Frankfurt ranked ‘second worst city for expats’ in new international survey

Frankfurt snagged the title of the second worst city in the world for expats to live in a new survey from InterNations. Does it deserve the title?

Frankfurt's famous skyline. Photo by Sanjay B / Unsplash

In a survey released Tuesday by Munich-based InterNations, Frankfurt was ranked 49 out of 50 in the ‘Expat City Ranking 2022’, with only Johannesburg, South Africa trailing behind. 

Germany’s bustling financial capital, home to 790,000 people, was also placed last in the Expat Essentials Index. While no German city in the survey performed well in this category, Frankfurt ranked especially low, coming in 47th in the Digital Life category, 46th in Language, 45th in Admin Topics and 43rd in Housing. 

More than one in three people surveyed were unhappy with the availability of administrative services offered online (39 percent vs. 21 percent of global respondents) and the possibilities for paying with card instead of cash (37 percent vs. eight percent globally).

“The lack of clear instructions is insane when it comes to admin topics like taxes, TV license fees, or citizenship,” one French resident of Frankfurt told InterNations. 

READ ALSO: ‘A mega city on a smaller scale’: An insider’s guide to Frankfurt

Tell us what you think of life in Frankfurt. Does it deserve to be ranked so low?


Too high costs

Most expats surveyed found housing in Frankfurt to be too expensive (70 percent were unhappy vs. 43 percent globally) and simply too hard to come by (61 percent vs. 27 percent globally). 

A full 38 percent of Frankfurt-based expats surveyed worked in a senior or specialist position (versus 29 percent globally) and 23 percent earned between $75,000 to $100,000, versus 11 percent globally.

Yet Frankfurt was still the only German city to land in the bottom ten of the “Personal Finance Index”, which assesses how well expats can live in a city based on their own resources and the cost of living. 

More than half of the respondents found living costs to be too high (51 percent versus 35 percent globally).

The façade of the Römer, Frankfurt's historic city hall, is not lit up to save energy.

The façade of the Römer, Frankfurt’s historic city hall. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Rumpenhorst

Not easy to make friends in Frankfurt

Similarly to all German cities featured in the survey, respondents lamented how difficult it is to make friends in Germany’s financial capital, with 55 percent unhappy versus 37 percent globally.

Only 36 percent said they are satisfied with their social life (vs. 56 percent globally), with 30 percent find it difficult to get used to the local culture (vs. 19 percent globally). 

More than three in ten respondents (31 percent) said they lacked a personal support network in Frankfurt, compared to 24 percent globally. The city also ranked second to last for leisure options.

Of all German cities surveyed, Berlin came in the highest for overall quality of life (31st place), followed by Düsseldorf (33rd), Munich (38th), Hamburg (45th), and Frankfurt (48th).

No German city made it to the top ten cities for expats to live in. First place went to Valencia, Spain, and the only city in the German-speaking world to make the list was Basel, Switzerland, which came in at seventh place. 

A total of 11,970 expats worldwide took part in the annual survey from expat networking and resource group InterNations, over 50 of whom live in Frankfurt.

Is Frankfurt really all that bad?

Respondents of a Local Germany survey from this past summer reached a different consensus about Frankfurt, describing it as an international city with a small-town feel.

Richard Davison, 45, who lives in the Sachsenhausen area of Frankfurt, said: “In my opinion, Frankfurt is a special city as it is very international. As people come for work, it seems that it is very welcoming as many people are new, or have not lived in the city for a long time.

READ ALSO: Is Frankfurt a good place for foreigners to live?

The city even came in seventh place in a 2022 ranking by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) due to its lively hospitality sector, strong jobs scene and abundant surrounding nature.

It’s also commonly considered a city worth visiting, and has made it to the New York Times‘ annual 52 Places to Go list a few times in recent years.

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The verdict: Is Frankfurt really that bad a place for expats to live?

A recent survey placed Frankfurt as the second-worst of 50 cities for expatriates to live. So we asked Local Germany readers if it really deserves that ranking.

The verdict: Is Frankfurt really that bad a place for expats to live?

German cities did particularly badly in several recent expat surveys, ranking low in categories like “expat essentials” covering things like housing, language, and bureaucracy. It didn’t do much better either when it comes to local friendliness and ease of settling in.

Frankfurt though, Germany’s bustling financial capital of nearly 800,000 people, fared particularly badly. Scoring 49 out of 50 in the Internations Expat Insider 2022, only Johannesburg did worse.

Is it really all that bad?

Just over half the respondents in our reader survey said yes. It is.

READ ALSO: Frankfurt ranked ‘second worst city for expats’ in new international survey

In a close vote, 51.5 percent of respondents to our survey said Frankfurt deserved the low ranking, compared to 48.5 percent who said it didn’t.

Our readers had key gripes about cost of living in the city, the inefficiency of its bureaucracy, and its lack of cleanliness in certain parts – particularly around its central station.

However, there were also lots of good points listed about Frankfurt am Main, sometimes known as Mainhattan thanks to its skyline. 

‘Worst thing is weather’

Several respondents said they were frustrated about paperwork in the immigration process. 

One reader told us they had been waiting over seven months for an appointment at the immigration office.

Others pointed out that although job prospects were good, finding both housing and childcare were challenging endeavours. This led to some sentiment that Frankfurt is “a city for bankers,” but little else.

Reader Eraldo Grabovaj said Frankfurt was a “Beautiful city” but “very expensive”.

Many said Frankfurt locals were often rude or even racist or discriminatory in some cases, even if it was easy to find help in English.

“We could use a little less grumpy locals in town,” said reader Liza Maria.

“I find people to be friendly but not overly so,” Viktoria M told us. “The worst thing though is the weather. It rains a lot.”

There were mixed responses on transport, with some saying buses and trains were excellent, while others said they could be a lot better. 

“Public transportation is terrible, not only in Frankfurt but mostly in Hesse,” said Renan Dias. “I lived in Hamburg for seven years and after that, just in three months of living in Frankfurt I was already fed up with the public transportation. I’ve been here for a year now, lived in three different areas and and it’s still highly unreliable.”

train passengers

Passengers wait for the train in Frankfurt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Arne Dedert

A few people said Frankfurt airport – Germany’s largest – wasn’t well organised. 

“The airport is a disaster,” said Jeffrey Josef Maltz. It’s too big and too many people. It does not seem like a German city.

Frankfurt’s good points

But it’s not all bad. In fact readers listed loads of positive aspects about life in Frankfurt.

Some highlighted that the expat community is strong, and many people speak English locally, helping to ease things for newcomers.

“There’s more integration of international people compared to other cities in Germany,” one reader wrote. “The best thing is the connectivity and the fact that we have a lot of international communities.”

“Frankfurt has an incredibly diverse population,” said respondent Barb Chap. “We now number among our friends – besides Germans, Americans, and Brits – folks with heritage from Turkey, Senegal, Iran, Nigeria and others. And you can walk from one side of the city to the other to experience the various neighbourhoods. – Events, museums, cinemas (with English), nature.”

READ ALSO: ‘Megacity on a smaller scale’: The insiders’ guide to Frankfurt

Although readers also recommended that it’s good to try speaking German. 

Frankfurt resident Youri Zissos said: “The energy of the city is amazing, events are very frequently held in different Stadteile. This city is very international, while showing different sides of Hessisch culture. People are generally very warm to foreigners as long as you try to speak at least a few phrases in German.”

The nearby Main and Rhine rivers also offer up plenty to see in terms of castles, wineries, or museums. Respondents to our survey also said other nature spots such as the Taunus mountain range were a huge positive to life there. 

Many respondents praised how well-connected Frankfurt is. 

“Love the public transport options, hoe easy it is to get to Frankfurt Airport, and how central the city is in the rest of Europe,” said Tina Hattingh.

With reporting by Rachel Loxton