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The Best Cities to Live in 2020

InterNations publishes its Expat City Ranking 2019 with the best and worst cities to live in 2020. It is based on the annual Expat Insider survey, which is with more than 20,000 respondents one of the most extensive surveys about living and working abroad.

In 2019, 82 cities around the globe are analyzed in the Expat City Ranking, offering in-depth information about five areas of expat life: Quality of Urban Living, Getting Settled, Urban Work Life, Finance & Housing, and Local Cost of Living. Taken together, the first four areas make up the Expat City Ranking, which reveals the best and worst cities to move to in 2020.

The Best and Worst Cities in the World to Live and Work Abroad in 2020

With Taipei, Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh City, and Singapore at the top, four Asian cities lead the Expat City Ranking 2019. They are followed by Montréal, Lisbon, Barcelona, Zug, The Hague, and Basel. The cities typically rank highly in the Urban Work Life, the Quality of Urban Living, and the Local Cost of Living Indices.

On the other hand, expats are unhappiest in Kuwait City (82nd out of 82) as well as in both Italian cities surveyed, Rome (81st) and Milan (80th). Lagos (Nigeria), Paris, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Lima, New York City, and Yangon (Myanmar) also join the bottom 10 cities worldwide. In contrast to the best cities, all of them rank among the bottom 30 in the Urban Work Life Index and, aside from Paris, also in the bottom 25 of the Quality of Urban Living Index.

The Best Cities to Live in 2020

1. Taipei

For the second year in a row, Taiwan’s capital claims the top position as the best city to live in as an expat. Expats are particularly happy with Taipei’s high quality of life, ranking the city third worldwide, preceded only by Tokyo, Japan (2nd) and Zug, Switzerland (1st). Almost all expats (98%) are satisfied with the local transportation (vs. 70% globally), and a vast majority (94%) is happy with the availability of healthcare in the city (vs. 73% globally). Taiwan’s capital is also one of the leading cities regarding finance and housing as well as the local cost of living, ranking fourth worldwide for both indices. Around seven in ten expats appreciate the local cost of living (71% vs. 43% globally) and are satisfied with their financial situation (69% vs. 57% globally). “The cost of living in Taiwan is cheaper compared to Japan, Korea, and Hong Kong, for example,” says an expat from India. “And Taiwan’s health insurance and safety are what make it attractive to me.” In fact, 96% of expats say they feel safe in Taipei, compared to 81% globally.

Taipei performs just slightly worse in terms of work life (20th) and getting settled (18th). The latter is mainly due to expats struggling with the local language (50th), since the city is still voted among the top 10 for local friendliness (4th) and friends and socializing (9th). Four in five respondents (80%) find the local residents generally friendly (vs. 64% globally), and two in three (67%) are happy with their social life (vs. 55% globally).

2. Kuala Lumpur

While Kuala Lumpur ranks second in the Expat City Ranking 2019 overall, it is voted the world’s easiest city to get settled as an expat. Three in four expats (75%) feel at home in Kuala Lumpur (vs. 64% globally), and 69% are happy with their social life (vs. 55% globally). Language also does not seem to be a problem, as 92% find it easy to live in the city without speaking the local language (vs. 47% globally). “It is easy to blend in with the culture, the food, and the people,” explains an expat from India, “and the language is not a problem if one can speak English.” When it comes to the Local Cost of Living (2nd) and Finance & Housing (2nd) Indices, expats do not complain either: close to four in five (78%) are satisfied with the local cost of living (vs. 43% globally), and 75% find housing affordable (vs. 36% globally). A British expat states that Kuala Lumpur is “easy on the wallet, easy to travel to/from” and names the “availability of nice places to live at reasonable cost” as a bonus as well.

Expats’ satisfaction with the work life is mixed, ranking Kuala Lumpur 26th worldwide in the respective index. “The work prospects for foreigners, especially the ones educated in Malaysia, are getting smaller within these borders,” explains a Bangladeshi expat. While expats are satisfied with their jobs in general (5th), they are not happy with the local career opportunities (50th). Just 47% of respondents rate the latter positively, which is slightly below the global average (51%).

3. Ho Chi Minh City

Coming in third worldwide, Ho Chi Minh City ranks well in all areas of the Expat City Ranking besides the Quality of Urban Living Index (63rd). With close to nine in ten expats (87%) saying that it is easy to find housing (vs. 50% globally), and 77% being happy with their financial situation (vs. 57% globally), the city tops the ranking in the Finance & Housing Index for the second year running. The same is true for the Local Cost of Living Index (1st), with 81% rating this factor positively (vs. 43% globally). Ho Chi Minh City is also popular for its thriving work life (3rd), only beaten by Prague, Czechia (2nd) and Aachen, Germany (1st) in the respective index. Expats are particularly happy with their jobs in general (79% vs. 64% globally), the local career opportunities (68% vs. 51% globally), and their working hours (75% vs. 62% globally). What is more, Ho Chi Minh City comes in third worldwide for both the Local Friendliness and Friends & Socializing subcategories. When asked what they like about Ho Chi Minh City, a Philippine respondent replies: “It is easy to deal and work with the people here, and the cost of living is good.” In addition, 88% of expats find the locals friendly towards foreign residents (vs. 64% globally).

The only blind spot seems to be the quality of life in the city (63rd), particularly when it comes to the quality of the environment (73rd). Almost half the survey participants (47%) rate the latter negatively (vs.17% globally). “I do not like the dirty streets, the bad environment management, the missing awareness about plastic, but also the very bad garbage management. Everyone throws their waste on the streets,” a German expat complains. Lastly, expats are also unhappy with the local leisure activities (68th) and transportation options (64th).

4. Singapore

Not only compared to all Asian cities in the Expat City Ranking 2019, but also worldwide, Singapore stands out in terms of safety. In fact, every respondent in Singapore (100%) rates their personal safety positively (vs. 81% globally), and the vast majority (88%) is also satisfied with the political stability (vs. 61% globally). What is more, almost all (99%) are happy with the transportation infrastructure (vs. 70% globally), landing Singapore in the top 10 cities for the Quality of Urban Living Index overall (9th). The same is true for the Getting Settled Index (7th): expats find it easy to get used to the local culture (77% vs. 62% globally), to make new friends (58% vs. 45% globally), and are happy with their social life (67% vs. 55% globally).

While Singapore also ranks well in the Finance & Housing Index (15th), the local cost of living (54th) seems to be a disadvantage. More than half the survey participants (52%) are unhappy with this factor (vs. 38% globally), and a South African expat explains: “The high costs of basic needs such as healthcare makes it difficult, as well as the high transport costs when traveling by car or taxi.” Within the Urban Work Life Index (40th), work-life balance (61th) is Singapore’s weakest area: close to a quarter of expats (23%) are unhappy with their working hours (vs. 19% globally). “I feel strong pressure at work, and everything is planned and pre-shaped,” a Swiss expatriate complains. This may also be why 24% of expats worry about their job security, compared to 21% globally. Expats, however, are very content with the state of Singapore’s economy (90% vs. 66% globally).

5. Montréal

Ranking 5th out of 82 in the Expat City Ranking 2019 survey, Montréal outranks the other Canadian cities. More than three in five expats (62%) rate the affordability of housing positively (vs. 36% globally), and almost four in five (79%) say it is easy for expats to find housing (vs. 50%globally). When asked about their favorite aspect of living in Montréal, one Dutch expat mentions the “living accommodation”, while another from the USA states “affordability”. In fact, Montréal ranks 33rd for expats’ satisfaction with their financial situation (61% happy vs. 57% globally), while Toronto (79th) and Vancouver (80th) land in the bottom 5 worldwide.

In terms of work life, almost two-thirds of expats (65%) rate the local career opportunities positively (vs. 51% globally). Montréal also ranks third in the Work-Life Balance subcategory — only beaten by. Beyond working life, expats enjoy the local leisure options available in Montréal (9th), and a Mexican expat shares that there are “lots of activities all year long.” In spite of this, Montréal only ranks 41st in the Quality of Urban Living Index, as, for example, 22% are not content with the availability of healthcare in the city (vs. 13% globally) and 48% of expats are unhappy with the local climate and weather (vs. 23% globally). “The weather is a hassle”, says an expat from Brazil, and “winter is too long and cold”, according to a Venezuelan expat.

6. Lisbon

Ranking 6th out of 82 cities in the Expat City Ranking 2019, Lisbon has been voted among the top 10 cities worldwide for getting settled (6th) and the quality of life (10th). Expats feel very welcome in Lisbon (3rd) as almost four in five (79%) think it is easy to get used to the local culture (vs. 62% globally). It may help that 88% of expats are satisfied with their socializing and leisure activities (vs. 65% globally), and another 90% find the Portuguese people generally friendly (vs. 68% globally). One expat mentions “the quality of the social relationships,” when asked what they like best about life in Lisbon. In fact, 69% of expats in Lisbon are happy with their social life (vs. 55% globally). In the Quality of Urban Living Index, expats are not only happy with Lisbon’s local leisure options (10th) but also with the local climate and weather (3rd) — only Miami (2nd) and Barcelona (1st) do better in this regard. Lastly, more than nine in ten expats (92%) rate the quality of the environment positively (vs. 71% globally), and one Canadian respondent emphasizes “the geographical beauty” of Lisbon.

On the downside, Lisbon ranks low in the Urban Work Life Index (50th). In terms of local career opportunities, it even ends up among the bottom 10 cities worldwide (73rd). An expat from Ukraine states that “career prospects are slow, and the level of income is lower in comparison to other EU countries”, while another expat from Russia dislikes the local “job opportunities and salary”. The city also ranks below average for job security (57th) and the state of the local economy (55th), but expats are happy with their work-life balance (13th): 74% rate this factor positively, compared to 60% worldwide.

7. Barcelona

Ranking 7th out of 82 cities in the Expat City Ranking 2019, Barcelona is even voted the world’s best city in the Leisure & Climate subcategory: Nearly every expat is happy with the local climate (98% vs. 59% globally) and the local leisure options in the city (95% vs. 74% globally). There are “lots of social activities, cultural activities, and art”, sums up a US American expat. Barcelona also ranks among the top 10 in the Health & Environment subcategory (9th), as, for example, 88% of expats are satisfied with the availability of healthcare in the city (vs. 73% globally). What is more, Barcelona ranks 13th in the Getting Settled Index. Over three in four expats (77%) feel at home in the city (vs. 64% globally), and 73% are happy with their social life (vs. 55% globally). Not only do expats find it easy to get used to the local culture (77% vs. 62% globally), but three in five (60%) also find it easy to make friends in Barcelona (vs. 45% globally).

However, expats in Barcelona are less happy with the work life (42nd) and with finance and housing (42nd): more than half (55%) find housing unaffordable (vs. 44% globally), and one in three (33%) says that it is hard for expats to find housing, which is just around the global average (32%).

8. Zug

Zug is not only the highest-rated city in Switzerland, but it also offers the world’s best quality of life. In fact, not one respondent in Zug is dissatisfied with the local transportation (vs. 19% negative answers globally), the quality of the environment (vs. 17% globally), or their personal safety (vs. 9% globally). The majority of expats in Zug is also satisfied with the availability (87% vs. 73% globally) and quality (82% vs. 65% globally) of healthcare in the city.

What is more, Zug is the only Swiss city that places among the top 10 in the Urban Work Life Index (5th). Close to seven in ten are satisfied with their work-life balance (67% vs. 60% globally) and working hours (69% vs. 62% globally). Expats even rank Zug first in the world for the state of the local economy (91% happy vs. 66% globally). However, the city ranks a mediocre 44th out of 82 for job security. In fact, almost a quarter of expats (24%) do not feel secure in their employment (vs. 21% globally).

While Zug manages to rank ahead of other Swiss cities, expats still struggle to feel settled in. The city places 58th in the Getting Settled Index, with 35% of respondents saying that they find it hard to get used to the local culture (vs. 20% globally), making it Zug’s worst-rated area. “I find that making friends is extremely difficult, and I am a very social person,” shares a Canadian expat. In fact, 31% of expats feel that people in Zug are unfriendly towards foreign residents (vs. 19% globally).

9. The Hague

Coming in 9th place in the best cities to live in 2020 list, The Hague performs particularly well in the Urban Work Life Index (13th). Expats even vote The Hague among the top 10 worldwide in the Job Security subcategory (5th): nearly seven in ten (69%) are specifically satisfied with their job security (vs. 59% globally), and 88% rate the state of the local economy positively (vs. 66% globally). While the city also ranks well for work-life balance (20th), it comes in only 55th place for local career opportunities. When asked to share what they dislike most about life in The Hague, a British expat mentions “limited career opportunities in my specialized career,” and a Bulgarian expat shares: “I cannot find a better and higher paid job.” In fact, 29% are unhappy with their career opportunities (vs. 27% globally), which is the highest share out of the three Dutch cities surveyed. On the other hand, The Hague is by far the best Dutch city in the Finance & Housing Index (24th). In the Finance subcategory, it comes 11th, compared to Rotterdam in 42nd and Amsterdam in 46th place. In fact, seven in ten expats (70%) are generally satisfied with their financial situation (vs. 57% globally).

Overall, The Hague also ranks a good 27th in the Quality of Urban Living Index, but lands in the bottom 10 worldwide for the local climate and weather (78th) alongside Amsterdam (76th). Close to three in five expats (56%) rate this factor negatively (vs. 23% globally), and one Turkish expat lists the “weather conditions” as one of the worst features of living in The Hague. The city also ranks the highest out of the three Dutch cities in the Health & Environment subcategory (37th), with 81% of expats enjoying the quality of the environment (vs. 71% globally).

10. Basel

Basel ranks 10th out of 82 cities in the Expat City Ranking, with expats rating the quality of life very highly (6th). They are particularly happy with their personal safety (93% vs. 81% globally), the local transportation system (98% vs. 70% globally), and the quality of the environment (93% vs. 71% globally). A Belgian expat particularly enjoys the city’s “central location, the good transportation systems, and the mountains”.

The Worst Cities to Live in 2020

82. Kuwait City
81. Rome
80. Milan
79. Lagos (Nigeria)
78. Paris
77. San Francisco
76. Los Angeles
75. Lima
74. New York City 
73. Yangon

Iuliia Tore