Profiling the 10 Largest Expat Communities in the World

Thanks to the light shone upon it by Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, immigration is a hot topic like never before. Around the world, the wealthy and poor alike are moving about the globe in search of opportunity.

Those from Africa and the Middle East are often fleeing extreme poverty, war, persecution, and the effects of climate change. Citizens of more developed nations are also on the move, but for very different reasons. Often, limited economic opportunities in their home country or a simple desire to see the world has led them to relocate to specific cities around the world.

Where are these groups laying down roots? In this guide, we’ll profile cities known for sizable expat communities, and why they are such attractive places to live.

(1) Dubai, United Arab Emirates

It’s tough to find a native-born Emirati in Dubai. A look at this city’s demographic statistics will show you why, as a staggering 83% of Dubai’s population (2.5 million) hails from outside of the United Arab Emirates.

Why is this disparity so large? 50 years ago, only 60,000 people called Dubai home. To transform this pearling town into a world-class city, scores of workers from abroad would be needed.

The nations of the Indian Subcontinent supplied (and continue to supply) the blue collar labour needed to erect Dubai’s skyline. 51% of its total expatriate population are Indian, 16% are from Pakistan, and 9% come from Bangladesh.

White collar workers also help to run the affairs of this modern city – working in fields from education to finance, British expats figure most prominently (100,000), with the rest hailing from America, the EU, and a wide range of Asian countries.

Most are attracted to UAE for its lack of income taxes, its well-paying employment opportunities, and its year-round sunshine. It is also one of the most liberal societies in the Middle East, drawing immigrants from more repressive nations (e.g. Saudi Arabia) in the region.

(2) Toronto, Canada

Canada’s multicultural diversity is one of its chief strengths. While this quality can be seen in many of its largest cities (e.g. Vancouver), there is no place where this is more apparent than Toronto. According to Statistics Canada, 47.5% of Toronto’s population was born in a foreign country. This same agency also found it to have the highest immigration rate in the world on a per capita basis.

Despite this fact, no single ethnic group has a commanding majority. Of those not born in Canada, 10.6% are Indian, 9% are Chinese, and 7% are from the Philippines. Many more Torontonians are second-generation Canadians, representing virtually every region on Earth.

This intense diversity is also a big reason why Toronto is so popular among immigrants. When you can connect with your own culture while also enjoying advantages like living in a house steps away from a world-class downtown, its low crime rate, and its political stability, it’s not hard to see why this city, and Canada in general, is such an appealing place to live.

(3) Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai may seem out of place in this list, but it is a noteworthy inclusion for a couple of reasons. Ever since the rise of digital nomadism, this northern Thai city has become a popular home for these wandering workers. Chiang Mai’s low cost of living, friendly people, and excellent food, and has caused its population of mobile workers to increase significantly over the past few years.

Its proximity to Burma has also made it a haven for people seeking asylum from persecution. Over the past generation or so, the former military junta has cracked down on journalists and political activists, causing many to flee.

More recently, the persecution of Rohingya Muslims by this nation’s new government have prompted many of these people to seek refugee status in Thailand. Many have found their way to Chiang Mai, where they run food carts, restaurants, and Burmese libraries for their fellow countrymen and women.

(4) Brussels, Belgium

Brussels is the most ethnically diverse city in Europe. With almost 70% of its population being non-Belgian, it feels like a microcosm of the European continent. This group is split nearly in half between non-Belgian Europeans and those from places like Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

Like Toronto, no one group is dominant. 179 nationalities call Brussels home, but the top three groups of foreign-born residents are the French at 5.3% of the population, and Romanians & Moroccans at 3.2% each.

These communities are attracted to Brussels by its vibrant economy, its strategic location in Europe, its excellent food and culture scene, and its extremely diverse population.

(5) Sydney, Australia

Australia’s isolated location in the Southern Hemisphere hasn’t stopped immigrants and expats from seeking out a better life Down Under. Despite being one of the most expensive cities on the planet, many opt to settle in Sydney.

As a result, it has become Australia’s most cosmopolitan city, with 39% of its population being foreign-born. Chinese citizens make up 11.2% of all expats, followed by the British at 7.6% and Indians at 6.5%.

Sydney is sought out by these groups for its tolerance of religions, nationalities, and people of various identities. On top of this, it is well-liked for its excellent year-round weather, strong social safety net, and well-paying employment opportunities.

(6) Berlin, Germany

Being one of Germany’s most socially liberal cities, it should come as no surprise that more than a third of Berlin’s population is composed of migrants or first generation Germans. Which groups are best represented here? The Turks have the largest population, with more than 98,000 calling this city home. Poles and Syrians came second and third, with populations of 57,000 and 33,000 respectively.

The last group is of particular note, as this city and others in Germany welcomed Syrians with open arms when other nations were turning a cold shoulder during the height of the refugee crisis. Many of these folks and other foreign-born immigrants have stayed due to this city’s vibrant economy, its focus on human rights, and its affordability versus comparable centres in Western Europe.

(7) Los Angeles, United States of America

When you consider the current occupant of the White House, USA doesn’t exactly feel like a great place for migrants these days. However, numerous cities in this country are welcoming to those from abroad – of them, Los Angeles sticks out, as almost 40% of its population was born outside the USA.

Given its proximity to the southern border, it’s not surprising that Latin Americans make up the biggest chunk of this population. 64% of them come from the lands to the south, with 31% of Los Angelenos boasting ties to Mexico.

Asians make up the next major chunk of foreign nationals, making up 26% of non-American born Angelenos. Los Angeles County has the world largest populations of Koreans, Chinese, Thai, Filipinos, and several other nationalities outside their countries of origin.

Expats have settled in Los Angeles for a variety of reasons, which include its favourable weather, its focus on active & outdoor living, and sizable communities of Latin Americans.

(8) Singapore

A city-state governed separately from neighbouring Malaysia since the 1960s, Singapore is a place that depends on foreign residents to keep its industries humming.  Of the 5.5 million people that call Singapore home, 2.16 million, or 39%, are non-citizens holding permanent residency.

Most foreign nationals are from neighbouring Malaysia, but significant numbers of Chinese (4.6% of the population), Indians and other peoples from the Subcontinent (3.3%), and Indonesians (1.4%) also call the Lion City home.

While tiny in comparison to the above-mentioned groups, thousands of expats from Europe, the USA, Canada, and Australia also call Singapore home thanks to the opportunities available in finance and other business sectors.

Along with its lack of corruption and a culture that is easier to adapt to, this tropical city has continued to draw the talent it needs to thrive.

(9) London, United Kingdom

Despite fears over the fallout of Brexit, people are still relocating to London due to its abundance of high-level job openings, its endless options for entertainment, and the easy access it grants to the rest of Europe.

Local census figures validate this city’s historical attractiveness to foreigners, as approximately 37% of London’s population was born in another country. Unlike Los Angeles, though, there isn’t a single group that dominates this figure. Indians are the largest group at 8% of those born overseas, followed by Poles at 4.9% and Nigerians at 3.5%.

(10) Amsterdam, Netherlands

Despite issues with housing affordability, expats are still flocking to Amsterdam thanks to lucrative jobs in technology, oil & gas, and other sectors. According to local statistics, which count foreign-born expats up to 2nd generation citizens, about half the population of Amsterdam are non-Dutch in ethnic origin.

Moroccans are the largest nationality in Amsterdam, comprising 9% of residents, with people from Suriname (a former Dutch colony in South America) and Turks accounting for 7.8% and 5.5% of this city’s citizens respectively.

While job opportunities draw people in, this nation’s strong social safety net is another major draw, as this nation’s educational and health care system rank among Europe’s best.

Will a retreat from globalization affect these cities?

Globalization has made it easier for people of all backgrounds to leave negative situations in their home country to seek a better life abroad. However, leaders like Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen, and other right-wing populists have recently fanned the flames of nativism and racism within their own countries.

This has sparked a worrying rise in violence motivated by xenophobia. Visible minorities have experienced an increase in harassment and assault from locals that have been emboldened by the above-mentioned authority figures.

Will this lead to a halt in emigration from places like Africa, the Middle East, and other troubled corners of the globe? Unlikely – despite the increasingly corrosive environment these people face, facing the abuse meted out by racists and bigots is often preferable when war, living in lands ravaged by climate change, or living paycheque-to-paycheque is the alternative.

Most people favour reasonable constraints on immigration, but few condone the outright hatred shown by those with fascist tendencies. By speaking up against the latter voices, we can ensure that new arrivals from abroad can not just enjoy the benefits offered by the cities in this article, but also have the opportunity to add value to them as well.

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