Even if the fate of Donald Trump isn’t driving your decision, you may be considering a life abroad or dreaming of making a move across the ocean to Europe.
Based on various criteria including the presence of an international school, quality of life, health care system, internet connection, proximity to airports with international flights, cost of living, active expat community and low crime rate, the Best European Destinations (EBD) organization has revealed its rankings for the top European places for American expats to live, invest, retire and create new projects.
The 20 finalists were chosen from a first selection of 120 destinations.
European Best Destinations is part of the European Commission’s EDEN Network (“European Destinations of Excellence”) and its latest rankings — organized with those Americans thinking of leaving the U.S. for a few months at a time, a few years or permanently in mind — look at some of the most welcoming and attractive destinations for new projects and investments.
“Discover the most American-friendly destinations in Europe, those with the best quality of life, best internet connections for remote working so that you can keep your job in the U.S. or launch your online project and set up your business,” the organization suggests.
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The Portuguese people are explorers and we owe many discoveries to them. Facing the ocean, Portugal is open to the world. Openness and entrepreneurship are two important qualities to be found in Braga.
“Forget the clichés about Latin people basking in the sun, the Portuguese people are qualified and hard-working and they speak English much better than many of their European neighbors,” adds EBD.
Braga is Portugal’s third city, and considered the happiest city in Portugal. It is also on the podium of European cities with the best quality of life.
For many years, Braga has hosted start-ups, companies and international events. Renowned for its history and gastronomy, this ‘Portuguese Rome’ attracts not only entrepreneurs and families (for its quality of life, green spaces and international schools), but also those who wish to invest in tourism. (The city enjoys one of Europe’s highest rates of growth in tourism.
Recently, Braga was rewarded for its speed and effective battle against Covid-19, showcasing its capacity for innovation and dynamism.
As the capital of the Minho region, international companies such as Philips, Bosch and Continental, as well as start-ups and high-tech companies, have important presence there.
There are regular flights from Porto to major U.S. airports.
Madrid offers one of Europe’s best qualities of life, a reasonable cost of living and a low crime rate,
Spain is a country in constant evolution — dynamic, culturally incomparable and “a destination that will appeal to even the most demanding,” EBD writes. Sunnier than France, Spain also has good health care reimbursements and school system and an overall lower cost of living.
“Whether you come with your own job, telework or look for a job in a small, medium or large company, or to live an active retirement, Madrid suits all expats’ profiles.”
Spaniards, especially the younger generations, speak English very well, but learning Spanish will be a great help to fully integrate yourself into the local fabric of the country.
Madrid is the capital of a large country and is therefore more expensive than some other places in Spain, but the cost of living is lower than in many other European capitals like Vienna, London or Paris.
With many international schools as well as quality public and private Spanish schools, Madrid will suit expats with children but also young students, digital nomads and those looking for new challenges.
Madrid Airport offers regular flights to major U.S. airports.
Do you want to settle in Europe, for a few months, a year or the rest of your life but you don’t have the energy or the time to learn a new language? Then, the U.K. is for you. While some cities like London, Manchester or Birmingham, are perfect for finding a job in a large company, others like Brighton are made for free thinkers, start-ups, digital nomads and artists.
Known for its openness and tolerance, Brighton is one of the U.K. cities with the best quality of life, perfect for a short stay on a budget or for a long-term move for more comfortable budgets (Brighton is the 7th most expensive city in the U.K.). Its strengths are the cultural life, openness, great seaside, quirky shops in alleyways, international schools and the fact that nearly 100% of the population speaks perfect English.
Gastronomic capital of Europe, San Sebastian has one of the greatest concentrations of starred restaurants in Europe, magnificent beaches, excellent quality of life, cultural life and gastronomy. “San Sebastian is a perfect destination to make a new start,” according to EBD.
Located close to the French border, San Sebastian is a perfect choice for a foothold in two of the most important countries in Europe.
The Basque Country (Spanish and French) is a destination with a very marked DNA and a strong personality. Choosing the Basque Country means nature, beaches, gastronomy, outdoor sports, conviviality and family.
With its feet in the water, San Sebastian is a paradise for surfers or those who want to soak up the sun, lying on one of its beautiful beaches. A word of warning: the vibrant green vegetation indicates that it can rain more in San Sebastian than in Barcelona, Madrid or Seville. This is the Basque Country, after all.
If you come to San Sebastian as a digital nomad, avoid the summer when rentals are at their highest. If you want to settle for a year or a long and indefinite period, think about the most important criteria for you, such as the proximity of international schools if you have children. As in many cities, if you move away from the city center you will have more space available at a lower price.
There are several international schools in San Sebastian and airports connected with the U.S. (San Sebastian and Bilbao).
Nearly 14% of Americans have German origins. Germany is a welcoming land for US expats who return to their roots or want to discover a country known for its quality of life, important industries, low crime rate, high rate of employment, stability and good economic health.
“Germany has something to offer to all types of expats, retirees, young workers, digital nomads, young parents, solo travelers, whether high skilled or low skilled” according to EBD.
Germany is a large country in Europe and you will, therefore, be spoiled for choice on where to settle down. Whereas Berlin is well-suited to young active and digital nomads, Hamburg may be better suited to families, thirty-somethings and forty-somethings, as well as active retirees who wish to benefit from an intense cultural life and the proximity of the sea, an hour away by public transport.
“If learning German seems impossible to you, chose Berlin. If you are ready to learn this lovely language, Hamburg will welcome you with open arms.”
“It is tempting to settle on a Greek island for US expatriates, but several realities, especially if you are active and not yet retired, must be taken into consideration,” advises EBD, “such as the quality of the internet network, the proximity of international schools and airports and jobs’ prospects.”
For all these reasons, U.S. expats often settle in Athens, a city that offers co-working spaces for digital nomads and moderate rents for a European capital.
It also offers a high quality of life for those who love culture, gastronomy and nightlife.
With several international schools and a fairly low crime rate, Athens works well for young expats with or without children.
Learning some basic Greek, however, will allow you to cope with administrative procedures that can be more complicated, if surmountable, than in the U.S.
Considered one of the best regions of France to live but also to invest, Brittany is also considered a great region to settle as an expat.
Many qualified people from around France and from around the world have settled in Brittany in recent years. Proximity to the sea, affordable rents, quality of life, safety, nature, gastronomy, culture, exceptional events throughout the year such as the Brest maritime festivals, international exhibitions and concerts are Brittany attractions.
Home to many English expats, Brittany also attracts American expatriates, especially families and digital nomads.
France offers many advantages to young entrepreneurs and allows them to set up a business with less administrative paperwork than in some other European countries. Brest and its region, a territory which also bears the name of “Brest – Terres Océanes,” is particularly open-minded and attractive with destinations such as Brest, Crozon, Plouguerneau, Brignogan, Le Conquet, Plougonvelin, Plouguerneau, Lanildut or Plouarzel.
Rents are two to three times cheaper than in Paris and the city of Brest has also implemented a reduced tax for young companies and numerous aids to develop your activity. Brest welcomes innovative companies such as Cyane, an ecological producer of spirulina and green algae.
The region has seen constant tourist growth for several years.
“A perfect destination to set up your tourist activities, business or restaurant, café, guesthouse or B&B,” suggests EBD. “Set up your real estate company and introduce your U.S. and U.K. clients to the most beautiful homes on the Breton coast. Renovate a lighthouse and welcome travelers all year round or develop a 5-star hotel and offer your customers a stay in an exceptional, authentic, serene and healthy place.”
For digital nomads, families (there are many international schools), start-ups or business leaders, Brest Terres Océanes will appeal to different types of profiles looking for a high quality of life.
Want to spend the next part of your life in the sun? With just under 500,000 inhabitants, the Algarve region in Portugal has one of the lowest population densities in Europe, some of its most beautiful beaches and more than 330 sunny days a year.
With its enviable quality of life, the region attracts not only English, French, German and Italian retirees, but also young workers, nomadic workers who surf online by day before surfing the ocean waves.
Sao Bras de Alportel is the perfect place with its hills planted with orange trees and its sun that warms body and soul. If you like surfing or walk in nature, choose Aljzur and enjoy a better price per square meter.
There are several international schools.
For a short-term stay of one-to-three months, Lagos is active and trendy.
The Algarve is recommended for digital nomads as well as for families. “Before settling in, if you work online, check the quality of the Internet network before signing the lease or the promise to purchase. Large cities have Fibre broadband. For more remote places or close to the sea, you can opt for satellite Internet,” EBD advises.
Cosmopolitan, open to the world, home to many international institutions and companies, Brussels also has a vibrant artistic heart and a prestigious cultural scene unique in the world.
“If you really open your eyes you will appreciate the nuances of this city and fall in love with it,” says EBD.
A predominantly French-speaking city, Brussels is, however, the capital of Flanders, but also of Europe. It’s a surreal yet welcoming city that works at a slower rate than Paris or London. Brussels is a capital on a human scale.
Recommended for expats with children thanks to many international schools, Brussels is also a good choice for digital nomads.
For a few months or a permanent stay, the Belgian capital offers relatively affordable rents compared to other cities such as Paris or London.
English is widely spoken in Brussels, sometimes more than French or Flemish. For digital nomads looking for diversity, culture and nightlife, the municipality of Saint Gilles is the perfect choice.
For expats who work in international institutions and come to Belgium with their families, the municipalities of Watermael Boitsfort, Uccle and Woluwé-Saint-Pierre offer a wider choice of family homes and are considered safe and rather upscale.
“The inhabitants of Brussels call themselves “zinneke” meaning ‘bastards’ because of the mix of people from all walks of life. You will therefore find your place in this charming city with a great diversity.” Brussels-Zaventem airport is very well connected to U.S. airports.
If you love Europe for its culture, openness, solidarity, architecture, events, tradition or gastronomy, you will love Malaga. Sometimes associated mostly with sun and beaches, the city is much more than that. It has the highest concentration of museums per square kilometer in Europe, high quality of life, security, rich culture, good health care services and sun almost throughout the year.
Malaga is family friendly and also very suitable for single digital nomads or couples, as well as retirees who wish to live an active, culturally rich and lively retirement. Open-minded and tolerant, Malaga also attracts gay expats.
The city offers a variety of schools including the British School of Malaga and many public and private. Malaga is active in tourism and is one of the Spanish destinations with the greatest tourist growth.
Recognized as one of the cities with the best quality of life in Europe and one of the lowest crime rates, Vienna is a top destination for Americans wishing to settle in Europe.
Vienna is a perfect choice for those looking for quality of life, security, stability, affordability, culture, access to healthcare and international schools.
Usually, expats tend to live on average five years in the destination of their expatriation, but those who settle in Austria tend to stay there throughout their lives, seduced by its quality of life.
Austria is not only one of the major cultural influences in the continent but also is a country at the forefront of environmental, ethical and societal issues.
“The city of Sigmund Freud knows that we are all different and you will be accepted as you are in Vienna,” says EBD. “Just like Switzerland, Austria offers work in various high-level sectors such as international companies, banks and universities.
Recommended for digital nomads or those who want to set up their business. Vienna Airport is well connected with U.S. airports and many of Vienna’s population speaks better English than German, although learning German will help with administrative procedures and to integrate easier into Austrian society.
While the Netherlands is known for its openness and innovative approaches to ethical and societal issues, we too often think of Amsterdam and forget other great cities for expats such as Rotterdam.
With many international schools, the city suits families with children but also young students and digital nomads. Headquarter of many institutions and large companies, Rotterdam offers well-paid jobs for qualified expatriates.
Most Dutch speak excellent English and are pleasant, unpretentious and friendly.
The Dutch have one of the most successful post offices in the world and Rotterdam has one of the most important ports in Europe.
A smart compromise for those who hesitate between France or Germany, Alsace is one of the best destinations in Europe to start a new life. A dream destination for American expats, the region has it all: quality of life, gastronomy, nature, vineyards, security and romance.
Alsace will suit many profiles since it offers positions in large international companies but also sees the development of many start-ups.
The region is rich with quality events throughout the year as well as internationally-renowned cultural institutions. Living in Alsace will allow you to work and travel in France or Germany since the border is only a few kilometers away.
Attractive to tourists throughout the year, Alsace is recommended as a good place to invest particularly in tourism projects.
Strasbourg and Colmar are must-sees in Alsace, but you will be spoiled for choice whether to settle in the city or in one of the countryside’s charming locales. The region has several international schools which makes it attractive to senior executives, digital nomads and start-ups.
For the homesick, Strasbourg Airport offers regular flights to the U.S.
Tuscany appears as the preferred region of Italy for U.S. expats. “If you can afford it, you can settle in the hills halfway between Siena and Florence and live with movie stars, great business leaders and famous singers,” says EBD. “For three to five times cheaper, you can also find your little piece of paradise in other small authentic Tuscan villages like Lucca, Pitigliano or Pistoia.”
Retired expats live in Tuscany to enjoy the many museums, cultural events and restaurants. The region also appeals to young professionals, digital nomads and those working in the tourism sector.
Switzerland is a preferred destination for qualified expats looking for peace, security and good jobs.
Many technology, banking, chemical and pharmaceutical companies such as Roche, Novartis, Bayer and Colgate offer well-paid jobs to highly qualified expats.
With its nearly car-free historic center, world-renowned cultural events and institutions, its Christmas markets and green spaces, Basel is a top destination for expats and is renowned for its quality of life.
“Life can be expensive in Basel, though, but salaries are high,” explains EBD. The city and its surrounding area also appears among the best for digital nomads and for the creation of new small businesses.
Bill and Hilary Clinton love this vacation destination. Discover it for a stay or drop your luggage there for a few months or permanently. Dubrovnik is the talk of the Adriatic, an incredible city that has inspired many artists, designers, screenwriters and filmmakers.
Preferred destination for young expats (with its international university), the city also draws those developing a tourist project or working remotely in an extraordinary and historical setting, enjoying the sun nearly year round.
Dubrovnik inhabitants have strong and simple values centered on hospitality, respect, honesty and authenticity. This medieval city, considered one of the most beautiful in Europe, offers many opportunities to those ready to invest and create their own projects.
“Why not start your wedding-planner business in Dubrovnik?” suggests EBD. “The destination is recognized as one of the best for wedding proposals and some of its hotels are ranked among the best for a wedding ceremonies in Europe.
“If you are retired, enjoy lazy days, cultural and gastronomic discoveries in Dubrovnik and its surroundings. Do not miss to visit Cavtat, awarded for its commitment to sustainable tourism.”
Dubrovnik has many direct connections to U.S. airports.
A cosmopolitan city with a great openness, Berlin is one of the cheapest European capitals thanks to controlled rents, which are lower than in major American cities.
Strongly influenced by artists from around the world who benefit from space for creation and exhibition, Berlin is a city that combines culture, quality of life, security and tolerance. Also, one in five Berliners speaks better English than German.
Top destination for digital nomads and executives wishing to work in large companies, Berlin is also suitable for those who want to set up their own business, be it traditional or alternative. “It’s worth learning some German basics, especially if you want to start your own business,” EBD recommends.
Berlin is also recommended for couples with young children. The city has many international schools. Berlin Airport offers daily flights to major U.S. airports.
The colorful Cobhn houses in the Cork neighborhood are reminiscent of San Francisco’s neighborhoods. Here ,too, music is all-important. Cork city and county offer a strong cultural, musical and artistic vibe.
A place of dramatic natural landscapes, riverscapes, harbors, bays, seascapes, mountains, river valleys and coastlines, Cork is Ireland’s second-largest city but for many locals the “real capital of Ireland.”
The city of Cork and more broadly the county of Cork will appeal to lovers of wild nature, water sports, landscapes but also to food lovers, culture enthusiasts and music lovers.
With its lovely city center shops and shopping centers, Cork is a human-sized destination perfect for starting a new life project. Recommended for families settling in and for all those wishing to start a new life project in Europe.
Particularly American-friendly, Poland is a country of great cultural, gastronomic and architectural wealth. Poznan is one of the largest cities in the country with top quality of life, notably due to its many green spaces, low crime rate, and many high quality social and cultural events.
Poznan is both a historic city with an admirably well-preserved architecture and also very young with its many university students. It counts with well-reputed British and international schools.
Compared to other American or European cities, Poznan is affordable with moderate rents and cheaper food prices than Germany, Switzerland, England or France. Poles work hard, as reflected in the country’s economic growth — one of Europe’s highest.
Poznan is a good choice for digital nomads, qualified people who can work in any of the U.S. companies based in Poland but also to launch new tourism projects.
Almost 40% of Poles speak English, and the percentage is higher in big cities like Poznan.
Historically speaking, a large segment of the Portuguese who settled in the U.S. come from the Azores, especially those who once settled in Massachussetts for the now-defunct whale trade.
The Azores, discovered by the Portuguese centuries ago, is an archipelago of nine incredible islands.
“Planning to leave the USA to settle in New Zealand or even Iceland, but not so hot about the temperatures or the cost of living?,” asks EBD. “The Azores is what you need.”
Many incentives have been put in place by the regional government to attract businesses and start-ups. With reduced VAT (5%, 10%, 18%) the Azores are among the European destinations with the best quality of life and the best value for money in real estate. The average price per square meter in the Azores is almost three times lower than the average price in the U.S.
The nine islands of the Azores are well connected — affordably so — to each other by plane and by boat. The Azores have direct daily flights to the mainland as well as to the U.S.