Best German cities for expats (2020)

Marle

Updated on Jan 14 • 7 minute read

Let's face it: Expats in Germany tend to be mostly drawn to the country by its thriving economy that offers expats in Germany stepping stones to an ambitious career. To feel at home as an expat in Germany, however, it takes more than high salaries and cheap beer for Germany to land expats.

So, what are the best German cities for expats? InterNations surveyed the expat community in 2020 and ranked the best and worst cities in Germany in its popular Expat City Ranking.

Expats in Germany: The popular Expat City Ranking (2020)

Year after year, InterNations tackles cities all over the world to find the favourite city of expats. With around four million members, InterNations is the largest expat community of all and, as every year, takes a close look at which cities are currently the best and worst cities for expats.

In March 2020, shortly before the pandemic, InterNations conducted a city ranking of 66 cities worldwide with a total of 25 aspects. InterNations identified four city ranking factors in 2020:

  • Quality of Urban Living (leisure and climate, transportation, safety and politics, health and environment)
  • Getting Settled (local friendliness, feeling welcome, friends and socializing, local language)
  • Urban Work Life (job and career, job security, work-life-balance)
  • Finance & Housing (finance and housing)

Spoiler: We know that as an expat in a foreign country and without family and friends, social life matters more than ever. And even though Germany puts a lot of emphasis on 'life' in work-life balance, the social life aspect truly drags Germany down in a country comparison.

Don't forget though, that doesn't imply that you'll be left on your own! There are plenty of expat communities in Germany that you can join and get your social life off to an easy start.

Let's take a closer look at the best German cities for expats.

Best German cities for expats (2020): an overview

These are the top German German cities for expats 2020:

  1. Düsseldorf

  2. Frankfurt am Main

  3. Hamburg

  4. Munich

  5. Berlin

  6. Stuttgart

Now, how did the best German cities for expats perform in a global comparison? We'll tell you:

CityQuality of Urban Life IndexGetting Settled IndexUrban Work Life IndexFinance & Housing IndexLocal Cost of Living IndexHappiness Level
Düsseldorf (26th)16th47th4th40th25th83%
Frankfurt (29th)25th48th5th38th33rd77%
Hamburg (33rd)22nd43rd3rd50th34th72%
Munich (41st)12th57th9th65th59th75%
Berlin (44th)31st50th30th49th11th73%
Stuttgart (49th)32nd65th6th63rd36th76%

What's the best German city for expats in Germany?

It's Düsseldorf! The city of fine art, magnetic shopping and culinary treats wins over expats as the top German city not just when it comes to the quality of life, more so in the category of work.

Expats in Germany value the career opportunities and job security in Düsseldorf

The economic hotspot Düsseldorf opens up new career opportunities for expats in Germany to unfold their professional potential. No wonder, after all, Düsseldorf is a top location for many industries and multinationals such as L'Oréal and Henkel line up next to German Airways. A true hub of international trade and services!

Düsseldorf is a tough spot for expats to settle down in Germany.

To put it in a nutshell: there's no shortage of job opportunities for expats in Germany. What does, however, weigh down the German city in international comparison is its social life: the perception of a fluctuating city with a high quality of life is dimmed by poor settling-in and unfriendly inhabitants.

Rank 2: Frankfurt am Main as second best German City for Expats

Frankfurt am Main follows closely on Düsseldorf's tail. This paints a similar picture to Düsseldorf: expats in Germany praise the working life in Frankfurt am Main, but encounter difficulties in settling in the city.

Thriving economy attracts expats in Germany to Frankfurt

The financial sector of the Main metropolis counts among the world's defining financial centres. And that is why one company after another bristles with high-calibre career opportunities for expats in Frankfurt: from Commerzbank to Lufthansa, the adventure awaits every workaholic.

Frankfurt makes settling in difficult for expats in Germany

Casting a glance at private life in Frankfurt am Main, it's not just the lack of housing that becomes a problem, but also socialising. Expats in Germany find it difficult to make friends in Frankfurt am Main, especially without (good) German language skills.

Rank 3: Hamburg wins in the Urban Work Life Index

Hamburg snags the top spot of German cities for expats in Germany when it comes to working abroad. Expats in Germany are particularly satisfied with their job security, the local economy and work-life balance in the German metropolis.

Expats in Germany feel most at home in Hamburg

In complete defiance of the stereotype that people in the north are colder to strangers than in the south, Hamburg comes off best when it comes to settling in for expats in Germany. In comparison to the other German cities, expats in Hamburg find it less difficult to make new friends and settle into their new life in Germany.

Expats in Hamburg have to brace themselves for 'Schietwetter' (bad weather)

With its high quality of life, health and environment, Hamburg easily impressed expats in Germany. So why wasn't it enough for first place?

The reason: the climate and weather slipped Hamburg into the bottom five, and when it came to housing, Hamburg also landed in one of the lower places. Yes, we're not joking that Hamburgers always carry their umbrellas with them. Still, have you ever seen a city that's so beautiful despite all the rain? Neither have I.

Rank 4: Munich shines with quality of life for expats in Germany

Expats in Germany who set Munich as their destination crave one thing above all else: quality of life. As a matter of fact, Munich is considered the top German city for quality of life among expats: with its southern climate and medical care, the city takes first place and gives expats all reasons to move to Munich.

The high cost of living puts a damper on expats in Germany

The cost of living in Munich clearly drags the city down in rank: Munich holds last place here among the list of best German cities for expats in Germany looking for a flat in Munich are largely shocked by the high prices.

And that's not all: Munich has a reputation for being an expensive place to live, with five out of six expats in Germany rating the housing situation as negative.

73% of those surveyed think that looking for a flat in Munich is difficult, 39% even describe it as very difficult.

One ray of hope: Even if the housing situation initially seems a financial mountain, three-quarters of those surveyed believe that the household income is sufficient to cover the cost of living.

This puts Munich with its overvalued housing market at the bottom of the list of top cities in Germany for expats.

Rank 5: Berlin stands out with its low cost of living

Where is beer cheaper than water? In Berlin! In fact, Berlin is considered the cheapest Western European capital. And so it comes as no surprise that Berlin is the top German city in the category 'Local Cost of Living'. Living in the capital of Germany, expats can easily cover the cost of living with their salary. So why didn't Berlin make it into the top 3 German cities for expats in Germany this time? We promise, there are plenty of reasons to move to Berlin as an expat!

Berlin disappoints expats in Germany with Urban Work Life

In contrast to the other German cities, Berlin, unfortunately, didn't impress at all when it comes to urban work-life for expats in Germany. One reason for this most likely stems from the fact that Berlin is a startup heaven. And startups aren't exactly known for having a great work-life balance: long hours and little job security set the tone in startups, so it's not surprising that Berlin's startup hotspot scores lower than other German cities for expats in Germany.

Quality of life is lowest in Berlin for expats in Germany

When it comes to the quality of life, there's room for improvement: when comparing Berlin with other German cities, many expats in Berlin are unhappy with the city's quality of life.

Rank 6: Expats find it difficult to settle in in Stuttgart

Stuttgart comes off as one of the 'worst' cities for settling in, even in an international comparison. Expats in Germany don't only remark on the lack of friendliness, but also on the difficulty of socialising.

As a matter of fact, 33 per cent of expats in Germany do not feel at home in Stuttgart. Let's admit it: Stuttgart residents don't shine so much with their friendliness and maybe a bit quirky. But there are many expats in and around Stuttgart, opening up new paths to expat communities.

Expats in Germany spot a great career in Germany

As the 6th top city for expats in Germany, Stuttgart has to shine in something, doesn't it? The Career Opportunities Index provides a ray of hope. The Swabian metropolis stands out with its Urban Work Life Index, which gleams with top career and job prospects.

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