Best Cities to Live and Work in 2021

More than 15,000 respondents took part in the annual survey, from a total of 173 nationalities and 181 countries or territories

The InterNations 2020 survey on the best cities to live and work in for expats was released last month offering valuable insight into the changing needs of people all over the world. 

For 2020, the Expat Insider team decided to focus on two additional factors of living overseas specifically: sustainability & the environment and social life. While recreational travel has been severely limited since last March, interest in relocating for work has been increasing. After months of working from home and with many businesses considering a semi-permanent transition to remote working, more and more individuals are ready to ditch their familiar neighbourhood for foreign lands. 

Digital Nomad in Spain

The digital nomad life allows individuals to work from anywhere in the world, with the only requirement being an internet connection. So spending the cold winters in Southeast Asia before jumping to the Meditteranean for the summer is an attractive possibility for people.

It is worth noting, that the data was collected just before the pandemic broke out. This begs the question of how the views of people will be affected in next year’s survey and whether they will be a correlation between negative scores and government safety measures or lack thereof in response to the pandemic. 

The respondents were asked to evaluate the cities on a varied number of characteristics including work-life satisfaction, financial security, cost of living, quality of urban life, and ease of getting settled. Other factors taken into consideration are the weather and climate, public transportation options, as well as leisure and entertainment. 


Cities in the Iberian peninsula topped the ranks as best destinations for expats to live and work in for 2020, with Valencia in the first place, followed closely by Alicante. The city of Málaga and Madrid placed highly on the list as well, in the 6th and 9th position respectively. 

Both Spain and Portugal are preferred holiday destinations for northern Europeans as well as international visitors, but it seems those seeking a place to call home will not be disappointed if they chose to make the move permanent. 

Valencia, in particular, was a preferred choice for expats with an emphasis on local healthcare and climate. Spain is known for its affordable public healthcare system for residents, students and workers. However, the strain imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic is undeniable, despite the strict lockdown measures imposed back in March and later in July. Similarly, expats living in Alicante, the second-highest ranked city, commented that finding a job can be a struggle, which may become an issue in the future for those arriving without a job offer in place. 

Portugal’s capital Lisbon came third place in the ranking.
Lisbon Street

The rest of the list is made up of an international mix of cities, with Kuala Lumpur retaining a spot in the Top 10 for the fourth year in a row and Panama City, Buenos Aires and Abu Dhabi completing the list. While Quality of Urban Living indexes are mixed for these cities, all five performed well in the Getting Settled index and affordability of housing, emphasizing the attraction for low cost of living areas. 


When it comes to the importance of language for individuals to feel at home, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Nairobi topped the list, a fact that is not surprising considering English is one of four official languages in Singapore and widely spoken in Kuala Lumpur and Nairobi. 



Best cities in the world to live and work in (2021 edition before Covid-19) 

  • Valencia 
  • Alicante 
  • Lisbon 
  • Panama City 
  • Singapore 
  • Malaga 
  • Buenos Aires 
  • Kuala Lumpur
  • Madrid 
  • Abu Dhabi 

For the full Expat City Ranking 2020 Report click here. 

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