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

No. 1 Rotterdam: 550 points (550 in 2019)

Unilever, which has an HQ in London and one in Rotterdam, announced in 2018 it was moving all European operations to Rotterdam because of Brexit, then caught so much grief from shareholders it “unannounced” the move. They should rethink that because Rotterdam is the future.

Even though it’s not everyone’s idea of beautiful, Rotterdam was No. 1 on last year’s list for one reason … housing. We pinged our experts and they agreed that Rotterdam has more housing than, say, Eindhoven.

Our research shows rental housing in Rotterdam is at least 10-percent less than Amsterdam, for example. And unlike Amsterdam, Rotterdam has more housing because this is a modern city that replaces the Rotterdam destroyed in World War II.

Because it’s the largest port in Europe, Rotterdam’s economy is diversified, with tech, manufacturing and, of course, shipping. By the way, we’re not the only ones impressed by Rotterdam … the Guardian has a new post singing the city’s praises. But, hey, we were here first.

Finally, this is a natural destination for expats, because about 50 percent of the people who live here are foreign-born. You’ll fit right in ….


Overall cost of living compared to London: Score 70

Rotterdam is 27-percent less expensive than London, according to Expatistan.

• Quality of life/housing: Score 80

Housing in Rotterdam is 40-percent less expensive than London, according to Expatica. The Guardian post has a fresh list of monthly rental rates: Rentals: one room, 700 euros for outside the centrum, 1,600 euros for the city center; 2 rooms, 700-2,700 euros; 3 rooms, 750-3,200 euros; 4 rooms, 800-3,500 euros and 5-plus rooms, 1,000- 4,000 euros, or as much as you want to spend.

As for quality of life, there’s all the culture, clubs and cavorting you could every hope for … and if you get bored here, Amsterdam is 40 minutes away by train.

Holland2Stay just finished The Lee Towers complex, with 883 high-end, long-stay rental apartments.

• Talent and career opportunities: Score 100

Rotterdam has Erasmus University, which excels in medical and business … and brings in a huge number of internationals who never leave. Erasmus’ business school regularly appears in the Top 10 of annual global rankings by Financial Times and The Times Higher Education, and the university overall is currently ranked No. 70 in the world by Times Higher Education.

The largest companies in the world all have operations in Rotterdam, and there’s an active startup accelerator, PortXL. Aside from port-related jobs, Unilever is probably the largest employer, with dozens of jobs open here.

• English as the main business language: Score 100

The Netherlands and Denmark are ranked as the most English-fluent countries, with 90-plus percent of people totally fluent. English is the business language and all university classes are in English.

• International schools: Score 100

This is where Rotterdam crushes Eindhoven. Rotterdam has three international schools: Nord Anglia International School Rotterdam, Rotterdam International Secondary School at Wolfert and International Department of the Blijberg Primary School. The most expensive is Nord Anglia International School, with total fees as much as 20,000 euros. The rest have tuitions under 10,000 euros. You can see our list here.

• Corruption: Score 100

The Netherlands ranks No. 8 on Transparency International’s list, one of the least-corrupt countries in the world.

Best of the rest:

DüsseldorfOne of our favorite cities. If you get offered a corporate assignment here, take it. Don’t think … just do it. But because it’s tough to get a job here without fluent German, it doesn’t make the Top 5.

Cluj – Yes, it’s in Romania. But our Romanian/Hungarian friends say Cluj is a walled garden, the center of the tech ecosystem in Eastern Europe. People are paid far above the norm and live well, surrounded by people who don’t.

Basel – If there were such a thing as an affordable Swiss city – and there’s not – Basel would be our choice if we were moving to Switzerland. (Dream on.) A great location on the Rhine near France. Lots of fun compared to, say, Zurich. Lots of jobs and plenty of housing as Switzerland deals with a vacancy problem.

Lisbon – Lisbon didn’t make this year’s list because it’s become too popular, with rents rising and housing availably declining.

Podgorica – You’ve never heard of it, but many of our colleagues rate it as the best kept secret in Europe. But the capital of Montenegro lacks too many elements, including a university and a tech scene to make the list.

Zagreb – Croatia is becoming the new Portugal: beautiful, affordable and warm. But it lacks a great university and corruption is an issue.

Frankfurt – Frankfurt priced itself off the list a couple of years ago as thousands of highly paid execs relocate here from London.

Here are our previous lists:




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