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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

The Cities with the Best Quality of Life Abroad

The three best-rated cities are all located across Europe, but they have different highlights in store for their expat residents. Find out more about the tops (and flops) below.

Top Findings

  • #1 Valencia shows a strong performance in all five subcategories.
  • #2 Copenhagen places 1st worldwide for Safety & Security.
  • Expats in #3 Zurich love the Environment & Climate (4th).
  • Most top 10 cities are located in three distinct regional clusters.
  • #50 Johannesburg, #49 Cairo, and #48 Kuala Lumpur end up at the bottom.

The Top 10


The Quality of Life Index covers 21 rating factors across five subcategories: Environment & Climate, Health & Well-Being, Leisure Options, Safety & Security, and Travel & Transit. Expats were asked to rate each factor on a scale from one (very bad) to seven (very good). This resulted in a ranking of 50 cities with a minimum sample size of 50 respondents per destination.

#1 Valencia: Where Expats Can Focus on Enjoying Life

The highest-rated destination in the Quality of Life Index, Valencia lands among the top 10 in all five subcategories, too. It does best in the Travel & Transit Subcategory (3rd). For example, expats in Valencia appreciate the affordability of public transportation (85% happy vs. 70% globally), as well as their travel opportunities (94% vs. 82% globally). However, the availability of public transportation could be better; Valencia lands in an average 25th place here.

Health & Well-Being (4th) does not follow far behind. According to the respondents, healthcare in Valencia is both easy to afford (80% happy vs. 61% globally) and to access (80% vs. 67% globally). It is also readily available (82% vs. 73% globally) and of good quality (80% vs. 72% globally).

In addition to great medical care, expats in Valencia benefit from the city’s superb Environment & Climate (6th). They especially enjoy the climate and weather (94% happy vs. 62% globally) and the urban environment (89% vs. 67% globally). As a popular tourist destination, Valencia also offers excellent Leisure Options (7th). Among other things, 92% are satisfied with the opportunities for recreational sports (vs. 75% globally). “I love the focus on social activities and enjoying life!” shares an expat from the UK.

Last but not least, expats feel safe in Valencia. In fact, 92% rate their personal safety positively (vs. 81% globally). The city would probably do even better for Safety & Security (9th) without the slightly below-average rating for political stability (30th).

#2 Copenhagen: Perfect for a Safe & Sustainable Expat Life

Unlike sunny Valencia, runner-up Copenhagen (2nd) is not exactly famous for its climate and weather (45th). This factor impacts the city’s result in the Environment & Climate Subcategory (13th). In all other respects, expats enjoy living in a particularly environmentally friendly city. For instance, 89% describe the urban environment positively (vs. 67% globally), and 92% agree that the Danish government supports policies to protect the planet (vs. 61% globally).

Copenhagen also provides a safe and friendly environment for cyclists and pedestrians (99% happy vs. 77% globally). “Copenhagen is very accessible, and cycling as a means of transport is great,” a German expat comments. The infrastructure for cars gets rated highly as well (93% vs. 75% globally), and public transportation is easily available (95% vs. 73% globally). The only drawback is the affordability of the latter — 19% rate it negatively (vs. 15% globally).

Healthcare, on the other hand, is extremely affordable. Copenhagen ranks 2nd out of 50 for this factor, right after Dusseldorf (1st). This puts Copenhagen at eighth worldwide for Health & Well-Being overall, and 79% of expats also rate the quality of medical care positively (vs. 72% globally). In the Safety & Security Subcategory, the city does even better, placing first worldwide. Expats regard Copenhagen as a politically very stable destination (1st) and can openly express themselves and their opinions (7th). Another 93% feel safe there (vs. 81% globally).

Only the Leisure Options (20th) leave a bit to be desired. Copenhagen might not be the best destination for “foodie” expats — 11% dislike the dining options, about the same as the global average (12%). 

#3 Zurich: The Place for a Stable & Predictable Life Abroad

Ranking 3rd out of 50 for its quality of life, Zurich combines a pleasant urban (6th) with a spectacular natural (2nd) environment. The Swiss city nearly makes it into the top 3 of the Environment & Climate Subcategory (4th). It lands among the top 10 for all related factors, except for its climate and weather (28th). For example, 93% give the air quality a positive rating, compared to 65% worldwide.

Zurich is also a very safe place to live, placing fifth for Safety & Security: 93% of expats feel safe there (vs. 81% globally) — 70% even very much so (vs. 47% globally) — while 92% appreciate the political stability (vs. 64% globally). The city performs quite well for Health & Well-Being (16th), too. However, the healthcare costs (39th for affordability) are the reason why it does not feature in the top 10 of this subcategory. Still, 81% find it easy to access all necessary healthcare services in Zurich (vs. 67% globally), and 86% are satisfied with their quality (vs. 72% globally).

In the Travel & Transit Subcategory (10th), Zurich offers the best travel opportunities worldwide: 96% of expats are happy with this factor (vs. 82% globally). Another 93% rate the availability of public transportation favorably (vs. 73% globally). However, 23% think it is not affordable enough (vs. 15% globally). It is probably a good thing then that it is safe and easy to get around Zurich by bike or on foot (93% happy vs. 77% globally).

The city provides great opportunities for recreational sports as well (92% happy vs. 75% globally). Unfortunately, expats are not satisfied with the culture and nightlife (35th) or the dining options (42nd). Still, as one respondent from Romania sums it up: “Everything here works as it is supposed to. Trains arrive on time, the bureaucracy is predictable, and healthcare is easy to access.”

The Bottom 3: Johannesburg, Cairo, Kuala Lumpur

Ending up in 50th and last place in the Quality of Life Index, Johannesburg also ranks last for Safety & Security (50th): 62% of expats do not feel safe there, 53 percentage points more than the worldwide average of 9%. The city also comes last for Travel & Transit (50th). For example, 59% do not find it safe or easy to get around on foot or by bicycle (vs. 13% globally), while another 39% rate the availability of public transportation negatively (vs. 17% globally). “Not being able to walk around on the streets is heartbreaking,” says an expat from Mexico.

Moreover, Johannesburg lands among the bottom 10 for all rating factors in the Health & Well-Being Subcategory (47th). For instance, 22% are not satisfied with the quality of medical care (vs. 14% globally). However, the city does fairly well for its culinary variety and dining options (85% happy vs. 77% globally). And expats in Johannesburg consider the climate (11th) and the natural environment (14th) genuine highlights as well.

Ranking second to last (49th) overall, Cairo even places last worldwide for Environment & Climate (50th). Among other factors, expats criticize the air quality (47% unhappy vs. 19% globally) and the urban environment (52% unhappy vs. 17% globally). The city also ranks 50th out of 50 for its infrastructure for car traffic, which 33% rate negatively (vs. 13% globally). Another 28% think it is not safe for cyclists or pedestrians (vs. 13% globally).

Expats in Cairo struggle with a variety of other factors as well. For instance, they are unhappy with the quality of medical care (27% vs. 14% globally), they think the availability of healthcare could be better (16% dissatisfied vs. 13% globally), and they miss opportunities for recreational sports (26% unhappy vs. 11% globally).

Kuala Lumpur (48th) rounds out the bottom 3. It performs especially poorly for Safety & Security (48th). For example, 42% of expats do not feel free to openly express themselves or their opinions (vs. 18% globally), and 41% rate the political stability negatively (vs. 15% globally). The city does not seem to be an environmentally friendly place, either ― 31% do not like the air quality (vs. 19% globally), and 42% believe the government does not support policies to protect the environment (vs. 18% globally). “The haze is really bad sometimes because they keep burning the jungle to plant palm trees,” an expat from Spain explains.

In the Travel & Transit Subcategory, Kuala Lumpur ranks 40th worldwide. Among other things, 28% of expats think it is not a safe place to get around on foot or by bike (vs. 13% globally). Public transportation seems to be affordable enough, though (85% happy vs. 70% globally).

Trends in the Top 10

  1. Valencia
  2. Copenhagen
  3. Zurich
  4. Madrid
  5. Lisbon
  6. Dubai
  7. Vienna
  8. Abu Dhabi
  9. Lausanne
  10. Munich

The top 10 in the Quality of Life Index are dominated by several very distinct geographical regions. In Europe, Nordic capital Copenhagen (2nd) is the only outlier. The other European top 10 destinations are all located on the Iberian Peninsula or in the German-speaking countries.

In addition to Valencia (1st), both the Spanish and the Portuguese capital make it into the top 5 for their high quality of living: Madrid lands in fourth place, while Lisbon ranks fifth. All three cities perform especially well for Leisure Options.

Apart from Zurich (3rd), three more cities in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland rank very highly here. The biggest strengths of Austria’s capital, Vienna (7th in this index), are its outstanding results for Travel & Transit (1st) and Health & Well-Being (2nd). In neighboring Germany, Munich (10th in this index) does best for Safety & Security (6th). With Lausanne in ninth place, there is another Swiss destination in the top 10. Unlike Zurich, the city is located in the French-speaking part of Switzerland; but just like Zurich, it performs very well for Environment & Climate, even ranking first worldwide.

The only destinations outside of Europe are the two Emirati cities Dubai (6th) and Abu Dhabi (8th). As far as the local quality of life is concerned, Travel & Transit is their strongest point, with Dubai in fifth place and Abu Dhabi (6th) following right behind.

Trends in the Bottom 10

  1. Rome
  2. Riyadh
  3. Muscat
  4. Mexico City
  5. Nairobi
  6. Hong Kong
  7. Dublin
  8. Kuala Lumpur
  9. Cairo
  10. Johannesburg

Compared to the top 10, the ten worst-rated cities in the Quality of Life Index are a geographically fairly diverse mix. Europe is under- rather than overrepresented here, with only two destinations: Dublin (47th) and Rome (41st). However, Dublin hits a record low for Health & Well-Being, ranking 50th out of 50.

Johannesburg (50th) is joined by another metropolis in sub-Saharan Africa, with Nairobi in 45th place. Both cities have some lowlights — as well as highlights — in common. For example, they do rather badly regarding Safety & Security and Travel & Transit, but expats love the natural environment and the climate in both locations.

In addition to Cairo (49th), there are two more bottom 10 cities located in North Africa and the Middle East: Muscat and Riyadh end up in 43rd and 42nd place, respectively. Both perform worst for Leisure Options. Apart from Kuala Lumpur (48th), Hong Kong (46th) is the only other East Asian city among the bottom 10. The two cities do rather badly when it comes to environmental factors, political stability, and freedom of expression. 

Lastly, Mexico City (44th) stands out in two ways. Not only is it the only city in the Americas among the ten worst-rated ones. It is also the only bottom 10 destination that makes it into the global top 3 for one subcategory in the Quality of Life Index. However, its Leisure Options (2nd) are not enough to balance out its poor performance in other respects.

Further Reading

Full Ranking