Cities for expats

Cities with prime job prospects and an appreciation for diversity are high on the wish list for most migrants. Add an active social scene into the mix, along with compelling travel prospects, and expat life goes from good to life-alteringly, never-going-home incredible. 

Using the countries that topped the Global Expat Index report for 2019 as a guide, we’ve compiled a list of the 10 best cities for expats. All are welcoming metropolises that offer sweet lifestyles and epic travel opportunities; in other words, places that have the X(pat) factor.

One of Amsterdam's central canals in the summer months. Boats full of people move through the water while the surrounding streets are thronged with people and bicycles.
Reassess your work-life balance with a move to the Dutch capital © photosmatic / Shutterstock

Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Amsterdam is energised by an internationally minded workforce and slick design scene. But simultaneously, charming vignettes associated with the Dutch capital are very real: you’ll cycle alongside canals, gather bunches of tulips in Bloemenmarkt, and walk the same streets as Rembrandt. Amsterdammers value work-life balance so expats fall into the same rhythm, spending weekends ambling through Vondelpark, sipping jenever (a juniper-based spirit) in wood-lined bars, and definitely not checking work emails. Four different countries lie within a four-hour road trip of Amsterdam; try DüsseldorfBrusselsLille and Luxembourg for short breaks awash in art, architecture and excellent beer.

Chengdu, China

Culture-rich Chengdu is already on international travellers’ radars, thanks to temples, teahouses and fiery Sichuan cuisine. The city’s strong international job market, expanding public transport links and relatively liberal mindset are also turning the heads of potential expats. When you aren’t exploring the coffee and craft beer scenes, or testing your tolerance for mouth-tingling peppercorns, the city’s a brilliant launch pad for travel; strike out for the panda research centre in Ya’an or Taoist spiritual nexus Qīngchéng Shān. Language skills are crucial in the long term, but there’s a lively expat community to ease Anglophones in.

People walk along one of the hanging bridges that forms part of Singapore's futuristic Gardens by the Bay. In the background a number of glass skyscrapers are visible.
Does a move to the garden city of Singapore beckon? © Takashi Images / Shutterstock

Singapore

No, you aren’t guaranteed the Crazy Rich Asians lifestyle. But Singapore is a global financial centre with multinationals and media companies stacked into its high-rises. Beyond stellar job prospects, low crime and enviable public transport, Singapore is a garden city with colourful temples, tropical walking trails and the odd gory theme park. Singaporean food alone might persuade you to make the move: sensational char kway teow (a stir-fried noodle dish), kaya (coconut jam) toast and rojak (spicy salad), to name just a few. You’ll be in good company, too – expats are more than one-quarter of the Lion City’s population.

Reykjavík, Iceland

Is a new life beckoning from just south of the Arctic Circle? Reykjavík is increasingly a hub for tech and arts innovators, with cultural rhythms that reach their crescendo during the long midsummer days. Reykjavík (population 123,000) feels small-scale but it’s forward-thinking, LGBT-friendly, and has eye-popping landscapes: think glaciers, ashen beaches and a volcano-scarred national park. Despite Iceland topping the Global Expat Index report, expat life has challenges here – expensive groceries, biting winters, regrettable encounters with Brennivín (caraway-flavoured schnapps) to name just a few – but considering life expectancy, levels of happiness and employment prospects, there’s a compelling case for moving north.

A view from Salzburg's Mirabell Gardens with the city's hilltop fortress in the background. The buildings are grand and white while the gardens are green and neatly manicured.
Salzburg masterfully mixes cosmopolitan culture and outdoor attractions © canadastock / Shutterstock

Salzburg, Austria

No need to swear allegiance to either outdoor adventure or artistic refinement; your promised land lies in the mountainous realms of AustriaSalzburg is the city of Mozart, replete with genteel coffeehouses and capped with a fairy-tale castle. South of the city rise Alpine playgrounds for skiers and hikers, like Zell am See and Obertauern. Austria also ticks the boxes for affordable healthcare, moderate living costs and low crime. And personally, we find brushing up on German verbs much less painful when it’s accompanied by Salzburg’s nougat-marzipan treats Mozartkugeln.  

Auckland, New Zealand

In a turbulent world, many people look longingly towards New Zealand. Wave-lashed coastlines and volcanic landscapes are the main source of drama in this largely peaceful, progressive nation. Auckland, as NZ’s biggest city, has the country’s pick of jobs and nightlife (not to mention the winning coffee), and yet the country’s natural splendour is still within easy reach. Spend weekends away in glowworm-speckled Waitomo Caves, sip award-winning Cabernet Sauvignon in the vineyards of Waiheke Island, or indulge in an evening banquet at every J.R.R. Tolkein fan’s dream expat destination: Hobbiton.

Paseo de la Reforma: a road in central Mexico City that has been closed to traffic. People cycle bicycles on either side of the road, which is flanked by trees.
Whether it’s the great food, cultural attractions or sterling nightlife, the Mexican capital has much to offer expats © agcuesta / Getty Images

Mexico City, Mexico

If a city tailored for expats sounds too sedate, multitudinous Mexico City offers an all-sensory alternative. Expats happy to hurl themselves into a city of breath-taking scale and stand-still traffic jams find ample rewards in CDMX’s monumental museums, amazing gastronomy (once you taste mole sauce it’s hard to live without it), and bars where Frida Kahlo once knocked back beers. Many foreign nationals are digital nomads or English teachers, while families might be tempted by the comparatively low costs of living and childcare…which could leave spare cash for touring Mexico’s ancient Aztec sites.

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