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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

The Cities That Make It Easy to Get Started

From getting a visa and finding housing to the local bureaucracy and language, cities in the Middle East make it easy to deal with the essentials.

Top Findings

  • #1 Ras Al Khaimah offers expats the smoothest start abroad.
  • Finding and affording housing is a breeze in #2 Muscat.
  • #3 Abu Dhabi makes it easiest for expats to get by without speaking the language.
  • The bottom 3 cities are all found in Germany.

The Top 15


The Expat Essentials Index is based on four different subcategories with two to four underlying factors each: Admin Topics, Housing, Digital Life, and Language. Expats were asked to rate these on a scale of one (very bad) to seven (very good).

To be included in the ranking, a city has to have a minimum of 50 respondents. In 2023, 49 cities made this threshold.

It’s Easy to Move to #1 Ras Al Khaimah

Expats moving to Ras Al Khaimah in the UAE don’t seem to face many problems getting started. In fact, the city, which ranks 1st in the Expat Essentials Index, lands in the top 10 for three of the four underlying subcategories. Expats for example agree that it’s easy to live there without speaking the local language (5th), and it’s one of the easiest places worldwide for getting a visa (3rd).

It’s safe. It’s pretty. It’s organized,” shares an Indian respondent. Indeed, three in five respondents (60%) find it easy to deal with the local bureaucracy (vs. 39% globally). And close to three-quarters (73%) agree that opening a local bank account was simple (vs. 62% globally).

What’s more, Housing (5th) is no issue in Ras Al Khaimah: around seven in ten expats praise both its affordability (68% vs. 38% globally) and availability (72% vs. 49% globally). These results match what respondents say they found particularly important when choosing a destination: expats in Ras Al Khaimah put a higher-than-average focus on housing (18% vs. 9% globally) and few bureaucratic hurdles (14% vs. 9% globally).

The only downside when it comes to the ease of getting started is the online access. Close to nine in ten (87%) agree it’s easy to get high-speed internet set up (vs. 80% globally), and 62% even agree completely (vs. 46% globally). But the city lands in the bottom 10 when it comes to the unrestricted access to online services such as social media (43rd).

#2 Muscat Makes It Easy to Find & Afford Housing

Muscat managed to further improve on its already good 8th place of 2022 to rank 2nd in 2023, and it’s the second-best place — after Bangkok — for housing. Expats especially appreciate the Omani capital for the ease of finding housing (1st): 79% agree that it was easy, 30 percentage points above the global average of 49%. Once found, accommodation is also comparatively easy to afford, according to 60% of respondents (vs. 38% globally).

Similarly, expats have few problems when it comes to the topic of Language (2nd) and Admin Topics (10th). Over three-quarters (76%) say it’s easy to open a local bank account (vs. 62% globally). And 51% rate the bureaucracy favorably (vs. 39% globally). In fact, just 1% say they’re struggling with the practical aspects of living there (vs. 7% globally).

There’s a certain “easiness of doing things”, as an Indian respondent puts it. This also applies to handling paperwork online: 73% say the online availability of administrative services is good (vs. 60% globally), around two in five (41%) even find it very good (vs. 25% globally). However, Muscat comes last for unrestricted access to online services like social media (49th). As in Ras Al Khaimah, this poses a problem for expats.

#3 Abu Dhabi: Where Local Language Skills Aren’t a Must

With Abu Dhabi (2nd), another of the top 3 cities can be found in the UAE — and the results are very similar. As in Ras Al Khaimah, Abu Dhabi stands out negatively regarding the unrestricted access to online services (46th). But other than that, the city is found in the top 10 for most of the index’s various topics.

It’s the place where it is easiest to get by without local language skills (1st). Abu Dhabi also ranks 2nd for Admin Topics, only beaten by Tallinn in Estonia. Half the respondents (50%) say that the ease of dealing with practical aspects plays a major role when it comes to their satisfaction with life in Abu Dhabi (vs. 34% globally).

Dealing with the local bureaucracy is no issue according to 61% of expats (vs. 39% globally), and over three-quarters (76%) say it’s easy to get a visa for the UAE (vs. 57% globally). Once arrived, setting up a local bank account is also a straightforward endeavor (5th). Plus, paperwork can also easily be handled online (5th).

Like Ras Al Khaimah, Abu Dhabi also receives great results for Housing (8th). It makes it into the top 10 for both, the affordability (10th) and ease of finding an accommodation (6th).

German Cities Make Up the Bottom 3

Over in Germany, expats don’t have an easy start in Berlin (49th), Munich (48th), and Hamburg (47th). Munich’s 37th place for Admin Topics is actually the only time where one of these cities escapes the bottom 10 for a subcategory of this index — and even this result is nothing to write home about. Expats find it difficult to deal with German bureaucracy, with well over half (from 54% in Munich up to 68% in Berlin) giving this factor a negative rating (vs. 38% globally).

There’s a lot of admin, and everything is done via post instead of online. Plus, you can’t pay by card in most places,” points out a British respondent in Berlin. The German capital even ranks last for the accessibility of high-speed internet (49th) and the ease of paying without cash (49th) — though Munich (48th and 47th) and Hamburg (46th and 48th) don’t do much better.

The German language adds another layer of difficulty: less than half — 48% in Berlin down to 30% in Munich — find it easy to live there without speaking the local language (vs. 50% globally). And they are even less likely to find it easy to learn: 25% (Munich) or less agree with this point (vs. 40% globally). In Hamburg, more than double the global average say they actively struggle with the language barrier (46% vs. 22% globally).

Last but not least, housing remains a sore point for expats. While only Munich lands in the bottom 10 for its affordability (43rd), expats in all three cities struggle to find housing in the first place. Only Dublin (49th) ranks worse here, followed by Berlin (48th), Munich (47th), and Hamburg (46th).

Full Ranking

Further Reading