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Five of the best cities for expats to work in

Updated 16 May 2017

Career-minded expats are spoilt for choice when it comes to seeking opportunities abroad.

Although expat pay packages are not what they used to be, highly skilled expats still have some great cities to consider, many of these offering not only exciting career prospects and an opportunity to save and earn more than they would back home, but also a high quality of life for both them and their families.

Here are five of the best places for expats to work:


Singapore is one of those cities that offers expats a great balance between quality of life and the opportunity to advance their careers while earning a fantastic salary. According to HSBC’s Expat Survey for 2016, Singapore's strong and steady economic climate was cited as one of the top reasons for staying in the country. Sixty-two percent of expats reported that they were earning more in Singapore than they would in their home countries. 

Singapore has a strong economy with manufacturing and the services sector being the most prominent. Job prospects for expats in the little red dot are particularly prominent in the finance, electronics, engineering, IT and biomedical spheres.

There is a catch, however. The cost of living in Singapore is consistently among the highest in the world – according to the Economist’s Intelligence Unit in 2016, Singapore was the priciest city in the world. So although expats will be earning more, this may be offset by a higher cost of sustaining that great lifestyle. Those moving to Singapore with children, in particular, will need to budget carefully, as the country’s international schools are amongst the most expensive globally.


Tax-free salaries are a huge drawcard for expats seeking job opportunities in the UAE, with the emirate of Dubai being one the most popular. Thriving expat communities, which make up the majority of the population, a vibrant nightlife and year-round warm climate offer expats an excellent quality of life in Dubai. 

Career opportunities are most prominent in banking, finance, engineering and the retail and services sectors. Although a conservative Muslim country, the majority of the UAE’s population is made up of foreigners, and business, while typically Arab, is largely Western in nature, so the adjustment to corporate life in Dubai is much easier for Western expats. 

While expat pay packages in the UAE are not as lucrative as they once were, many expats still enjoy many benefits. For example, more than three quarters (77%) of expats in Dubai receive health benefits from their employer, according to HSBC.


Switzerland remains one of the most popular destinations in Europe for career-driven expats, particularly in the banking and finance sectors in Zurich. For personal finances and local economy, expats in HSBC’s survey rated Switzerland as the world's best, thanks to the good earning prospects in the country. 

Swiss cities are frequently cited as offering the highest quality of life and best lifestyle for expats, thanks to the excellent infrastructure, healthcare, education, and beautiful scenery and sporting activities on offer. However, expats should bear in mind that the high quality of life comes at an exorbitant cost. For example, Zurich placed second in Mercer’s 2016 livability survey, but the city also placed third in Mercer’s Cost of Living Survey in 2016, making it one of the most expensive cities in the world for expats.

While Switzerland offers great career prospects, making friends and integrating into the local culture has been cited as a challenge by many expats living in the country. As Tanya, an American expat living in Zurich, told Expat Arrivals: “I have found the locals friendly, but reserved. Americans are famous for their open friendliness with strangers and it can feel a bit lonely when this is not reciprocated in the same manner.”

Hong Kong

Excellent healthcare and education, a vibrant lifestyle and a multicultural destination, Hong Kong offers excellent employment opportunities for expats in a variety of fields, from finance, to IT and teaching English. 

Expats in Hong Kong, according to HSBC’s expat survey, are also amongst the highest paid in the world, and thanks to the favourable tax climate, expats can enjoy a higher disposable income. Nevertheless, as with many other destinations, higher salaries, don’t necessarily mean higher savings, as the cost of living in Hong Kong for expats is the highest in the world, according to Mercer, which placed Hong Kong top of the list in its 2016 survey.


Despite uncertainty over the UK’s position within the EU and Brexit, and how this will affect foreigners moving to or living in the country, the UK remains one of the top destinations for expat job seekers, with most heading to the cosmopolitan capital of London

The best job prospects in London for expats are in the healthcare, finance, IT and management consultancy sectors. A modern city steeped in history and tradition, London offers expats an exciting lifestyle, with a multicultural population and developed transport and healthcare infrastructure. Its central location and proximity to continental Europe also offers expats great opportunities for global travel.

According to HSBC, nearly three quarters (71%) of expats in London say working there will improve their job prospects when they move home or to another country. Expats in London are also among the highest paid in the world. According to ECA International’s My Expatriate Market Pay Report, expat middle managers receive the highest cost to company pay packages globally.

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