The 15 cities in the world that are easiest to make a fresh start as an expat

LaToya Harding
·4-min read
The Spanish city of Alicante has won the title as the easiest to get settled into as an expat, according to new data. Photo: Heino Kalis/Reuters
The Spanish city of Alicante has won the title as the easiest to get settled into as an expat, according to new data. Photo: Heino Kalis/Reuters

The Spanish city of Alicante has won the title as the easiest to get settled into as an expat, according to new data.

The port city in the Southeast of the country ranked first in the Getting Settled Index in the annual Expat Insider 2020 report by InterNations, with expats reporting happy social lives.

An expat is defined as an employee sent abroad on a corporate assignment or classed as a new international hire. Therefore the survey and opinions of the respondents may substantially differ compared with the overall population.

The report, which collected data in March, surveyed more than 15,000 expatriates representing 173 nationalities and living in 181 countries. It provides a good snapshot of life just before the COVID-19 crisis turned into a global pandemic.

“Since then, living conditions have changed rather rapidly in some destinations,” the report said. “As such, the results may not always reflect what expat life in all of these cities will be like in a post-COVID world.”

For a city to be featured in the 2020 ranking, a sample size of at least 50 survey participants per city was required. This year, a total of 66 cities met this requirement.

Alicante came out on top after ranking highly in the four subcategories on the Getting Settled index - local friendliness, feeling welcome, friends and socialising and local language.

Each subcategory is calculated based on two factors which were rated on a scale of one to seven: general friendliness of the population and friendly attitude towards foreign residents; feeling at home in the city and getting used to the local culture; finding new friends and satisfaction with social life; ease of living in the city without local language skills and of actually learning the language.

Respondents in Alicante said that they were particularly happy with the factors in the friends and socialising subcategory, which resulted in a respective second place for the Spanish city.

More than two-thirds of the expats in Alicante (68%) agreed that it was easy to find new friends (compared with 47% globally), and an even higher share of 77% are happy with their social life in Alicante (versus 59% globally).

Cities in Spanish-speaking countries generally performed well in this index, making up six of the top 10. Close to nine in ten respondents (87%) revealed that they felt at home in runner-up city Málaga.

Similar to Alicante, Malaga respondents said they were very much satisfied with the local friendliness, felt welcome there, and have little to complain about regarding friends and socialising.

The factor that kept Málaga from claiming the top prize was the local language: while 60% report no problems living there without local language skills, only 38% of the respondents agreed that the language was easy to learn.

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Compared to 60% in Alicante, this result shows that the local Andalusian dialect in Málaga is more difficult than some might have thought.

Meanwhile, Lisbon pulled in to snap up the bronze medal, with 42% agreeing completely that people are friendly towards foreign residents.

Respondents felt at home in the Portuguese capital, with 82% rating this factor favourably compared with 64% globally — and four in five (80%) reporting that it is easy to get used to the Portuguese culture.

Alicante and Málaga were not the only Spanish cities where expats found it easy to settle down. Valencia pulled in fourth and Barcelona ranked tenth. Spanish capital Madrid was not far behind at number 13.

Buenos Aires, Argentina (seventh in the Getting Settled Index) and Mexico City (ninth) were the other Spanish-speaking destinations at the top of the index, with respondents particularly praising the friendliness of the population and how easy it is to get used to the local culture in these cities.

Muscat, Kuala Lumpur and Auckland completed the top 10, pulling in at sixth, seventh and eighth respectively. Over four in five expats in Muscat (82%) considered the residents in the Omani capital generally friendly, 14 percentage points above the worldwide average (68%).

Dubai, Sydney, Madrid, Panama City and New York ranked tenth to fifteenth on the list.

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