Paris, Rome, New York… they are some of the most popular travel destinations in the world—but many expats who live in these world-class cities are unhappy.
What makes it so hard to live in a city that so many people want to visit? The cost of living, difficulty making friends, and challenges finding housing are some of the reasons cited by respondents to a survey conducted by InterNations, a global community and information site for people who live and work abroad.
According to the survey of 20,000 expats living in 82 cities around the world, the best cities, which include Taipei, Kuala Lumpur and Ho Chi Minh City, offer a high quality of life, good transportation, available healthcare, low cost of living and friendly locals.
But in places like Milan and Rome, poor political stability concerns expats, and in U.S. cities like New York and San Francisco, they cite affordability and housing as main issues.
To identify the best and worst cities for expats, InterNations asked expats to rate more than 25 different aspects of urban life abroad in the categories of Quality of Urban Living, Getting Settled, Urban Work Life, and Finance & Housing. The survey also includes a Local Cost of Living Index, which does not factor into the overall ranking to avoid over-representing financial aspects.
A sample size of at least 50 survey participants per city was required; 82 cities met this requirement, with the top cities for expats including Taipei, Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh City, Singapore, Montreal, Lisbon and Barcelona. Seven U.S. cities were included in the survey, four of these ended up in the bottom 25, and Miami ranked the highest at No. 27 out of 82 cities, Houston No. 35 and Chicago No. 37.
Based on the InterNations survey, these are the worst cities in the world for expats.
82. Kuwait City
Kuwait City is the worst city for expats in the world, according to the survey. Respondents here cited poor quality of living, difficulty in getting settled and expensive housing among the reasons.
Expats rank the city among the bottom five in the categories of Urban Work Life, Quality of Urban Living and Getting Settled. Kuwait City also has the worst-rated work-life balance worldwide (38% negative responses vs. 21% globally, and three in five expats said they were dissatisfied with the local transportation and the quality of the environment.
This world-class tourist destination ranks among the 10 worst cities in Internations’ Urban Work Life Index, which rates overall job satisfaction and local career opportunities, job security and the state of the local economy, working hours and work-life balance. Rome is also criticized by expats for its poor political stability, and only 44% of expats were satisfied with their financial situation. One expat cited the “impossibility of professional growth, underpayment, nepotism, bureaucracy, and the general state of the infrastructure” as downsides of life in Rome. On the upside, an expat from Spain said: “It is a gorgeous country, life is pleasant, the weather is nice, and the food is delicious.”
Pictured is Rome’s Spanish Steps. Last year the city banned sitting on the steps.
An American expat said of Milan: “There aren‘t a lot of job opportunities and it‘s hard owning my own business. The taxes are too high.”
And while they liked the transportation and the weather, only about four in nine expats in Milan were satisfied with their financial situation here, and, like Rome, cited the political upheaval as reasons for their unhappiness—the city ranks No. 75 out of 82 cities for political stability.
79. Lagos, Nigeria
Nigeria’s largest city ranks No. 79 out of 82 cities, and Lagos was voted the worst for quality of urban living. Aside from the local climate and weather expats, are especially dissatisfied with the local availability of healthcare and the quality of medical care in Nigeria in general. Nigeria’s generally unstable political climate means expats don’t feel safe in Lagos, either: a German expat woman cites “insecurity — both political and personal. You aren’t able to just walk around here.”
Paris is the only other European city in the bottom 10, with some of the lowest ratings for finance and housing. While Paris ranks No. 27 in the health and environment category and No. 43 in quality of urban living, it’s in the bottom 20 for safety and politics. The city is in the bottom three in the getting settled category, local friendliness and local language.
“Everything is just so expensive,” said an expat from Portugal, “from housing to food and basic items.” In Paris, 67% were unhappy with the local cost of living in general (vs. 38% globally).
As a positive note, expats are happy with the availability of healthcare and the local leisure options. Above, yellow vest protesters in Paris in 2018.
77. San Francisco
San Francisco is not only the worst U.S. city in the expat survey but it is also the world’s worst city when it comes to the local cost of living and the affordability of housing, ranking dead last in these two categories.
Although San Francisco ranks in the top 20 for leisure and climate, it’s in the bottom 20 in several other categories, including quality of urban living, transportation, safety and politics, and health and environment. As for the friendliness of the locals, a Brazilian expat said that “people are friendly towards foreigners, but that is about it, they do not become your close friends.”
76. Los Angeles
Los Angeles is in the top five for leisure and climate, but otherwise expats in the sprawling Southern California city do not have many positives to share. Los Angeles is near the bottom for quality of urban living, transportation, and health & environment, and expats here say it is hard to afford housing. Pictured above is a homeless encampment in Los Angeles. A British expat cited a “lack of a real community,” while one from Russia said “it is very difficult to make friends.”
The city is definitely loved for its local climate and weather, ranking No. 4 of 82 cities globally, — only beaten by Barcelona, Miami, and Lisbon. “Weather in LA is the best!” said an expat from Brazil.
75. Lima, Peru
Lima ranks worst in the quality of urban living index. Almost three in five respondents are unhappy with local transportation, and 29% worry about their personal safety (vs. 9% globally). A Belgian expat complains about “general insecurity, poor public transport, and expensive healthcare.”
74. New York
The Big Apple placed in the bottom 10 for finance, health & environment, work-life balance, and local cost of living.
While almost two-thirds of expats find it easy to get used to the local culture, many find the people in New York friendly towards expats and enjoy the local leisure options offered in the city, 86% rate the local cost of living in New York negatively.
73. Yangon, Myanmar
Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon) is the largest city in Myanmar. While Yangon’s locals seem to be one of the expat-friendliest worldwide, the city ranks low for urban work life and quality of urban living. “I do not like the poor healthcare system,” said a South Korean expat.
Dublin comes in last in the world for finance and housing. Expats are especially dissatisfied with the affordability of housing (88% negative responses vs. 44% globally) and have trouble finding a place to live: “finding an apartment is a nightmare,” one expat said. On the other hand, three-quarters of expats (75%) rate the career opportunities in Dublin favorably.
Expats are generally unhappy with the political situation and with their personal safety in Istanbul, and 36% rate the local career opportunities negatively, and 27% are unhappy with their job security.
Many expats find living in London too expensive, some do not feel safe and a few (about 21%) are unhappy with the available healthcare. On the upside, expats find Londoners friendly. “The cultural diversity, the amount of opportunities to try new things and meet different people — those are the things I like,” one expat said.
While all Swiss cities are considered expensive, Geneva is the only one that ranks among the 10 worst destinations in the world for finance, housing, and local cost of living.
Expats here do enjoy the high quality of life that Geneva offers; they find the city safe (90% vs. 81% globally), and enjoy the quality of the environment.
Despite its favorable weather, finances and the local economy are reasons Athens ranks as No. 68 of 82 cities in the survey. Two in five respondents said that they do not have sufficient disposable household income to cover their daily costs, 30% are not happy with the availability of healthcare and a few were dissatisfied with the local transportation and the political stability. One U.S. expat said: “It is difficult to find steady employment because of the unsteady economy.”
Copenhagen ranks in the bottom three for getting settled, and more than a third of the respondents said they do not feel at home in Copenhagen, 41% struggle to get used to the local culture, and 62% of expats said it is hard to make new friends in Copenhagen. About 71% found it unaffordable.
Expats in Stockholm find it difficult to settle in, placing the city 77th in the world in the Getting Settled category. The Swedish capital ends up among the bottom 10 for the Friends & Socializing (No. 81), Feeling Welcome (No. 80), and Local Friendliness (No. 79) subcategories. Respondents also said it is difficult to find housing.
65. Cape Town, South Africa
More than seven in 10 expats said they feel at home in Cape Town, and an expat from the Netherlands said the “social life and cultural diversity” is one of the things she likes most. However, Cape Town ranks in the bottom 10 for urban work life, and it may be growing more difficult to find housing here. Expats are also less satisfied than in past surveys with the local transportation.
64. Auckland, New Zealand
While expats in Auckland are pleased with the local climate and weather, they are less happy with the available leisure options. And while 83% are pleased with the political stability (vs. 61% globally), they worry more about their personal safety (95% were happy in 2018 vs. 77% in 2019). This is now even below the global average of 81% — however, the survey was conducted in February and March 2019, around the same time when the Christchurch mosque attack happened.
63. Seoul, S. Korea
Seoul is among the top 20 cities for quality of urban living and first among all the cities for its local transportation. But expats are unhappy with their work-life balance here, ranking the city last in the world. “I do not like the long working hours,” said a Mexican expat.
62. Sao Paulo
While it’s easy to get settled in this Brazilian city and make new friends, Sao Paulo is voted one of the worst destinations in the world for the quality of life.
Berlin is the only German city in which expats rate the local economy worse than the global average. It is the best-rated German city in terms of available leisure options and 12th worldwide. Despite the local cost of living seeming to be low, 34% are unhappy with their financial situation.
Although expats in Beijing are positive about the local career opportunities and the economy, they report difficulty in getting settled. “The locals speak very little English,” a German respondent said, “and learning their language is difficult. It makes life for expats here harder.”
Johannesburg ranks among the bottom 10 worldwide for the state of the local economy and quality of life, which is one of the worst in the world. Expats are also unhappy with the local transportation and worry about their personal safety. The city’s best areas are cost of living and finance/housing.
Expats in Boston are generally unhappy with the climate and weather, and 33% were negative about transportation. Boston also ranks among the bottom 10 cities in for local cost of living. But expats voted Boston the world’s best city for local career opportunities and 86% rated local leisure options positively. “There are endless opportunities to unfold your potential,” said an expat from Luxembourg. “There is always something going on, which makes time fly. You are never bored.”
57. Warsaw, Poland
Expats struggle to get settled in the Polish capital, finding the city’s population generally unfriendly towards foreign residents. Language is a big barrier and 33% were unhappy with the quality of the environment, while 43% were unhappy with the quality of medical care.
56. Buenos Aires, Argentina
About 60% of expats find it easy to make friends in Buenos Aires, but some were unsatisfied with their job. The city ranks near the bottom for job security, and nearly 80% of expats were worried about the state of the local economy.
Vancouver ranks in the top 10 worldwide for local leisure options, but it is the most expensive Canadian city and near the bottom for finance and housing—only San Francisco and Dublin perform worse on a global scale.
Many expats find it hard to live in Moscow without speaking Russian and some perceive the locals in Moscow as generally unfriendly. “People do not smile,” said one expat. On the upside, one expat said that “Moscow never sleeps so you can always find something culturally interesting and fun to do any time of the day.”
53. Lugano, Switzerland
This city in Switzerland’s Italian-speaking region seems to be a safe and stable city for expats, but about a third of respondents were concerned about job security. Close to one- quarter also rate the local economy negatively.
52. Hong Kong
Expats generally agree that the local transportation infrastructure in Hong Kong is good, and 96% feel safe — however, the survey was conducted before the current protests broke out.
Hong Kong also ranks among the bottom 10 cities for local cost of living, and No. 81 out of 82 for the affordability of housing, only ahead of San Francisco.
You can see the full ranking of all of the cities at InterNations.