What expats like and dislike about life in German cities

What expats like and dislike about life in German cities

It’s that time of year again! The results of the Expat City Ranking 2020 have just been unveiled, and this year’s list includes six German cities. While Düsseldorf was the highest-rated city in Germany, overall the federal republic has put in a thoroughly so-so performance. 

The InterNations Expat City Ranking 2020

More than 15.000 respondents took part in the InterNations Expat Insider Survey in 2020. As usual, their responses have been used to compile the “Expat City Ranking”, a list of the best and worst cities for expats around the globe. This year’s respondents represent 173 different nationalities and live in 181 territories worldwide, making it one of the largest surveys of its kind. 

For the ranking, participants were asked to rate their satisfaction with more than 25 different aspects of urban life abroad, on a scale of one to seven. The scores for these individual factors are then bundled together to provide an overall score for the four areas of life that inform the Expat City Ranking: Quality of Urban Living, Getting Settled, Urban Work Life, and Finance & Housing. 

For a city to be included in the ranking, a sample size of at least 50 survey participants per city was required, and so the 2020 index contains 66 cities worldwide. 

Expats share their views on cities in Germany

This year, six German cities are featured. Overall, Düsseldorf was rated the best city in Germany for expats, coming just outside the world top 25. Since last year’s ranking, Stuttgart has overtaken (or perhaps a better word would be, undertaken) Berlin to become the worst-ranked city in Germany. 

With all of the federal republic’s cities ranking somewhere in the midfield, it’s clear that expats are relatively ambivalent about life in Germany. While the survey respondents praised their adopted home country when it comes to work, once again all of the German cities scored badly in term of the ease of getting settled. 

Working life in Germany rated very highly

Let’s start with the good: expats in Germany are highly satisfied with their working lives. Five out of the six German cities included in the ranking made it into the top 10 in the Urban Work Life Index, let down only by Berlin. 

In Hamburg, which came third overall in this category (behind Luxembourg City and Amsterdam), nearly two in three expats are happy with their local career opportunities (compared to 43 percent globally) and 87 percent are happy with the state of the city’s economy. In Frankfurt, 81 percent of respondents feel secure in their job, compared to just 59 percent globally. Satisfaction with working hours and work-life balance was also high across the board.

Housing is unaffordable and difficult to find

Once again, however, issues with housing and finding friends are having a negative impact on the overall standing of German cities. Four in seven expats in Frankfurt and four in five in Stuttgart said that it is hard to find housing in their city. Even in Berlin, which performs better on the local cost of living, two in three expats struggle with finding a place to live.  

Hamburg lands in the bottom 10 for housing (60th place), with just 14 percent of survey respondents saying they find housing in the Hanseatic city affordable - a massive 27 percentage points below the global average. Munich performs even worse, landing in second-last place in the Finance & Housing index, with 83 percent describing the available housing as unaffordable. 

Expats in Germany struggle to find friends

If there’s one thing harder than finding somewhere to live in Germany, apparently it’s finding a friend. All six of the German cities in the ranking scored poorly in the Getting Settled Index, with Stuttgart even coming in second-last place. 

In Düsseldorf, just 56 percent of survey respondents think that the locals are generally friendly towards foreign residents (compared to 66 percent globally), and 40 percent say it is not easy to find new friends. Similar scores were recorded in Frankfurt and Munich. Even Berlin landed among the global bottom 10 for general friendliness of the local population, with one in three describing the local population as generally unfriendly. 

The situation is worst in Stuttgart, which ranked among the bottom 10 in every subcategory of the Getting Settled index: local friendliness (61st), feeling welcome (62nd), friends and socialising (63rd) and local language (62nd). As many as 43 percent of expats are unhappy with their social life in Stuttgart, compared to 24 percent globally. 

The best cities for expats in Germany

Here’s how Germany’s cities fared in the 2020 Expat City Ranking:

  • 26. Düsseldorf
  • 29. Frankfurt am Main
  • 33. Hamburg
  • 41. Munich
  • 44. Berlin
  • 49. Stuttgart

The best expat cities in the world

Globally, Spain was well-represented in this year’s Expat City Ranking, with four Spanish cities making it the top 10. The worst-ranked cities in 2020 were Salmiya in Kuwait, Rome, Seoul, Milan, Nairobi, Paris, Johannesburg, Santiago, Dublin and Hong Kong. 

The top 10 expat cities in 2020 were: 

  • 1. Valencia
  • 2. Alicante
  • 3. Lisbon
  • 4. Panama City
  • 5. Singapore
  • 6. Malaga
  • 7. Buenos Aires
  • 8. Kuala Lumpur
  • 9. Madrid
  • 10. Abu Dhabi

For the full ranking, including a detailed breakdown of the scores, visit the InterNations website.



Abi Carter

Abi studied History & German at the University of Manchester. She has since worked as a writer, editor and content marketeer, but still has a soft spot for museums, castles...

Read more



Leave a comment