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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

From Sun to Healthcare: Cities with the Best Quality of Urban Living

New star Taipei takes the lead, coming first in the 2018 Quality of Urban Living Index, followed by familiar faces Tokyo and Madrid.
  • Taipei takes the 2018 title for quality of urban living, ranking first in both the Transportation and Health & Environment subcategories.
  • New York City beats Cape Town for its local leisure options, with over two-thirds of expats (69%) voting the factor as very good.
  • Swiss cities impress expats with their safety and political stability, with all placing in the top 10 for the respective subcategory, except Zurich at 12th.
  • Riyadh ranks last out of 72 cities globally, ending up in the bottom 10 for all subcategories.


For the Quality of Urban Living Index, survey respondents evaluated the leisure options and climate, local transportation, safety and politics, as well as health and environment in their city. A city needed to have at least 45 respondents in order to rank in this index, which was the case for 72 cities in 2018.

Gold, Silver, and Bronze Goes To…

The cities which take the top three spots of the 2018 Quality of Urban Living Index are Taipei, Tokyo, and Madrid.

In first place is Taipei, taking the gold medal for both the city’s healthcare and transportation systems. Expats are very pleased with the latter, with every respondent residing there rating the transportation system positively. In fact, 83% of expats in Taipei find the local transportation to be very good. An Indonesian expat compared the traffic to their home city Jakarta, which comes second to last in this subcategory: “There aren’t any traffic jams here like in Jakarta, Indonesia.”

Medical care is convenient and affordable in Taipei.

Taipei is the clear winner of the Health & Environment subcategory, taking the gold trophy for all individual factors regarding health and medical care (i.e. availability, affordability, and quality). This success may have something to do with Taiwan’s socialized healthcare plan — the National Health Insurance (NHI) — which covers nearly all citizens and any foreigners living in Taiwan for a minimum of six months for the vast majority of healthcare services.

When asked about the availability of healthcare in Taipei specifically, every respondent answered positively, and 82% even give the city the highest score possible. “Medical care is convenient and affordable,” according to a Costa Rican respondent in the city. However, when asked to rank the quality of the urban environment — the fourth factor within the Health & Environment subcategory — expats are not as impressed (38th), and a British respondent comments that they don’t like the susceptibility to “typhoons and earthquakes”.

Nevertheless, Taipei places first in terms of personal safety. Every expat residing there agrees that they feel safe, and over nine in ten (91%) even feel very safe. What brings the city’s ranking down marginally is the other individual factor in this subcategory, political stability, for which Taipei places 30th, with 90% of expats nonetheless giving the factor a positive rating, compared to 63% globally.

Coming in second is Tokyo: respondents living in the Japanese capital are pleased with the city’s local transportation (4th), their level of personal safety (6th), and how widely available healthcare is (14th). In fact, as many as 96% of the expats in Tokyo feel good about their personal safety, and another 96% are happy with local transportation. Where Tokyo ranks the lowest is its quality of urban environment, coming 32nd out of 72 cities globally. Nonetheless, four in five expats (80%) are still satisfied with the city’s quality of air, water, and available green spaces.

Despite performing below average in the Safety & Politics subcategory (45th), Madrid still does very well in the 2018 Quality of Urban Living Index, coming in third place overall. Expats residing in the Spanish capital are satisfied with the local climate & leisure options and the healthcare services. In particular, the city comes second globally for the availability and affordability of healthcare. About half of the respondents (52% and 49%, respectively) regard these two factors as very good.

The Worst Cities for Quality of Urban Living

The three most unpopular cities for the Quality of Urban Living Index in 2018 are Riyadh (72nd), Jakarta (71st), and Jeddah (70th).

Riyadh’s abysmal ranking comes as a result of it being consistently in the bottom 10 for all the subcategories. Similarly, fellow Saudi Arabian city Jeddah consistently lands in the bottom 10 of all subcategories, with the exception of the Safety & Politics subcategory, where it does marginally better in 51st place.

The Indonesian capital, Jakarta, does similarly badly when it comes down to the subcategories, performing the best in the Leisure & Climate subcategory, although still only ranking a sub-average 53rd here. When it comes to the individual factors, the city is in the bottom 3 for its local leisure options (70th), with 39% finding the range of activities unsatisfactory — far worse than the global average of 13%. Expats do, however, find the local climate and weather for the most part good, with the majority (56%) ranking it positively. Despite the survey being conducted in February during Jakarta’s wet season, a British respondent thinks that “the weather is great”.

The poor quality of air and the lack of green spaces make it an impossibility to walk around the city.

Where Jakarta is criticized time and again is the respondent’s dissatisfaction with the quality of urban environment, a factor for which it even comes in last place globally. Over three in four expats (76%) find the city bad in terms of quality of urban environment (e.g. water, green spaces, air quality), far worse than the global average of 18%. According to an Italian respondent, “the poor quality of air and the lack of green spaces make it an impossibility to walk around the city.”

Sun, Sand & Superb Recreational Activities

Compared to 2017, the sky seems to be a bit grayer in Barcelona in 2018, as Cape Town snatches the top spot for the Leisure & Climate subcategory, leaving the Catalonian city in second place. Newcomers Lisbon and Miami also shine through this year, coming third and fourth in the subcategory. Sydney’s performance has marginally improved, too, leaving it to take the final spot in the top 5 after narrowly missing out on it in 2017.

Doing well for the second year running, Cape Town is rated highly for both its good weather and its local leisure options, with 93% and 96% of respondents there regarding the respective factors positively. Multiple respondents comment on their contentment with the city’s close proximity to nature — one Dutch expat, for example, shares how they love that “nature is so close to the city of Cape Town, we live on a hill and the sea is all around us!”

Snatching the gold from Cape Town for its leisure options is the “Big apple”, New York City: over two-thirds of expats residing there (69%) find the local leisure options to be very good. A British expat in New York remarks that there’s “always something new to do at weekends”, and another respondent from Italy comments on the “plentitude of leisure activities”. However, despite this favorable result, New York on the whole places 56th in the Quality of Urban Living Index — with the other factors bringing its ranking down.

Despite losing the top spot, Barcelona still performs well in 2018, coming second in the Leisure & Climate subcategory as a whole and taking the bronze medal for both of the individual factors. Over nine in ten respondents in Barcelona (92%) rate the city positively for its recreational options, and a Dutch respondent comments that “you can find anything in Barcelona; sun, mountains, sea, transport, culture, architecture, arts — you name it!”

The leisure and entertainment opportunities are scarce in Riyadh, especially if you are living alone without family.

Placing in the bottom 5 of the Leisure & Climate subcategory are a mixture of Saudi Arabian and European cities — Riyadh being the worst in 72nd place, followed by Jeddah and Luxembourg City, Stockholm, and Dublin. Three in five respondents in Riyadh (60%) are, for example, unhappy that there is a lack recreational activities, which is considerably worse than the global average of 13% of negative ratings. An expat from Pakistan writes: “The leisure and entertainment opportunities are scarce, especially if you are living alone without family.”

Transportation: Getting Around Is Easy in East Asia

Taipei, the winner in the Transportation subcategory, is not the only East Asian city to make it into the top 10, with Tokyo in fourth place, Hong Kong in sixth, and the South Korean capital, Seoul, in seventh. Rounding out the top 10 are European cities Prague (2nd), Vienna (3rd), Basel (5th), Bern (8th), Madrid (9th), and Zug (10th).

Prague continues to do well in the Transportation subcategory, not budging since 2017 and keeping its spot in second place. A remarkable 97% of expats there rate the city positively for its transportation. What is more, the share of expats who regard transportation to be very good has increased by eight percentage points since 2017, with an impressive 83% giving it the highest score possible in 2018.

Houston, TX, on the other hand, comes in last for the Transportation subcategory. Just over three in five expats residing in Houston (61%) find the transportation to be bad. Moreover, an expat from Lebanon shares: “I do not like how they drive here; the roads are not safe.”

The sole European city making it into the bottom 10 for transportation is Rome, coming in 65th place. Rome’s poor ranking comes as no surprise among reports of an unreliable public transportation system and notoriously congested streets. An Irish expat mentions the “continual strikes in local transport on a Friday”, and a US American comments: “The public transportation is horrendous; it is no wonder that most people feel they have to drive in Rome. Buses are not reliable at all.”

Safety & Politics: Swiss Cities Ahead

Swiss cities make up half of the top 10 for the Politics & Safety subcategory, with Zug being voted the best globally. Expats are particularly pleased with the city in terms of their personal safety, with not a single respondent residing there rating the factor negatively. What is more, 87% regard their levels of personal safety as very good. One Danish expat feels that it is a “safe and great place for bringing up kids”.

Quality of Urban Living bronze medal holder, Madrid, does not do quite so well in the Politics & Safety subcategory, settling in a sub-par 45th place, mostly due to its results for the individual factor political stability: 63% rate it positively — the same as the global average. However, only 12% of respondents feel that the political situation is very stable, which is 18 percentage points below the global average of 30%. This response may have been influenced by the ongoing Catalonia crisis. Madrid performs much better regarding personal safety, coming in 17th place out of 72 cities globally, with 96% rating the factor positively.

Coming last in the Politics & Safety subcategory is South Africa’s Johannesburg. The city is found in the bottom 5 for both individual factors, political stability (69th) and personal safety (72nd), with the latter being considered the worst globally. Almost two-thirds of expats (63%) consider their level of personal safety to be bad. An Australian expat dislikes that they have “to live behind barbed wire and high fences and be continually vigilant.” This issue is also present in fellow South African city, Cape Town, and although it is not to such a vast extent, a respective 35% of expats do nonetheless still feel unsafe, compared to 9% of expats worldwide.

European Cities Dominate the Health & Environment Subcategory

Next to winner Taipei, the rest of the top 10 in the Health & Environment subcategory, with the exception of Vancouver in fifth place, is made up by European cities. More specifically, four of the top 10 are German cities: Aachen (2nd), Munich (7th), Dusseldorf (8th), and Hamburg (10th).

Aachen has very positive results regarding the healthcare system, with almost nine in ten expats (89%) rating the availability of medical care as good. Where the city does less well is the quality of its urban environment, though it comes still in a respectable 22nd place. Fellow German city Hamburg is the opposite: performing better for the quality of urban environment (10th) than the availability of healthcare (22nd), with over half of the expats (53%) rating the city’s quality of air, water, and green spaces to be very good. A British expat living in Hamburg comments on how pleased they are with the natural environment and how much it is cared for: “There are lots of nice parks and green areas and they care a lot about the environment here.”

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