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The World’s Best Cities for Expats

By Sarah Buder

Nov 26, 2020

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More than 15,000 global expats participated in the annual InterNations survey that reveals how expats rate life in cities around the world.

Photo by karnavalfoto/Shutterstock

More than 15,000 global expats participated in the annual InterNations survey that reveals how expats rate life in cities around the world.

A city in Spain claimed the top spot in the annual Expat City Ranking by InterNations, which rates the best cities for expats to live in around the world.

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International travel has been largely off limits in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, but many of us still dream of where we’ll explore when it’s safe to roam again. And many want to take it one step further: Interest in working remotely and the digital nomad life is way up (and very tempting). Considering a future stint as an expat? Consult this list of the best cities for expats first. 

This year, Valencia, Spain, was named the world’s best city to live in abroad, according to an annual InterNations survey that reveals how expats rate life in cities around the world. More than 15,000 expats living in 181 countries or territories participated in the Expat City Ranking 2020, which was published by the global expat network on November 26.

Participating expats were asked to rate 66 global cities based on five aspects of life abroad: quality of urban life; ease of getting settled; work-life satisfaction; financial security and housing; and local cost of living. Each of these aspects was divided into subcategories such as public transportation, local climate and weather, safety, friendliness of locals, and leisure options. Then, InterNations looked at the cities with the highest scores in the first four categories to determine its Expat City Ranking 2020. (InterNations says local cost of living didn’t factor into the overall rankings to “avoid overrepresenting financial aspects.”)

The survey—which was conducted in March 2020 just before COVID-19 turned into a pandemicmarks Valencia as the top ranking city worldwide for quality of urban life. A large majority of  expats (84 percent) cited that it was easy to get acquainted with the local culture in Valencia, and 91 percent of participating expats said local residents are generally friendly. In addition to its Mediterranean beaches and colorful buildings adorned with traditional ceramic tiles, Valencia is well known for Las Fallas, a rowdy annual festival that takes over the city with massive wooden figures and fireworks for a few days every March. The medieval port city is also revered as the birthplace of Spanish’s traditional seafood dish, paella, as well as horchata (or orxata) a tiger nut milk drink that traces back to the city’s 13th-century Arab past.

In the Expat City Ranking 2020, Valencia also scored high ratings for local climate (it generally sees mild, rainy winters and hot, sunny summers). What’s more: It’s situated on the Mediterranean coast within driving distance from the four other Spanish cities that made this year’s top 10 list.

About 80 miles south of Valencia along the Mediterranean coast, the dynamic port city of Alicante came in second place on the Expat City Ranking 2020. Two other Spanish cities, Málaga and Madrid, came in sixth and ninth place. All four destinations were highly regarded in areas like “ease of getting settled” and leisure options, but it’s worth noting that each received their weakest rankings in the urban work-life index, which refers in part to local career opportunities.

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Other global cities high in this year’s list include Kuala Lumpur, which made InterNations’s top 10 list of best cities for expats for the fourth year in a row (placing in the number 8 spot). Nine in 10 expats surveyed in the Malaysian capital city reported it was easy to live in the city without speaking the local language. About 93 percent of expats shared similar sentiments about Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates capital, which landed in the tenth spot on this year’s list.

InterNations’s Expat City Ranking 2020

  1. Valencia
  2. Alicante
  3. Lisbon 
  4. Panama City
  5. Singapore
  6. Málaga
  7. Buenos Aires
  8. Kuala Lumpur
  9. Madrid
  10. Abu Dhabi

So what exactly qualifies Valencia as the world’s best city for expats? The Spanish city scored in the top five rankings for all but one category (ahem, urban work-life). Still, Valencia ranked first worldwide in both the urban quality and cost of living indexes. In other words, you might want to consider using this energetic city known for its seafood and street festivals as your base for future adventures once the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us. 

>> Next: These Countries Just Made It Easier for Americans to Work and Live Abroad

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