These Are the International Cities Where Expats Are Happiest

Thinking of living abroad? These are the top cities to relocate to, according to a survey of more than 12,000 expats.

Pale tower of Malaga Cathedral as viewed between buildings in Málaga, Spain

The annual InterNations survey reveals how expats rate life in cities around the world—and this city in southern Spain topped the list.

Courtesy of Joel Casey/Unsplash

As the option to work remotely has become more common, the opportunities for living and working abroad have increased for many U.S. citizens. Add to that fact the growing number of countries that are courting remote workers with digital nomad visa programs, and it’s arguably never been easier to relocate to an international locale.

But if you’re thinking of living in a foreign country, what city in the world should you call home? Well, maybe the insights of 12,065 expats living abroad who recently ranked 49 international cities can help inform the decision.

According to the InterNations Expat City Ranking 2023, which was released earlier this month, Málaga, Spain, is the best city for expats.

Participating global citizens were asked to rate cities throughout the world based on five aspects of life abroad: quality of life, which includes healthcare and leisure options; ease of settling in, for instance, how easy or difficult it is to find friends and whether the city has a welcoming culture; employment options for working abroad; personal finances; and what the organization calls “expat essentials,” which addresses issues such as housing and administration.

InterNations is an expat community with more than 5.1 million members living in 420 cities around the world. The results of the survey revealed both the best and worst cities for living abroad, with the top 10 spots being dominated by cities in Spain, the Middle East, Mexico, and Asia.

The best cities for expats to live abroad

  1. Málaga, Spain
  2. Alicante, Spain
  3. Valencia, Spain
  4. Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates
  5. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
  6. Madrid, Spain
  7. Mexico City, Mexico
  8. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  9. Bangkok, Thailand
  10. Muscat, Oman

The best city in the world for expats

So, what makes Málaga, Spain, such a great place to live? According to the survey, the city in Spain’s southern Costa del Sol region is extremely welcoming. Eighty-nine percent of respondents said that the locals are particularly friendly toward foreign residents.

With its warm weather and access to beaches, Málaga also scored high in the quality of life category. Expats find that living there offers a good work-life balance and that securing a place to live is both easy and affordable. If you’re hoping to stretch your budget, the lower cost of living in Málaga is also attractive. Overall, 88 percent of expats report that they are happy with their life in Málaga, compared to 72 percent globally.

Aerial view of central Madrid

Madrid is among the 4 Spanish cities that made it into the top 10 cities for expats to live.

Courtesy of Jorge Fernandez Salas/Unsplash

Best cities for expats in Europe

When it comes to the best cities for expats in Europe, according to the InterNations survey, they are in Spain. Alicante, Valencia, and Madrid all made it into the top 10 behind Málaga.

About 300 miles up the coast from Málaga is Alicante, which ranked second among global cities for expats, having excelled in the categories of healthcare and how easy it is to settle in. Expats report that they are made to feel welcome and are happy with their social lives. Cost of living and affordable housing are also big positives for living in Alicante. While Alicante scores lower in terms of job satisfaction and personal career opportunities, 92 percent of expats report that they are happy with their life in Alicante.

Travel another 100 miles northeast up the coast to Valencia and you’ll land in the third top spot for expats living abroad—and the third largest city in Spain. Expats give this coastal hub top marks for the quality of life, for its affordability, and for the healthcare services. It’s also a very walkable and bikeable city, with affordable public transportation, too.

If you’re looking for more of a big-city vibe, consider Madrid, Spain’s capital city and the largest city in the country. Madrid ranked No. 6 on the InterNations list, getting strong votes for its culture, cuisine, and nightlife. That’s not surprising given its reputation for being a center for renowned artwork, including its famed Prado Museum and Reina Sofia. Couple that with the city’s iconic architecture and a wealth of bars and restaurants and expats here won’t get bored. Overall, 85 percent of expats are happy with their life in Madrid.

Best cities for expats in the Middle East

Beside Spain, the United Arab Emirates was the only other country that had more than one city land on the top 10 list: Ras Al Khaimah and Abu Dhabi.

Ras Al Khaimah, 150 miles north of Abu Dhabi, is home to numerous resorts along the Persian Gulf. Expats report that it’s easy to get set up here with 78 percent indicating that they had no issues getting a visa to move there, and 68 percent reporting that housing is readily available and not expensive. Job satisfaction and career prospects are great, making it one of the best cities for working abroad, according to the survey.

In the ultra modern Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, quality of life ranks high as does access to medical services. As in Ras Al Khaimah, expats say it’s easy to get settled into Abu Dhabi.

Another city in the Middle East that made the list was the capital of Oman: Muscat. Here, it’s the friendly locals and affordable housing that make it a winning place to live for foreigners.

Best city for expats in Mexico

It’s not surprising to see at least one city in Mexico on the list considering that Mexico ranked No. 1 among the best countries for expats to live in, according to the country rankings that InterNations released this summer. Mexico’s bustling capital is big on culture and low on costs, which is why foreigners who live there love it so much. While personal safety is more of a concern than in other top cities, Mexico City’s wide variety of cuisine, the ease of finding housing, and the pay and purpose expats get from their work elevate the city to its No. 7 spot.

Two tuk-tuks in Bangkok's Chinatown at night, with colorful neon signs and lights

In Bangkok, 85 percent of expats report that they are happy with their life there.

Courtesy of Florian Wehde/Unsplash

Best cities for expats in Asia

Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, and Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, were the cities in Asia to make the top 10 list.

Expats who live in Kuala Lumpur are happy with their pay and cost of living and have a comfortable life. While political stability and safety are not necessarily strong suits of the city, foreigners residing in Kuala Lumpur say they are happy with their social lives and feel that they have a strong support network.

In Bangkok, affordable housing and healthcare are two aspects of life that have impressed foreigners, along with cost of living. Bangkok scored low in the environment and climate subcategory, particularly in terms of air quality, and didn’t do well when it comes to safety and security. But those aspects are countered by how friendly the locals are and the high quality of social life. In general, 85 percent of expats are happy in Bangkok.

This story originally appeared in November 2020, and was updated on November 30, 2023, to include current information.

Michelle Baran is a deputy editor at AFAR where she oversees breaking news, travel intel, airline, cruise, and consumer travel news. Baran joined AFAR in August 2018 after an 11-year run as a senior editor and reporter at leading travel industry newspaper Travel Weekly.
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