Before you start reading, there’s something important for you to keep in mind: my idea of the “best” places could be different than yours. I’ve worked hard to make a well-rounded list, taking out some of my personal biases (except #1, that’s totally biased) but I’m sure everyone reading this at some point will either think, “How could she have forgotten XX” or “Wow, I really didn’t think that country was the best when I visited.”
That’s simply because there are a lot of really amazing places in the world and I’ve taken on the tough job of narrowing it down to only include 10 places.
A few of the criteria I looked for when making this list:
- Openness towards foreigners
- Cost of living
- Quality of life
- Things to do
- General visa options
- Variety between the countries (in terms of location, weather, culture, etc.)
Moving abroad is a big step. It involves a lot of change and typically a lot of unexpected sacrifices, especially if you’re moving somewhere very different from where you grow up. Sometimes those sacrifices are small like you can’t eat fried chicken biscuits for breakfast whenever you’d like and other times they’re larger like government bureaucracy might seem like an endless maze when you try to renew your visa, rent an apartment, or get a license.
Moving abroad also comes with rewards like getting to live in a travel hub where your weekends away could mean short trips to over 10 countries. It could also mean a cheaper, better quality of life or a way to challenge yourself and wake you up a bit from a monotonous routine.
Let's dive right into the 10 best places for expats to live so you can choose your next home abroad.
1. Da Nang, Vietnam
I was lucky enough to call Da Nang home for 2 years. During that time, I was able to enjoy beautiful beaches, friendly locals, delicious and fresh food, and a low cost of living. What stuck out so much to me living in Da Nang compared to the year I spent living in Ho Chi Minh City is the work life balance I was able to achieve.
Cut in half by the Han River, the city is split in two: the beach side and the city side. Most expats choose to live on the beach side, filling their days with great views, a tranquil pace of life, and everything you need usually within walking distance. Cross the river and you're back in any Vietnamese city life, just with a bit less traffic than Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi.
Although Da Nang has my heart, you can't go wrong living in any of these best cities in Vietnam. But if you prefer a laid back culture, affordable places to live, and great beaches just steps away from your home, Da Nang might just be your perfect fit, too. Not only is Da Nang the best place to live in the world, it obviously swoops in with the #1 spot for best places to live in Asia.
Plus, you'll be a quick drive from famous Hoi An and Hue or the international airport with great connections to other Southeast Asian hot spots.
The traffic in Vietnam is notorious and here in Da Nang you'll still need to get used to driving a motorbike or riding on the back of one but if this is a concern for you, you'll be able to escape the worst of it by staying on the beachside of the city.
While Vietnam in general is known as a hot and humid country, Da Nang does get some slight variety in the weather. The summer is still toasty but winter cools down enough to comfortably wear jeans and a light sweater.
Not only is Da Nang the best overall city to live abroad, it's also my top recommendation for best places to live in Asia and Vietnam is one of the best countries for digital nomads.
Visa Options to Live in Vietnam
If you'd like to live in Vietnam for at least a few years, the most straightforward way to snag a visa is through work. Many expats in Vietnam are there working as an English teacher or one of the many international schools and get a sponsored visa that way.
There is also a large portion of the expat community who work online and do visa runs to Cambodia, Laos, or somewhere farther for a day or weekend trip. Currently, you can get a 90-day tourist visa for Vietnam. After 90 days, you'd need to leave the country and come back in on a new 90-day visa.
Other than marrying a local or starting your own company in the country, these are the most recommended visa options to live in Vietnam.
2. Mexico City, Mexico
Submission by Sophie Bellamy from Good Egg Digital Marketing.
Mexico City, CDMX, is an increasingly popular expat destination. Its reputation for amazing food, low living costs, and high quality of life means that folks are flocking to find out what all the hype is about. Not only is Mexico City one of the best places to live in the world, it tops the list of best places to live in Latin America, too.
As someone who has lived all around the world (including Da Nang!), living in Mexico City has been one of my favorite experiences yet. There are few cities in the world that offer as many benefits to British and American expats (or any expats for that matter), and I can't recommend it highly enough.
Mexico has a reputation for being dangerous, and most digital nomads and expats will likely worry about their personal safety before arriving. As a solo female traveler, I was definitely nervous initially, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that I've always felt completely comfortable.
Mexico City's public transport system is fantastic and is, in my opinion, better than any other system I've experienced in Latin America. The subway is the largest of its kind in Latin America and is simple to navigate, but can feel a little sketchy at night if you're alone. The MetroBus city buses are an excellent above-ground option that operates in a dedicated lane to avoid the city's notoriously bad traffic.
The climate is one of my favorite things about living in Mexico City. The average daytime temperatures range from 55-64°F and there's not much variation throughout the year. The summers are warm without being uncomfortable like the tropical and hot weather in Playa del Carmen — another popular expat destination on Mexico's Caribbean coast — while the winters stay pretty mild.
There's so much to do in and around Mexico's largest city that it's impossible to get bored. With great food, plenty of parks, a vibrant local culture, and ease of travel to other Central Mexico destinations, it's no wonder Mexico ranks consistently as one of the best places to live in Latin America.
Visa Options to Live in Mexico
Most expats enter Mexico on a tourist visa and it used to be standard to be issued with a six-month visa on arrival. However, Mexican immigration officials have been cracking down during the past few years and it's increasingly common for visitors to be given a shorter visa (sometimes as little as a couple of weeks).
If you're planning on working while living in Mexico, applying for a temporary visa is the best way to go. This permit gives visitors the right to stay in the country for one year initially, but this can be extended. Although not an official digital nomad visa, this is the closest alternative if you want to live in Mexico as a remote worker.
Deciding factors for the Mexican consulate include your monthly income, and this figure seems to increase annually so keep an eye on it. It can be useful and cost-effective to hire an immigration lawyer to help with the process and you'll find lots of great recommendations in the expat social media groups.
3. Seoul, South Korea
Another incredible Asian city that I've had the pleasure of living in, Seoul is a fantastic city to call home. As a mega-city, you could spend an entire year here exploring a new neighborhood every week and you'd still leave alleys unturned.
Not only is it a fun place to live for someone who bores quickly of routine, it's even better because each neighborhood has its own distinct vibe. Want to party all night? Head to Hongdae. Prefer beauty products and high-end street food? Go to Myeong-dong.
Getting from neighborhood to neighborhood is super easy thanks to the public transportation. The buses and subways run on schedule and connect every bit of the city, even some of the suburbs.
Seoul has a massive expat community filled with foreigners who planned to move to the country for a year and just never left. It's that easy to fall in love with! Koreans are always welcoming and if you treat your co-workers with respect, chances are they'll become your first friends in this bustling city. Social life and drinking culture go hand-in-hand here so if you're not a big drinker, come with this in mind. If you do enjoy a silly night out, you'll love living in Seoul.
The expat community is a lot of Americans living abroad, either as English teachers or deployed to the military base there. There are other nationalities living and working abroad here but from my experience, a good chunk of them are from the U.S.
One aspect of living in Seoul that I wasn't expecting was its easy access to nature. Surrounded by mountains, you can enjoy a great hike just steps away from a subway stop. Travel a bit farther out of the city and you can ski and snowboard in the winters, too. Regardless of the time of the year in South Korea, there's always something to do.
Visa Options to Live in South Korea
A vast majority of expats living in South Korea work as English teachers. With such a large population and a high demand for native English speakers, if you have the basic qualifications, you'll have a good chance at getting hired. Whether you choose to live in Seoul or another of the best places to live in South Korea, jobs are plentiful.
It's important to note that teaching is taken seriously here so don't plan to move here as a teacher unless you're actually prepared to work. On the same note, the students take school seriously, too, so behavior problems in the classroom are minimal.
For those that have taught in the US, teaching in South Korea, especially at a private school (hagwon), will be a step up. But it is also possible to live in Seoul not as an English teacher.
4. Madrid, Spain
Submission by Gabrielle Pletaite from The Lithuanian Abroad.
“De Madrid al Cielo” (From Madrid to heaven) is a Spanish saying which suggests that once you have seen Madrid the only next best thing could be heaven. It is up to you to decide whether that is correct or not but to me, it certainly is.
Many people decide to move to Barcelona when planning their move to Spain. It has a beach, I know! But if you are looking for a less touristy city where you can really immerse yourself in Spanish culture, then living in Madrid should be on top of your list. Not only is Madrid one of the best places to live in the world, it's not surprising that it's one of the best places to live in Europe too.
Madrid must be one of the most pedestrian friendly capitals in the world! Every time I have someone visiting me they are surprised how easy it is to get around. If you primarily stay in the city center, you can reach almost all major attractions by foot! And you do not even need to take the metro. Although the public transportation is great here.
Madrid is famous for its bar culture, authentic Spanish cuisine, and amazing nightlife. While there's a lot of things to do in Madrid, the capital city's central location in Spain makes it perfect for national travel by renting a car since all destinations in Spain, the beaches included, are really easy to reach by car. Plus, with its international airport, other countries are a weekend trip away.
You would not have thought about it before, but Madrid has a big international community. It might not be as big as in Barcelona but many people from all over the world live in Madrid so you will never feel like the “weird foreigner” in between all the locals. During the last couple of years I have been seeing more and more international companies setting up subsidiaries in Spain and hiring young professionals to work abroad in Spain.
Visa Options to Live in Spain
Although not the only way to be able to move abroad to Spain, many expats come here as English teachers with either the BEDA program or the Auxiliares program. If you don't want to teach, there are more and more opportunities to get hired to work abroad here, putting you on a standard work visa.
Spain's Non-Lucrative Visa has long been a popular option for those that make passive income and want to live in Spain. In reality, this is often used as a retirement visa because your pension can count as passive income.
Spain recently launched a digital nomad visa for remote workers. You'll need to be able to prove university education and a stable income (at the time of publication this was approximately £2,140 per month or £25,700 per year).
5. Taipei, Taiwan
Submission by Katy Liang.
While life in Taipei can be fast-paced and busy, its central location in East Asia makes it the perfect gateway to easy and affordable travels whenever wanderlust calls.
For many expats, this metropolitan city offers a high quality of life, with all of the buzz and glamor and none of the price tag. Plus, the country of Taiwan is a beautiful island that holds a wide variety of outdoor adventures when you need a break from the city.
At the same time, pockets of old-time gems and diverse food options from local and afar expose travelers to a whole new world of cultural exploration and discovery. With an openness towards newcomers and a friendly atmosphere, it won’t be long before you find yourself feeling at home.
Once things for sure, living in Taiwan will keep you entertained. Like most big cities in Asia, it's one that never sleeps. Regardless of what you enjoy doing and the time of day you want to do, you'll find others wanting the exact same thing.
With great food and endless entertainment options, Taipei is a fast-paced city that's a lot of fun. And whenever you need a break, head down a quaint alley for a chill cafe serving up delicious boba.
Visa Options to Live in Taiwan
Taiwan is actually one of the best places to live in Asia in terms of their visa options. While it's certainly possible to get hired right away as an English teacher or a non-teaching job and get a work visa, you can also move here on a "job search visa" and be given 5 years to search in person for a gig. Many digital nomads take advantage of this visa, without the real intention of getting a job here but instead to just stay for a year or two.
6. Annecy, France
Submission by Karly Christ from Vibrant Ikigai Coaching.
Imagine a place where snow-capped, mountain slopes run down to a turquoise, sparkling lake. Where the cheese is melted and creamy and scooped up with potatoes or bread, and a crisp, clean Alpine white wine washes it all down. Weekends are filled with festivals nearly all year long, sports of every kind are at your fingertips, and mellow Sundays are spent winding through the cobbled streets of a quaint old town splashed with colorful buildings and a lazy canal running through.
That's what living in Annecy is like.
To most French people this small city is far from a secret. Troves of French have been moving here over the past decade seeking a taste of the “good life.” This sweet, little mountain town of 130,000 is growing fast, and for good reason.
Just one and a half hours from the iconic town of Chamonix and Europe’s highest mountain, the Mont Blanc, one hour to the Italian border, five hours to Nice and the Provence region, and 40 minutes to Geneva, Switzerland, Annecy is well placed for exploring some of Europe’s most beautiful destinations.
It's important to note that while I absolutely love living in Annecy, the cost of living isn't for the faint of heart. A trick that many living here use though, including my husband, is to work across the border in Switzerland yet live here in Annecy. Even though the cost of living is high here, it's still cheaper than Geneva yet the local job market has more opportunities in Switzerland.
Visa Options to Live in France
France is 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. Just be sure to tripe check the visa requirements before you start planning your move! If you are applying for a ‘Carte de Sejour’ to stay in France expect the process to be laborious and long (upwards of nine months if it is your first time applying). You will be able to work and travel on the temporary one (récépissé) while you wait for the official card.
You will do all of your appointments at the Prefecture here in Annecy, where I am happy to report, most of the current staff are kind, helpful, and knowledgeable.
7. Medellín, Colombia
Submission by Emilie Jones.
As someone who spent almost a year living just outside of Bogotá I personally much prefer life in Medellín, aka the City of Eternal Spring. The weather is perfect, the local friendliness and welcoming culture make me feel at home, and the views are stunning here in the valley surrounded by powerful yet peaceful mountains.
Two of the most popular areas for expats living abroad and tourists visiting the city are El Poblado and Laureles. Both have amazing nightlife, restaurants, coffee shops, organic/vegan stores, and basically everything an expat needs. These also tend to be two of the safest areas of the city.
El Poblado usually attracts a lot of short-term tourists and tends to be a bit more expensive in terms of rent and prices when eating out. Laureles on the other hand has a bit less of the touristy vibe and a lot more local scene. I’ve noticed that a lot of people who end up staying in Medellín long-term usually move out to Laureles.
You shouldn't have trouble making friends thanks to the large expat community here. Likewise, locals are easy to mix with, especially if you speak Spanish or are willing to learn. Younger generations tend to speak more English but you can still expect pretty big language barriers if you don't speak any Spanish.
If you’re into hiking, you’ll also love this city as there are a couple trails within the city and endless hiking possibilities around the nearby mountains. Medellín also hosts lots of festivals from the famous flower festival in August to large music festivals and smaller artisanal workshops and markets.
Visa Options to Live in Colombia
Many North American companies have smaller offices here mainly because of the cost of labor and time zone benefits, so there are more and more opportunities popping up for English speakers. If you manage to get a job with one of these international companies they usually sponsor your work visa and it’s often good for 1-3 years with the option to renew.
If you happen to come to Colombia as a digital nomad doing remote work, you're in luck! Colombia offers a digital nomad visa that allows you to live and work online for 6 months of the year. The visa is valid for 2 years though so you can spend a total of 1 year in the country but only at 6 month intervals. For those that want a home base but still plenty of time to travel nomadically, this could be a great option.
8. Trieste, Italy
Trieste is my current home abroad. My husband got a job offer with an international company here and intrigued by the idea of living in Italy, he took it.
Although an Italian city, Trieste is uniquely its own. Located in Northern Italy in the lesser-known Friuli Venezia Giulia (FVG) region, this city sits right on the Adriatic Sea and the border with Slovenia, so much so that when zooming in a map you'll be surprised that it's actually part of Italy and not Slovenia itself.
Trieste has a history unlike anywhere else in Italy which makes it feel super different than other Italian cities you might visit while living here. This blend of cultural diversity has made it a lot of fun. We of course get to enjoy aperitivos, the perfect cappuccinos, and fantastic food but all with a twist.
I'll be honest, I can't say that I prefer here compared to living in Florence, Rome, or Naples simply because I've never lived in those other cities, only this one. But there are some things that Trieste offers that I know with certainty those other cities don't.
The location is at the heart of it. Trieste sits right on the border with Slovenia in Northern Italy. That means, you can be in the heart of Dolomites, Venice, Austria, or the beaches of Croatia in just 2 hours. In less time you can visit Ljubljana or get to the international airport. For someone that loves traveling as much as I do, Trieste has been an absolutely perfect destination for exploring Italy and other European cities and towns.
Visa Options to Live in Italy
Like most countries in the European Union, most nationalities are given 90 days every 180 days to be here visa-free. This is good to dip your toes into the waters of living in Italy but not enough to settle in. To stay longer, you'll need residency or a Permesso di Soggiorno.
While getting a visa to live in Italy is more than possible, do know that to secure one you really need to want it because this can be a long process. For reference, it took a year for my husband's work visa to come through after being hired. We were told that the process took this long because he's Colombian and other nationalities can be quicker but I still think it's important to be aware that immigration can be slow.
For a work visa, unless you're an EU citizen, you'll need to line up the job before arriving in Italy. Otherwise, you'll need to apply for a Student Visa or a Working Holiday Visa. Trieste does have a well-known university so for those looking to study abroad, this could be a great fit.
9. Lagos, Portugal
Submission 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 and of course, one of the best places to live in Portugal.
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.
Visa Options to Live in Portugal
One of the easiest ways to move to Portugal is to get either the D7 visa, D8 visa, or the Golden Visa. The D7 visa is more of a retirement visa or for those that make regular passive income. The D8 visa is Portugal's freelance visa. This is meant specifically for remote workers who earn their income online. It's also possible to move to Portugal on a retirement visa, otherwise known as the Golden Visa.
Another two options would be a Student Visa or Work Visa.
10. Athens, Greece
Submission by Suzie Young from Greek Island Bucket List.
Athens is a vibrant and historic city that can offer a unique living experience for foreigners. Athenian life is a fascinating mix of old and new. Athens has a lot going for it but I've found people either love it or hate it. Personally, I think it's a fantastic city to live in.
You can enjoy modern Athens' bustling markets, sophisticated shopping areas, trendy cafes, and thriving nightlife while immersing yourself in the city's rich history. Ancient architecture abounds at the city's legendary archaeological sites like the Parthenon and Ancient Agora.
And once you've had your fill of all that, let yourself get caught up in the feast and celebration days that make up such a big part of Greek culture; alternatively, make your way through the mountains of tasty Greek food and drink.
Although the cost of living can be much lower in Athens than in other cities in the USA, the UK and around Europe, the Greek economy isn't in the weak position it once was.
The cost of living isn't desperately low and it's risen quite a bit in recent years. If you intend to earn in Greece, you should also know that despite rising living costs, wages are lower than in the past. You can compare the cost of living in Greece to the rest of the EU here.
If you can earn a decent income in US dollars, for example, then it will certainly go a lot further than if you're earning from working in Greece. Having said that, obviously, the lifestyle you choose influences your monthly outgoings. And you can certainly live the high life in this capital city.
Living in Athens means easy access to several islands by ferry or plane and a gateway to the mainland. If you want to explore the country on weekend getaways or longer stays, Athens is a great base from which to do so.
Visa Options to Live in Greece
Although you'll need to check for your own personal circumstances, most people from places like the US and the UK can stay in Greece for up to 90 out of 180 days without any type of visa. Note this works on a rolling basis, so it's always the last 180 consecutive days. You should also bear in mind that this applies to the whole of the Schengen area. So if you've spent time in any of those countries, you must add those days to your time in Greece.
To stay longer than 90 days, there are a few options available.
- Greece's digital nomad visa is relatively new and one that's gaining popularity. It's a one-year visa giving you the right to live in Greece and work remotely. After a year, you can apply for a Digital Nomad Residence Permit, which gives you legal residence for two years and is renewable for a further two years after that.
- The Golden Visa is a way of getting residency through property investment. For most places, you can gain a five-year residency permit by spending 250,000 euros or more across one or more properties.
- The Financially Independent Visa is popular for third-country nationals who want to retire in Greece. You need to show you have sufficient income from a fixed source (not a salary) to cover the duration of your stay.
Tips for a Smooth Move Abroad
When planning for a move abroad, there are a few things you should keep in mind, regardless if this is your 1st move or 27th:
- Things will work differently than in your country. It’s your responsibility to bend and adjust to your new environment. Refrain from getting trapped in the, “This isn’t how they do you back home” mindset, that will make your adjustment period an uphill battle.
- Learn some of the local language. I’d be lying if I said I took classes and got to a conversational level everywhere I went but at the very least, it’s nice to show your community you care. It will also make life easier for you if you can at least order your favorite food and understand the prices at the market. Mondly is a great app to start learning the basics.
- Open your eyes and your mind. My favorite part about living abroad, and one of the biggest reasons I keep moving from one country to another, is how much you learn from the experience. Pay attention to the nuances of daily life, how they celebrate special occasions, etc. It will most likely make you a better, more well-rounded person, being influenced by so many wonderful cultures but it also makes your experience a lot more fun.
- Give it at least 3 months until you make any rash decisions. Culture shock is real and it can be a difficult process to get comfortable somewhere new. Usually, after 3 months in a country, you start to get a routine and are less quick to judge somewhere so before you decide if you love it or are ready to get out, give it a fair chance.
Looking to move abroad ASAP? Follow these 10 simple steps to make a quick move abroad, as stress-free as possible.
Where in the World Will You Move Abroad?
Which of these 10 countries is the best place for expats to live in your opinion? My top choice could be different than yours but I am certain that these 10 countries offer a balanced lifestyle that many expats would absolutely love.
Just know that because you choose one country today doesn't mean you won't want to try somewhere new in a few years. Take it from, I've lived in 3 of the countries on this list and just because they've all been fantastic places to live abroad doesn't mean I'm not already planning my move to the 4th one.
Many photos courtesy of depositphotos.com.