Discover four of the best European cities for new expats moving abroad
5 November 2018| Last updated on 13 November 2018
The prospect of moving to a new city as an expat could prove to be daunting as it is exciting.
Not only is it a new job in a new city, but changing countries introduces the difficulties of a new language and culture to master. But which European cities are the best choice for newly landed expats?
Using insight and experiences from seasoned expats, this article reveals four European cities for those in search of an improved quality of life and better career opportunities.
Originally from Canada, expat author Sara Graham has lived in a number of European countries, including 16 months in Prague (pictured above).
As a popular location for tourists, English is widely spoken in Prague, which can be very helpful for those who have only recently relocated. But to truly integrate with local culture, “it is still important to develop a knowledge of Czech in a conversational form.”
Alongside tourism, expats have a large community and are common in Prague. Cost of living has made Prague an attractive prospect for expats as it can be as much as 55% cheaper than an equivalent lifestyle in London. The cost of vehicles and imported goods are only slightly lower, but rent, utilities and services are significantly less expensive.
“Café culture in Prague is increasingly popular with chains becoming more common.” This is ideal for expats who are freelance or able to work remotely as there are plenty of scenic locations to enjoy a coffee as you work.
“The scenery of Prague, especially the old town at night, is a big draw for tourists, but discovering it as a resident so much better.” It is a city that is perfect for walking, with so much to see and experience, including a range of local and international food markets.
Kristin Espinar is an English as a second language (ESL) instructor who spent 7 years living in Madrid. Cepee Tabibian is a US expat who has lived in Madrid for three years.
With a population of 3 million, Madrid is the largest city in Spain. Behind Valletta and Lisbon, Madrid is the third sunniest European capital with and estimated 2,769 hours of sunshine per year and is one of the least expensive capital cities in western Europe for cost of living.
“Madrid has everything you need” says Cepee, “art lovers, football fans, foodies, night owls, history buffs, shopaholics, culture seekers, and nature lovers can all find something here to satisfy their interests.”
Kristin agrees that the culture is what makes the city so special; “The culture is very welcoming to tourists, expats, and people on study abroad programs. There is always someone who speaks English, so it's also a great place to learn Spanish. There are tons of places to see in terms of short trips from Madrid like Segovia, Salamanca, and Toledo. Because the transportation system is so efficient you can even get to Barcelona or Sevilla in just a few hours.”
“The transportation system is one of my favorite things about Madrid. The metro system covers all parts of the city and expands to various suburbs. You can really get from one extreme of the city to the other in 30-45 minutes. There is also an efficient bus system and light rail. With a metro station about every 15 minutes walking in the city, it is easy to explore and get to know the culture.”
Laura Georgieff is a travel blogger for Frugal for Luxury who focuses on family travel and has lived in Munich for 3 years.
Munich is a consistently popular destination for expats, regularly ranking highly for quality of life. This combined with international companies such as Allianz and BMW based in Munich has resulted in a strong expat community growing in the city.
“With a wonderful public transportation system, expats can live comfortably for a decent rent, and have a commute of 30 minutes or less. Everything else is extremely cheap. Grocery stores offer high quality products for a portion of the cost in neighbouring countries or the US.”
Inside the city, there is no need for a car, instead a bicycle or public transport will be enough to get you around the city. Many shops close on Saturday afternoon and Sunday, allowing people to really enjoy their time off, explore and get to know the culture of the city. Expats are likely to be surprised at how much nature and the great outdoors impacts the lives of locals.
Healthy living and the great outdoors are an important part of German culture, and with more than 11 percent of GDP being focused on healthcare, expats will enjoy world-class medical care should they need it.
“One huge benefit of living in Munich is the access to mountains and lakes. You are never further than one hour away from some of the most beautiful locations. In the winter, kids are picked up and taken to the mountain for their afternoon ski lessons.”
“Nature is everywhere in Munich. The city even boasts one of the largest city park in the world. If you like being outside, Munich is your town. Lakes are everywhere and as soon as the sun shines, locals grab their bicycles and a towel, and head out to the lakes.”
Becki Enright is a British travel writer who has lived in Vienna for 2 years.
An alternative to many other major cities in Europe, Vienna is relaxed, slow-paced and better known for art and culture than industry. Despite not being a modern metropolis, Vienna ranks highly for its job market (the 6th best European city to find work).
“People expect Vienna to be super expensive, yet when you know where to go it is an average price for a European capital. Most, if not all, expats rent since Vienna is all apartments. Those wanting houses tend to live on the outskirts. There are a lot of shared housing set-ups – Wohngemeinschaft (WG). which help to make renting for single people more affordable.”
“There is a large expat community in Vienna. There is one just for workers at the UN, whose headquarters is based here, and various other sub groups. For example, we have a "Women of Vienna" group with thousands of members which has both monthly events as well as a Facebook forum for any kind of question and assistance.”
While there is an expat community, Vienna is a bit slower to adapt to this culture, meaning there could be a little more frustration when Austrian German is not used. This attitude is changing, and many younger Austrians speak excellent English. However, it is still important to at least attempt to speak Austrian German wherever possible.
“Austria in general is a conservative society. When it comes to Vienna, one might soon realise it isn't a pumping metropolis like say, London or Madrid. People visit for the history, architecture, music and art, but living here means you see more - especially how it is growing and changing and becoming much more of a vibrant capital. There are new eateries and bars springing up every few weeks, street-art, and festivals. The only downside is most of this shuts down at 11pm because of the close proximity to residential buildings. That is a bit of a shock at first, but you soon know which areas and bars are open later.”
In many European cities the expat community is growing alongside strong industry and infrastructure, meaning that there are many cities that could be beneficial for expats.
The most important thing to consider is what the expat requires from their new city - from a lower cost of living, to experiencing a totally new culture - there is an ideal city out there for everyone.