InterNations brings together the largest community of expatriates and annually releases its rankings of the best and worst cities for living and working abroad. The Expat City Ranking is an integral component of the Expat Insider survey, a research initiative that InterNations has been conducting since 2017.
An expatriate, often referred to as an expat, is an individual who resides and/or works in a foreign country as a non-citizen. Typically, they relocate from their home country in search of employment opportunities elsewhere. Additionally, the term "expat" can also encompass individuals who have relinquished their citizenship in their home country to acquire citizenship in another nation.
Expats, often qualified specialists, actively pursue employment opportunities abroad. They may choose to relocate independently or in response to an invitation extended by their employer, which could be a company, a university, a government agency, or a non-governmental organization.
Expats typically enjoy higher earnings in their new country, often surpassing the salaries of local workers. Additionally, employers may offer various benefits to their foreign staff, including a relocation package and a housing allowance.
The Principles behind the Ranking
InterNations conducted interviews with 11,970 individuals across 50 cities to determine the best cities for expatriates. Respondents assessed up to 56 aspects of life in a foreign city using a scale ranging from one to seven. The minimum sample size consisted of 50 participants from each city. The survey participants shared their perspectives on living abroad in general and their experiences in their current place of residence.
The questionnaire comprises five categories: quality of life, ease of settling, working abroad, personal finance, and the Expat Essentials Index. This index encompasses the following subcategories:
- Admin Topics, which assesses the ease of tasks such as opening a bank account, obtaining a visa, and navigating local bureaucracy.
- Digital Life, which includes questions about access to non-cash payments, high-speed internet at home, and digital government services.
- Housing, which evaluates the ease of finding accommodation and its affordability.
- Language, which covers the aspects of life in a foreign city for someone who does not speak the local language and measures how easy it is to learn it.
Valencia holds the top spot among cities for expats. Situated in the southeastern region of Spain, Valencia offers safety, pleasant climate, a lively nightlife, rich cultural experiences, well-developed infrastructure, and excellent travel prospects. According to Malte Zeeck, the founder of InterNations, Valencia is also considered "quite affordable."
Photo: William Carletti (Unsplash)
Employees who work remotely from other EU countries can smoothly relocate to Spain without the need to apply for a visa or work permit. Additionally, non-EU residents also have promising opportunities. The Spanish parliament has recently enacted a new Startups Law, introducing a specialized visa for digital nomads.
Explore the comprehensive list of the world's best cities to consider for relocation.
The Cities in the UAE
InterNations' ranking features both Dubai and Abu Dhabi among the top 10 destinations in the world for expatriates. Spain is the only other country with two cities on the list. Dubai has ascended from third to second place since 2021, while Abu Dhabi has made a significant leap, rising from 16th to 9th place.
Dubai. Photo: pexels
The survey found that:
- 73% of respondents from the Emirates are content with their lives there,
- 38% are satisfied with the cost of living,
- 43% claim it is easy to make new friends in the UAE,
- 70% are satisfied with their jobs,
- 61% are happy with their work-life balance,
- 84% of respondents feel positive about the quality of healthcare.
About Other Ratings
In a survey conducted by Cigna, a medical insurance company, the UAE has claimed the top spot as the number one country for expatriates in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Furthermore, the UAE has secured a place in the global top 10 destinations for expatriates.
According to the 360° Global Well-Being Survey, 4% of expatriates express a desire to relocate to the UAE. This attraction is driven by the progressive policy changes, recent visa reforms, and a fully-recovered economy following the COVID-19 pandemic.
The UAE boasts the second-largest economy in the Middle East. Over recent years, the local government has implemented a series of economic, legal, and social reforms with the aim of enhancing the business climate, attracting direct foreign investments, luring skilled labor, and promoting the entry or expansion of companies in the local market.
Work and Visa
Decent work conditions and legalization opportunities is what appeals the most to foreign specialists in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
In 2019, an increased number of individuals became eligible to apply for the Golden Visa, a long-term residence permit lasting for 10 years. In April 2022, the UAE Cabinet introduced new amendments to several laws aimed at further enhancing the country's appeal to investors.
Now, several categories of expatriates are eligible for a 10-year Golden Visa. The largest group consists of those who invest in property with a minimum value of 2 million AED (approximately $545,000). Investors are allowed to secure a mortgage from a local bank, but they must contribute at least $545,000 from their own funds. This requirement applies whether you are purchasing an off-plan property or a completed one.
Investing in various other asset types also qualifies individuals for a Golden Visa. Some may choose to establish an investment fund, launch a company, or contribute to the local economy. The minimum required investment amount remains consistent at 2 million AED ($545,000).
Business owners generating an annual company revenue exceeding 1,000,000 AED ($250,000) are eligible for a Golden Visa. Other qualifying candidates include those who have received approval for a startup from the local Department of Economic Development. Additionally, if you have founded and sold a business project for more than 7,000,000 AED (approximately $2 million), you fall into this category.
The next category includes individuals with exceptional skills, such as:
- Highly accomplished foreign high school and university graduates who meet specific criteria, including having studied at renowned educational institutions in the UAE or elsewhere.
- Innovators, athletes, and accomplished professionals in fields such as culture, art, IT, and sports, who can obtain a Golden Visa once their achievements are validated by a federal or local authority.
- Scientists holding a PhD or Master's degree in select fields like engineering, IT, and sciences. They can secure a visa once their qualifications are endorsed by the UAE Council of Scientists.
- Any qualified specialists earning a monthly income exceeding 30,000 AED ($8,100).
In October 2022, a new type of visa was introduced alongside the Golden Visa – the Green Visa, which is valid for five years. The Green Visa is accessible to freelancers, highly skilled employees, students, and entrepreneurs. Applicants are required to hold at least a Bachelor's degree or its equivalent and maintain a minimum salary of 15,000 AED ($4,000).
If you own a company valued at over 500,000 AED (approximately $136,000), you are eligible for a 5-year visa. You simply need to verify your investments and the establishment of the company with local authorities. Additionally, up to three of the company's top managers, along with the business owner, can also obtain visas.
Moreover, the UAE provides a five-year visa option for foreign retired residents who are 55 years and older. In early 2021, the UAE government introduced a 12-month visa specifically tailored for remote employees, enabling them to reside in the Emirates while working for companies located outside the UAE. According to a report by Deel, a private company offering remote hiring, payroll, and compliance services for outsourcing employment agencies, the number of employees working remotely from the UAE more than doubled in the first half of 2022 compared to the same period in 2021, although the precise figure remains undisclosed.
The Expat Essentials Index ranks Dubai in the top position, with 66% of respondents reporting that they encountered no difficulties when dealing with local authorities and bureaucracy. This positive outcome is attributed to the fact that 88% of expatriates expressed satisfaction with the availability of government services online, as reported by InterNations.
About 68% of expats in Dubai are content with their social life and 81% of respondents feel welcomed.
Furthermore, Dubai holds the 5th position in both the Travel and Transport subcategories, as well as in Leisure. A significant majority of expatriates (95%) find it easy to own a car, and they praise the quality of the road infrastructure. Dubai is also ranked fifth among destinations favored by culture and nightlife enthusiasts and stands at the third spot for its diversity and the quality of its restaurant industry.
Abu Dhabi ranks second, following Dubai, in the Expat Essentials Index according to InterNations data. Approximately 74% of respondents in Abu Dhabi find it easy to open a bank account with a local bank, and 53% have positive experiences when dealing with local authorities. A notable 75% of expatriates report that moving to Abu Dhabi has provided them with increased career opportunities. Additionally, 72% of those surveyed describe the local population as welcoming and friendly towards foreigners. Notably, Abu Dhabi is recognized as the top destination globally for the accessibility and quality of healthcare in the Health and Well-Being subcategory.
In a Nutshell
Both Dubai and Abu Dhabi have their downsides, including a hot arid climate, stringent laws, a somewhat limited selection of cultural events, and a nightlife that may not be as vibrant as that in Europe. However, it's important to note that these drawbacks are largely subjective. Overall, the InterNations Ranking holds significant relevance. The Emirates present an ideal opportunity for advancing one's career and achieving financial stability in life. The crucial factor is to demonstrate respect for the laws and culture of the country that offers such opportunities.
Cover photo: travelnow.or.crylater (Unsplash)