Whenever I travel to a new city, I explore the sights and take in the sounds with a lingering question in the back of my mind: could I live here?
When I was younger, cities like New York and Shanghai appealed to me for their sheer number of job opportunities, excitement, and cultural amenities. As I start to get older and think about what I truly want in a city, I tend to choose easy-going over exhilarating. In other words, I ask myself: Could I raise a family here?
Ranked below are my top five most favorite cities that I would easily relocate to if given the chance. I selected and ranked these cities according to six criteria: safety, convenience, culture, stability, comfort, and cost.
#5 Taipei, Taiwan
Taiwan is ranked as the 2nd safest city in the world and is often top rated as one of the best places for a foreigner to live abroad. With an amazing subway and bus system, affordable food in both restaurants and on the street, and a host of outdoor adventures only a short train ride outside of the city, it’s easy to see why Taipei is an exciting yet comfortable metropolis. Unlike Tokyo or Shanghai, the city doesn’t feel overwhelming, oppressive or overly congested. Oh, and did I mention that Taiwan has placed first for having the best healthcare system in the world three times and running?
The downside? Well, there’s not many high paying jobs here, which could dowse any dreams of permanent relocation to the country. Plus, with a big and unpredictable neighbor next door, the safety element could easily go out the window at a moment’s notice.
- Average cost of living for family of 4: $3,200 (88,700NT$) (exchange rate: 1USD = 27 NT)
- Average cost for 3 bedroom in city center: $1,401 (1 USD = 27 NT)
- Total per month: $4601
#4 Galway, Ireland
Galway City is pure charm. It’s a musical city bursting with creativity, talent, and the heart of the Irish spirit. The downtown is lined with historic medieval buildings and flooded with the sound of music from Irish fiddles, tin whistles, and Gaelic singing. In addition to its boisterous downtown core, Galway has one of the top ranked Universities in Ireland with a lush and green medieval campus that, I must admit, bested Trinity College in Dublin with its beauty. If you don’t believe me, read about my tribute to this amazing corner of Ireland.
While Galway may not provide a bustling metropolis, it definitely delivers on value: Galway is 23% more affordable than Dublin and has half the crime rate — plus, Ireland overall ranks as the 12th safest country in the world. Although there is no light rail in Galway (yet), the bus system here is convenient and easily accessible. Families here are wholesome and hardworking, and it seems like a great place to bring kids into the world.
It’s not all Guinness and Irish jigs in the town of Galway, unfortunately. Jobs are still hard to come by here. Worst of all, Galway City sees more annual rainfall than anywhere else in Ireland. Still, the city worked its charm on me and I could easily see myself settling down in the city of my ancestors.
- Average cost of living for family of 4 (w/o rent): $3600 USD (3,003€) (1 USD = 0.82 EUR)
- Average cost of rent for 3 bedroom in city center: $2,096 (1 USD = 0.82 EUR)
- Total: $5696 per month
#3 Barcelona, Spain
The city by the sea took my breath away with its stunning architecture, creativity, friendly folk, vibrant neighborhoods, host of public parks, and amazing food. I must admit, a sunny and temperate climate near the coast is not a hard sell. Plus, the city is extremely walkable with an amazing metro system that can take you anywhere. Even though my husband almost died from a bad case of pinxtos here, we still remember the city fondly.
Unfortunately, Barcelona is one of the most expensive cities to live in Spain. Plus, with the whole Catalan culture curveball thrown in, life could become difficult both politically and linguistically when raising a family in this coastal paradise.
- Average cost of living for family of 4 (w/o rent): $3,000 USD (2,470€) (1 USD = 0.82 EUR)
- Average cost of rent for 3 bedroom in city center: $1,934 (1 USD = 0.82 EUR)
- Total: $4934 per month
#2 Montreal, Canada
Ah, Montreal. My European paradise in North America. I have already gushed enough about how much I love Montreal in a previous post, but even now I dream about the city in “la belle provence.” For me, this city almost has it all: high-quality gourmet, cultural amenities, a European waterfront park, a literal forest in the center of the city, convenient public transit and a culturally diverse populace. In addition to this laundry list of perks, Montreal is also the most affordable city in Canada where average rents clock in at $1,300 Canadian dollars per month. The city not only looks European, but also offers similar welfare policies as its French cousin: subsidized childcare, free French lessons for new immigrants, and subsidized tuition at top universities.
So why don’t more people move to Montreal? Oh yeah, it snows 7 feet (200 cm) in the winter and can drop to a chilling 9 degrees Fahrenheit (-12 celsius) Plus, the whole “must speak French to work here” thing can be a huge barrier for most of us to overcome. Still, those who can weather the cold winters and parler francais will find that Montreal is worth it.
- Average cost of living for family of 4 (w/o rent): $3,300 USD (4,000C$) (1 USD = 0.83 CAD)
- Average rent for 3 bedroom in city center: $1,764 (1 USD = 0.83 CAD)
- Total per month: $5064
#1 Fukuoka, Japan
The fact that my top pick is Japan shows how intensely biased I am toward Japan. I would never recommend a typical westerner to move here — but what the hell, I’m sticking to my decision.
Unlike other mid-tier cities in Japan, Fukuoka is actually alive and bustling with economic activity and you can feel the buzz of commerce in the air. Due to its geographic location, Fukuoka acts as an international business hub that links Japan, China, and Korea (Korea is only a short 1 hour ferry ride away!). Fukuoka offers all the amenities and economic opportunities of a top-class city — and all without the Tokyo crowds. Plus, with some of the most temperate weather in Japan and a host of hot spring towns nearby, this part of Japan is a pure delight. Cultural sights and a coastal view are only a short train ride away in Nagasaki City, and for those who are looking to hike and explore the outdoors Mt. Aso is easily within hours’ reach. Oh yes, it’s also 16% cheaper to live in than Tokyo.
When a Japanese colleague once asked me where I would live in Japan and I replied with Kyushu, he immediately hushed me with a whisper: “Mary, you’ve figured it out. The most comfortable place to live in Japan. Don’t let it be discovered, and lets keep the secret of Fukuoka to ourselves.”
The drawback to living in Kyushu is, well, it’s in Japan. Without working knowledge of Japanese, most people would be absolutely miserable here (and probably without work). If you can put up with Japanese language and culture and are looking for a cozy spot to settle in Japan, then Fukuoka is your best bet.
- Average cost of living for family of 4 (w/o rent): $4466 USD (488,994¥) (1 USD = 109 JPY)
- Average cost of rent for 3 bedroom in city center: $1,296 USD (1 USD = 109 JPY)
- Total per month: $5762
How does America stack against the competition in terms of cost?
To be fair, I’m going to list a fairly affordable city (Salt Lake City, Utah) and a more expensive one that has similar amenities to the cities above (Boston, MA).
Salt Lake City, Utah
- Average Cost of Living for Family of 4: $3,058 USD
- Average Cost of Rent for 3 Bedroom in City Center: $1,873 USD
- Total per month: $4931
- Average Cost of Living for Family of 4: $4,198 USD
- Average Cost of Rent for 3 Bedroom in City Center: $4,459 USD
- Total per month: $8657
The most affordable city is none other than Taipei, Taiwan clocking in at a comfortable $4600/month. However, Salt Lake City is in close second place at $4900/month.
The most expensive city is by far Boston, MA (to no one’s surprise) at $8600/month. Second to Boston is Fukuoka and Galway, both costing about $5700/month.
HOWEVER, please keep in mind that the US cities DO NOT include healthcare and education costs in the cost of living estimate. While it seems like a small caveat, healthcare and college debt are almost always the main contributors to financial collapse in the USA.
What are your thoughts? Where would you live if you could choose anywhere in the world?