What is it about a city that makes it liveable? It all depends on who you ask! My hometown of Melbourne, Australia has recently been named as the world’s most liveable city – for the fourth year running – by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). On the other hand, if you ask the experts at competitor Mercer, they will tell you that Vienna, Austria trumps all whereas the OECD believe it is the Australian capital Canberra that actually comes out on top.
In most instances, it is likely that jobs and money are the initial lure to the expat life, but when it comes to actually making the decision to move to a new location, it’s likely that lifestyle choices become far more important.
To assist employees in making decisions on lifestyle, various organisations come up with different measures to try to scale and rank the world’s cities and countries. So who are we to believe and what criteria are used to determine ‘liveability’?
What is “liveability”?
The EIU Global Liveability Rankings rank a city out of 100 based on 30 values, which include weather conditions, sports and cultural activities, education, health, public transport, prevalence of crime, threat of terror and quality of housing. Each value is given a score then a weighted average applied to generate the overall score. In their 2014 survey, top billing went to Melbourne, Australia followed by Vienna, Austria then Vancouver, Canada taking out the podium places (see full 2014 results here).
Some critics say that the EIU is anglo-centric, placing more emphasis in its rankings on cities where English is spoken. In contrast, you will see global human resources firm Mercer favouring German-speaking locations, with seven of the top ten billings including cities in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. (Full Mercer listing can be purchased here).
The weighting given to each element will also play a large determining role in the outcome. In general, cities that rank the best seem to be mid-sized with relatively low density and high levels of recreational activity. In comparison, global business centres such as London, Paris and New York might have a wealth of recreational activity but suffer from issues of crime, congestion, public transport as well as perceived terrorism risk which lower their rankings.
Another important thing to remember is that these surveys may be representative of the life in city centres and of the white-collar community but these experiences may not be shared by those living in the city fringes or in less well-paid positions.
How to interpret expat surveys
As an expatriate or someone looking to undertake the journey, always use these surveys as more of a suggestive guide than gospel. Employers use these surveys to determine remuneration and relocation packages. Individuals should weigh up the criteria that are most important to them personally. Those with young families might find accessibility to top healthcare and schooling important, whereas those with older children may place importance on recreational activities and safety.
Want to know which cities might suit you based on the criteria you find most important? Give the OECD Better Life Index site a try, you may be surprised!
First-hand experience is the best
Nothing can beat visiting a location beforehand and meeting individuals who already live there to judge what sort of lifestyle you will have. If a relocation visit is possible, I would thoroughly recommend this – look at houses, schools, leisure facilities, browse a shopping centre. Alternatively, if this is not possible, it may help to read expat blogs to get a personal view and realistic flavour of what a city is really like from a residents view rather than just reading guide-book niceties or corporate spin.
We never set out with a conscious decision to seek an expat posting but have not regretted our decision thus far; in fact, we believe our lifestyle has been enhanced by living in Abu Dhabi. I was surprised to find that it was located as low as 83rd in the Mercer survey given it meets most of the factors that I would consider important to me and my family – but that is easy for me to say as a Westerner with my husband on a Government salary package and a family size villa; perhaps the laboring expat workforce, estimated to number around 1.8 million – many of whom live in labor camps – would disagree with me.
As an expatriate, what criteria do you look for? Do you follow the city or does the job dictate where you go? Please feel free to share your experiences and whether you agree with the latest survey rankings below.
(Note this article was first published in 2014. Living surveys are updated annually and can be accessed via the company websites directly including Mercer & EIU. Detailed reports are paid products; we are not affiliates)