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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

Looking for a Better Quality of Life Abroad?

European cities predominate in the top 10 of the Quality of Urban Living Index, but as Dublin (61st out of 66) and Rome (63rd) show, it’s not all perfect for expats in Europe.
  • In Valencia (1st), around nine in ten expats are happy with the availability (91%), quality (88%), and affordability (87%) of healthcare.
  • Respondents in Vienna (2nd in the Quality of Urban Living Index) love the local public transportation system: 96% rate it positively.
  • Not one respondent has anything negative to say about the local climate and weather in Nice (3rd).
  • Eight of the top 10 cities in the Quality of Urban Living Index are located in Europe.
  • Inadequate public transportation systems are a problem in all of the bottom 10 cities.

The Top 10


The Quality of Urban Living Index includes four subcategories — Leisure & Climate, Transportation, Safety & Politics, and Health & Environment. The results in the subcategories are based on one to four ranking factors, which expats rated on a scale of one to seven: local leisure options and climate & weather; public transportation system; political stability and personal safety; affordability, availability & quality of healthcare and the urban environment. For a city to be featured in the Expat City Ranking, a minimum sample size of 50 respondents is required. In 2020, 66 cities have met this requirement.

Valencia Offers the Best Quality of Life

Valencia ranks 1st out of 66 destinations in the Quality of Urban Living Index — great news for the 23% of expats in the city who moved there for a better quality of life and the 20% who relocated to retire in Valencia!

Respondents rate it the best destination in the Leisure & Climate and the Health & Environment subcategories. In fact, over nine in ten expats (91%) regard the availability of healthcare favorably (vs. 74% globally). Nearly as many are happy with its quality (88% vs. 69% globally) and affordability (87% vs. 61% globally), too. Only the urban environment could be a little bit better — Valencia ranks 17th out of 66 cities for this factor.

There is not much of a winter in Valencia. It is a great place to live!

With over 300 annual days of sunshine, it is hardly surprising that the weather is regarded as a big benefit of life in Valencia: every single respondent rates the local climate positively, and not quite three-quarters (73%) even say it is very good (vs. 64% and 26% globally). “I love the weather,” a French respondent shares. “There is not much of a winter in Valencia. It is a great place to live!” What’s more, 92% are also happy with their local leisure options, over twenty percentage points more than the global average of 71%.

Respondents are just as satisfied with the public transportation system in Valencia: 89% rate it positively (vs. 66% globally), and the majority (54%) even says it is very good (vs. 33% globally). Not everything regarding the quality of life in Valencia is great, though: while 97% of expats are happy with their personal safety (vs. 82% globally), only a slightly-below average 60% rate the political stability favorably (vs. 61% globally).

Quality Healthcare & Transportation in Vienna

Vienna routinely features among the top destinations in global quality of living rankings (e.g. Mercer’s Quality of Living Ranking), and the same is true in 2020: the Austrian capital ranks second in this index of the Expat City Ranking. Respondents love the public transportation system in Vienna (1st): 96% rate it positively, and 82% even say it is excellent (vs. 66% and 33% globally). “The transport system is amazingly efficient and pleasant,” a British respondent shares.

Over four in five expats are very much satisfied with the affordability (84% positive ratings), availability (86%), and quality (83%) of healthcare in Vienna. Combined with a great result for the urban environment — nearly nine in ten (89%) rate this factor positively — Vienna narrowly misses out on the top 3 of the Health & Environment subcategory, ranking 4th out of 66 cities.

Vienna is genuinely a great place to live.

Respondents’ satisfaction with the local leisure options is also high: 88% regard this factor favorably, compared to 71% of expats worldwide, while close to three-quarters (74%) rate the climate and weather favorably (vs. 64% globally). Even the city’s worst result in this index, its 27th rank for political stability, has above-average ratings (79% positive answers vs. 61% globally). A very large share of expats (94%) are still happy with their personal safety, though. All in all, Vienna is “genuinely a great place to live,” according to a Canadian respondent.

Nice Weather & Great Medical Care in Nice

Ranking 3rd out of 66 in this index, Nice receives its best results for the affordability (3rd), quality (2nd), and availability (2nd) of healthcare. “Medical care here is really superb,” a Philippine respondent states. An impressive 92% of respondents, for example, give the availability of healthcare a positive rating (vs. 74% globally), with close to three in five (59%) even considering it excellent (vs. 34% globally). Expats in Nice are not quite as satisfied but still happy with the urban environment: 83% rate this factor positively (vs. 65% globally).

Expats do love the weather, though: no respondent has anything negative to say about the climate in Nice (vs. 20% negative answers globally); close to three-quarters (74%) actually regard it as very good (vs. 26% globally). With 81%, an above-average share of expats is also happy with the available leisure options (vs. 71% globally), affording Nice a sixth place in the Leisure & Climate subcategory.

Transportation is clean, reliable, and cost effective for seniors.

Transportation is clean, reliable, and cost effective for seniors,” according to a US American expat; good news for the higher-than-average share of retirees in Nice (34% vs. 11% globally). However, not only pensioners are happy with the public transportation system: 86% rate this factor favorably, twenty percentage points more than the global average (66% globally).

Nice’s 36th rank in the Safety & Politics subcategory is its worst result in this index. Compared to the worldwide average, respondents are only slightly more likely to rate either the political stability (64% vs. 61% globally) or their personal safety (83% vs. 82% globally) positively.

European Cities Predominate in the Top 10

Eight of the top 10 cities in the Quality of Urban Living Index are located in Europe: Valencia (1st) is joined by the Spanish capital, Madrid (6th), while Graz (5th) is the other Austrian city among the top 10, next to Vienna in second place. Other European cities in the top are Nice (3rd), Lisbon (4th), Lausanne (7th), and Prague (8th). The Asian cities Singapore (9th) and Tokyo (10th) complete the list.

Expats in the Southern European cities Valencia, Madrid, Nice, and Lisbon particularly enjoy the available leisure options and the great weather, with all four destinations ranking in the top 10 of the Leisure & Climate subcategory.

As covered above, expats in Nice are very happy with the local healthcare, ranking the city second in the respective subcategory. A similar trend emerges in the Spanish cities, Valencia (1st in the subcategory) and Madrid (3rd), as well as the Austrian destinations, Vienna (4th) and Graz (12th).

Tokyo (13th in the subcategory) and Singapore (2nd), on the other hand, receive some of their best results in the Safety & Politics subcategory, as do Lisbon (11th) and especially Lausanne (1st). Singapore (11th) and Tokyo (5th) are also among the best destinations regarding the public transportation system, together with Vienna (1st), Graz (8th), and Prague (2nd).

Safety Concerns in the Bottom 3

Salmiya not only comes last in the overall Expat City Ranking but also ends up at the bottom of the list in the Quality of Urban Living Index. It is joined by two African cities in the bottom 3: Nairobi (65th) and Johannesburg (64th).

Salmiya places last in the Health & Environment and the Leisure & Climate subcategories. Well over half the expats in Salmiya (56%) rate their local leisure options negatively (vs. 15% globally), and a similar share (59%) is dissatisfied with the local weather and climate (vs. 20% globally). Respondents in Salmiya are also about three times more likely to rate the urban environment negatively (61% vs. 21% globally), and nearly half (46%) are dissatisfied with the affordability of medical care (vs. 21% globally). An even higher share (53%) regards the public transportation system negatively (vs. 24% globally), while fewer than two-thirds (66%) are happy with their personal safety, 16 percentage points below the global average of 82%.

The Kenyan capital, Nairobi, receives even worse results regarding expats’ satisfaction with their personal safety: only 35% give this factor a positive rating (vs. 82% globally), ranking the city 63rd in the Safety & Politics subcategory. Respondents’ opinions aren’t much better when it comes to the Health & Environment subcategory (64th): 45% rate the affordability of healthcare (vs. 21% globally) and the urban environment negatively (vs. 21% globally). However, Nairobi receives its worst result by far for the public transportation system: over seven in ten expats (71%) are dissatisfied with this factor (vs. 24% globally), rating the city last worldwide in this subcategory.

Ranking 64th in the Quality of Urban Living Index, Johannesburg performs worst in the Safety & Politics subcategory (66th out of 66). Personal safety is a major concern: seven in ten (70%) give this factor a negative rating (vs. 9% globally), with a third (33%) even saying it is very bad (vs. 2% globally). Not quite half (46%) rate the political stability negatively, too (vs. 17% globally). There is also a “lack of proper public transportation”, according to a Dutch respondent, and others agree: 62% of expats are dissatisfied with the transportation infrastructure in Johannesburg (vs. 24% globally). With a 49th place, results in the Health & Environment subcategory are below average, too, but not quite as dire. It’s not all bad, though: Johannesburg ranks twelfth in the Leisure & Climate subcategory. An impressive 59% are in fact completely satisfied with the local climate (vs. 26% globally).

More than Just Poor Weather in the Bottom 10

The bottom 10 of the Quality of Urban Living Index include all the Saudi Arabian (Jeddah 60th, Riyadh 59th) and South African (Johannesburg 64th, Cape Town 57th) cities that have made it into the 2020 ranking. Salmiya (66th), Nairobi (65th), Rome (63rd), Mexico City (62nd), Dublin (61st), and Cairo (58th) complete the bottom 10.

An insufficient public transportation system is a problem for expats in all ten cities: only Mexico City with its 55th rank narrowly escapes the bottom 10 for this subcategory. Expats’ personal safety and the political stability are a major concern in African cities Nairobi (63rd in the subcategory), Cape Town (65th), and Johannesburg (66th), but also in Mexico City (64th) and Rome (60th).

In the Leisure & Climate subcategory, it is Salmiya (66th), Riyadh (65th), Jeddah (64th),and Dublin (62nd) that lose out. “The weather is not great and doesn't allow many outdoor activities,” says a Brazilian respondent in the Irish capital, while a poor performance in the Health & Environment subcategory impacts especially Salmiya’s (66th in the subcategory), Nairobi’s (64th), Mexico City’s (62nd), Dublin’s (65th), and Cairo’s (63rd) index results.

Sunny Skies & Plenty to Do?

The top 3 cities in the Leisure & Climate subcategory are all located in Spain: overall winner Valencia is joined by Málaga (2nd) and Barcelona (3rd). Expats in these destinations are very much satisfied with the local climate — the 96% who rate this factor positively in Barcelona are actually the “worst” result among the three — and satisfaction with the local leisure options is also high. Around half the respondents (from 48% in Málaga to 55% in Barcelona) even give them the best possible rating (vs. 31% globally).

At the other end of the ranking, Salmiya (66th) drops to the bottom once again, together with Riyadh (65th) and Jeddah (64th) in Saudi Arabia. Expats here are particularly dissatisfied with the local leisure options, with about twice the worldwide average rating them negatively (28% in Jeddah, 30% in Riyadh vs. 15% globally).

Transportation: Reliable or Non-Existent?

Vienna’s excellent public transportation infrastructure has already been covered above. Prague (2nd) and Shanghai (3rd) join the Austrian capital in the top 3 of the Transportation subcategory. Nearly all respondents in these two cities consider public transportation to be good (97% in Prague, 98% in Shanghai vs. 66% globally), with close to three-quarters in Prague (73%) even giving it the best possible rating (vs. 33% globally).

Nairobi (66th) and Johannesburg (65th), on the other hand, don’t manage to impress expats (see above). Neither does Jeddah, which ranks 64th out of 66 destinations in this subcategory. Close to three in five expats (57%) rate the public transportation infrastructure in Jeddah negatively, more than twice the global average of 24%.

Safe, Sound & Politically Stable?

Lausanne (1st), Singapore (2nd), and Muscat (3rd) are the clear winners in the Safety & Politics subcategory. Every respondent in the Swiss city is happy with their personal safety (vs. 82% globally), and 64% even say it is very good (vs. 45% globally). What’s more, 98% also consider the political stability in Lausanne to be good (vs. 61% globally). Similar shares are happy with their personal safety in Singapore (97%) and Muscat (96%), while the political stability in these two cities is rated favorably by about nine in ten expats (90% in Singapore and 87% in Muscat, vs. 61% globally).

That Johannesburg ranks last in the Safety & Politics subcategory has already been mentioned above. Fellow South African destination Cape Town (65th) joins it in the bottom 3, with roughly half the respondents rating their personal safety (49%) and the political stability (51%) negatively. Mexico City, which ranks 64th in this subcategory, has similar results, with a respective 48% and 50% of expats voicing their negative opinion about these two factors.

Quality Healthcare or Lackluster Environment?

Valencia and Nice not only make it into the top 3 of the Quality of Urban Living Index but also rank first and second in its Health & Environment subcategory. They are followed by the Spanish capital, which, for example, even ranks first for the affordability of healthcare: 91% of the expats in Madrid rate this factor positively, thirty percentage points more than the global average (61%). A similar share considers medical care to be readily available (88%) and of a high quality (89%), too.

At the end of the subcategory ranking, Dublin (65th) joins Salmiya (66th) and Nairobi (64th) in the bottom 3. Expats in the Irish capital are particularly dissatisfied with the affordability (49% negative ratings vs. 21% globally), availability (38% vs. 13%), and quality (46% vs. 16%) of healthcare. It even ranks last worldwide for the latter two factors. Dublin’s results regarding the urban environment, on the other hand, are fairly average (34th out of 66).

Full Ranking

Further Reading