TOP EXPAT DESTINATIONS are a matter of taste. Some seek the bustle and anonymity of a metropolis; others prefer a quiet life near the beach or in the mountains. Here are a few top picks for a range of international lifestyles.
Best Small City: Ljubljana, Slovenia
The days have passed when tiny Slovenia was the best value in Central Europe.
Slovenes have now exchanged the Tolar for the mighty Euro. But for expats looking for work, that also means wages are paid in the world’s dominant currency.
According to Carys Owen, veteran ESL teacher and 10-year Ljubljana resident, 15 Euros is now the average cost for an hour-long English lesson. The polyglot Slovenes have a ravenous appetite for language acquisition, so a native English speaker can still make a decent living while enjoying Ljubljana’s high quality of life.
Sometimes referred to as little Prague, Ljubljana boasts a striking integration of traditional and modernist architecture.
Photo by Scott Ingram.
The old town winds around both banks of the Ljubljanica River, where sidewalk cafés are always crowded on a sunny day. The marketplace along the river has excellent local produce and artisan products.
The expat bars, loaded with EasyJet tourists on Friday and Saturday nights, provide quiet refuge during the week to meet up with the other teachers and contractors living and working in town.
If the city isn’t enough of a draw in its own right, its location at the foot of the Julian Alps and an hour and a half drive from the Adriatic Sea means you can go skiing in the morning and sailing in the afternoon.
Best Surf and Sand: Dahab, Egypt
Dahab’s days as the sleepy fishing village of backpacker lore may be numbered as the growth of resort tourism on the Red Sea shores continues. For expats looking to stay awhile, however, this is not all bad news.
The resorts have brought increased demand for experienced scuba instructors to work some of the most spectacular dive sites in the world. But Dahab is not a resort town.
Cheap accommodation is still plentiful along the turquoise waterfront, and the slow pace of Bedouin life pervades. If the pace gets too slow, the Sinai is well positioned for excursions to Mt. Sinai, the wonders of ancient Egypt, and the rose city of Petra in Jordan.
Best Hot New City: Shanghai, China
Where to experience the next great expat city?
Those with an eye to the future might consider Shanghai. With the inexorable rise of the Chinese economy, Shanghai is a good bet to become the financial capital of the 21st century.
Shanghai’s dynamism can be seen in the layering of the futuristic skyline, colonial facades, and the teeming, gritty street life. This energy is percolating down to Moganshan Road’s gallery and warehouse studio scene, regarded as the epicenter of contemporary Chinese art.
Photo by seto_supraenergy.
The only mainland Chinese city to crack the top 100 of the Mercer livable cities index, Shanghai already provides a good mixture of affordability, opportunity, nightlife, and culture.
Unlike Buenos Aires, work is not difficult to come by in Shanghai. ESL teachers are in demand, and entrepreneurial spirits can take advantage of Shanghai’s ranking as the best place to do business in China.
Perhaps in time, Shanghai’s tapestry of contrast will inspire the next great expat novel.
Best Adrenaline High: San Gil, Colombia
Photo by Maria Alejandra
Just a few years ago, travel through Colombia’s guerilla plagued countryside to remote San Gil would have been an adventure in its own right.
With the government now firmly in control of the surrounding region, adventure seekers can seek out more conventional forms of adrenaline highs.
Fortunately, San Gil has a little of everything: three whitewater rivers for rafting, kayaking, and canoeing, rappelling, caving, bungee jumping, paragliding, and horse back riding. When time comes to slow the pace, the verdant hills around San Gil offer weeks of excellent hiking.
What distinguishes San Gil from other adventure destinations is that when people find they want to stay awhile, they do. The region is not just a draw for thrill seekers. Immaculate colonial towns nearby provide refuge for writers and painters from around the world.
Best Big City: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Choosing a great expat metropolis is a matter of timing.
We’ve all heard about the glories of 1920s Paris and 1930s Berlin, in large part due to the nexus of expatriate artists and writers active in those flourishing scenes.
Buenos Aires, the reigning expat metropolis, is very much the right place at the right time.
Long one of the most sophisticated and charming cities of the world, hordes of Europeans and Americans are now capitalizing on the peso collapse that has made the Argentine capital a tremendous value.
For a wealth of information about living overseas, check out one of Matador’s favorite websites, Transitions Abroad.