of expats there (94%) appreciate the urban environment (vs. 71% globally). And 48% of respondents even say it is very good (vs. 32% globally).

When asked about possible reasons for their happiness in Vienna, 58% of respondents shared that they enjoy the high quality of the environment and its benefits (vs. 41% globally). A German expat notes: “The city of Vienna offers everything I could ask for and is surrounded by nature.

Beauty and charm aside, it is also easy to get around the city. Nearly every respondent (96%) agrees that the public transportation system in Vienna is good (vs. 69% globally) — and this includes everything from buses to bike lanes. Four in five (80%) even give public transportation the best possible rating (vs. 37% globally).

Expats appreciate that there’s plenty to do and see in Vienna: nearly nine in ten respondents (87%) are happy with the local leisure options (vs. 72% globally) — two in five (40%) even couldn’t be any happier (vs. 30% globally).

Expats in Vienna are also very happy with local healthcare. A notable 92% rate the availability of healthcare positively (vs. 76% globally). Even healthcare costs are regarded favorably, as 88% of respondents are satisfied with the affordability of healthcare (vs. 61% globally). And 92% of expats are happy with the quality of medical care as well (vs. 71% globally), with 44% rating it very good (vs. 34% globally).

Interestingly, the average age of respondents in Vienna is four years younger than the global average: 42.1 years vs. 46.1 years worldwide.

A Swedish expat in Vienna shares: “Vienna is a fantastic place. The streets and air are clean. People are friendly and polite. It’s historical, safe for women (and everyone), with lots of things to do after work.

A Pleasant & Convenient City Life in Basel

Basel is not a stranger to the top 10 of the of the Quality of Urban Living Index (it even ranked 1st out of 51 cities in 2017.) In 2021, Basel ranks 2nd out of 57 cities in this index, and is notable for being safe, stable, and easy to get around.

Expats in Basel are unanimous: an impressive 100% rate the public transportation system positively (vs. 69% globally), and Basel is 2021’s top-ranked city in the Transportation Subcategory. One expat from Sweden notes: “Basel is very good for commuting. I don’t have a car, and I don’t need it!

Basel performs well for both factors in the Safety & Politics Subcategory. Nine in ten expats (90%) rate the political stability positively (vs. 64% globally); over four in five (82%) even give this factor the best possible rating (vs. 34% globally). Expats also love the excellent personal safety: 97% of respondents there rate their personal safety positively (vs. 84% globally).

Expats’ satisfaction in the Swiss city also stems from Basel’s excellent urban environment. Nearly nine in ten expats there (89%) regard the urban environment favorably (vs. 71% globally), with more than half (55%) giving it the best possible rating (vs. 32% globally).

While quality of healthcare is another great part of life in Basel, expats are less satisfied with healthcare costs: over nine in ten (92%) are happy with the quality of medical care (vs. 71% globally), but more than half the respondents in Basel (52%) give the affordability of healthcare a negative rating (vs. 21% globally).

Easy Urban Living in Singapore

For urban living that is easy, safe, and well organized, look no further than Singapore. Singapore ranks third in the Quality of Urban Life Index 2021. It is a consistent top-performer in this index, having ranked in the top 10 every year since 2018.

A big draw for expats is the safety and stability — Singapore ranks first in the Safety & Politics Subcategory in 2021. A remarkable 99% of expats in Singapore regard their personal safety in the city-state positively (vs. 84% globally); 87% even say it’s very good (vs. 46% globally).

Moreover, 95% of respondents there rate the political stability positively (vs. 64% globally) — and the share of those who give it the best possible rating is more than double the global average (77% vs. 34% globally).

An Indian expat in Singapore shares: “Singapore has a very open and vibrant culture, and the quality of life is excellent.

The ease of commuting in Singapore also adds to its appeal among expats, evidenced by its fourth place in the Transportation Subcategory. A remarkable 98% of expats rate the public transportation system in Singapore favorably (vs. 69% globally). Over seven in ten (72%) consider it very good (vs. 37% globally), and not one respondent has something negative to say about this factor (vs. 20% globally).

Interestingly, only a below-average share of 2% of expats in Singapore say they moved there mainly for a better quality of life (vs. 7% globally). Instead, work remains a main motivator, with 28% of respondents having been sent to Singapore by their employer (vs. 10% globally).

Singapore also gets less outstanding results when it comes to Leisure & Climate, ranking only 32nd out of 57 cities in this subcategory. Nevertheless, around seven in ten expats (71%) are happy with the local leisure options, which is close to the global average of 72%.

A British expat in Singapore notes: “Singapore is full of interesting things. I love the mosaic of people and cultures.

European Cities Predominate in the Top 10 — Again

In 2021, eight of the top 10 cities in the Quality of Urban Living Index are in Europe, which was also the case in 2020. Three of the top 10 cities are even in the same country: Basel, Zurich, and Lausanne.

Across all three Swiss cities, expats are very satisfied with the public transportation system, as well as the safety and political stability. Only Lausanne does not manage a top 10 ranking in the Transportation Subcategory, placing 13th, while Basel and Zurich rank first and fifth, respectively. Expats in all three Swiss cities also rate the urban environment highly: Zurich’s ninth place for this factor is the worst result among the three. However, expats agree that medical care is too expensive, with Basel, Zurich, and Lausanne ranking in the bottom 10 for this factor.

When it comes to availability of healthcare, results in the top Swiss cities diverge somewhat: while Basel and Zurich place in the top 10 for this factor, Lausanne only ranks 22nd.

Next to Singapore, Sydney is the only other non-European city in the top 10. The favorable climate in Australia’s largest city stands out: 95% of expats like the climate and weather — 45% even say they love it (vs. 66% and 27% globally). There is also plenty to do outside of work in Sydney, with 89% of respondents saying they are happy with the local leisure options (vs. 72% globally). The same share of expats (89%) appreciate the quality of medical care — 52% even rate it very good (vs. 71% and 34% globally).

Expats Cite a Mix of Concerns in the Bottom 3

The cities at the bottom of the Quality of Urban Living Index 2021 are Johannesburg (57th), Cairo (56th) — and one European capital: Rome (55th).

Only 51% of expats in Johannesburg rate the urban environment positively, which is 20 percentage points less than the global average of 71%. As in past years, personal safety remains a big concern in Johannesburg: over two-thirds of expats (68%) are unhappy with their personal safety in the city (vs. 8% globally).

In Cairo, too, personal safety is an issue, as more than double the global average rate their personal safety in the city negatively (17% vs. 8% globally). Another lowlight is healthcare: only 52% of expats in Cairo give the availability of healthcare a good rating (vs. 76% globally) — in fact, nearly three times the global average regard it negatively (30% vs. 11% globally).

And expats’ feelings about the urban environment are rather dismal — over a quarter of respondents (26%) even give the urban environment the worst possible rating (vs. 4% globally).

Meanwhile in Rome, which also ranks last overall in 2021 (see Best & Worst Cities for Expats in 2021), close to half the respondents (47%) are unhappy with the public transportation system (vs. 20% globally). However, the city fares much better when it comes to free-time activities: 67% of respondents rate the local leisure options in Rome positively, which is still five percentage points below the global average of 72%, though.

Poor Public Transportation across the Bottom 10

There is quite a medley of cities overall in the bottom 10 of the Quality of Urban Living Index, representing different-sized urban centers located on almost every continent. There are a couple of European capitals, like Rome (55th) and Dublin (54th), and a range of African cities including Johannesburg (57th), Cairo (56th), Cape Town (51st), and Nairobi (50th). Only two Middle Eastern / Asian cities are featured: Riyadh (53rd) and Ho Chi Minh City (52nd). Two North American cities — New York (48th) and Mexico City (49th) — round out the bottom 10.

Similar to bottom-ranked Johannesburg, expats in Cape Town and Nairobi are also unhappy with their personal safety: the three cities rank 57th, 56th, and 53rd, respectively, for this factor. However, all three get their best results for local climate and weather, with Nairobi (2nd) and Cape Town (3rd) even placing in the top 3 for this factor.

When it comes to public transportation, the only city that performs slightly better than the rest of the bottom 10 is New York. It ranks 34th for this factor, while the other nine cities are all found in the bottom 10. New York (56th), Dublin (55th), and Ho Chi Minh City (54th) also join Cairo (57th) in the bottom 5 of the Health & Environment Subcategory.

Full Ranking

Further Reading