10 worst cities in the world for expats, and yes, Hong Kong made the cut: Paris and Frankfurt are among 6 in Europe, while high housing costs and poor work-life balance are deterrents for Tokyo
When it comes to figuring out where to live, affordability, quality of life, safety and accessibility are some of the top criteria for expats to consider. But what makes a city terrible to live in? Expensive housing, feeling unsafe, lack of job opportunities are some of the top deterrents for expats.
Networking site InterNations surveyed almost 12,000 expats living in 181 countries from February 1 to February 28. Expats surveyed included foreign assignees, international hires and individuals who relocated to other countries to look for work. The survey was first conducted in 2014 and, this year, it ranked 52 destinations around the world, which were evaluated on overall livability, as well as quality of life, ease of settling in, working abroad, personal finance and expat essentials.
Valencia, a port city in Spain, was voted the top city for expat living. InterNations said what stood out to the expats surveyed was the affordability of public transport and how safe they felt in the city. However, six out of 10 of the lowest-ranked cities were also in Europe. There were also two cities in Asia, one in North America and one in Africa.
Here’s the list of the worst cities in the world for expats to live in …
10. Rome, Italy
Rome, the capital of Italy, is one of two Italian cities to make InterNations’ worst-rated list. According to InterNations’ survey, 73 per cent of respondents said dealing with local authorities is difficult, and 50 per cent of those surveyed said they perceive the online administrative and government services negatively. Over 30 per cent also said they are concerned with the Italian economy.
“While the red tape in Italy can be aggravating, the government bureaucracy does have some advantages,” InterNations wrote in its city guide. “Most expats living in Rome with a valid visa, residence permit and/or residence certificate are entitled to the same public healthcare as Italian citizens.”
9. Tokyo, Japan
Tokyo, the capital of Japan, is one of the most popular expat destinations. But some expats feel the city isn’t the best when it comes to working conditions. Of those surveyed, 25 per cent indicated they were unsatisfied with their working hours; 30 per cent said they were unhappy with the work-life balance; and over 60 per cent said the local business culture stifled creativity.
One US expat told InterNations that Japan’s work culture was “a bit closed off to new ideas”. Another expat from Indonesia said the local work ethic was “very uptight and inflexible”.
8. Vancouver, Canada
Vancouver, one of Canada’s biggest cities, is the only North American city on the worst-rated list. According to InterNations’ survey, 69 per cent of expats said the cost of living was too high, and more than 50 per cent said their household income was not enough to live comfortably. Almost 40 per cent were unhappy with their social life in the city.
“It can be hard to enter a social circle which is already established,” one expat from New Zealand told InterNations.
7. Milan, Italy
Milan is the second Italian city on the worst-rated list. According to InterNations’ survey, more than 50 per cent of expats said they were unhappy with the city’s air quality and 66 per cent of respondents said they find the local bureaucracy difficult to deal with.
Around 30 per cent of expats also indicated that they feel that they are underpaid for their work. According to the data site Salary Expert, the average annual salary in Milan is around US$43,000 per year.
“Finding a job is so hard, and the salaries are so low,” an Iranian expat told InterNations.
6. Hamburg, Germany
Hamburg, a city in northern Germany, is another European city making the worst-rated list – and it might be because expats have a difficult time fitting in. Some 81 per cent of survey respondents indicated that they find it hard to make friends in the city.
“It takes very long to be accepted as a ‘friend’ of any order,” one Australian expat told InterNations.
5. Hong Kong
Hong Kong, a special autonomous region in southeastern China, is one of two Asian cities in the bottom 10. Some 46 per cent of respondents said the city offers no room for creativity in the local business culture, and more than half said they felt stifled – 56 per cent indicated they could not openly express their opinions.
“Accommodation, healthcare and international schooling all contribute to the elevated costs,” InterNations wrote in its city guide. “It is considered to be one of the most expensive places for expatriates to live in,” it added.
4. Istanbul, Türkiye
Istanbul, the capital city of Türkiye, is just one of several European cities rated badly by expats. According to InterNations’ survey, some 57 per cent indicated that they perceived the Turkish economy negatively, and only 45 per cent believed they are paid fair salaries.
“Finding a job here is very difficult,” one Cameroonian survey respondent told InterNations, adding that the work conditions are poor especially when the pay is put into consideration.
3. Paris, France
Most expats surveyed indicated that it’s simply too expensive to live in the capital of France: some 62 per cent said the cost of living is too high. In addition, 58 per cent of respondents indicated they found it hard to make local friends, and some 23 per cent felt unsafe in the city.
“Life in Paris is romantic and exciting, but it is also expensive,” InterNations wrote in its city guide. “Daily amenities and housing carry a heavy price tag in France’s most populous city.”
2. Frankfurt, Germany
Frankfurt, a major financial hub in Germany, was ranked the second-worst city for expat living. Some 70 per cent of expats surveyed indicated that expensive housing and high cost of living were some of the factors that makes living in Frankfurt a bad choice.
According to the survey, the city is also the worst when it comes to affordable public transport, ranking last among 50 destinations. A public transport ticket that’s valid for a month costs US$138, according to RMV, Germany’s transport association.
1. Johannesburg, South Africa
According to InterNations’ survey, Johannesburg, the largest city in South Africa, is the worst city for expats. Some 25 per cent of respondents said they were unhappy with how unaffordable living in the city is, and 39 per cent indicated public transport was an issue. Safety appears to be an issue for expats too – 62 per cent of those surveyed said they felt unsafe.
“Johannesburg can be a dangerous place, even by South African standards,” InterNations wrote on its expat guide to the city. “You will surely not be under constant threat at all times, but you should be aware of the potential dangers,” the guide read.
- Networking site InterNations released its annual ranking of the best and worst cities for expats, with six of the 10 worst cities in Europe, two in Asia and one each in North America and Africa
- Expats said high costs of living in Paris and Hong Kong put a damper on living there, while safety seems to be an issue in Johannesburg, which came in as the worst city to live in globally