It’s that time of year when the lists by expatriates associations, financial investment companies and global real estate advisers, among others, rank the world’s best places to live for those wanting to move from the United States.
Although the evaluation criteria vary among listings, there are some locations that always top the rankings — and it’s no coincidence that European countries tend to dominate the lists.
Among the facts generally considered are quality of life, housing prices, ease of settling in, digital life, international schools, language, career prospects, bureaucracy, environment and climate, health care system, safety and security, travel and transportation, an active expat community and international airports.
Now or never
The ‘triple three’ — fundamental changes brought by the coronavirus epidemic, restrictive and protective health measures and the rise of remote work are among the considerations making the dream of living in the Old World desirable.
The so called ‘Great Resignation’ spreading from the U.S. appears as another “as more and more workers have left their job or are considering a career and lifestyle change,” notes the Internations’ Expat Insider.
“The remote working trend is showing no signs of slowing, meaning now is a great time to try living in another country,” Euronews notes. “With more nations introducing digital nomad visas, it is becoming easier to work from abroad legally.”
The annual Expat Insider survey on destinations around the world that includes answers by 11,970 expats representing 177 nationalities and living in 181 countries places Portugal and Spain among the top choices of 52 expat destinations.
Expatriate Group, meanwhile, heads its list with Switzerland, while Germany, Sweden and France also feature among the top 10 slots.
The list of the “the most American-friendly destinations in Europe” by European Best Destinations also leads with Spain (Madrid, San Sebastian, Malaga) and Portugal (Braga, the Algarve) and includes Germany (Berlin), Greece (Athens), the Netherlands (Rotterdam), France (Alsace), Italy (Tuscany) and Switzerland (Basel).
Sunshine and good social life are among Portugal’s main attractions.
Nine of 10 expats surveyed by Expat Insider said they enjoy the weather: “Expats like the opportunities for playing sport and said it’s easy and safe to get around on foot or by bike.”
Ease in making local friends and having an enjoyable social life, a rich history, diversity of culture and people, modern public transportation, a good healthcare system and low crime rates are also reasons for Portugal to lead many expats lists.
The second-oldest capital in Europe, Lisbon with its centuries-old architecture, colorful Portuguese tiles and liberal mindset is a youthfully vibrant city that attracts many expats, techies and digital nomads.
Portugal is one of the easiest countries in Europe to move to thanks to varied visa options including golden and entrepreneur visa programs.
There are some disadvantages, though. According to the Internations survey, expats find it hard to deal with the local bureaucracy.
Expats surveyed mentioned the variety of culinary and dining options on offer, opportunities for sports, culture and nightlife among their reasons to live in Spain.
“Spain also ranked high for climate and weather, beaten only by its neighbor Portugal,” Euronews said.
The affordability of its healthcare system and a relatively low cost of living makes the country a favorite for American expats, with more than 10,000 living in Madrid, the cosmopolitan capital.
With its laid-back culture and rich cultural life, Spain has long been a haven for famous and not-so-famous Americans looking for “la buena vida.”
Spain still appears as one of Europe’s most affordable countries and offers visa programs with fewer requirements than some other E.U. countries, including a self-employment visa for freelancers and digital nomads who flock to international tech and fashion hubs like Barcelona.
“With the exception of younger Spaniards — who may speak some English but many are pretty shy about it — you need to learn Spanish in order to navigate living here,” writes Shehitrefresh.
Like Portugal, some expats expressed dissatisfaction with personal career opportunities. Spain also has a high unemployment rate.
Switzerland tops many lists of best countries to live in thanks to its excellent quality of life, picturesque countryside and excellent education and health care systems that apply to expats and locals alike.
“While the cost of living in Switzerland is among the highest of European countries, its low crime rate, top-rated school system, eco-friendly mentality, and finance jobs with high-paying salaries are worth the extra cost,” writes Expatriate Group, which places Switzerland as its #1 destination to live in Europe. “In addition, public services and infrastructure are very well-maintained.”
Zurich is a popular destination for expats for its well-developed public transportation, access to top universities and international schools. Lausanne and Basel are also included among the best European cities to live in.
A healthy work/life balance is highly valued in Switzerland. Overtime is discouraged, with workers legally entitled to four weeks paid holiday.
Still, some expats rated themselves dissatisfied with the cost of living.
A rich culture, good public transportation, universal healthcare, tuition-free schools and an easy and fast commute make Germany one of the top countries for Americans to move in.
The cost of living can vary across the country but major German cities are often cheaper than their equivalents in other European countries.
Learning German is advisable to navigate German social rules.
Obtaining a visa and staying in Germany for long periods of time is not easy as most visas last only 90 days, “but it’s well worth it,” Internations explains.
Germans enjoy a healthy work/life balance, with active lifestyles often spent running, hiking, cycling or playing sport. Even the most urban areas have open green spaces.
They’re also notorious for being one of the most productive countries in the world, although they generally work fewer hours than other countries in Europe. Most German employees enjoy 14 public holidays plus around 30 days paid leave.
Berlin is a vibrant city that draws a younger crowd of expats for its offer of jobs in the tech industry and its blossoming LGBTI community. Berlin is just a quick train ride from Munich, another hot spot for Americans living abroad.
Sweden is considered an excellent destination for expat families due to its good quality of life and affordability of childcare that matches its family-focused lifestyle. Swedes benefit from 480 days of parental leave, which can be shared between the couple however they like.
Taxes and living costs are high but compensated for by the quality of life. Sweden is generally known to take care of its residents with top infrastructure, healthcare and education systems.
“Winters can be long, dark, and cold, especially the further north you go,” explains Expatriate Group. “However, in contrast, summers consist of long sunny and warm days. This is when Swedes will take advantage of the weather and the gorgeous countryside with an array of outdoor pursuits, including camping, boating and cycling.”
A well-oiled economy, green-living philosophy, rich cultural offers, highly-rated education and healthcare, efficient public transportation and bucolic scenery with stunning destinations are among the reasons to make Austria a sought-after place to live abroad for Americans.
The high standard of living in Austria translates into high cost of living.
Austrians tend to have an initial reserved and formal manner Expatica explains. But once “you are successful in making some local Austrian friends, you will quickly notice that they love to get dressed up and attend concerts, cultural attractions, and balls. In fact, every industry throws balls and donning a frock or a tux and dancing the night away is an old-world tradition that Austrians still cherish.”
German is the official language of Austria and to truly integrate into the local culture, it’s advisable to learn the language.
Austria’s capital, Vienna, was recently ranked as the top city for quality of living in the world, which makes it one of the most popular destinations to live in the country.