‘Welcome and affordable’ Kuala Lumpur is named the world’s top city to live in for expats followed by Malaga and Dubai while ‘unfriendly’ Rome is rated worst

  • Kuala Lumpur topped the Expat Insider 2021 survey as the best city for expats
  • Malaga, Dubai, Sydney and Singapore rounded out the top five from the poll 
  • Johannesburg, Milan and ‘unfriendly’ Rome sat at the bottom of the 57-city list

Kuala Lumpur has been named the world’s top city to live in for expats followed by Malaga and Dubai, with ‘unfriendly’ Rome rated worst. 

Sydney and Singapore rounded out the top five, while Milan joined Rome as the second worst city, according to a survey of more than 12,000 expats. 

The January 2021 poll asked members of InterNations, a Munich-based expat network, to rate their satisfaction across four categories: Quality of life, ease of settling in, personal finance and working abroad.

The Malaysian capital topped the overall list, with expats praising the local culture and the affordability and ready availability of housing.   

A staggering 78 per cent of respondents commended the local culture in Kuala Lumpur and a further 77 per cent said praised the friendliness of the population towards foreign residents. 

Kuala Lumpur has been named the world’s top city to live in for expats followed by Malaga and Dubai, with ‘unfriendly’ Rome rated worst

The top and bottom 10 cities for expats: 

1st – Kuala Lumpur

2nd – Malaga

3rd – Dubai

4th – Sydney

5th – Singapore

6th – Ho Chi Minh City

7th – Prague 

8th – Mexico City 

9th – Basel

10th – Madrid 

 

48th – New York 

49th – Moscow 

50th – Maastricht

51st – Paris 

52nd – Cairo 

53rd – Tokyo 

54th – Istanbul 

55th – Johannesburg 

56th – Milan 

57th – Rome 

An American expat said: ‘I love the culturally diverse environment of Kuala Lumpur. The overall friendliness of Malaysians makes it the best place to retire.’

Meanwhile, 80 per cent of expats in Kuala Lumpur said they were satisfied with their financial situation, compared to 64 per cent globally.

Malaga and Dubai ranked second and third as the best city for expats, with both countries being praised for being easy to settle in to.

Expats said local populations friendly towards foreign residents and they found it easy to make friends in the two nations – a feat which can be intimidating for those relocating their lives. 

An Indian expat in Dubai described locals as ‘warm, welcoming, and friendly’.  

Sydney and Singapore were close on the heels of Dubai with expats praising the cities for their quality of urban living. 

Sydney residents were particularly happy with the local leisure options, the climate and the quality of medical care. 

Meanwhile, 92 per cent of expats praised the urban environment.   

‘I like the clean environment, the beautiful scenery, and the diverse community with its mix of cultures,’ a male expat from Pakistan said.    

Singapore scored highly for social life, with 56 per cent of respondents saying they found it easy to make new friends and 60 per cent reporting they were happy with their social life. 

But the Asian city-state slid down the rankings in the cost of living category, landing in 43rd. 

A massive 63 per cent  of respondents rated living costs in Singapore negatively, up from 34 per cent globally. 

However, there was an upside to the high prices and 79 per cent of expats said they could easily find housing, up from 60 per cent globally.  

Malaga (pictured) and Dubai ranked second and third as the best city for expats, with both countries being praised for being easy to settle in to

Expats said Dubai residents were friendly towards expats and they found it easy to make friends in the two nations – a feat which can be intimidating for those relocating their lives

At the other end of the rankings were two Italian cities – Milan and Rome – and Johannesburg, South Africa. 

Rome was branded ‘unfriendly’ in a scathing review, with 31 per cent of expats believing the locals generally do not like foreign residents, up from 18 per cent globally. 

Expats in Rome said they were unhappy across the board with career opportunities, job security and working hours. And a male expat from the UK branded the economy ‘terrible’ and said the salaries were ‘low’. 

The only highlight was the climate and the weather, which pleased 82 per cent of respondents, up from 66 per cent globally. 

Fellow Italian city Milan did not fare much better, ranking 56th in Expat Insider’s list. 

Expats said they were unsatisfied with their work-life balance and working hours – even though average weekly hours in Milan are lower than the global average at 38.1 hours compared to 39.9. 

The city ranked highest for getting settled, landing at 44th in the category, but even so 27 per cent of expats said the local population were generally unfriendly, up from 16 per cent globally. 

Meanwhile, 30 per cent of expats said they did not feel at home in Milan.  

Rome was branded ‘unfriendly’ in a scathing review, with 31 per cent of expats believing the locals generally do not like foreign residents, up from 18 per cent globally

Fellow Italian city Milan (pictured, the Piazza del Duomo) did not fare much better, ranking 56th in Expat Insider’s list

Around two thirds of expats in Johannesburg said they were unsatisfied with public transport systems with a huge 68 per cent saying they worry about their personal safety, up from eight per cent globally. 

An Irish expat said he feels he must ‘always be on guard due to security issues.’ 

The South African city also landed close to the bottom for work life with 41 per cent of respondents saying they were dissatisfied with local career opportunities, up on 33 per cent globally. 

‘The amount of time it took to find a job has been stressful, overwhelming, and frightening,’ a Kenyan expat said.  

European cities were overrepresented at the bottom of the list, with four cities – Rome, Milan, Paris and Maastricht falling in the final ten. 

More than 6,000 local residents were also asked to complete selected sections of the survey, including questions on how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected their plans to move abroad.

The full list of Expat Insider 2021’s best and worst cities for expats: 

1st – Kuala Lumpur

2nd – Malaga

3rd – Dubai

4th – Sydney

5th – Singapore

6th – Ho Chi Minh City

7th – Prague 

8th – Mexico City 

9th – Basel

10th – Madrid 

11th – Bangkok

12th – Nairobi 

13th – Shanghai 

14th – Vienna 

15th – Doha 

16th – Abu Dhabi 

17th – Muscat 

18th – Lisbon 

19th – The Hague 

20th – Aachen 

21th – Lausanne 

22th – Tallinn 

23th – Brussels 

24th – Melbourne 

25th – Vancouver 

26th – Frankfurt am Main 

27th – Toronto 

28th – Rotterdam 

29th – Barcelona 

30th – Copenhagen 

31th – Amsterdam 

32th – Budapest 

33th – Santiago 

34th – Zurich 

35th – Munich 

36th – Luxembourg City 

37th – Warsaw 

38th – London 

39th – Berlin 

40th – Dusseldorf 

41th – Cape Town 

42th – Hamburg 

43th – Stockholm 

44th – Riyadh 

45th – Dublin 

46th – Hong Kong 

47th – Geneva 

48th – New York 

49th – Moscow 

50th – Maastricht

51st – Paris 

52nd – Cairo 

53rd – Tokyo 

54th – Istanbul 

55th – Johannesburg 

56th – Milan 

57th – Rome 

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