Expat Essentials

Best Cities for Expats 2021: No. 5 Valencia has sea, sun and beaches … and a few issues

Valencia, the city of arts and sciences

When Inka Piegsa-Quischotte wrote this Dispatches post last year about Valencia, we were shocked that we’d overlooked this city that has it all … sun, sea and serious quality of life.

Everyone knows Barcelona is the hot city for expats. But how did we overlook Valencia, known as “the city of arts and sciences?” The truth is, until 2021, some much larger cities with more career opportunities dominated our Best Cities in Europe for Expats lists. That is, until they priced themselves out of contention.

So, now we’re looking at Tier 2 cities that are close to the action. Because expat life should be an adventure, not a burden.

For 2021, cities are ranked by six metrics, each worth 100 points:

• overall cost of living benchmarked against London, the most expensive city in Europe outside of billionaires-only outliers such as Geneva and Monaco.

• availability of housing, affordability of rents and a reasonable quality of life

• density of talent and serious career opportunities with a prominent university driving innovation and creating tomorrow’s talent as in the Silicon Valley model

• the percentage of people who speak English, the language of business

• availability of international schools

• corruption: the fewer the problems, the higher the score

So, how does Valencia score? A solid 465 points out of 600 possible for the No. 5 spot on our list. (Editor’s note: Liina Edun in Lisbon contributed to the research on this post.)

Cost of living benchmarked against London – 100 points

No Spanish city has ever made one of our Best Cities list. Madrid … too expensive and not that international. Barcelona … full of expats, but way expensive, with a big housing deficit. Numbeo estimates that the cost of living in Valencia is about 15 percent lower than in Barcelona.

Compared to London, Valencia is crazy affordable. But Valencia is different from some of the cities on our list such as Helsinki in that cost of living here is less expensive across the boards from meals to childcare (65-percent less expensive than London.)

Housing and quality of life – 90 points

Housing is dramatically less expensive … about 30 percent lower, with a 3-bedroom apartment in the center of Valencia renting for about 1,100 euros per month compared to 1,500 euros in Barcelona. Compared to London … well there is no comparison. Consumer prices including rent are 101 percent higher than in Valencia, according to cost-of-living database Numbeo. That’s right, math whizzes … double.

Valencia is just like every other desirable city … there’s more demand for housing than supply. Real estate is hot, with properties selling almost as soon as they hit the market partly due to a hot market in holiday homes. The good news is, there are several multi-million euro initiatives underway to add more affordable housing, including a total of 700 rentals in the city center by 2023.

Now, about that quality of life … this is a sophisticated city in Spain on the sea with beaches, great shopping, restaurants and a lively arts scene. A 220 million euro sports and culture center, Valencia Arena, is apparently funded and city officials have green-lighted construction. The facility is projected to open in 2023. An extra 10 points.

Careers and density of talent – 75 points

The Ford Valencia Body and Assembly plant employees more than 5,000 people and is one of the largest Ford facilities outside the United States, with the capacity to build 450,000 units per year. The Kuga, one of Ford’s most popular models, is built here.

Since 2017, Ford has spent 750 million euros to upgrade the plant for Kuga production, so Ford is a possible employer for highly skilled internationals who are engineers or robotics specialists and who speak Espãnol.

Okay, that’s the conventional economy.

Valencia has one of Europe’s most advanced tech startup ecosystems, with eight universities, including Universitat Politètechnica de València. There are also multiple startup incubators, accelerators and funds including Lanzadera and The Valley based PlugandPlay. If you are looking for employment, here are 95 startups that might need you.

Prevalence of English – 30 points

Thank the British tourists a few miles south in Benidorm, because there are a fair number of Valencians who speak English. According to various surveys, about 30 percent of people say they speak fairly fluent English. So, Valencia gets dinged on English compared to anywhere in the Netherlands or even Germany.

Corruption and safety – 70 points

This a sticky one … Spain has a long history of corruption at the very top of the political establishment. And back in the mid-2010s, Valencia was the center of a bribery-related scandal in the construction industry, connected to various political parties. The moral to the story? Don’t get into the construction industry. Otherwise, Spain is neck-and-neck with Portugal on Transparency.org’s Corruption Perception Index. Neither is Denmark, but both are ranked higher than, say, Italy or Malta.

The good news is that compared to Barcelona, street crime is far lower, according to Numbeo. Scoring a “very low” in almost every category – break-ins, street crime and car theft – Valencia compares very well to every city on this list. So while it may be corrupt, the corruption doesn’t filter down to residents’ daily lives. We’re going to split the difference and give Valencia a 70.

International Schools – 100 points

Who knew Valencia has 24 international schools? That’s the most of any city on this list.

So, Valencia scores 465 points for No. 5 on our list of the Top 5 cities in Europe for expats

Read more about Spain, including real estate and visa info here in Dispatches archives.

See more “best cities” lists here.

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Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.

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