UK cities offer poor life quality for expats compared to mainland EU

11 April 2018 5 min. read

Continental Europe continues to dominate the index of the world’s most liveable city for expatriates. DACH countries monopolise the top three spaces thanks to the popularity of Austrian capital Vienna, Swiss city Zurich and Germany’s Munich equalling Auckland in New Zealand in third, while of the UK’s representatives on the list, only London, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Glasgow made the top 50.

The latest survey of the world’s Quality of Living ranking, released by people consultancy Mercer, shows that Europe remains on top of the world. The survey, which is focused on identifying the world’s most liveable cities for expats is based on a broad array of regional and international indicators, covering more than 417 locations across the globe.

Europe remains the destination of choice for those sent on international assignments by their organisations, with Vienna coming in first place. The city boasts strong public transport, high levels of personal safety and a broad array of cultural and recreational offerings. Zurich takes the number two spot, while third equal is given to Munich in Germany, based on its investment in infrastructure and cultural opportunities, and Auckland in New Zealand, based on its overall quality of life. Vancouver completes the top five.Top expat living destinationsWhile Europe as a whole continues to perform strongly, with Germany offering two further top ten contenders, Dusseldorf (#6) and Frankfurt (#7), alongside Swiss locales Geneva (#8) and Basel (#10), the UK performs comparatively poorly. Capital city London was the highest ranked British location outright, placing at #41, while Edinburgh placed in #46, and Birmingham and Glasgow followed, sharing #50 with Kobe, Tokyo and Philadelphia. The poor placing follows years of inflated living prices in the UK’s keystone cities, coupled with Brexit anxieties which have seen their favourability tumble in numerous industrial polls, compared to their continental counterparts.

With growing numbers of EU and non-EU skilled workers weighing up an exit from the UK, after the country’s secession from the EU wraps up in 2019, British employers are increasingly anticipating a shortage of talent. As a growing proportion of the nation’s ageing workforce reaches retirement age, the UK’s perceived unattractiveness to expats will no doubt concern businesses looking to grow their headcount in the near future.

Commenting on the growing importance of the quality of life offered by cities to their workforces, Ilya Bonic, Senior Partner and President of Mercer’s Career business, said, “With increasing globalisation and changing demographic of the workforce - attracting and retaining the right talent is set to be one of the key challenges for businesses over the next five years... Companies need to consider these factors in their value proposition to both their local and their expatriate employees.”Top regional citiesBy region, Western Europe is dominated by DACH  region entrants, while in Eastern Europe, Prague is the highest contender at number 69, followed by Ljubljana (#75) in Slovenia, and Budapest (#76), Hungary.  Further east, Japan dominates the regional ranking with four entries in the regional top five, Tokyo and Kobe shared the 50th spot, while Yokohama takes number 55 and Osaka number 59. Singapore is the region’s top performer at number 25.

While the US economy continues to enjoy a spell of bullish growth, Mercer’s chart shows that this has not necessarily translated into a boost in the living conditions in the world’s largest economy. In North America, the USA counts only one entry in the regional top 5, with San Francisco at #30 globally, the country’s highest ranked city. This stands in stark contrast to the slower growing yet more socially minded nation of Canada, with the US’ neighbours seeing Toronto come in at #16, and Ottawa and Montrial take the #19 and #21 spots respectively.Key indicators: sanitation

The survey considers a wide array of factors to determine the world’s most liveable cities. One of the statistics considered is sanitation, which covers the indicators of air pollution, infectious disease, sewage, water availability and quality and waste removal. Concern around air pollution has spiked in recent years on the back of diesel fumes in the West and development pollution in the East – particularly in India and China.

The top performers include Nordic cities of Helsinki, Stockholm and Oslo, along with Switzerland’s Zurich. New Zealand was also well represented in the top ten for sanitation, with Auckland and Wellington living up to the nation’s clean green image. London, which is currently bidding to get to grips with major air pollution issues, was some distance from the top of this aspect of the list, along with the UK’s other representatives.

“How successful an international assignment is hinges on the personal and professional wellbeing of the individual expatriate and the welfare of their families,” said Slagin Parakatil, Principal at Mercer and Global Product Owner for its Quality of Living research. “As well as a significant hinderance to a city’s, business and talent attractiveness, poor quality of living can considerably impact on an expatriate’s lifestyle. Younger generations, millennials in particular, often have high expectations in terms of lifestyle, leisure and entertainment opportunities.”