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The 10 Best and Worst Cities for Expats

Overall, 66 cities make it into this year’s Expat City Ranking 2020 by InterNations, the world’s largest expat community with around 4 million members. Five of the top 10 cities are located on the Iberian Peninsula — with Valencia (1st), Alicante (2nd), and Lisbon (3rd) at the very top, followed by Málaga (6th) and Madrid (9th). The results at the other end of the ranking are geographically diverse, with Salmiya (66th), Rome (65th), and Seoul (64th) in the bottom 3. Survey respondents in Valencia — the best city for expats in 2020 — are particularly happy with local healthcare and the local climate, while expats in Salmiya — the worst-rated city worldwide — are not at all happy with their quality of life and the ease of getting settled in town.

The Expat City Ranking is based on the annual Expat Insider survey by InterNations, which is one of the most extensive surveys about living and working abroad, with more than 15,000 respondents in 2020. This year, 66 cities around the globe are analyzed in the survey, which offers 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. Together, the first four topics make up the Expat City Ranking, which reveals the best and worst cities for expats to live in. As the data was collected in March 2020, just before COVID-19 turned into a global pandemic, one question, however, remains: Will these cities still come out on top in a post-COVID world?

The 10 Best Cities for Expats:

  1. Valencia
  2. Alicante
  3. Lisbon
  4. Panama City
  5. Singapore
  6. Malaga
  7. Buenos Aires
  8. Kuala Lumpur
  9. Madrid
  10. Abu Dhabi

Coming in 1st place out of 66 cities worldwide, Valencia is the best destination for expats, according to the Expat City Ranking 2020. The Spanish city is among the top 5 in all topical indices but one. It even ranks first worldwide in both the Quality of Urban Living and the Local Cost of Living Indices. In fact, 94% of expats rate the local cost of living positively (vs. 46% globally), and 91% consider healthcare easily available (vs. 74% globally). This places the city first in the Health & Environment subcategory. Expats are also very happy with the local climate and weather (2nd) and the leisure options (4th).

Placing 2nd out of 66 destinations, Alicante is one of the best cities worldwide for expats, beaten only by neighboring Valencia (1st). The city ranks among the global top 3 in the Finance & Housing (2nd), the Local Cost of Living (2nd), and the Getting Settled (1st) Indices. In fact, 83% of expats feel at home there (vs. 64% globally), and 68% find it easy to make friends in Alicante (vs. 47% globally).

Ranking 9th out of 66 destinations in the Expat City Ranking 2020, Madrid is the last Spanish city to make it into the top 10 — right after Málaga (6th), Alicante (2nd), and Valencia (1st). The Spanish capital does especially well in the Quality of Urban Living Index (6th), coming 8th in the Leisure & Climate subcategory: more than nine in ten expats (92%) are happy with its leisure options (vs. 71% globally), which puts Madrid in first place worldwide for this factor.

Coming in 3rd place out of 66 cities in the Expat City Ranking, Lisbon performs well across the board. It does especially well in the Getting Settled Index (3rd), and 82% of expats feel at home in the city (vs. 64% globally). Another 79% are happy with their social life there (vs. 59% globally), placing the city 3rd worldwide for this factor as well. The Quality of Urban Living Index (4th) showcases how much expats like Lisbon, with the Portuguese capital coming 5th in the Leisure & Climate subcategory. In fact, 89% of expats are satisfied with the local leisure options (vs. 71% globally).

The Panamanian capital is not only the best-rated Latin American city in the Expat City Ranking 2020 but even makes it into the global top 5 (4th out of 66). This is mainly due to its performance in the Finance & Housing (6th) and Getting Settled (14th) Indices.

Singapore (5th out of 66 in the general ranking) scores high in nearly all areas of the Expat City Ranking 2020. It performs best in the Quality of Urban Living Index (9th), which is largely due to its excellent results in the Safety & Politics subcategory (2nd)

Ranking 6th out of 66 destinations in the Expat City Ranking, the Spanish coastal city performs best in the Getting Settled Index (2nd), where only Alicante (1st) ranks even better. Málaga comes first in both the Friends & Socializing and the Feeling Welcome subcategories, with 87% of expats feeling at home there (vs. 64% globally). Additionally, 77% of survey respondents are happy with their social life in Málaga (vs. 59% globally).

Ranking only three places below Panama City (4th), Buenos Aires (7th out of 66) is the other Latin American destination in the top 10 of the Expat City Ranking 2020. Overall, it gets some excellent results despite its poor performance in the Urban Work Life Index (47th).

The 10 Worst Cities for Expats:

  1. Salmiya
  2. Rome
  3. Seoul 
  4. Milan
  5. Nairobi
  6. Paris
  7. Johannesburg
  8. Santiago de Chile
  9. Dublin
  10. Hong Kong

Rome (65th) comes second to last in the overall Expat City Ranking 2020, ranking only ahead of Salmiya in Kuwait (66th) and slightly behind Milan (63rd). Rome comes in last place worldwide in the Urban Work Life Index (66th), with only 8% of survey respondents rating their local career options positively (vs. 43% globally). Three in ten expats (30%) are dissatisfied with their job in general (vs. 18% globally), and 37% feel their job is not secure (vs. 22% globally). More than three in five respondents (62%) are also concerned about the economy in the Italian capital (62% vs 16% globally), and 30% are unhappy with their work-life balance (vs. 18% globally).

Seoul performs worst in the Getting Settled Index (64th). Almost half the expats (47%) say it is difficult to find new friends in Seoul (vs. 33% globally), and only 40% feel at home in the local culture (vs. 61% globally.)

Coming in 63rd place in the overall Expat City Ranking 2020, Milan ends up among the bottom 10 for the fourth year in a row; it comes only ahead of Seoul (64th), Rome (65th), and Dublin (66th) in 2020. Milan performs particularly poorly in the Finance & Housing (61st) and the Urban Work Life (57th) Indices. Just 46% of expats are satisfied with their financial situation (vs. 61% globally), and 34% say that their household income is not enough to cover their expenses in Milan (vs. 21% globally).

Paris ranks 61st out of 66 cities in the Expat City Ranking 2020, performing especially poorly in the Finance & Housing Index (62nd). About three in ten expats (29%) are dissatisfied with their financial situation (vs. 21% globally), and only 19% of expats say it is easy to find housing (vs. 55% globally). Additionally, 70% of expats describe housing in Paris as unaffordable (vs. 41% globally).

Dublin ranks 58th out of 66 in the Expat City Ranking 2020, coming last in the Finance & Housing Index (66th) and also performing very poorly in the Local Cost of Living Index (64th). More than three in four expats (76%) say it is difficult to find housing (vs 27% globally), and 88% find local housing unaffordable (vs. 41% globally). Additional, 26% are dissatisfied with their financial situation (vs. 21% globally).

Iuliia Tore