Top places to move to in Europe
Are you tired of the American rat race? Are you thinking of moving abroad? Maybe you’ve considered hitting refresh but aren’t sure which corner of the world to call home. While there are an abundance of options, Europe is a great continent to consider with much to offer: culture, affordability, modern public transportation, top-notch healthcare, low crime rates and a great quality of life. With so many amazing countries and cities to explore, we’re here to help narrow it down. Take a look at our list of the top places to live in Europe!
The best cities to live in Europe for expats
If you search for the best places to move to in Europe, you’ll see a variety of lists and opinions. But we all know that what’s best for one person isn’t always the best for another. Your age, financial position, whether or not you have kids, your country of origin as well as your personal interests and preferences are all factors in choosing the best spot for you.
This list is based on my personal experience living abroad as well as a single, childfree, American woman approaching 40. After researching the most popular places in Europe, I used the following factors to narrow down our list of the best places to live in Europe:
- Cost of living: Is the cost of living comparable to or less expensive than major U.S. cities?
- Visa options: Is there an opportunity to obtain residency for U.S. citizens?
- Healthcare: Is there affordable access to health insurance?
- Language: Is English widely spoken? Is the local language relatively easy to learn? *To fully immerse yourself abroad we always encourage refreshers to learn the local language.
- Community: Are there strong expat communities available? *While we’re huge advocates of integrating with locals, moving abroad is a courageous endeavor that can get lonely. We’ve found comfort abroad in connecting with people who have chosen a similar path.
- Weather: Is it a mild or warm climate? *Personally I’m not a fan of the cold.
- Airport: Is there easy access to an international airport?
- Transportation: Can you get around the city by public transportation or by foot?
While it’s nearly impossible for every place to meet all of these conditions, they each have unique benefits for Americans who want to move to Europe.
The best places to live in Europe for english speakers
Europe is a multilingual continent, and while English might be a global language, it’s not spoken everywhere. The ability and willingness of locals to speak English depends on the country and city you’re in. However, don’t let your lack of language skills deter you from moving to Europe! One of the most exciting and fulfilling things about moving abroad is learning a new language.
In Europe, you’ll be able to get by in most places, especially major cities and tourist hotspots. You might have a harder time getting settled or making local friends if you don’t speak their language, but if you’re planning to live in Europe long term, there’s plenty of time to pick it up.
If, however, you do want to live in a country where English is either the native language or spoken by a majority of the population, here are some of the top choices:
Ireland: No language barrier here! English is Ireland’s dominant language—although you’ll need to pick up a few slang words like craic (pronounced “crack”) and grand, as well as adjust to the Irish accent. Irish, or Irish Gaelic, is taught in schools, so you’ll find that signage is in both languages.
Scandinavia: Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland have some of the highest levels of English fluency in Europe. While it’s easy to communicate in the Nordic countries, I don’t recommend them for U.S. citizens since getting a visa or residency permit there is next to impossible.
The Netherlands: Although Dutch is the official language, most people in the Netherlands speak fluent English. This makes it particularly easy for Americans to navigate, but also leaves little incentive to learn Dutch. It’s not uncommon to meet foreigners who have lived there for years without learning the local language—but I always encourage learning the basics. While it might look intimidating, there are actually a lot of similarities between English and Dutch given that they both have Germanic roots.
Germany: Germany is a very diverse country, and even though German is the official language, English is widely spoken in most major cities (as well as a slew of other languages). That being said, proficiency will vary due to region, as well as the speaker’s age and education. German and English might come from the same root language, but German is notoriously difficult to learn. Its confusing grammar and infamously long words can be challenging for English speakers to conquer. Still, there’s nothing wrong with learning the basics.
Spain, Portugal, Italy, and France: Each of these countries has their own respective language, but you might be surprised to learn that of them, English is most widely spoken in Portugal. That means that in order to communicate with locals in Spain, Italy or France, you’ll need to learn the local language. Luckily, romance languages are beautiful and widely spoken, which can act as extra motivation to take some Spanish or French classes.
Croatia: Not only is the Croatian language difficult for Americans to pick up, but it’s also not very useful. But due to a booming tourism industry, English is widely spoken in Croatia, especially along the coast.
For more information on how to move to Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Croatia and eight other countries in Europe, check out my digital book I’m Outta Here! An American’s Ultimate Visa Guide to Living in Europe.
Best cities in Spain for expats
Call me biased, but Spain is the best! And when I say Spain, I mean specifically Madrid. If you’re looking for a big city with a small community feel, a vibrant social life, hot summers and mild winters, then this is the place for you! Plus, there’s already a built-in community of refreshers to welcome you!
My love affair with Madrid started nearly 20 years ago. I’ve gone back and forth between Texas and Spain since then until moving back in 2015. If you listen to the She Hit Refresh podcast then you’ve surely heard me talk about the many reasons why I love this city: the people, the weather, cost of living, my community, and laid back lifestyle.
But don’t just take my word for it, here are a few facts:
- Cost of living: While rent prices are rising quickly, the city is still relatively affordable compared to major cities in Europe and the U.S.. According to Expatistan, Madrid is cheaper than in 72% of cities in Western Europe. Granted, Spanish salaries are very low compared to North American standards, but if you’re playing the geoarbitrage game, your foreign income will go a long way.
- Visa options: There are a variety of ways to obtain a long-term visa for Spain: a student visa, work visa, entrepreneur visa, retiree visa, golden visa (residency by investment), non-lucrative visa, and common-law marriage visa. Learn more about obtaining a student visa through the government’s English teaching programs.
- Healthcare: Private health insurance coverage is very affordable, with some plans starting as low as 45€ a month. Public healthcare is available to resident taxpayers.
- Language: English is NOT widely spoken in Madrid. While many young Spaniards speak some English, you will need to learn Spanish in order to navigate living here. The good news is that Spanish is a relatively easy language to learn. You’ll find that Spaniards are quite patient with language learners and since they have the gift of gab, they’ll always fill in the gaps in any conversation.
- Community: Madrid is a social city, so there are events, meetups and communities for everyone and everything. Whether you want to get involved in the local scene or with the English-speaking community, there are tons of options for women over 30!
- Weather: People often think that Madrid, and Spain as a whole, are hot year-round. That might be true during the summer, but central and northern Spain do experience cold and often wet winters. There’s a Spanish saying, “Madrid: nueve meses de invierno y tres de infierno,” or, “Madrid: nine months of winter and three months of hell.” Spaniards have a penchant for drama, but be prepared to experience all four seasons.
- Airport: Madrid has a major international airport with easy access to and from the city via taxi, ride-hailing services and public transportation
- Transportation: Madrid is well-connected by bus, train and subway. Plus, you can easily navigate the compact city center by foot.
There is so much more to Spain than Madrid! With more than 17 regions to choose from, three of the most popular are Catalonia, Valencia and Andalucia. One of the biggest draws to these regions is their proximity to the coast, with nice beaches, warm weather and a more relaxed pace of life in smaller cities and towns.
Many visitors opt for Barcelona, Spain’s second-largest city, over Madrid. This sunny, coastal city is located in Catalonia, which is known for its own rich culture, language, architecture and history. It’s hard not to see the appeal of Barcelona, but it comes with its own set of challenges. Overtourism has led to inflated housing prices and tension between locals and tourists. If you’re looking to learn Spanish, this might not be the place for you. Both the tourist industry and a large expat scene contribute to English being more widely spoken, while locals prefer speaking Catalan.
If you’re looking for a medium-sized city, travel south along the coast until you hit Valencia, Spain’s third-largest city. Beautiful beaches, great weather, cheaper prices and mix of modern and traditional make it a top choice for expats. Or go even smaller with coastal towns like Javea or Denia.
Last but not least is one of my favorite regions: Andalucia. Perhaps most synonymous with Spanish culture, it’s the home of flamenco, bullfighting, moorish architecture and siestas. Malaga, Seville and Granada are the most popular cities for foreigners in this region. I love Andalucia and love spending time there, but I prefer bigger cities with more diversity.
Last but not least is one of my favorite regions: Andalucia. Perhaps most synonymous with Spanish culture, it’s the home of flamenco, bullfighting, moorish architecture and siestas. Malaga, Seville and Granada are the most popular cities for foreigners in this region. I love Andalucia and love spending time there, and while I prefer bigger cities with more diversity, I’ve actually relocated here temporarily in 2021.
Best cities in Portugal for expats
Europe’s best kept secret is a secret no longer! Portugal is all the rage among travelers and expats. Similar to Spain, this small country is warm, welcoming, beautiful, affordable, and has incredible food and unique architecture.
Lisbon is nothing short of stunning. It’s claim to fame is that it’s the sunniest capital in Europe! This charming city will dazzle you with its expansive history—it’s the second oldest capital in Europe—centuries-old architecture, colorful Portuguese tiles and liberal mindset. Plus, it’s on the coast!
- Cost of living: Portugal is one of the cheapest countries in Western Europe;, according to Expatistan, the cost of living in Lisbon is cheaper than 84% of Western European cities. However, the price of accommodation is sky-rocketing. Sadly the Airbnb effect has contributed to the scarcity of available housing and pricing out locals. All other expenses like utilities, food and transportation are all very affordable.
- Visa options: There are a variety of residency visas available: a work visa, tech visa, entrepreneur visa (StartUp or D2), golden visa (residency by investment), retirement visa and non-lucrative visa (D7).
- Healthcare: Private health insurance is affordable, starting as low as 40€ a month.
- Language: English is widely spoken in Lisbon and is much more common in Portugal than Spain. Portuguese is relatively easy to learn, but considered more difficult to learn—mainly pronunciation—than Spanish.
- Community: Lisbon is a youthful city that attracts tons of expats, techies and digital nomads, contributing to its vibrant community. You’ll have no problem finding your people here; check Facebook groups and Meetup.com.
- Weather: The weather in Lisbon is mild, but still experiences a winter cold enough for warm clothing.
- Airport: Lisbon has a major international airport with easy access to and from the city via taxi, ride-hailing services and public transport.
- Transportation: Bus, subway, ferry, taxi and ride-hailing services are all popular ways to navigate the city. Lisbon is fairly compact and walkable, but keep in mind that it is a hilly city. When in doubt, take one of its famous yellow trams.
Portugal’s second-largest city, Porto, is located on the northwest coast. It’s known for its iconic Dom Luís I Bridge and Port wine. Porto, which has garnered a lot of attention recently, is experiencing a revival. Although a bit cooler and wetter than Lisbon, Porto is much smaller than the capital, meaning that it’s more manageable with cheaper rent.
On the flip side, there are less options in terms of work, diversity and community. Lisbon and Porto have a bit of a city rivalry, and one forum contributed this to the debate: “If you are over 45 with a job, then Porto is the place…if you are younger with no family, then Lisbon is the place.”
Germany has the strongest economy in Europe, which means there are lots of available jobs. If you’re a skilled worker looking to move to a country with well-paying work, Germany should be at the top of your list. If you’re looking to retire, there are better places in Europe for you, like previously mentioned Spain and Portugal. Best of all, Germany is unique in that it offers a freelance visa which can be your gateway to staying long-term.
There is really only one city that meets most of the factors we’ve outlined and that is Berlin. Berlin has been an expat hotspot for years. What’s not to love about this creative, naturally hip, gritty yet glamorous, historically rich city—okay, except for maybe its winters? The city’s diverse food and culture, along with its booming startup scene has attracted entrepreneurs and talent from all over the world.
- Cost of living: Berlin’s popularity and gentrification have wiped out the famously low rent prices of the early 2000s. While you can still live on less in Berlin compared to the U.S., the cost of living is more expensive than Spain and Portugal.
- Visa options: There are a variety of options available: student visa, job-seeker visa, work visa, freelance/artist visa.
- Healthcare: Private and public health insurance are available; the requirements and price depend on your income and visa. Health insurance is expensive, so expect to pay at least a few hundred euros a month.
- Language: English is widely spoken. While both languages descend from the same root language, German grammar and its notoriously long words can still be challenging to overcome.
- Community: A city as diverse as Berlin has endless options for community and finding your people.
- Weather: Spring and summer are lovely in Berlin, but brace yourself for a long, grey winter.
- Airport: The city has two airports, which are both international and easily accessible from the city center.
- Transportation: Berlin is a sprawling city that is well-connected by public transport. Options include: U-Bahn (subway), S-Bahn (suburban train), bus, tram, taxi, ride-hailing services, cycling, e-scooter and walking.
Welcome to the Netherlands, one of the most egalitarian societies in Europe. It made our list because it’s a welcoming country that is relatively easy to transition to and offers a special residency opportunity for American entrepreneurs through the DAFT-permit—if you’ve got a business idea, then this might be the place for you!
The Netherlands was the first country I ever visited abroad, back in 1997 when I was 17. I like the Dutch; they are open-minded, logical and direct. This might come off as rude at first, but at least you always know where you stand.
Amsterdam is a small but mighty city with much to offer: a scenic backdrop, historic center, cultural diversity and a progressive society. It’s an international city that has attracted talent from all over the world; many global companies have headquarters there. Enjoy lounging in green parks when the weather is nice and socializing in cozy cafes and restaurants when it’s not.
- Cost of living: This is an expensive city to live in. According to Expatistan, the cost of living in Amsterdam is more expensive than in 85% of Western European cities
- Visa options: A student visa, work visa, DAFT-permits/entrepreneur visa.
- Healthcare: Healthcare isn’t as cheap as Spain and Portugal but still very affordable, starting at around 100€ a month.
- Language: Everyone speaks English which makes it easy to navigate, but also leaves little incentive to learn Dutch. Fun fact: I speak a bit of Dutch, since I studied it for a year when I was a teenager.
- Community: Being in such an international city means there are communities for everyone! Check Facebook and Meetup to meet up with expats and locals.
- Weather: Expect to experience four seasons, even in the span of a day! Be prepared for rain, wind and cold.
- Airport: Amsterdam Schiphol is an international airport that is easily accessible by train, bus, taxi, ride-hailing services and bicycle.
- Transportation: This is the city of cyclists! But if bikes aren’t your thing, Amsterdam is well-connected by train, tram, subway, taxi, ride-hailing and on foot.
The best European country to live in
Even though certain countries consistently rank as great places for expats, that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily right for you. What’s great for one person isn’t always the best fit for another. Scandinavian countries, for example, often top lists of the best countries to live in. They might be incredible places, but they’re not my personal favorites. I prefer warm weather, a lower cost of living and Mediterranean culture.
When determining your ideal country, the main thing to consider is whether it has the right visa and residency options for you to live there—which can be tricky to navigate, since every country does it differently. That’s why I did the work for you, and laid the best options in my book I’m Outta Here! An American’s Ultimate Visa Guide to Living in Europe.
Visa options aside, the best European country to live in depends on your personal preferences, interests and financial situation, among other factors. Still, some places are more popular than others in the expat world, so here are the countries that rank high among those looking to relocate to Europe:
Spain and Portugal: The Iberian Peninsula nations are expat favorites—especially among retirees—because of their sunny weather, beautiful beaches, laidback lifestyles and affordable cost of living. Plus, the variety of residency options in Spain and Portugal gives Americans a viable way to make their dream of moving to Europe a reality.
The Netherlands and Germany: This is where the money is—or at least the job opportunities. Both countries have strong economies and are leaders in manufacturing, energy, technology and other sectors. If you can handle the cold, Germany and the Netherlands are two of the most popular countries for expats, both offering international communities and unique residency options.
Switzerland: Although many European countries offer a better quality of life than the U.S., Switzerland takes the cake. It’s globally ranked for its safety, infrastructure and natural beauty. All of this, of course, comes at a cost: Switzerland is one of the world’s most expensive countries to live in.
Are you ready to hit refresh in Spain, Portugal, Germany or the Netherlands? Or are you more intrigued by Switzerland, Croatia or Ireland? In our in-depth guide I’m Outta Here! An American’s Ultimate Visa Guide to Living in Europe learn about all your viable options for moving to 17 countries in Europe and make your dream a reality!