Post-Brexit edition: Dispatches’ 2020 list of Europe’s 5 best cities for expats

No. 5 Antwerp: 475 points

New for 2020, Antwerp bumps Tallinn off the list, because Antwerp is not as isolated, small and, well, Baltic. Plus, it always bothered us the University of Tartu is the highest rated in Estonia but barely ranks in the Top 300 globally.

(Full disclosure: We consulted our Estonian colleagues, who said they love Tallinn, but there’s a reason all the top talent ends up in London, Amsterdam and Eindhoven.)

We go to Antwerp all the time, so it’s vetted. And it’s great. So why did we leave it off our original lists? Basically, this is a city with a conventional economy – diamonds and chemicals – no major university and barely enough international schools.


Antwerp makes the 2020 list because it’s a great place to live … and because there has been a housing boom in Belgium, especially in Antwerp, where new apartment units have gone up throughout the city,  We watched a 45-year-old office building in the center of the business district transform into Antwerp Tower, a luxury high-rise with 240 apartments.

There are new companies such as Antwerp Space, which builds communications modems for the space station. So it’s a happening town.


Overall cost of living compared to London: Score 75

Roughly the same as Vienna. Antwerp is 36-percent less expensive than London, according to Expatistan.

• Quality of life/housing: Score 90

Housing costs are about 65-percent lower in Antwerp than London. And as we mentioned above, that’s due to Antwerp being one of the few big European cities (along with Vienna) with sufficient housing.

The average rent for a 1-bedroom is about 650 euros in the center city, less outside the city. A 3-bedroom in the centrum will run you about 1,000 euros, according to Numbeo.

We have to say, of all the cities close to Dispatches’ HQ, Antwerp is the most stylish, with the best quality of life.

• Talent and serious career opportunities: Score 60

Antwerp is Europe’s No. 2 port and, of course, it’s part of the Tel Aviv-Antwerp-Manhattan triangular diamond arbitrage. This is an increasingly multifaceted economy, but a bit too tied to heavy industry.

Antwerp is no Eindhoven, but it has an increasing number of incubators, accelerators and startup hubs producing interesting startups such as drone software company Unifly and some port-related tech companies.

The city gets dinged on not having a great university, but Leuven, Brussels and Ghent are nearby, and Antwerp picks up a lot of the uni talent.

 International schools: Score 70

Antwerp has two major international schools, Antwerp International School and DiVinci. Neither is inexpensive. Lycée Français d’Anvers offers classes in French, English and Dutch.

Percentage of English speakers: Score 90

Okay, this is a subjective call on our part. Our anecdotal evidence is that everyone in Antwerp seems to speak Dutch and French. Education First’s English Proficiency Index ranks Belgium as a whole at No. 13 globally, just behind Portugal. Which we question.

Corruption: Score 90

Transparency International ranks Belgium at No. 15 in the world out of 180 countries with a score of 75, near the top of the list … but significantly behind No. 1 Denmark and Scandinavia and neighboring Netherlands.

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