36 Best Cities for Quality of Life or Business

Vancouver, BC CanadaAs future expats trying to decide where to live, we have to balance all sorts of important issues: quality of life, health care, affordability, weather and climate seem to top everyone’s lists. The Economist recently ranked cities worldwide for Quality of Life.

  1. Vancouver, BC, Canada
  2. Melbourne, Australia
  3. Vienna, Austria
  4. Toronto, Canada
  5. Calgary, Alberta, Canada
  6. Helsinki, Finland
  7. Sydney, Australia
  8. Perth, Australia
  9. Adelaide, Australia
  10. Auckland, New Zealand

Here’s their explanation for what went into a top rank:

“Cities that score best tend to be mid-sized cities in wealthier countries with a relatively low population density. This often fosters a broad range of recreational availability without leading to high crime levels or overburdened infrastructure. Seven of the top ten scoring cities are in Australia and Canada, where population densities of 2.88 and 3.40 people per sq km respectively compare with a global (land) average of 45.65 and a US average of 32.”

The City of New York is in 56th place, mostly due to perceived threats of terrorism and the amount of crime.

Unfortunately, the best city to live in might not be the best to do business in. . .

For Business, Check a Different List

If you’re planning to support yourself abroad by starting a business, though, you might want to take a look at another list, released in May.

The World’s 26 Best Cities for Business, Life and Innovation takes a very different tack.

  1. New York, New York, US — best in “cultural vibrancy,” entrepreneurial environment and international tourists, but bad commute times characterize the #1 city on the list. (No mention here of terrorism or crime. . .)
  2. Toronto, Canada — Quality of living, clean air and lots of leisure activities as well as an excellent entrepreneurial environment, but cost of public transportation is high
  3. San Francisco, California, US — Best educated population, lots of leisure activities and life satisfaction, and a terrific entrepreneurial environment put San Francisco on the list despite it’s lack of foreign capital investment
  4. Stockholm, Sweden — For a small city (under 1 million), Stockholm is very impressive. It’s #1 in “clean air, digital economy activity, entrepreneurial environment, green space, intellectual property protection, Internet access, R&D spending, political stability, and traffic congestion, #2 in broadband quality, business trip index, libraries with public access, life satisfaction, literacy.” On the downside? It’s last in “skyline impact” and taxes are high
  5. Sydney, Australia — near the top in nearly all categories, multiple surveys say it’s the best place to start a business. It also has the highest-cost public transportation
  6. London, England — has a lot going for it, including the best end-of-life care, financial and business employment and attracting foreign investment, but hampered by high real estate costs, commute times and an older workforce
  7. Chicago, Illinois, US — Lifestyle satisfaction, a good digital economy and entrepreneurial activity, but not much foreign capital investment or tourism
  8. Paris, France — Tops in protecting intellectual property, a highly educated population, good public transportation and lots to do, but not an easy place to do business and high taxes
  9. Singapore — Low crime, low traffic congestion, easy hiring are all good, but Singapore comes in last in renewable energy
  10. Hong Kong, China –low inflation, low crime rates and easy hiring are attractive to business investors, but it also has the most expensive business space and not enough hospital beds
  11. Houston, Texas, US — low cost to own business space, low commute times and low cost of living in general are good for Houston, but it ranks last in investing to create foreign jobs and international tourism
  12. Los Angeles, California, US — rated #2 in “entrepreneurial energy,” LA has a big digital economy and plenty of leisure time activities, but it’s at high risk for natural disaster and is poor in transportation and infrastructure
  13. Berlin, Germany — low traffic congestion, best commute times and low carbon footprint make it easier to do business in Berlin, but the average age of workers is high
  14. Tokyo, Japan — Good healthcare, plenty of Fortune 500 company headquarters and lots of research and development in Tokyo, but it’s got the highest cost of living and is the most susceptible to natural disasters
  15. Madrid, Spain — The city’s infrastructure is good, but unemployment is high and the city does poorly when it comes to starting a business and ease of hiring
  16. Seoul, S. Korea — Math and science are king in Seoul and it’s got the best broadband quality, but it also has the weakest currency
  17. Beijing, China — It’s an easy place to visit, with loads of hotel rooms and good airport access and public transportation, but it’s at the bottom in terms of carbon footprint and traffic congestion
  18. Abu Dhabi, UAE — lowest crime rate, and an easy place to hire, low air pollution and commute times and good access to hospitals are big pluses, but has the worst carbon footprint of any city on the list
  19. Shanghai, China — best at attracting outside capital and creating jobs, but poor literacy rates and difficulty getting visas bring down its ranking
  20. Mexico City, Mexico — tops the list for cost of living and skyscraper construction but has the worst air pollution and poor purchasing power
  21. Moscow, Russia — the city has a lot of green space, a well educated population and has the lowest risk of natural disaster, but that’s more than offset by the climate, uncertain political environment which adds to business risk, and lack of protection for intellectual property
  22. Santiago, Chile — cost of living, tax rate and commute times are excellent, but the city doesn’t have much green space, its hospitals are overtaxed and international flights are inadeqaute
  23. Istanbul, Turkey — lower air pollution, more skyscraper construction than most other cities, but inflation and quality of life are not so good
  24. Sao Paulo, Brazil — great carbon footprint, comfortable climate, not so great crime rate, tax rate and infrastructure
  25. Johannesburg, South Africa — did well in terms of cost, but not so much for health care, crime, and broadband quality
  26. Mumbai, India — best of the bunch in terms of renewable energy use, but hurt by inflation and low wages

photo by iwona_kelly on flickr

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  1. Nice list of cities. But these are all such big cities. I’d love to learn about small to mid-size cities that are great to live in – and in the not-so-wealthy countries. This is a great start on research though. Thanks!

    • Hi Sarah, glad you liked it. Big cities aren’t for everyone, for sure. I’m always looking for lists like this that might be helpful — if you come across any for mid-size cities, let me know!

  2. Ed Rivers says:

    One thing to keep in mind is that the Economist’s ranking has been criticized for catering to the “Upper Middle-Class White-Anglo male who earns at least $60-$75,000 USD per year” demographic, which is what most of the cities on their ranking list comprise. The Mercer 2011 ranking is a bit similar, but more in-depth and a larger pool of locales and not just just big cities. Neither of these rankings would hardly consider any place in Central or South America (with the exception of Brazil, Argentina, and maybe Chile) which I believe to be biased. Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, Colombia, and Honduras are developing at a much faster pace these days because they don’t want to be left out of global competition.

    How Kuala Lumpur and Singapore did not make the Economist’s list is unbelievable, especially considering that that region is a massive economic powerhouse with multi-billion dollar high-tech industry that rivals South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan but the cost of living is MUCH cheaper and just as good. And where are Tel Aviv or Haifa?!

    Like I said, something to keep in mind….

    • Ed, I’m sure that Tel Aviv and Haifa are not at the high end of the list because of the perceived danger there. And, as they pointed out in their methodology, population density was also a factor. The cities that hit the top of the list had fairly low densities, which means a lot of Asian cities would be pushed farther down the list.

      I agree that The Economist has a bias — do you have some links you could share?

      Bottom line is, no list is perfect, but I do think there’s some value in looking at them. For example, NYC scored #1 in one list, but #56 in another because the listmakers were looking through different lenses. . .

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