Join now
Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

All in a Day’s Work: Great Cities for Working Expats

A closer look at the top 3 cities in the Working Abroad Index reveals that they have different strengths. Only one gets great results for both Career Prospects and Work & Leisure.

Top Findings

  • #1 Copenhagen offers expats the best work-life balance worldwide.
  • Respondents in #2 Dublin are especially happy with their career prospects.
  • #3 New York City has a strong performance for general job satisfaction.
  • Out of the ten best cities for working abroad, seven are located in Europe.
  • #50 Istanbul, #49 Johannesburg, and #48 Milan are the three worst-rated cities in this index.

The Top 10


The Working Abroad Index includes 50 cities in total, with a minimum sample size of 50 respondents per city. It is based on four subcategories with at least two factors each. The survey participants were asked to rate each factor on a scale of one (very bad) to seven (very good).

The Career Prospects Subcategory includes the local job market, personal career opportunities, and whether relocating has improved respondents’ career prospects. The Salary & Job Security Subcategory features questions on job security, the state of the economy, and fair pay. Working hours and work-life balance are the rating factors in the Work & Leisure Subcategory. And, apart from overall job satisfaction, the Work Culture & Satisfaction Subcategory looks into if expats see a purpose in their work and if the local business culture supports creativity / thinking outside the box, encourages flexibility, and promotes independent work and/or flat hierarchies.

#1 Copenhagen:Ample Time for Hygge

In the Working Abroad Index, Copenhagen (1st) is the best-rated destination in the Expat City Ranking 2022. The Danish capital does particularly well in the Work & Leisure (1st) and Work Culture & Job Satisfaction (2nd) Subcategories. Among expats in Copenhagen, 77% rate their working hours positively (vs. 63% globally), while 82% are happy with their work-life balance (vs. 62% globally). “Denmark has a very positive work-life balance,” a respondent from Germany stresses.

Most expats in Copenhagen agree that the work culture supports flexibility (85% vs. 60% globally), flat hierarchies (82% vs. 45% globally), and creativity (74% vs. 51% globally). Nearly nine in ten (88%) also see a purpose in their work (vs. 78% globally). The most popular fields of work among expats in Copenhagen are IT (16%), healthcare (14%), transportation and logistics (8%), and education (8%).

However, despite the top index ranking, the city does not do equally great in all subcategories. It does land in an outstanding fourth place for Salary & Job Security, mostly due to expats’ satisfaction with the economy (98% happy vs. 64% globally). But its result for Career Prospects (26th) is actually below average: only 58% of respondents say that moving to Copenhagen has improved their career prospects, about the same as the global average of 60%. “It is difficult to get work without the language even after working in an industry for longer than most,” an Irish expat shares.

#2 Dublin: Some of the Best Career Opportunities Worldwide

Dublin (2nd) follows right behind Copenhagen when it comes to working abroad. Unlike the Danish capital, the Irish one features among the top 10 in all four subcategories: Career Prospects (2nd), Work & Leisure (3rd), Work Culture & Satisfaction (4th), and Salary & Job Security (9th).

Also unlike in Copenhagen, 78% of expats in Dublin agree that moving there has improved their career prospects (vs. 60% globally). Another 77% give the job market a positive rating, 30 percentage points more than the worldwide average (47%). “There are a lot of job opportunities for foreigners due to the international companies here in Dublin,” an expat from the Netherlands comments. The respondents express a high degree of overall job satisfaction as well (74% vs. 64% globally). This might be related to them also appreciating the local business culture, especially the support for remote work, flexible working hours, and similar topics (89% happy vs. 60% globally).

Though they clearly enjoy working there, expats in Dublin do not seem to spend all their time at their job: 78% are content with their working hours (vs. 63% globally). But they still get paid fairly — 75% think so (vs. 62% globally) — and feel that their job is secure (81% happy vs. 59% globally). “Living here has given me and my wife a sense of security in our jobs,” an expat from South Africa says. 

#3 New York: Extremely High Job Satisfaction among Expats

New York City (3rd) rounds out the top 3 of the Working Abroad Index. However, the excellent overall placement hides that the results are quite sharply divided between the various subcategories.

On the one hand, New York ranks 1st out of 50 for both Work Culture & Satisfaction and Career Prospects. In the latter, the city even lands in first place for every single rating factor! Expats in NYC love the local job market (79% vs. 47% globally) and their personal career opportunities (84% vs. 58% globally). Another 87% have improved their career prospects by moving there (vs. 60% globally). “There are many opportunities for anyone who is prepared to work,” an expat from South Africa comments. The respondents also see a purpose in their work (88% happy vs. 78% globally) and have a high level of job satisfaction (77% vs. 64% globally).

On the other hand, these opportunities seem to come at a price. New York ranks in a slightly below-average 26th place for both Salary & Job Security and Work & Leisure: 24% are not satisfied with their work-life balance (vs. 19% globally). “There is no work-life balance here,” another expat from South Africa criticizes. And hard work does not always seem to pay off: about one in five (21%) believe they are not compensated fairly (vs. 20% globally).

The Bottom 3: Istanbul, Johannesburg, Milan

Ranking 50th out of 50, Istanbul performs badly across the board. It features among the bottom 10 for all but 2 out of the 13 rating factors the Working Abroad Index is based on. For example, Istanbul also comes last for Salary & Job Security (50th): 52% rate the economy negatively (vs. 17% globally), and 26% do not feel paid fairly (vs. 20% globally). “Finding a job here is very difficult and the working conditions are not good at all when compared to the pay,” says an expat from Cameroon. However, expats in Istanbul still seem to work a lot: 28% are not satisfied with their working hours (vs. 17% globally). No wonder that the city places last for overall job satisfaction as well (50th).

Johannesburg (49th) does worst in the Career Prospects (47th) and Salary & Job Security (48th) Subcategories: 38% of expats rate the local job market badly (vs. 27% globally). They also see few career opportunities for themselves (29% unhappy vs. 22% globally). The local economy only lands in 48th place. Unsurprisingly, Johannesburg gets the worst result for job security worldwide (50th). Interestingly, however, 82% of expats still see a purpose in their work (vs. 78% globally). 

Unlike in Johannesburg, expats in Milan (48th) do not see much of a purpose at work (46th). About one in four (24%) are dissatisfied with their job in general (vs. 16% globally), and 29% rate their work-life balance badly (vs. 19% globally). Another 29% think their work is not paid fairly (vs. 20% globally), and 31% rate their career prospects negatively (vs. 22% globally). “Finding a job here is hard, while salaries are low,” says an expat from Iran.

Trends in the Top 10

  1. Copenhagen
  2. Dublin
  3. New York City
  4. Melbourne
  5. Munich
  6. Dubai
  7. Amsterdam
  8. Stockholm
  9. Berlin
  10. Dusseldorf

With seven out of ten cities, European destinations are overrepresented among the top 10 in the Working Abroad Index. As explained above, Dublin (2nd) is one of the best cities for Career Prospects (2nd). Copenhagen (1st in the index) and fellow Nordic capital Stockholm (8th) both excel in the Work & Leisure Subcategory (1st and 2nd, respectively).

Amsterdam (7th) owes much of its great index ranking to its strong performance for Work Culture & Satisfaction (8th). Three cities in neighboring Germany, on the other hand, do particularly well for Salary & Job Security. Munich (5th in the index) even ranks 2nd out of 50 in this subcategory, with Dusseldorf (10th) and Berlin (9th) following in 5th and 7th place, respectively.

The three geographical outliers — New York City (3rd), Melbourne (4th), and Dubai (6th) — have quite different strengths. New York is a great destination for expats looking for excellent Career Prospects (1st), while Melbourne performs very well in the Work & Leisure Subcategory (4th). Lastly, Dubai not only does well for Career Prospects (4th), but also for Work Culture & Satisfaction (5th).

Trends in the Bottom 10

  1. Valencia
  2. Cairo
  3. Hong Kong
  4. Cape Town
  5. Rome
  6. Kuala Lumpur
  7. Muscat
  8. Milan
  9. Johannesburg
  10. Istanbul

Among the bottom 10 cities in the Working Abroad Index, it is impossible to identify a similar geographical cluster. The destinations are spread across sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and the Middle East, Asia, and Southern Europe.

As the other South African city in the ranking, Cape Town (44th) receives much the same results as Johannesburg (49th). However, it does a little better in a few respects, especially for Work & Leisure. Cape Town ranks 22nd in this subcategory, while Johannesburg lands in 43rd place. A similar picture emerges with regard to Milan (48th) and Rome (45th). Though both Italian cities perform badly across the board, Rome outperforms Milan a little in the Work & Leisure Subcategory. There, the Italian capital at least avoids the bottom 10 (38th).

Landing in 41st place of the Working Abroad Index, Valencia actually comes last worldwide for Career Prospects (50th). However, it very narrowly misses out on a top 10 rank for Work & Leisure (11th). Kuala Lumpur is another destination that performs rather poorly for working abroad overall (46th), but it stands out in one respect: expats working there feel more than fairly paid for their work (6th).

The other Asian city in the bottom 10, Hong Kong, ends up in 43rd place. However, expats in Hong Kong still agree that moving there has improved their career opportunities (12th). On the other hand, they give their working hours the second-worst rating worldwide (49th), right after Istanbul (50th), which also places last (50th) in the entire index.

Lastly, Cairo (42nd) and Muscat (47th) are the Middle Eastern destinations rounding out the bottom 10 of the Working Abroad Index. While expats in Cairo are particularly dissatisfied with factors in the Work & Leisure Subcategory (50th), the respondents in Muscat struggle most with Career Prospects (48th).

Further Reading

Full Ranking