The World’s Safest Places for Expats

When moving abroad, you definitely shouldn’t neglect the practical aspects amongst the general excitement — living expenses, housing, healthcare, and especially personal safety. In a 2014 study, over six in ten expats (62%) rated their safety as an “extremely important” factor of life abroad. No other aspect of everyday life in their destination was as essential.InterNations Expat Blog_The Safest Places for Expats_Pic 4

Thus, it’s hardly surprising that Mercer, the international HR consulting firm, has now published a Personal Safety ranking, in addition to their annual Quality of Living survey, for the first time. Just as unsurprising are the five global cities with the best quality of life worldwide. All of them have defended their exact rank for several years in a row: Vienna (1 out of 230), Zurich (2), Auckland (3), Munich (4), and Vancouver (5).

Are these most livable cities also the five safest expat destinations? Not quite. There’s indeed an overlap between the respective “winners”, but they are by no means identical.

All Snug and Safe — Luxembourg

Squeezed into a strategic location between Belgium, France, and Germany, the tiny country owes its very existence to its medieval origins as the strongest fortress in Europe. However, the last time the world’s safest expat destination saw any large-scale violence was over 70 years ago, during World War II.

Sunny view of Abbey de Neumunster in LuxembourgWhile military history buffs can find out all about the Ardennes Counteroffensive at the “Battle of the Bulge” museum in Diekirch, the world’s last Grand Duchy is now completely peaceful. Its constitutional sovereign, Grand Duke Henri, is the nominal commander-in-chief of around 800 troops, who sometimes serve in UN or NATO missions abroad.

But as far as crime is concerned, being a police officer in Luxembourg must be a less-than-stressful job: the biggest warnings issued by travel guides refer to panhandling in Luxembourg City and luggage theft on the train to and from Brussels. Let’s toast this with a Mirabelle plum schnapps!

A Swiss Tie on Second Place — Berne and Zurich

Switzerland seems to live up to its cultural stereotype of housing an extremely orderly and well-organized people. Both Berne, the capital city, and Zurich, its most populous metropolis, fulfill the criteria for the second-safest expat destination across the globe.

Less than 25 years ago, Zurich used to be infamous for its out-of-control drug scene, where a couple of thousand heroin and coke addicts would gather in Platzspitz Park and along the River Limmat. Doctors and paramedics would sometimes need to resuscitate 25 people per day. Swiss Flag on Berne Street Fortunately, that’s a thing of the past: the restored Platzspitz has become a family-friendly park, and the river quays harbor swimming pools, beach volleyball courts, and café-restaurants.

Considering Zurich’s population size (405,000 residents in the city proper), as compared to picturesque Berne’s (140,000), the crime rate is about equally low in both cities. Statistics register the highest absolute numbers in property crime, such as vandalism, pickpocketing, or purse-snatching. In 2014, the Zurich police received nearly 4,000 reports concerning vehicle theft — but 98% of cases involved stolen bicycles.

Expats in Switzerland mostly run the risk of fainting on the spot when they realize just how much everything costs. If I had to pay 42 CHF (42 USD) for one plate of Zürcher Geschnetzeltes (veal strips in cream sauce), I’d probably choke on my grated potatoes!

Far from Grim up North — Helsinki

While the Finnish capital only shares rank 30 out of 230 with another Nordic city — that is, Oslo — when it comes to the overall quality of life, it ranks among the global top five for safety. The German Foreign Office doesn’t issue any specific travel warning for the entire country, and Helsinki isn’t much of an exception.

Finland’s largest city merely has a population of 630,000 and a comparatively low population density of 2,930 residents per km/2. (By the way, it’s over 4,500 per km/2 in Munich and a staggering 14,070 in London.) This factor might contribute to a more relaxed and less conflict-ridden way of life.Helsinki Cathedral, Helsinki, Finland. Summer Sunset Evening

Of course, Helsinki is not a (pretty icy) paradise. Travelers and expats should take heed of aggressive beggars, petty theft, and drunken party-goers looking for a fight. I guess the latter simply cannot hold their vodka. Additionally, the changing of the seasons is an actual risk for those unused to the climate.

In summer, the famous “white nights” with their long daylight hours are lots of fun, but never forget that winter is coming. And it’s usually very long and very cold. Even if you don’t suffer from seasonal depression or vitamin D deficiency, you might join some other winter “casualties” if you’re not careful. Helsinki’s slippery sidewalks and rooftop avalanches cause several accidents every year.

Austrian Gemütlichkeit — Vienna

As mentioned above, Vienna comes out on top of the Mercer Quality of Living ranking for the third year running. But it’s not just international managers and foreign assignees that enjoy the charms of the cozy capital: according to the most recent “Eurobarometer”, a 2015 study organized by the European Commission, 96% of local residents are satisfied or even very satisfied with their home town.

With regard to personal safety, the city is not far behind, on a very respectable fifth place. Again, this doesn’t mean that life is all beer and skittles (or Gewürztraminer wine and Sacher cake): as a solo female traveler, I preferred to avoid the public parks after dark, even parts of the celebrated Prater, and I’ve heard from friends who had trouble shaking off some very creepy panhandlers.

However, such issues don’t affect everyday life in Vienna very much. The most careful expats can always check out the online Vienna Crime Map before settling in a particular neighborhood. Just take care when you leave the city for a mini-break in the Alps. Accident-prone hikers and winter sports enthusiasts often underestimate the very real risks of mountaineering.

The following five cities round out the top ten of the safety ranking: Geneva (6), Stockholm (also on 6), Singapore (8), Auckland and Wellington (both tied on place 9).

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

7 Responses to “The World’s Safest Places for Expats”

  1. one comment about the price you pay for your veal plate in Zurich: if you had eaten the same plate in Geneva you would have paid about half!
    and you may need to explain one thing to your followers : the salary we get in Switzerland are so much higher than in other place that 42FR ( all taxes and services included) is for some not even one hour salary and for the minimum wages salary about two hours salary compare to What you pay in the Canada (about 20$ + taxes16% + services15% ) it is ways less expensive.. please when comparing price in a country try to explain the level of life! and do it in hour work needed to afford it!

  2. Hi Louky,

    Thanks for your feedback! My comment on the price of eating out in a restaurant in Zurich was just meant to be a humorous throwaway remark. I’m obviously aware that Swiss salaries are much higher on average than in most other countries — otherwise, nobody but the really wealthy could afford living there. 🙂

    Best,
    Margit

  3. @louky, ease on the testosterone 😀

  4. I AM BORN IN VIENNA AND I LIVED THERE FOR 18 YEARS,THEN I CHANGED HOMETOWN AND SINCE 53 YEARS I’M LIVING IN SALERNO-CITY IN THE SOUTH OF ITALY AND EUROPE !!!
    THEREFORE I CAN PROPOSE SALERNO-CITY AS ONE OF THE BEST TOWNS TO LIVE !!!
    SALERNO HAS A WONDERFUL CLIMATE,NEARLY ALWAYS BLU SKY AND BLU SEA !!!
    FROM SALERNO YOU CAN VISIT A LOT OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACES OF OUR EARTH,LIKE THE FAMOUS ISLANDS OF CAPRI AND ISCHIA,THE ANCIENT POMPEI AND HERCULANEUM AND PAESTUM,THE MARVELLOUS AMALFI COAST,THE DANGEROUS BUT BEAUTIFUL VESUVIUS,THE KNOWN METROPOLIS NAPLES AND MORE AND MORE……..
    AND SALERNO-CITY IS A CALM TOWN,HERE WOMEN CAN WALK ALONE ALSO AT MIDNIGHT WITHOUT TO RISK NOTHING !!!
    EVERYBODY IS WELCOME IN SALERNO-CITY AND EVERYBODY WILL BE ENTHUSIASTIC ABOUT SALERNO-CITY !!!

  5. Margit,

    You may be ‘obviously aware’ but your readers may not be, hence the reason for reading your article. Louky was smart to point that out and to give a reference point to the salary v. cost. That is very important information expats look for in the countries they go to. Your smiley face doesn’t cover up your snarky comment and your know-it-all attitude.

    Karen

  6. Dear Karen,
    I apologize if my comment came across as snarky, that was certainly not my intention.
    Louky indeed had a point when stressing the importance of keeping average salaries in mind when talking about local costs.
    Best,
    Margit

  7. I have lived since 1960 in Baiano,a little village between Naples and Avellino.It lies in a valley surrounded by the mounts.You can eat typical natural dishes and breath clean and well smell air and various woods around Baiano near Avellino (Partenio area) . Many people move and move from the city to the quiet life of village Baiano.Thereare different useful services to go around .It’s nice place for holidays ‘families or the single. BYE

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