Europe’s top expat city? Madrid!

best cities expats

When you’re on vacation, not worrying about work and then having a bottle of wine for lunch, it’s easy to imagine how life in that particular place would be incredible. However, visiting a place and actually living there are two different things. Dinner at 9:30 pm is no big deal when you can sleep in, but not so much when you’re heading to the office at 8:00 the next morning.

All things considered, Madrid really is one of those cities that has it all. And it turns out, I’m not the only one to think so.

Each year the online expat community, Internations, surveys more than 14,000 people who are living and working outside their home countries. In the most recent study, Madrid was ranked the best European city for expat life.*

If you’ve been following NoLongerNative for a bit then you know I wasn’t exactly hounding Spain for a visa to live in their capital city. However, it slowly won me over and I couldn’t agree more with Madrid’s spot on the list.

Take a minute to check out the full survey results, then keep reading for a few things I’ve come to love about my new home.

The metro

When many Europeans rely on public transport, it doesn’t matter if the stations smell like a urinal or that a single journey ticket can cost almost 6€ (I’m talking about you, Paris and London!). Madrid, however, far outranks every major European city I’ve visited because of its big ole clean trains, super cheap tickets, and extensive network.

best cities expats

It’s dog-friendly

Retiro Park allows dogs off-leash for certain hours of the day. You can bring your buddy on the train or into Zara while you shop. There are even restaurants that allow dogs inside (check out Señor Perro for a list of pet-friendly spots). Madrid is such a dog-loving city that I can barely get down the street without someone cooing at and petting our Boston Terrier.

Big expat community

No matter where you find yourself starting over again, it’s hard to make friends as an adult. That said, a thriving expat community is a huge part of building your new social circle because well, everyone is desperate for friends just like you. Madrid has so many groups on Meetup and FaceBook that you’ll have something to do every night of the week and a place to ask all your “settling-in” questions.

Different Neighborhoods

When it comes to both population and physical size, Madrid has the third largest in Europe. This is a recipe for a big, lively mix of people and some distinctly flavored neighborhoods. Whether you’re looking for gritty or glamorous, trendy or traditional, there is something for everyone. Check out this guide for a quick rundown.

Springtime

Maybe it’s just that I haven’t lived in a city with distinct seasons for some time, but Madrid has a spring like no other. As soon as the temperatures start warming, cafes and bars will set up their terraces. Overnight the city will burst into life as trees bud, flowers and greenery are planted in the plazas and the Madrileños stroll, soaking up the sun during their lunch breaks.

Cost of living

Compared to Europe’s other big cities, Madrid is cheap! Housing, leisure activities, transportation, healthcare—most of these are lower than what we were used to in the U.S. This is all fine and dandy but what I really want to say is that Spain has the cheapest and most delicious wine on the planet. For some people (me included) that alone is almost enough to check this box.

Proximity to other places 

From the perspective of an American, who is isolated geographically and culturally (because why go to Venice when you can ride a gondola in Las Vegas?!), just getting to Europe in and of itself is a task. So once you’re here, it’s incredible that a couple of hours in a car, train or plane will get you practically anywhere on the continent.

Art

Most touristy cities have a couple of must-see museums. However, there is much more to Madrid’s art scene than the Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen. You can visit a small group of beautifully restored mansions, a converted slaughterhouse with rotating exhibits or tour the incredible street art in Lavapiés. It goes without saying that this is in addition to the outdoor statues, fountains, and gardens that simply make this a beautiful place to live.

How does your current home measure up? I’d love to hear the good, bad, and the ugly in the comments below!

*Ranked third worldwide, after Melbourne and Houston, Texas.

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