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10 Best Cities to Live Abroad: 2011 – Part 1

The Economist Intelligence Unit has released its latest findings relating to where in the world we should all be aspiring to live!  Their city index is an exceptionally useful resource for anyone thinking about moving abroad, as it shows which are the best places in the world in terms of quality of life.

The index is compiled based on data relating to stability, healthcare, culture & environment, education and infrastructure – a pretty comprehensive list I’m sure you will agree.  What’s more, these are the primary factors any would-be expat explores when looking around for the best place to call home.

So, if you want to know where the best expat assignments are to be found, you need to know where you should relocate with your family or you just want to make sure you’re heading to the right city for the best quality of life, let’s explore the 10 best cities to live abroad in, in 2011.  Because there’s a lot to discuss, we’ve broken our exploration down into two parts – with the second part to be published tomorrow.

The most glaringly obvious fact that you will observe from just casting your eye over the top five cities in the world is that Canada currently boasts a fantastic choice of destination for those purely in pursuit of quality of life.  In the top five cities it takes three spots!  There’s just one European entrant, and the likes of London, Berlin, Paris and Barcelona are very conspicuous by their absence!

1)  Living in Vancouver in Canada

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, the best city to live in in 2011 for quality of life is Vancouver on Canada’s western coast.  It topped the charts in 2008, 2009 and now it’s topped the 2010 index which indicates where we all should be living in this current year.

Vancouver is the most ‘liveable’ city apparently – it has one of the most temperate climates in Canada with the city more likely to bask in summer sunshine and disappear under winter rain than be buried beneath months of impenetrable snow.

Despite being an exceptionally densely populated city, Vancouver manages to maintain high standards of healthcare, transportation, education, cleanliness and law enforcement.  What’s more, it is a very diverse city in terms of its population’s ethnicity, and this blend makes it a comfortable relocation destination for many…at least on paper.  Having spent a long time in Vancouver I would suggest that actually, it can be hard to make Vancouver a home from home particularly quickly simply because of its vast size.

However, it’s true that you’re not unusual if you’re an expat in Vancouver!  And if you’re interested in arts and culture, you’ll find plenty of exceptional offerings locally.  From prominent theatre companies to the city’s International Film Festival, from art galleries to a space centre, and from the symphony orchestra to the city’s many and varied music festivals, there is really something for everyone in Vancouver.

2)  Living in Melbourne in Australia

The top ranking Australian city for yet another year is Melbourne, it managed to beat Vienna to second place this year however, whereas last year the two cities’ final positioning in the index were reversed.

Melbourne is a centre for the arts, commerce, education, entertainment, sport and tourism in Australia, and the city is the second most populous in the nation.  Located on Australia’s southern coastline, the city really is an exceptionally fine place to call home!

The lifestyle on offer is deemed ‘perfect’ – with fantastic year-round weather and a great outdoors lifestyle being the norm.  So it’s no surprise that it is already a very popular choice with expatriate Britons.  Melbourne is therefore another city where you won’t feel at all isolated as an expat.

The economy in the city is highly diversified, which has meant it has weathered the global financial storm well so far – although many economic experts are suggesting that Australia is not out of the woods yet.  In terms of healthcare and education, standards are high; and culturally speaking Melbourne manages to achieve a high European standard of offering.

3)  Living in Vienna in Austria

Having lived in Vienna I am always surprised to see it ranking so well in these indices – however, on paper the city does indeed have a lot going for it.  Culturally it has unrivalled international offerings of course, and as we all know, education and healthcare standards in Austria are very high – so of course Vienna scores well there.  However, as an expat destination it is cold and unfriendly.

Vienna is not an easy city to integrate into, no matter how strong your German language skills.  The city is beautiful – yes.  It does have a great climate too with long hot springs and summers and snowy winters perfect for those who love winter sports.  But beauty, culture and weather are not enough in terms of reasons to move to live in a given location.

For an expat to be able to call a new destination ‘home’, they need to be able to integrate – and I would suggest that it is not easy to do that in Vienna.

4)  Living in Toronto in Canada

There is a strong rivalry between Vancouver and Toronto on many levels, and the fact that Toronto falls a few places behind its rival will only add fuel to this ongoing fire!  However, Toronto should be proud of its fourth place in the Economist Intelligence Unit index.

If you thought Vancouver was inaccessible because of its size, you need to know that Toronto is even bigger – it’s the largest city in Canada in fact…but for Britons it doesn’t feel quite as isolated.  It’s nearer the UK for a start in terms of geographical distance and therefore flying time because it’s on the ‘right side’ of Canada!

Toronto is Canada’s economic centre and as such it has a very affluent feel to it in many areas.  In terms of a broader economic overview, as provided by the city’s official website, Toronto’s leading sectors are in finance, business services, telecommunications, aerospace, transportation, media, arts, film, television production, publishing, software production, medical research, education, tourism, engineering/construction, and sports industries – giving expats a lot of choice in terms of potential employment.

Almost a half of all residents of the city were born outside Canada – meaning that there is a really strong immigrant and expat vibe locally.  Crime rates are low relatively speaking, education standards are exceptionally high with Toronto home to a number of highly regarded and reputed tertiary educational establishments for example, and healthcare is adequate in the city – although resources are stretched thinner than is ideal.

5)  Living in Calgary in Canada

The final ‘winning’ entrant in the top five most liveable cities in the world according to the latest Economist Intelligence Unit index is Calgary – also in Canada!  And it has strengthened its position as an attractive place to live since the last index where it was forced to sit in joint fifth position with Perth.

Calgary’s local economy has gone from strength to absolute strength in recent years, and at the same time the city has not developed any of the less appealing aspects of a rapidly advancing destination such as increasing crime levels.  It’s a relatively safe and attractive city, and yet it does have a few notable downsides as a potential expat destination.

Calgary’s cultural offerings are slightly provincial and ‘small-town’ compared to Vienna or Vancouver for example – and it doesn’t really compete on a level playing field with Melbourne when it comes to the weather either!  Yes Calgary has done well to expand and diversify it’s economic base, yes it has invested well to see the appeal of the city advance, but it is still something of a back-water compared to the other two Canadian cities that rank in the top five.

But, despite being a large city, if you think of Calgary as being more like a big town you may understand and appreciate it more.  It can be a much easier place to make a new home than Vancouver or Toronto, and the local people seem more friendly and approachable.  Communities seem to work together, and there really is a strong British expatriate base in the city.

In Conclusion

We will continue our exploration of the top 10 cities in the world for quality of life according to the Economist Intelligence Unit tomorrow – but for now it’s clear that ranking these cities based on over 30 factors beneath 5 main categories actually only goes so far in helping an expat to decide whether they could call a given location ‘home.’  Nothing beats spending time in a given town or city to really determine whether you could make it your new home from home abroad.

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