End of Pandemic in Sight as Liveability Increases for 95% of UK & European Cities

End of Pandemic in Sight as Liveability Increases for 95% of UK & European Cities
22nd February 2022 James Brooke

End of Pandemic in Sight as Liveability Increases for 95% of UK & European Cities

  • Lockdown reversals sees 71% of European cities go up in the annual global liveability ranking
  • Reduced crime rate and London’s return to ‘normality’ sees the capital exceed pre-pandemic ranking and rise 13 places since 2020
  • Copenhagen and Bern crowned the most liveable cities in the world – repeating their performance from 2019
  • Edinburgh re-enters the top 20 (17th), retaining its title as the most attractive UK city for European expats
  • Ongoing restrictions causes Australia and New Zealand to rank poorly, while civil unrest impacts liveability in Africa and the Middle East

The ‘endemic’ is being felt across the UK and in parts of Europe as the easing of Covid-19 restrictions has improved the liveability of 95% of its cities, according to the latest annual Location Ranking Report from global mobility expert, ECA International (ECA).

With the wide-spread reversal of the previous years’ lockdowns and tough restrictions, which impacted the ranking’s Recreation and Socio-political tension scores, the vast majority of European cities (71%) have risen in the global liveability ranking.

Copenhagen and Bern are the most liveable cities in the world, sharing joint first place and mirroring 2019’s ranking, due to their best-scoring marks in several categories including Air Quality and Personal Security. Meanwhile, recording its best Personal Safety score since 2016, London (42nd) has outperformed its pre-pandemic liveability ranking, rising from 55th and beating its 2018 ranking of 47th.

As the UK paves the way towards the ‘endemic’, its major cities are set to attract even more expats in 2022. Edinburgh (17th) remains the most liveable city in the UK, having risen four places in the ranking from 21st last year. Along with Aberdeen (21st) and Cardiff (27th), these cities benefit from the infrastructural and cultural perks of a larger city, including a big expat community, without the associated downside of higher pollution and crime rates. Glasgow (51st) makes one of the strongest recoveries from its pandemic dip, rising 13 places.

Neil Ashman, Senior Location Ratings Analyst at ECA International, said: “We’ve observed an almost complete reversal from last year’s findings among the European cities in the rankings, with many locations that had endured the most draconian lockdown measures in 2020 bouncing back in the ranking as a result of restrictions being lifted. Successful vaccine rollouts have enabled much of Europe to reopen and regain a sense of normality to some degree, and we’re expecting to see this trend continue in 2022 as vaccine mandates gain territory.”

ECA international’s Location Ranking system objectively evaluates cities around the world to form an assessment of the overall quality of living for expats in over 500 locations across the globe. Access to this data helps businesses ascertain appropriate allowances to compensate employees for the adjustment required when going on international assignment. The ranking is based on a variety of liveability factors including availability of health services; housing and utilities; isolation; access to a social network and recreational and leisure facilities; infrastructure; climate; personal safety; socio-political tensions and air quality.

In 2021, the assessment of a city’s access to social and recreational activities was shown to undergo the most substantial changes from the previous year and was the single biggest contributing factor to the rise of all European cities, bar a few Nordic cities which didn’t implement strict lockdowns in 2020 and therefore didn’t see their scores in these categories impacted.

Europe largely springs back from the pandemic and becomes an attractive option for expats

At the time of analysis*, the majority of Europe benefited from a relaxation of rules (to varying degrees) and improved access to recreational facilities, including gyms and cinemas. The Hague and Geneva share 3rd place this year, both rising by 4 and 5 places respectively, and repeating 2019 and 2018 location rankings.
Dublin (10th) makes a reappearance in the top 10 after a pandemic-linked downturn, having ranked 15th last year, as the city’s strict rules which had impeded freedom of movement and recreation activities were lifted.

Italy, France and Belgium are among the countries who have most improved their ranking, while Lisbon (27th) saw the most significant post-pandemic bounce-back, climbing 22 places and outperforming its pre-covid ranking by 7 places. In 2021, adopting a more regional approach to restrictions than some of its European neighbours, Madrid (46th) is named the top destination in Spain, and Barcelona (49th) is the only other Spanish city to make it into the top 50.

Ashman added: “Although many EU members experienced anti-lockdown and anti-vaccine protests over the last year, thankfully being sporadic in occurrence and short lived, they did not impact Personal Safety or Socio-political Tension scores. However, while terrorist attacks decreased somewhat in Europe, likely dampened down by restrictions on movement, Norway experienced an attack in October which killed five people. Incidentally, Oslo dropped 10 spots from 15th to 25th, while Helsinki and Stockholm suffered a similar fall – 17th to 27th and 13th to 20th respectively. These rankings are in line with pre-pandemic rankings and are reflective of other cities’ attractive relaxation of rules, rather than indicative of a significant decline in liveability.”

Australia and New Zealand overtaken by European cities

While Australia has historically been one of the most popular expat destinations, boasting good air quality, access to healthcare and ease of assimilation, the ranking has favoured cities which concede greater freedom of movement. The majority of Australian cities have dropped in the ranking, as European counterparts claim their once held positions in the top 50. Canberra (62nd) once 49th has been overtaken by Tallinn (49th). The most significant decline is seen in Auckland (58th), dropping 25 places, while the rest of New Zealand also experiences a downward turn.

Ashman continued: “Australia and New Zealand remain on high alert and at the time of collating the ranking data continued to impose travel restrictions. While the overall liveability of these countries hasn’t gotten ‘worse’ for expats, and will likely remain attractive locations in 2022, Europe’s recovery has jeopardised their ranking.”

Blair Rankin, a product manager for an electronics manufacturer, moved to London from New Zealand 6 months ago. He said, “Strict travel restrictions in New Zealand are what allowed us to do so well during the first wave, but we’ve struggled more recently to get vaccines into the country at the same pace as Europe and we still don’t have access to rapid antigen tests in the same way that the UK does. This played a big part in my decision to move to London. I knew that I’d have less chances of experiencing a strict lockdown if I moved here when I did.”

Natural disasters and continued lockdown restrictions affected North America

With the exception of Montreal (39th), Canadian cities have fared less well this year, falling by up to 13 places in the case of Ottawa (46th). After ranking in the top 20 for the first time last year, Toronto (27th) was subject to one of the longest restrictions in the world, with indoor-dining being banned for most of 2021 – contributing to its drop by 10 places.

Meanwhile the US saw some of the worst climate disasters in 2021 including wildfires, hailstorms, tornados and tropical storms. In September, Hurricane Ida caused widespread tornadic destruction and catastrophic flooding. As a result, New York fell out of the top 50, dropping 10 places from 40th place to 55th. San Francisco also fell out of the top 50 (52nd), dropping 12 places in the ranking while Austin, Texas saw the most significantly drop, a total of 19 places from 23rd in 2020, however these drops were primarily due to the rebound of the European locations around them in the rankings.

Civil unrest impacts liveability of locations across the globe

Yangon, Myanmar saw its liveability score worsen considerably due to the political turmoil seen across the country over the past 12 months, and the sharp controls on freedom of movement and freedom of speech as a result.

Ashman said “While many locations in Asia fell in the rankings due to Covid-19 and the measures put in place to curb infection rates, Yangon saw a considerable fall for a very different reason as the military junta continues its rule over Myanmar following a coup last year. As a result, there has been a significant change in many areas of our scoring, including personal safety, Socio-political tensions, freedom of the media, and the availability of goods and services. Unlike in many other cases in the latest rankings, this unfortunately may not be a short-term trend that corrects itself in the near future.”

Similarly, most of Kabul’s location ranking category scores are already at the maximum level, but the Taliban’s swift re-establishment of control in Afghanistan saw the city’s Culture score negatively impacted. Conflict also flared up in Israel and Palestine, while Lebanon continued to suffer from deteriorating infrastructure. Coups and civil unrest in West and East Africa, notably in Mali, Sudan and Ethiopia, also impacted both regions’ socio-political tension scoring.

Top 20 most liveable locations for European expatriates

Location

2021 Ranking

2020 Ranking

2019 Ranking

2018 Ranking

Denmark – Copenhagen

1

1

1

1

Switzerland – Bern

1

3

1

1

Netherlands – The Hague

3

7

3

3

Switzerland – Geneva

3

8

3

3

Norway – Stavanger

5

2

5

5

Netherlands – Eindhoven

5

8

6

5

Sweden – Gothenburg

7

3

9

9

Switzerland – Basel

7

5

6

7

Netherlands – Amsterdam

7

11

6

7

Irish Republic – Dublin

10

15

9

9

Denmark – Aarhus

11

5

12

12

Luxembourg – Luxembourg City

11

8

9

9

Netherlands – Rotterdam

13

13

12

12

Switzerland – Zurich

14

12

14

14

Germany – Bonn

15

17

15

15

Germany – Munich

15

17

15

15

Germany – Hamburg

17

21

17

17

United Kingdom – Edinburgh

17

21

19

19

-Ends-

Notes to Editors:
*The 2021 Location Rating research and analysis took place between June and November 2021, with all scoring accurate at the time of publication, in terms of pandemic-related restrictions, on 13th November.

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About ECA International
ECA International is the market-leading provider of knowledge, information and technology that enables businesses to manage their international reward programmes.

Partnering with thousands of clients on every continent, we provide a fully-integrated suite of quality data, specialist software, consultancy and training. Our unparalleled insights guide clients as they mobilise their most valuable resource: people.

We make the complex world of international mobility simple, providing clients with the expertise and support they need to make the right decisions – every time.
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About ECA’s Location Ratings
Updated annually, ECA International’s Location Ratings system measures the quality of expatriate living conditions in over 490 locations around the world to arrive at a fair and consistent assessment of the level of difficulty the expatriate will experience in adapting to a new location. Factors evaluated include climate; availability of health services; housing and utilities; isolation; access to a social network and leisure facilities; infrastructure; personal safety; political tensions and air quality.