global survey

European cities are the safest in the world for expats

by Ray Clancy on February 24, 2016

European cities offer some of the highest quality of living in the world despite recent security issues, social unrest, and concern about the region’s economic outlook, according to an annual survey.

Vienna is ranked top overall in Mercer’s 18th annual Quality of Living survey, followed by Zurich in Switzerland, then Auckland in New Zealand, Munich and Vancouver. Dusseldorf is ranked six, then Frankfurt, Geneva and Copenhagen.

But some cities, such as Paris, have suffered as a result of recent terrorist attacks and the French capital falling to 71, London at 72, Madrid at 84 and Athens at 124. The safest UK cities are Aberdeen, Edinburgh, and Glasgow, all ranked in 44th place.


The survey, which is carried out to give multinational companies posting expats to countries around the world an idea of the issues they are likely to face in specific locations, has safety as a key area as it can have a significant impact on the cost of global compensation programmes.

“Heightened domestic and global security threats, population displacement resulting from violence, and social unrest in key business centres around the world are all elements adding to the complex challenge facing multinational companies when analysing the safety and health of their expatriate workforces,” said Ilya Bonic, president of Mercer’s Talent business.

“Multinational companies need accurate data and objective methods to determine the cost implications of deteriorating living standards and personal safety issues when compensating expatriates,” added Bonic.

The personal safety ranking is based on internal stability, crime figures, performance of local law enforcement, and the home country’s relationship with other countries. Luxembourg tops the personal safety list and is followed by Bern, Helsinki, and Zurich, all tied in second place. Baghdad at 230 and Damascus at 229 are the world’s least safe cities.

“Ensuring that the needs of expatriates and their families are met wherever work takes them is an essential part of talent retention and recruitment strategies for most multinationals,” explained Slagin Parakatil, principal at Mercer and responsible for the quality of living research.

“Other elements that add to safety costs in the host location are obtaining suitable and well secured accommodations; having an in-house comprehensive expatriate security programme and providing access to reputable professional evacuation services and medical support firms, and finally, providing security training and guarded office premises,” he added.

Canadian cities all rank high for personal safety, with Calgary, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, and Vancouver sharing 16th place, whereas no US cities make the top 50. Most North American cities remain fairly safe for expatriates. But Mexican cities are ranked relatively low, mainly because of drug-related violence.

The survey report also says that the recent increase of unemployment in Latin America and Caribbean countries, along with the economic downturn and political instability in some of these countries, explains relatively low rankings in personal safety across the region.

For personal safety, the rankings for Asian cities again vary greatly with Singapore at eight the highest overall and is followed by the five Japanese cities of Kobe, Nagoya, Osaka, Tokyo, and Yokohama that are tied for 32nd place.

New Zealand and Australia have some of the highest quality of living worldwide. Auckland ranks third globally, Sydney 10th, Wellington 12th, and Melbourne 15th. For personal safety, Pacific cities also rank high, with Auckland and Wellington sharing 9th place. Canberra, Melbourne, Perth, and Sydney share 25th place.

Dubai continues to rank highest for quality of living across Africa and the Middle East at 75, followed by Abu Dhabi at 81 and Port Louis in Mauritius at 83. The South African cities of Durban, Cape Town, and Johannesburg rank 85th, 92nd, and 95th respectively.

Only a handful of cities in this region place in the top 100 for personal safety with Abu Dhabi ranking highest in 23rd place, followed by Muscat at 29, Dubai at 40, and Port Louis at 59.


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