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The Best Places to Live in Europe for American Expats in 2022

The Best Places to Live in Europe for American Expats in 2022

Are you tired of the American rat race? Is moving abroad something you’ve been thinking about? You’re not alone! More and more Americans are seeking a new life overseas, whether it’s for a few years of adventure and travel, a permanent relocation, or retirement. And Europe is one of the most popular destinations for American expats to live. There’s everything from incredible history, diversity of culture and people, proximity to distinct cultures, affordable travel, modern public transportation, top-notch healthcare, low crime rates and a great quality of life!

lisbon

With so many fascinating choices deciding on where to live in Europe requires some research to know what all your options are and to find a city that is best suited for you. If you’re not sure where to start, we’re here to help! Take a look at our list of the best places for American expats to live in Europe.

What to consider before moving abroad to Europe

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 in her early 40s. 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:

  • Visa options: Is there an opportunity to obtain residency for U.S. citizens?
  • Cost of living: Is the cost of living comparable to or less expensive than major U.S. cities?
  • 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? 

The best places to live in Europe for American expats in 2022

We’ve compiled a list of the 11 best places in Europe to live based the above criteria and overall quality of life. All of the cities on this list are located in countries that provide viable visa options for Americans. We understand that Nordic countries often rank at the top of the best places to live in Europe lists for their quality of life, however, we did not include cities from these countries as there is no viable visa option for the average American to qualify for a path to long-term living. 

Madrid, Spain

The capital city of Spain is an expat haven! Madrid has everything you could ever want, a bustling city, endless activities, four seasons, a strong local identity and an electric atmosphere. 

 

If you’re looking for a big city with a cozy vibe, lively social scene and a mild climate, then this is the city for you! I might be biased as I lived here for 5 years, but I’m not alone in my love for Madrid: more than 10,000 Americans live here, as well as thousands of foreigners from around the world.

madrid buildings

While rent prices are rising quickly, the city is still relatively affordable compared to other major cities in Europe and the U.S. Spanish salaries remain low, however, if you have foreign income, the cost of living won’t be a challenge. Private healthcare is extremely affordable and can run as low as €45/month. 

While it may come as a surprise, English is not widely spoken in Madrid. With the exception of younger Spaniards—who may speak some English but many are pretty shy about it—you need to learn Spanish in order to navigate living here. Especially as you get settled, do not expect people working at banks, government agencies, telephone companies or landlords to speak English.

People tend to think that Madrid—and Spain as a whole—is hot year round. That might be true during the summer, but be prepared to experience all four seasons. Madrid’s public transport is extensive and easy to use: its metro system is cheap, clean and convenient; city buses will fill in the gaps and take you to any hard-to-reach places; and suburban trains will comfortably take you to towns outside the center. But the most efficient way to navigate the compact city center is on foot.

Learn more in our complete guide to being an American expat in Spain.

Malaga, Spain

Malaga, the birthplace of Pablo Picasso and Antonio Banderas, is a hotspot for expats and retirees; but don’t let that fool you, it’s a lively metropolis on Spain’s southern coast. This active city’s culture and diversity attract people of all ages. And of course, with its location right on the Costa del Sol, there are infinite beaches at your doorstep.

Malaga, Spain cathedral

This medium-sized city has felt the impact of rising housing costs as well. An influx of tourists, expats, and investors has negatively impacted the cost of living, while less than Madrid, it’s no longer the bargain it used to be. 

Locals may speak Spanish, but the Malagueño accent—and Andalusian dialect in general—is notoriously difficult for the foreign ear. Given that Malaga is an international tourist hub, you can get by on English and Spanglish in the tourist areas.

 

Malaga’s summers are hot and humid and winters are almost nonexistent. In fact, compared to most other European cities of its size, it has one of the warmest winters. The city is in a prime location to explore the southern Spain and regional getaways including Cordoba, Seville, Granada. The Spanish long-distance train also connects to Madrid and Barcelona.

Walking is the perfect way to get around the city center. If you prefer two wheels, cycling is popular and the many bike paths make it easy to get around this bike-friendly city. Public transportation includes an efficient bus network and subway with two lines.

Lisbon, Portugal

Sometimes called the “San Francisco of Europe” for its hills, colorful trams and red suspension bridge, Lisbon attracts lots of digital nomads and young creatives with its art scene and low cost of living (although that’s been changing)—not to mention its sparkling coastline and claim to fame as the sunniest capital in Europe. This charming city will dazzle you with its expansive history—it’s the second-oldest European capital—centuries-old architecture, colorful Portuguese tiles and liberal mindset. Plus, it’s on the coast!

Portugal is one of the cheapest countries in Western Europe however the price of accommodation is skyrocketing. But on the plus side, expenses like utilities, food, transportation, and private healthcare are all highly affordable.

 

English is much more common in Portugal than Spain, and widely spoken in Lisbon. It’s a youthful city that attracts tons of expats, techies and digital nomads, contributing to its vibrant community. Many come because Portugal is one of the easiest countries in Europe to move to given its viable visa options such as the D7 visa and entrepreneur visas.

streetcars in Lisbon

Lisbon has an inexpensive and well connected transport system of metros and buses. The city center is walkable, but it can be quite hilly—think San Francisco. Hop on one of the famous yellow overground trams to take a break. 

The weather is mild but expect some periods of cold. The best part of Lisbon is that you get the atmosphere of a big city while also retaining the slower pace of a coastal town. 

Learn more in our complete guide to living in Portugal as an American expat

Berlin, Germany

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.

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.  In addition to housing prices, healthcare is more expensive (nothing compared to the US system), expect to pay a few hundred a month.

berlin street art

We love Berlin for its diversity so when it comes to making friends there are endless options for community and finding your people. The city has become a prominent city for startups and tech companies. If you’re a techie looking for work this might be the city for you! In addition to a work visa, Germany offers an array of viable visa options to live here long-term—our favorite being the freelance visa. German is a difficult language but thankfully, English is widely spoken so getting around won’t be too hard!

Berlin is a sprawling city but well-connected by subway, bus, tram, suburban trains, and bikes. Winter will be your toughest months with little sunshine and extremely low temperatures, so come prepared and bundle up.

 

Learn more in our complete guide to being an American expat in Germany

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

The Netherlands is one of the most egalitarian societies in Europe. 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 most popular city in the Netherlands is Amsterdam; 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. 

amsterdam

Living in Amsterdam has many perks but keep in mind that Amsterdam is one of the most expensive cities in western Europe. Luckily healthcare is affordable at around 100/month.

Everyone speaks English here which makes it easy to navigate, but also leaves little incentive to learn Dutch.

When it comes to the weather expect to experience four seasons, even in the span of a day! Be prepared for rain, wind and cold. Cycling is the most popular way to get around, but if cycling is not your thing, the city is well-connected via train, tram, and subway. 

Learn more in our complete guide to being an American expat in the Netherlands

Prague, Czech Republic

Foreigners flock to the Czech Republic for its magnificent history, bohemian culture and cheap prices. Its small size and central location make it ideal for those getaways all over Europe. Most expats settle in the country’s capital, Prague, one of the safest cities in the world and one of the most-visited and visually stunning cities in Europe.

The home of Franz Kafka and also known as “the City of a Hundred Spires,” Prague features a wide array of architectural styles and incredible views. Known for its free spirit and being welcoming to foreigners, Czechs drink more beer per capita than anywhere else in the world, grab a cheap pint at one of the pubs and enjoy your new home!

 

The cost of living in Prague is well below that of major cities in western Europe with average rent ranging from €600-€850 a month. Beyond the tourist areas and among young people, English is not widely spoken. 

prague

Prague made our list due its relatively easy self-employment visa, making it a great option for English teachers and remote workers. There is also demand for skilled foreign workers. Average salaries are slowly increasing; but your money will go further if you work for an international company. 

Healthcare in the Czech Republic is very good—so much so that it’s ranked as a top spot for medical tourism. The Weather in Prague spans from cold winters and mild summers; July is the warmest month averaging at about 64 F. Public transport is one of the best in Europe, very affordable with options such as trains, buses, trams, and suburban railways to get to your destination within the city, country, and cross-border. 

Zurich, Switzerland

Zurich is Switzerland’s largest city and one of the world’s financial centers. It’s often ranked as one of the most expensive cities to live in, but that’s due to an exceptionally high quality of life; outstanding education and healthcare, political and economic stability, safety, cleanliness and leisure all play a role in making it a top place to live. 

This can create a bit of an expat bubble, meaning that although you might not have as many local friends, you can get involved in Zurich’s diverse international scene. On Sundays, the city shuts down as the Swiss escape for a dose of fresh air and outdoor activities like skiing, hiking, swimming or tubing. If you’re prepared to spend more, you’d be hard pressed to find a better place to live than Zurich.

All that quality of life will set you back a pretty penny. Cost of living and daily expenses are high–expect to pay anywhere between €2,500–6,000/month* in Zurich and around €445 for health insurance. Local salaries compensate for cost of living, however the likelihood of obtaining a work visa is slim, but not impossible!

zurich

Zurich is a city with all four seasons, and leans heavily on the cold. The city is in a prime location to explore the Alps, picture-perfect Swiss towns and pristine lakes. The country is centrally located and very small so you’re just a train ride away from Italy, Germany, Austria, and France.

Central Zurich is pretty compact and easily walkable. Public transport is quintessentially Swiss: efficient, clean and on time. A network of trams, buses and local trains will connect you to all corners of the city. Biking is also popular.

While almost everyone speaks English the country has four official languages, German, Swiss-German, Italian, and French. 

 

*using € to be consistent with currency 

Vienna, Austria

With ample green space, efficient public transportation and a low crime rate, Vienna consistently ranks as the city with the highest quality of life in the world. Not to mention its affordable housing, eco-friendly status, education system and more.

vienna at night

Located on the banks of the Danube river, it’s a city that fuses modern and classical culture. There are endless cultural activities—it was the home of Mozart and Beethoven after all—ranging from world-class theater to expansive museums. 

Unlike other “most livable cities” Vienna actually has a manageable cost of living. Expect to pay anywhere from €500-€1100/month on rent and private healthcare will run a few hundred euros. Your best bet to calling Austria home is through their equivalent of a non-lucrative visa. 

Did you know that Austria is surrounded by eight other countries? This makes it the perfect place to start exploring the rest of Europe. But you don’t have to go far as Vienna is often praised for its proximity to nature, surrounded by lush green hills and hiking routes that are easily reached by train or car. Vienna experiences all four seasons and the amount of sun, wind, cold, snow you can expect varies greatly from region to region. 

English is widely spoken but it’s best to learn some Austrian German or German to get by outside of the city. We love that Vienna is walkable and also has a top-notch public transportation system. 

Cork, Ireland

Cork, located on Ireland’s southern coast, is the nation’s second-largest city. It might be known to tourists as the site of the Blarney Stone—kissing it supposedly gives you the gift of gab—but it’s also a place with a growing international scene and warm, friendly locals.

Cork is a lively city that attracts techies—it’s home to Apple’s European headquarters—and students, but with a smaller-city vibe. The compact center has a fresh food market, colorful buildings and a riverside harbor. And if you think Irish food is all stews and potatoes, think again. Cork is known as the food capital of Ireland, with gastropubs, fresh seafood, and craft beer and coffee scenes.

cork, ireland

The cost of living in Cork is much less than that of Dublin. Rent is an average of €1000-€1400 for a one bedroom apartment. Healthcare will put you back 100-€200 euros a month.

English is the predominant language so there’s no stress on learning another language. This should help in the friend-making department, known for being warm and friendly, Corkonians are easy to strike up a conversation with.

 

Like much of Ireland, the weather in Cork is fairly mild. Rain is abundant throughout the year, in general though the  weather can be unpredictable. If you can put up with the weather you’ll reap the benefits of majestic cliffs and beaches to farmland and historical towns, the south of Ireland is brimming with nature.

Walking is the best way to get around Cork, although cycling is becoming more popular. You can also use its extensive bus network to get around town or out to the suburbs. To get to neighboring towns or further (like Dublin), you can take a commuter train.

 

Learn more in our complete guide to being an American expat in Ireland

Paris, France 

The “City of Light” hardly needs an introduction. As one of the most captivating cities in the world, it has charmed literary and fashion icons for centuries, from Ernest Hemingway to Coco Chanel. It’s not only the capital of France, but a global icon in terms of world-class art, architecture and gastronomy, and home to popular sites like the Louvre, Notre-Dame and the Eiffel Tower.

Cafe culture is an important part of the city, where friends meet to people-watch, chat over coffee and smoke—yes, that’s one cultural stereotype that still rings true today. Take a stroll along the Seine or wander through one of Paris’s 20 arrondissements, or neighborhoods; you never know what you’ll find. After all, Paris is one of the most multicultural cities in Europe: immigrants make up 20% of its population.

notre dame paris

Since Paris is one of the most-visited cities in the world, you’ll shouldn’t have a  problem getting by with English. However, knowing a little bit of French goes a long way, and will help you make friends with locals.

Paris is far from cheap. In fact, it’s more expensive than most cities in the world. Although living in Paris sounds like a dream for many Americans, skyrocketing housing prices are something to consider before making the leap.

You’ll most likely have access to the public health system which is one of the most efficient in the world. There are viable visa options to becoming a resident including a non-lucrative equivalent and self-employment and tech visa to name a few. 

The city experiences all four seasons, from sweaty summer days to snowy winter ones and everything in between. There is so much to see and do in Paris alone but if you’re itching to travel there are plenty of nearby places to explore. Whether it’s a day outing to the Château of Versailles, a weekend excursion to the French Riviera or a trip to a neighboring country—Belgium,Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Spain or Italy—you have plenty of vacation options. A national high-speed train system (TGV) means you can reach most of these destinations in a few hours.

Paris is a walkable city, but due to its size, the main form of public transport is the metro. The city also has public buses, trams, bike sharing, as well as a suburban train.

Learn more in our complete guide to being an American expat in France

Rome, Italy

The bustling Italian capital of Rome is often described as an open-air museum because its longstanding history and culture are on full display. Home to the Colosseum, Pantheon and Vatican, it’s a city of art, ancient ruins and pasta.

The grittiness and throngs of tourists might be a drawback for some, but for others there’s something magnetic about Rome. Despite living in a big city, Romans definitely know how to enjoy la dolce vita, as evidenced by their cafe culture and work-life balance.It’s an old city that is young at heart, inspiring many expats to call Rome home.

Rome certainly isn’t cheap, however, its cost of living is much better than in most major European capitals. You’ll need a salary of €1800-€3000 a month to live comfortably. Private healthcare is affordable and cost less than €100 a month. The job market here isn’t great (and getting a work visa is quite difficult) but many international companies have offices in Rome; check to see if an in-company transfer is an option for you. If not, Italy’s non-lucrative equivalent or self-employment visa may be the best route to long-term living here.

Piazza della Rotonda, Rome, Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy

Rome has a Mediterranean climate: summers are hot and humid and winters are mild. Luckily there’s plenty of sunshine during the winter, but don’t be fooled as temps can drop to freezing at night. Spring and fall are cool and see a fair amount of rainfall. Although there is no shortage of attractions in Rome, it’s a great jumping off point to explore other parts of Italy. A short drive west and you hit the beach, plus the beauties of Florence, Pompeii, Cinque Terre, the Amalfi Coast and more are only a train or car ride away.

Central Rome is easily explored on foot, but since other parts of the city are more spread out, you’ll probably need public transport to get there. Rome only has three subway lines, but it has an extensive bus network, although it can be unreliable with the city’s traffic. If you live beyond the city center, trams or the urban railway may be an option.

Learn more in our complete guide to being an American expat in Italy

Our personal recommendations for American expats

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 don’t offer viable visa options for the average American.
 

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. You’ll find detailed information on over 50 viable visa options in the 17 easiest countries to move to 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.

The best places to live in Europe

If you’re ready to make the move but not sure here you can go we advice to consider your visa options, priorities, financial situation, and goals for living abroad to help you determine the right country for you. Europe is very diverse and has so much to offer everyone whether you’re moving alone or with your partner or with a family. 

Making your dream of moving abroad is totally possible! With a bit of research, preparation, and this guide, we are confident that you will find your ideal home in Europe.

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12 thoughts on “The Best Places to Live in Europe for American Expats in 2022”

    1. She Hit Refresh

      Hi Magdalena, I’m not sure I understand your question. All countries in Europe allow non-European citizens to obtain some from of residency, whether that is short-term or long-term. Obtaining that residency is dependent on many factors. For instance many countries offer their version of the retirement visa. It’s a great benefit for a country because a foreign resident pumps money back into the economy without taking any funds out of the system. Hope that helps!

    1. She Hit Refresh

      Thanks for reading along! Glad you found it helpful. If your interested in more information be sure to get on our mailing list for the upcoming e-book which will go in depth into 15 different countries in Europe where Americans have an opportunity of getting a long-term visa. Here’s the link: http://eepurl.com/dzE44D

  1. I’ve researched moving to Spain as an American so many times. It is a great place to live, but seems so hard to really make it happen legally. But unless I teach English, find a serious boyfriend, or invest in the golden visa, seems nearly impossible to get residency. I’ve learned they have really cracked down on the non lucrative visa, esp people using it to work remote, so also not an option. Anything you would recommend besides those things? I work online so I’m not looking to actually work in the Spanish economy. But any other realistic options besides those listed above? Thanks and nice article!

    1. Hi Lin! Thanks so much for taking the time to reach our article. Given your situation the non-lucrative would be the best option for you since you do not want to work in the Spanish economy. I haven’t heard of the government cracking down on any for having a non-lucrative, however, it is true that most (or maybe all) of the Spanish consulates in the U.S. are not approving non-lucrative applications that disclose remote work (I mention this in my new book https://shehitrefresh.com/move-to-europe-book/). In practice, many people who apply for the non-lucrative and meet the financial threshold for this visa do actually work remotely in Spain, they just do not disclose this in their application. If you have the financial means the non-lucrative is a pretty straight forward and quick option to getting residency in Spain.

  2. Hey Cepee,

    This is an awesome roundup of great places in Europe. As of 2021, your post will also become super relevant for British citizens who have lost their EU rights due to Brexit.

    I’m a Brit who left the UK permanently in the summer of 2020 to escaped to Lisbon.

    I chose Portugal because it ticks all the right boxes. Not only does it have great weather, food, and culture, but it also has the ‘non-habitual residency’ (NHR) program, which offers an extremely generous tax status for 10 years.

    The NHR gives Portugal a massive advantage over Spain, especially for remote workers and online business owners. Portugal also has a relatively fast pathway to citizenship (5 years), which is my long-term goal. That will give me full rights to live, work, study and retire across the entire EU.

    For Americans who want to move to Portugal, who already work remotely, the best option is the D7 visa and residency pathway combined with NHR. Also, anyone who is considering Portugal might want to check out the amazing island of Madeira…

    Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a successful New Year!

    Sam

    1. Hi Sam,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read this post and for your kind words. Thank you for pointing out how the information will help those affected by Brexit.

      Portugal is a wonderful choice for all the reasons you mention above especially that generous tax break for 10 years. Sounds like you made the bright choice! Best of luck on getting your Portuguese citizenship!

      Wishing you all the best in 2021!

      Cepee

  3. Hi!
    Any advice on moving to a more rural, green, and mountainous place with a baby and teenager? I’m definitely focusing on a place with cheap housing. I actually teach English as a second language here in the US currently so I’m hoping that could help. Any ideas?
    Thanks!

    1. She Hit Refresh

      Hi Dawn! There are some great small to mid size cities with green and mountains around. Malaga is a great example, I just relocated here from Madrid and love it! There are definitely more rural towns all around that are great for families. Check out our guide I’m Outta Here! for more cities in Europe, while we don’t include rural areas, you might want to ask in the expat FB groups in for the cities we include and ask about rural/green/mountainous nearby (I include many links in the book to useful FB groups where you can ask) https://shehitrefresh.com/move-to-europe-book/

  4. Hi, Is there info in your book for a American to move to England? I have lived there before but it was through my marriage to French man. We are no longer married.

    1. She Hit Refresh

      Hi Tina! Great question. Unfortunately England isn’t in the book. I just couldn’t find any viable ways for the average American to get a visa for long-term living. However, Ireland is the book in case if you are interested in moving next door 😉

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