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The best and worst cities to live and work as an expat in 2020

Lianna Brinded
Head of Yahoo Finance UK
The Elephant Mountain hiking trail is the closest viewpoint to the iconic Taipei 101 building. Photo: Getty

Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, is the best city to live and work in the world as an expat.

That’s according to InterNations, the world’s largest expat networking group with 3.5 million members from 420 cities, which has released its Expat City Ranking 2019 report for the following year.

InterNations defines an expat as an employee sent abroad on a corporate assignment or classed as a new international hire. This will also mean that the experiences of that certain demographic could significantly differ from a local — especially being away on corporate assignment can entail bonuses, such as relocation stipends for example.

The report surveyed more than 20,000 expats, representing 178 nationalities and living in 187 countries or territories, on various aspects of expat life. It asked expats to rate more than 25 different aspects of urban life abroad on a scale of one to seven. Those ratings were then bundled into 13 subcategories, and their mean values were used to draw up four topical indices: Quality of Urban Living, Getting Settled, Urban Work Life, and Finance & Housing. It then got an overall rating. At least 50 respondents had to participate for cities to be part of the ranking — 82 cities made the final ranking.

The final list showed that four Asian cities led the ranking — Taipei in Taiwan, Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, and Singapore.

Top 10 best cities to live and work as an expat. Graphic: InterNations

For the second year in a row, Taiwan’s capital hit the top spot, thanks to high ratings in quality of life, as well as a 94% satisfaction rating for the availability of healthcare in the city (vs. 73% globally). “The cost of living in Taiwan is cheaper compared to Japan, Korea, and Hong Kong, for example,” says an expat from India. “And Taiwan's health insurance and safety are what makes it attractive to me.”

Kuala Lumpur came in second, thanks to it being voted the world’s easiest city to get settled as an expat. Some 75% of expats feel at home in Kuala Lumpur (vs 64% globally), and 69% are happy with their social life (vs 55% globally). “It is easy to blend in with the culture, the food, and the people,” explains an expat from India, “and the language is not a problem if one can speak English.”

A British expat added that Kuala Lumpur is also “easy on the wallet, easy to travel to/from” and names the “availability of nice places to live at reasonable cost” as a bonus as well.

The worst cities to live and work as an expat

Kuwait Towers Before Sunset. Photo: Getty

Meanwhile, expats are most unhappy with living in Kuwait City, which came in last place.

Both Italian cities surveyed, Rome (81st) and Milan (80th) also ranked in the bottom 10, while US cities San Francisco, Los Angeles, and even New York City gained low scores.

Worst cities to live and work as an expat. Graphic: InterNations

Kuwait City came in last place due to its low scores in the Getting Settled Index (82nd) while 57% said they feel that the local residents are unfriendly towards foreigners (vs 19% globally).

Some 62% said they struggled to find new friends (vs 35% globally), and 57% are unhappy with their social life (vs 27% globally). “Local citizens are not friendly,” remarks an Indian expat. “There is no respect for expats in this country.” Kuwait City, like most other Gulf Cooperation Council cities in the index, scored badly in the Quality of Urban Living Index, ahead of only Lagos in Nigeria.

Meanwhile, San Francisco was at the bottom of the table due to the local cost of living and the lack of affordability of housing. Some 38% of expats in San Francisco are generally unsatisfied with their financial situation (vs 26% globally), and one Peruvian expat explicitly points out that “prices in San Francisco are very high.”

LA expats loved the weather but they ranked the city low for poor transportation and for the difficulty to afford housing (vs 44% globally), while 39% are unhappy with their financial situation (vs 26% globally).

New York City found itself in the bottom 10 cities due to performing poorly in most subcategories and is even placed in the bottom 10 for finance (73rd), health & environment (75th), work-life balance (76th), and local cost of living (81st).