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12 Best Places to Live in Europe as an Expat

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Kat Smith
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Europe is a continent full of big cities, charming old towns, and some of the best nature in the world. When it comes to great places to live, there's no shortage of diversity in your options.

Regardless of the lifestyle you're searching for and the visa you're able to get, there's a European city or town with your name on it. A majority of cities in Europe offer a high quality of life, English-speaking locals, and access to ancient history and culture.

The hard part isn't finding places you'd like to live in Europe, it's narrowing down your long list of dreamy destinations to the single best place to live based on what you deem most important in your lifestyle.

Thanks to some help from fellow expats already living throughout Europe, we've narrowed down all of the wonderful destinations in the region to give you a well-rounded list of the cities and towns to live in Europe.

How to Decide Where to Move Abroad

a woman standing on a stone wall overlooking the Bay of Kotor on a cloudy day.
Proximity to travel to great places like the Bay of Kotor is a huge perk for living in Europe

Moving to Europe can feel like an intimidating step, especially if this will be your first time moving abroad. One of the biggest steps to moving abroad, and also the most necessary to actually go, is choosing where in the world you'll call your home.

It can feel like a huge decision and one that if you mess up, you can't take back. Here's the thing though: nothing you do when it comes to moving from one country to another has to be permanent. You're allowed to go back home or start over in a new country if it doesn't work out or just because you want to.

Once you feel more confident and ready to make your decision about where you want to live in Europe, think about these things to help narrow down your options:

  • How long do you want to stay in country X?
  • Where can you get a long-term visa or residency permit?
  • How important is it that locals speak English?
  • What type of weather do you really want to avoid? And likewise, what type of weather would you really love?
  • What lifestyle are you most eager to have? Laid back, cosmopolitan, access to nature, interesting culture, etc.
  • How far away from your home city/town do you want to be?
  • What cost of living can you comfortably afford?

Now that you have some guidelines to help keep you on track, let's dive right into the 15 best to live in Europe.

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Lagos, Portugal

a coastline with big beaches, white cliffs, and clear blue water
The increadible coastline and vast beaches of Lagos, Portugal

Submission & photo by Alya from The Algarve Family.

Lagos, a town in the Algarve, Southern Portugal is a perfect place to live as a female expat. Despite the small size, the town has a lot to offer, making it one of my favorite cities in the world.

Lagos is famous for its spectacular sandy beaches surrounded by dramatic limestone cliffs. There are 10 beautiful beaches in the town. The beaches are within walking distance from the center of Lagos and are easy to reach.

There are many things to do in Lagos:

  • Surfing at Porto de Mos Beach
  • Kayaking or paddle boarding at Batata Beach
  • Tanning and swimming at Dona Ana Beach or Meia Praia
  • Hiking along the breathtaking walking routes along the coast

Lagos is a safe place to live, as a solo female, I can walk at any time of the day or night around the town. The low crime rate makes it very easy to go out and do outdoor things even if you can’t find anybody to go with.

There is an active expat and digital nomad community in Lagos with weekly meetings at different locations throughout the town. It’s easy to connect with people and make friends even if you’re new here.

English is widely spoken in Lagos so even if you don’t speak any Portuguese, it’s easy to get by using English.

The size of Lagos is also perfect: it's not too small and not too big. It’s easy to get around on foot or by bicycle. The town has many supermarkets, shops, a couple of gyms, and many restaurants and bars.

Lagos is well-connected with Lisbon by public transportation. The nearest international airport is in Faro, 90 km away. There is a direct shuttle bus from the town to the airport making it even easier to travel to and from Lagos and visit some of the best Western Europe cities that are now your neighbors.

How to Get a Long-Term Visa to Portugal

One of the easiest ways to move to Portugal is to get a freelance visa. This type of visa is applicable for those who are not from the EU and who have a fully remote source of income., whether they are self-employed or are remote workers. In Portugal, this visa is referred to as the D7 Visa.

It's also possible to move to Portugal on a retirement visa, otherwise known as the Golden Visa. Another option would be a Student Visa or Work Visa.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

a view across the canal of a house boat and canal houses in Amsterdam
Photo by Kata Pal

Submission by Leona from Wear What When Why.

I lived in the European capital city, Amsterdam, as an expat for almost three years and think it is a great place to live as a female expat in Europe. 

The main thing I loved about living in Amsterdam as an expat was the culture and safety. The work-life balance is much better than say the US and family time is seen as an important part of life.

I also love the fact that the Dutch encourage you to lead a healthier lifestyle as no one in Amsterdam really owns a car and everyone cycles everywhere. The provisions for cyclists in Amsterdam are better than any other city I've been to and it just feels safe and natural to be cycling. Although the weather can be rainy, you get 4 real seasons, which I really enjoy. October in Amsterdam is particularly special.

Also, the fact that almost everyone speaks English makes it really easy to settle in, make friends, and do any admin associated with doing an expat move. 

Amsterdam is also a great hub for the expat who wants to travel to other European countries with Schiphol Airport being a short train ride away and being well connected via train to the rest of the Netherlands and Europe. But, Amsterdam itself has lots to explore from great museums to beautiful parks. 

I would say the only downside to living in Amsterdam, and the Netherlands as a whole is the cost of living. Things as basic as food can come with a high price tag. However, everything else about the city really makes up for this. 

How to Get a Long-Term Visa to the Netherlands

Many foreigners under the age of 30 move to the Netherlands as an au pair, granting them a work visa. The Netherlands has some of the best rights for au pairs throughout Europe, making it an attractive place to live if you're young and are interested in childcare.

The other most upfront way to get a visa to live in the Netherlands is through a work permit or as a student.

Strasbourg, France

a canal street in strasbourg showcasing the traditional white and brown architecture
The quaint charm and traditional architecture you can expect in Strasbourg, France

Submission and photo by Natali from She's Abroad Again.

If you are looking for the best place to live in France as an expat, Strasbourg should be on top of your list! Strasbourg is the capital of the eastern French region of Alsace, a historic melting pot, as it was interchangeably part of Germany and France since the 17th century. 

Although when moving to Europe most don't think of Strasbourg first, I think it's a vastly underrated European city.

Today, Strasbourg is known as one of the capitals of Europe and home to many international institutions with multinational staff, including the Council of Europe and the European Union.

Strasbourg does not feel like a big city, even though almost 300,000 people live there. Many of them are internationals, so that makes finding your community easier than in most cases! 

One of my favorite things about Strasbourg is that is simply a stunning city. La Petite France is one of the most charming quarters in France, and the entire historic center of Grande Ile is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is exceptionally gorgeous in the winter when the city gets decorated for Christmas. 

As the days get warmer and sunnier, everybody gathers in parks, or along the canal, for a picnic. Picnic culture in France is like no other! Strasbourgians love to socialize, and most bars are packed for happy hour.

Throughout the year, you can bike everywhere! Cycling is a big part of Strasbourg's culture, as it is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world. Although not a cosmopolitan city like Paris, to me, this has easily been the best place to live in Europe.

The cost of living in France is high. However, Strasbourg is one of the most affordable big cities in the country. To make it even better, it is just a quick tram ride (or a bike ride) away from Germany and more affordable groceries!

Finally, the Alsace region is stunning, and you can explore it on many diverse day trips from Strasbourg. Discover fairytale villages like Riquewihr and Eguisheim, try Alsatian wine along the Alsace Wine Route, or hike to some of the numerous castles on the hills.

How to Get a Long-Term Visa to France

France is another country that's well-known as a great place to work as an au pair. If you're under the age of 30 and interested in working as an au pair, it's one of the easiest ways to get your foot in the door and start living in France.

Other options would be to get a work visa at an international organization, a student visa, or to teach English.

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Gran Canaria, Spain

a woman walking through huge sand dunes with the ocean in the distance.
The vast sand dunes that cover a portion of Gran Canaria

Submission and photo by Maria from A World of Destinations.

Gran Canaria is part of the Spanish archipelago, the Canary Islands, located in the Atlantic Ocean off the African coast. The climate in Gran Canaria is mild and warm all year round, which attracts lots of European tourists who exchange the cold for Spanish island life.

Gran Canaria is home to beautiful sandy beaches and turquoise waters in the southern area of the island, stunning mountain peaks in the center, and wild and untouched coasts in the north. The island is also referred to as a “miniature continent” due to its highly diverse nature despite its small size.

Many tourists only visit the beach towns in the south, where most tourist infrastructure can be found. Once you leave the touristy areas and head into nature, you will discover the hidden gems of Gran Canaria, such as the virgin beach Playa Guigui or the breathtaking sunset spot Pico de las Nieves. In the mountains, you will also be able to visit traditional mountain villages with architecture that transports you back in time.

Gran Canaria is a popular place for digital nomads, expats, and retired people. This is partly because of the climate, but also due to the relatively lower cost of living compared to other European destinations.

While you might be literally cut off from the rest of Europe, you have everything you need right here on the island. In Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the island’s capital, there are communities and meet-ups of expats from around the world. These communities are great for socializing and making new friends. Gran Canaria is an ideal choice if you’re an expat in Europe.

How to Get a Long-Term Visa to Spain

Spain is one of the best countries in Europe to teach English abroad. With the Auxiliares de Conversacion program, you can choose Gran Canaria as your chosen location and teach part-time while living the island life.

Although they haven't yet launched an official remote worker visa, they do have a retirement visa that many use as a workaround. It's also easier to get a student visa and live here while studying Spanish or another subject for only a few hours a week.

Berlin, Germany

a brown and blue building partially under construction in the center of a popular park on a blue sky day
Photo by Viviana Ceballos.

Submission by Kayla, a current Berlin expat.

Berlin is known for its punk-rock culture and anti-establishment spirit however I've quickly found that whatever you are looking for in life, you can find it here in Berlin. It's easily one of the coolest places in Europe and to be able to also call it your home abroad is such a treat.

My favorite thing about living in Berlin is the fact that here you can come as you are and will be accepted with judgment. It's such a refreshing mindset that I think is lost in so many places around the world.

I highly recommend Berlin as an expat city. It may lack some of the quintessential European charms of other cities but it is an incredibly international city with a lot to offer. It is a melting pot of people from all over the world, which makes for a diverse and ever-evolving art, food, music, and nightlife scene. There are seemingly endless options of things to do in Berlin.

If you can handle cold winters and don’t mind the hustle and bustle of a big city, Berlin might just win you over.

Compared to other European capitals, the cost of living is relatively affordable as well.

How to Get a Long-Term Visa to Germany

I was able to get a work permit to live in Germany by finding a job at one of the international companies in the city. I found my job via LinkedIn, even without speaking German. It took some time and patience but I'm so glad I didn't give it.

Germany also offers a visa for remote workers called the Freiberufler Visa.

Stratford-Upon-Avon, United Kingdom

You'll love the small town and welcoming locals in Stratford-upon-Avon

Submission by Amelia from Stay Wild Travels.

Stratford-upon-Avon is a bustling medieval market town that’s steeped in history. Its connection with William Shakespeare – the famous playwright, poet, and actor – draws hundreds of thousands of tourists each year.

For expats moving to the UK who want a slice of the countryside whilst still having relatively quick access to the city, Stratford-upon-Avon is one of the best places to live. It’s also much more friendly on the budget than the likes of London, where you can expect to pay approximately 20% more for things than you would do here. For a high quality of life with a low cost of living, expats will love Stratford-Upon-Avon.

For young professionals and families, there are a wealth of things to do in the area. Whether you love brunching in quirky cafes, hopping from one trendy bar to the next or rowing down the River Avon, weekends in this charming town are never boring. It’s also home to the UK’s largest butterfly farm, hundreds of nature trails, miniature golf, and interesting museums.

On the edge of Stratford-upon-Avon is the Cotswolds – one of the best areas for nature lovers. It’s filled with rolling hills, dozens of quaint cobbled villages and thousands of fantastic walking trails. On the flip side, Leamington Spa town and Birmingham City are within close proximity and offer a wealth of excellent shops and restaurants with a vibrant atmosphere.

For those looking to make expat friends, there is already a great community living in the area that will welcome you with open arms. Typically, these are young college students who are spending some time at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre Company.

How to Get a Long-Term Visa to the UK

Since Brexit, the UK has become much more difficult to get a long-term visa, especially for European citizens who once had free range. U.S. citizens are allowed to stay 6-months in the UK, visa-free, so if that's enough time for you abroad, I wouldn't hassle with a visa and would only stay half the year.

For work visas, it's best to look for international companies hiring or moving to the UK on a student visa.

Cork, Ireland

An overhead view of part of the city of Cork, Ireland

Submission and photo by Amber from Amber Everywhere.

Cork is a wonderful, safe city, perfectly suited for expats who want to live in Europe. I fell in love with Cork’s vibrant restaurant scene (it is the Food Capital of Ireland, after all) and lively, social energy. The city is full of people from all over the world who moved here for partners, jobs, or a fresh start; it’s easy to meet people and it feels like there’s always an event or gathering to attend. 

One of my favorite things to do in Cork is to meet up at a pub for a relaxed pint and/or a pizza from the Franciscan Well. Nearby, you’ll find beaches, greenways, and plenty of places to camp and hike, provided you have a car.  

If Cork starts to feel too small, we have an international airport about 20 minutes from the city center. There are cheap flights directly to places like Amsterdam and London for less than €100 round trip, and even more options if you’re willing to take the bus to the capital city Dublin

How to Get a Long-Term Visa to Ireland

Ireland in general has relatively lenient immigration laws, so you’ll commonly meet people who moved because of their Irish partners or Irish ancestry. In Cork, we also have a large public university, so many people will come for a Master’s degree and stay on to find work for local companies. 

Cork is also home to Apple's European headquarters, which needs a lot of staff to run smoothly. There are several other tech companies and start-ups based in Cork, as well.

Vilnius, Lithuania

a small brick castle perched upon a steep grassy hill
A glimpse of the Gediminas Castle Tower

Submitted by Elizabeth from Two Week Traveller.

Vilnius is the capital city of Lithuania, popular for its Old Town, historical sites, baroque-style architecture, and being one of the three Baltic States. Living in Vilnius is ideal for female expats who want to be in a European capital city that is not too expensive yet easy enough to reach any part of Europe.

From Vilnius, you can take a flight to Paris, Copenhagen, London, and other major cities on a direct flight and the ticket cost is often very affordable. The airport is less than a €2 bus ride from downtown. Equally easy for a weekend away, you can take a bus to Latvia or a train to Poland.

I personally love its culture. The locals are frank and straightforward, but at the same time warm and friendly. I also enjoy the fact that it's not strange if you go to a movie, bar, cafe, or restaurant alone since many locals also love having their own space. Living in Vilnius is suitable for female expats who enjoy being in their own company yet open to meeting locals and other expats.

Another thing I love about Vilnius is Vingis Park, which is a massive park where people go for a run, bike ride, outdoor exercise, concerts, children's playground, and picnic. This incredible green space is only 2.5 km from downtown.

It's also not impossible to find reasonably priced accommodation downtown as well. I rented a furnished 1 bedroom around 2 km from Vilnius city center and paid €400. I have my own bicycle to move around, but the public transport is pretty great as well.

If you have 2 weeks in Europe and want to check if Vilnius is suitable for you, spend this time traveling around the city, going to local bars, and checking out grocery stores to see if this city will be a great home for a while or for the long-term.

How to Get a Long-Term Visa to Lithuania

As a member of the Schengen Zone, non-EU citizens are only permitted to stay in Lithuania for up to 90 days. If you'd like to live in Lithuania, you'll need to apply for the Lithuanian National Visa, Type D Visa. This visa is applicable to those who want to work, study, or reunite with family members in Lithuania.

Groningen, Netherlands

Bikes, canals, and canal houses: The Netherlands Tifecta

Submission and photo by Kayla from Writing From Nowhere.

Groningen, Netherlands rarely comes up as a rival to Amsterdam, but it should. This Dutch city has all of the charm of every big Dutch city but with more ease, a lower crime rate, and a lower cost of living. 

At the heart of Groningen is a university, which results in a very lively, young cadence to the city. Whether it’s 3 pm or 3 am, the city is buzzing, and not just from the students themselves but also from the international talent that the university attracts. 

There’s no shortage of meetups or international events for expats in Groningen. As a female expat, you’ll always feel safe (walking home that is - learning to bike in rush-hour traffic is another story!). 

The city is big enough to have all of the big-city amenities you expect while still being small enough to bike everywhere. The accessibility and the fact that you can bike everywhere for free instead of relying on the public transportation system is one of my favorite things about living in Groningen. 

If you live in Groningen proper, you can bike to any part of the city limits in 15 minutes. I rarely meet a friend in the city who lives further than a 10-minute bike ride away. 

Translation: spontaneous happy hours in the Noorderplantsoen, swimming at the Hoornsemeer, and trivia nights at Dorothy’s are all on. New expats are constantly coming and going in Groningen. Reach out looking for friends in some Facebook groups and you’ll be able to make a life for yourself quickly here. 

Beyond permanent relocation, the housesitting market in Groningen is very active, making this a great destination for long-term relocation or for a remote workation. Come say hi when you get here!

Brussels, Belgium

the cosmopolitan center of brussels with white colonial buildings surrounding a small garden
Photo by Petar Starčević.

Submission by Iulia, a previous expat in Brussels.

Brussels, the capital of Europe, is one of the most unique places to live in Europe. Given the fact that Belgium is divided into three distinct cultures, life in Brussels is unlike anywhere else I've ever lived in Europe.

For such a tiny country, there's a lot to unpack here.

The north part of the country is known as Flanders (the Flemish part where people natively speak Dutch and the cities will remind you of the Netherlands) and Wallonia in the south (the French part of the country) where of course you will hear everyone speaking francais. The German part is a very small community, and this one does not influence the culture as much as the forever split of French/Dutch disputes, customs, and history.

Although the culture is certainly intriguing, the amount of languages spoken by locals can be quite confusing. Luckily for us expats, most people living in Brussels speak English. They're either foreigners themselves or are so accustomed to dealing with foreigners that they speak English well. With Brussels at the heart of the European Union, it's one of Europe's most international cities.

How to Get a Long-Term Visa to Belgium

Given its political importance and many international companies, Brussels is a hub for young professionals looking to gain career experience through internships. This is how Iulia was able to get a visa to live and work in Brussels as a Romanian citizen.

Learn more about living and working in Brussels.

Split, Croatia

Photo by Spencer Davis.

Submission by Kathleen from My Lonesome Roads.

Living in an ancient Roman emperor’s place just a 10-minute walk from sparkling Adriatic Sea beaches in an incredibly safe and welcoming country might sound like it’s too good to be true - but that’s really what living in Split, Croatia is like! 

Split is the second-largest city in Croatia, which sounds big - but it’s home to just over 175,000 people in comparison to the capital Zagreb’s 2 million. That size makes it easy to explore without your own car, and its central location on the Croatian coastline makes it a great base for exploring the rest of the country, either by day trips or weekend getaways.

Split is also a very popular tourist destination, so almost everyone in the city speaks at least some English, and many speak other languages like German, Spanish, and/or French, as well. It’s an easy city to navigate without learning Croatian, which is great because it’s a very challenging language to learn. 

‍An interesting thing about living in Split is that the cost of living fluctuates based on the season, instead of staying stable year-round. Since it's a popular tourist destination in the summer, the prices skyrocket during this time. That means your rent and food costs will most likely increase with the surge of tourists.

It can be tough to find an apartment to rent year-round, given the fact that many homeowners hope to make a lot more income during those summer months, instead of keeping winter prices set for you. For me, this has meant that I spend half my year in Croatia and the other half in Athens, Greece. Splitting my life between these two incredible European cities has given me a great quality of life and I would think would be enticing to other expats who would also like to split their time between two cities like I have. Although Croatia is part of the EU, it is not part of the Schengen Zone, meaning you could split your time between here and somewhere in the EU.

How to Get a Long-Term Visa to Croatia

Like Portugal and Germany, Croatia also offers a freelance visa for remote workers. This visa gives you the legal rights to live in Croatia and work remotely. While there are other visas available, this is certainly the one bringing most foreigners to settle in this affordable place to live.

Learn all you need to know about living in Split.

Novi Sad, Serbia

a view of the Danube River with the city center across the bridge
Novi Sad does a great job of mixing city amenities with plenty of nature

And, lastly, my own personal submission: Novi Sad, Serbia, the city named the 2022 European Capital of Culture.

Novi Sad has become my temporary home as I'm traveling through the Balkans, uncovering this region in Eastern Europe I never gave the credit it deserved before. Novi Sad, and really Serbia in general, never really caught my eye before. I'll be honest, I'm usually tempted by beaches more than inland cities.

Here's where I was wrong.

Novi Sad is the best city to live in Europe if you're looking for plenty of green spaces, a well-maintained old town with buildings painted in pastels of every color, affordable places to live, and cheap yet delicious food. The city lies on the Danube River, so while you don't have seaside beaches, you do have riverside ones. As a plus, many locals speak English, even if a lot of the local signage is only in Serbian.

Since I travel with my dog (and now a kitten, too!), how pet-friendly a place is makes a huge difference to our quality of life. Lucky for us, Novi Sad is one of the most pet-friendly cosmopolitan cities. It seems everyone is walking their dog through town or stopping to pet or feed one of the friendly street dogs.

For those searching for one of the cheapest places to live in Europe that combines nature with great architecture and plenty to do, look no further than Novi Sad, Serbia.

How to Get a Long-Term Visa to Serbia

As a non-EU European country, Serbia sets its own rules. This can make it a bit tricky to navigate but from what I understand, you can get a visa to stay longer than just the typical 90 days if you're here for work, study, or religious or medical reasons. The last two most likely won't get you a visa to live here but just to stay as long as needed.

Just like in other European countries, it's also possible to get a long-term visa or residency if you start a business in Serbia or own real estate.

Which of These Best Places to Live in Europe Will You Choose?

a sunny day with a couple walking through an old town holding hands
The walkable city centers in most capitals and towns is a huge perk for most places in Europe

With so many great countries to live in, all with cities offering a distinct lifestyle, cost of living, and visa rights, which of these European cities will you call home next?

If you're looking for a place that could become your permanent home base in Europe, I'd let visas or residency permits guide you. This means you likely won't face heartbreak once you've settled into one of Europe's best cities to live in and realize only later that you legally can't stay.

If instead, you're a serial expat like I am, meaning you stay put for only a year or so before moving to the next country or city on your list, pick and choose which ones most appeal to you and take the easy route in, a visa that will give you just enough time to stay until you're ready for a new life elsewhere.

Whichever way you choose, don't forget how interconnected all of these European cities really are, so visiting all of these best places to live in Europe will be easy to accomplish once you're settled in this incredible continent.

Hero picture by Adrien Olichon.

xx,
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