If you’ve ever considered moving your family to a metropolis on the other side of the world you may have asked yourself ‘do good places to visit make good places to live?’ That worldly metropolis you’re hoping to call home should indeed have all the short-term wonders that excite your family from the get-go. But there are more important things to consider than allure and excitement. In fact, it’s things like health and well-being, childcare and integration opportunities that will help determine whether a destination will be a good long-term fit.
Top-10 lists of exciting places to live are one thing, but what you will actually experience in those locales matters most. So to help you get a feel for which of the world’s great cities are best for you and your family, we not only looked at numerous lists and data such as HSBC’s Offshore Offspring report and Mercer Consulting’s “Top 25 Cities for Quality of Life,” we also turned to multiple home owners, jetsetters, expats, and brave world travelers. The result: our—and your—Top 5 Family-Friendly Cities to relocate to, with insights into each city and, most important, connections to resources and expats living there who can help you look before you leap. —by Cameron Swain
Vienna is a city of neighborhoods. Choosing your municipal district can define your lifestyle. Want to live close to the city’s largest green space and great running paths and have a comfortable space for your young family? Pick the 3rd (Landstraße) or the 4th (Wieden) district. Want to introduce your kids to a hip and happening scene (a place where Mommy and Daddy won’t go mad amid a sea of strollers)? Consider the 6th (Mariahilf ), the 7th (Neubau), or the 8th (Josefstadt). If suburbs and wealth are your thing, head to the 13th (Hietzing), the 19th (Döbling), or the 18th (Währing).
VIENNA FAMILY NETWORK: an English-speaking support network for expat parents and international families living in Vienna.
VIENNA EXPATS: an online community for expats living in and around Vienna, holding frequent events, meet & greets, summer barbecues, and more.
VIENNA WÜRSTELSTAND: a must-read English-language magazine that promises to help you make “the most out of Vienna …and life.” The Vienna Würstelstand stress that after the honeymoon period of moving to Vienna wears off, “many expats are tempted to indulge in a bit of ‘verbal-Austrian-bashing’ for the rude service, their rigid mentality, their sleepy lock-down Sundays, amongst other things. This will only take your eye off the place you’re living in—an eccentric, individual kind of city that has a bundle of charming characteristics.”
VIENNA’S VERSION OF CRAIGSLIST: the go-to classifieds website for jobs, furniture, and more.
It may be known as the world’s bank vault, but Switzerland’s largest city—set on the northwestern tip of the lake that bears its name—is far more than a banking capital. Here one finds a small city that feels cozy and conquerable. This is a place for those who crave orderliness, cleanliness, and punctuality, and who consider safety and an excellent infrastructure key components to a happy home. Zurich runs like, well, a Swiss clock. English is widely spoken. The lake is a boater’s paradise, while the nearby Alps beckon skiers and mountaineers. The city itself has a stunning medieval Old Town perfect for strolling and awash in bookshops, bars, restaurants, clubs, and boutique shops. And if the lake itself isn’t enough for those who flourish near water, the Limmat River, which runs through the city, is great for long walks and pondering your new life in this pristine setting. Though people work hard here, come day’s end, work is done.
ANGLOINFO, LIVING IN ZURICH: Classifieds, jobs, language schools, how to navigate the city, and more—they’re all here for the newbie and the seasoned Zuricher.
AMERICAN WOMEN’S CLUB OF ZURICH: This not-for-profit facilitates friendship and personal development through philanthropic and community-service projects. Connect with 300 Americans and non-Americans. Some are newly arrived; others have lived here for more than 40 years.
INTERNATIONS ZURICH: How do I access healthcare? Do I need a work permit? Where can I watch English-language movies? This site provides answers and helpful city information. It also connects you with expats living in Zurich.
3. Hong Kong
This stunning metropolis of towering buildings set around glistening Victoria Harbor was recently named the world’s most expensive city for expats. And yet, its beguiling neighborhoods and islands, its legendary cuisine (foodies come here for cooking that includes Cantonese, Sichuanese, Japanese, and French), its ancient traditions, and its lush natural splendors (more than 70 percent of Hong Kong is mountains and sprawling country parks) make the location well worth the sticker shock.
When it comes to where to settle, Hong Kong offers tremendous variety. For families, the Kowloon Tong and West Kowloon areas are popular thanks to abundant transportation links and excellent international schools. For those seeking life on the high end of the scale, there’s Happy Valley and Jardine’s Lookout, with the former attracting expats thanks to its many green spaces and close proximity to the city center. Exclusive, secure, and residential, Jardine’s Lookout is higher up the mountain and offers spectacular views. The Mid Levels area, meanwhile, is wonderfully central, with great access to the hotspots of Lan Kwai Fong and Soho—a mecca for younger expats that has a buzzing nightlife but also works for families, as there are some good international schools nearby.
LIVING IN HONG KONG: Thinking of moving to Hong Kong? Then start here. This is a great resource for insights into expat groups, things to do and more.
EXPAT LIVING/HONG KONG: Schools, events—if it’s happening in Hong Kong, it’s likely featured here.
People fall over themselves calling this melting pot of cultures a dull and sterile place; but in truth this beauty is close to perfect, offering the grandeur and multiculturalism of a first-world capital, the tropical climate of an island paradise, the diverse cuisine—born from the Chinese, Indian, Malay and Western populations here—that makes food-lovers drool. It also has one of the safest, most efficient, expansive public transportation systems in the world. And though one already gets the sense that it’s possible to eat off the sidewalks, the movement of late is to turn this urban center into a green haven, with skyscrapers doubling as living, verdant ecosystems. And everyone speaks English.
When it comes to finding a place to live in Singapore, the good news is that it’s a small place with neighborhoods that bleed into one another. It can take all of 45 minutes to go from one side of the country to the other. If you want to live about 15 minutes outside city center in heritage housing with retro charm, consider Tiong Bahru, a quiet retreat from the towering skyscrapers. If cost is a secondary concern (or you have a generous relocation package), check out Sentosa, Singapore’s “resort-island,” with houses and condos directly on the water. Families, meanwhile, adore the east coast, a quiet, nature-rich area close to East Coast Park, with great views of the ocean and perfect for biking and strolls.
EXPATSINGAPORE: This site may not win design awards, but it will point you in the right direction when it comes to things you need to know before you arrive. You’ll find information about schools, insurance, pets, and legal affairs here.
EXPAT LIVING/SINGAPORE: As with the Hong Kong version of this site, this iteration tackles the main concerns— schools, goings-on, updates—in Singapore.
LIVING IN SINGAPORE: Written by expats, this site for old and newly minted Singaporeans can help with everything from paying your taxes online to learning Chinese, weekend breaks, etc.
Munich is either a small city or a very big town, depending on whom you’re talking to. But if people disagree about the global scale of the Bavarian capital, they’re universally in accord when it comes to its appeal. Here, one discovers a trendy mix of shops, restaurants, parks, beer halls and museums. This is a place where multinational corporations set up their headquarters in the shadow of historic districts filled with picture-postcard Old World charm. It’s also a bike-lovers’ paradise, with the Alps and beautiful lakes a short drive away.
Families may prefer Grünwald on the right bank of the Isar River, known for its greenery, its Bavaria Film Studios (great for kids), and oh, yes, some of the area’s wealthiest residents. In the heart of the city, Maxvorstadt is favored by those who enjoy access to great shopping, dining, nightclubs, bars, and the whole social scene; expats who live here tend to be single executives earning good salaries. Bogenhausen, meanwhile, is more affordable, as it’s a bit removed from the bustle of city life, enabling expats to enjoy the tranquility of the Isar and the famous English Garden.
EXPATICA: Want a detailed breakdown of neighborhoods, recreation opportunities, how to register for a driver’s license, gyms, pools, and beyond? Expatica to the rescue.
MOVE TO MUNICH: Searching for friendly expats in Munich? Need advice on how to handle the city’s bureaucracy? Seeking weekend activities for the kids? Move to Munich has been there and done that.