Where are the world’s best cities for expats to live and work?

Dubai and Abu Dhabi rank in the top 10 global destinations for foreign workers, new InterNations survey finds

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Dubai and Abu Dhabi have been ranked as the world’s second and ninth best cities, respectively, for expatriates to live and work based on the high quality of life they offer, according to a new report by global network InterNations.

Last year, the survey ranked Dubai in third place and Abu Dhabi in 16th.

Valencia in Spain topped the global ranking for the best city for foreign workers to live, with Mexico City in third place, Lisbon in fourth and Madrid in fifth, InterNations says in its annual Expat City Ranking 2022 report released on Tuesday.

Rounding out the top 10 was Bangkok in sixth place, followed by Basel (seventh) Melbourne (eighth) and Singapore (10th).

InterNations polled 11,970 people in 50 cities, asking questions based on five categories: Quality of Life, Ease of Settling In, Working Abroad, Personal Finance and an Expat Essentials Index, which covers digital life, administration topics, housing and language.

“Dubai and Abu Dhabi claim the top two spots in the Expat Essentials Index, and both also rank in the top 10 for Quality of Life,” says InterNations, which has more than 4.5 million members.

In September, the UAE ranked number one across the Middle East, Africa and Asia, and was among the top 10 countries around the world for expatriates to relocate, a survey by health insurance company Cigna found.

Four per cent of expats around the world want to relocate to the UAE because of its progressive policy changes, recent visa reforms and economic rebound after Covid-19, the 360° Global Well-Being Survey showed.

The UAE, the Arab world’s second-largest economy, has undertaken several economic, legal and social reforms in recent years to strengthen its business environment, boost foreign direct investment, attract skilled workers and provide incentives to companies to set up or expand their operations.

In 2019, amendments were introduced to the golden visa initiative to simplify the eligibility criteria and expand the categories of beneficiaries.

Watch: UAE golden visa: who is eligible and how to apply?

UAE golden visa: who is eligible and how to apply?

UAE golden visa: who is eligible and how to apply?

The 10-year visa is granted to investors, entrepreneurs, skilled professionals who earn a monthly salary of more than Dh30,000 ($8,167), exceptional talents, scientists and professionals, outstanding students and graduates, property investors, humanitarian pioneers and front-line heroes.

A green visa provides a five-year residency for skilled employees without the need for a sponsor or employer. The minimum educational level is a bachelor’s degree or equivalent and the salary should not be less than Dh15,000.

Meanwhile, the UAE introduced a one-year digital nomad visa in March 2021 that allows people to live in the Emirates while continuing to work for employers in their home countries. Dubai also offers a five-year retirement visa for expatriates older than 55.

The UAE has also emerged as a hotspot for remote cross-border hiring, with companies in Canada, the US, the UK and Israel tapping into a “pool of high-quality jobseekers” looking for full-time remote positions, payroll and remote onboarding company Deel said in its State of Global Hiring Report 2022.

Remote hires from the UAE in the first half of this year have doubled compared with the same period in 2021, the Deel report says without giving exact numbers.

Dubai ranked sixth in InterNations’ Working Abroad category, which covers the likes of career prospects, salary and job security, as expats are “generally more satisfied with their jobs and their compensation”, the report says.

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While Dubai and Abu Dhabi do “fairly well” in the Ease of Settling In segment, the Personal Finance Index is their weakest point.

However, Dubai came first worldwide in the Expat Essentials Index, with 66 per cent of respondents in the UAE saying it is easy to deal with the local bureaucracy and authorities, compared with 40 per cent globally.

This is due in part to the fact that 88 per cent of expatriates are happy with the availability of administrative and government services online versus 61 per cent globally, InterNations adds.

“The basic things can be taken care of, you do not have to struggle for them,” one Indian expatriate who lives in Dubai says in the report.

About 68 per cent of expatriates living in Dubai are also happy with their social life and 81 per cent feel welcome.

“Dubai comes in fifth place for both the Travel & Transit and the Leisure Options Subcategories,” InterNations says.

“Nearly all expats [95 per cent] are satisfied with the infrastructure for cars … it seems like there are many reasons to make use of this infrastructure, since Dubai ranks fifth for culture and nightlife, as well as third for culinary variety and dining options.”

Aside from "great leisure opportunities", expats are also pleased with their working life, with Dubai coming sixth in the Working Abroad Index, according to InterNations.

“It ranks fifth in the Work Culture & Satisfaction subcategory, since 70 per cent of expats are happy with their jobs and 78 per cent report that the local business culture encourages creativity,” it says.

Abu Dhabi also performed well in the Expat Essentials Index, coming second behind Dubai, according to InterNations.

About 74 per cent of Abu Dhabi-based respondents to the survey find it easy to open a local bank account, while 53 per cent say dealing with local bureaucracy is a positive experience compared with 40 per cent globally.

Meanwhile, 75 per cent of foreign workers say that moving to Abu Dhabi has improved their career prospects.

Seventy-two per cent also describe the local population as being friendly towards foreign residents compared with 65 per cent worldwide.

“The local Emiratis are welcoming, helpful and friendly,” one Abu Dhabi-based British expat says in the comment section of the survey.

Abu Dhabi also ranked first globally for both the availability and the quality of medical care in the Health & Well-Being subcategory.

Meanwhile, the survey found that Valencia and Mexico City are great for personal finances and offer a good quality of life, while Lisbon has an “amazing climate but mediocre work options”.

Madrid has good leisure activities and a welcoming culture, expatriates say they feel at home in Bangkok and foreign workers are “satisfied with their finances, jobs and quality of life” in Basel, the InterNations survey says.

However, Johannesburg (50th), Frankfurt (49th), and Paris (48th) were voted the worst destinations in 2022 for expatriates to live and work.

“Expats in Johannesburg are particularly disappointed with the low quality of life and their working life, while Frankfurt and Paris do poorly in the Ease of Settling In and Expat Essentials indices,” InterNations says.

“Additionally, expats in all three cities struggle financially.”

Top 10 cities for expats to work and live in 2022

  1. Valencia, Spain
  2. Dubai, UAE
  3. Mexico City, Mexico
  4. Lisbon, Portugal
  5. Madrid, Spain
  6. Bangkok, Thailand
  7. Basel, Switzerland
  8. Melbourne, Australia
  9. Abu Dhabi, UAE
  10. Singapore
Updated: November 29, 2022, 8:00 AM