Where the World Wants to Live: The Most Popular Cities for Moving Abroad

Back in 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, we noticed an increase in searches for moving abroad from people looking to alter their lives on a grand scale and take the leap of living and working in an entirely new country.
Our research revealed that Canada was the preferred relocation country of choice around the world, and the findings we shared proved so popular, this year we wanted to dig a little deeper. So where our 2020 study focused on our preferred countries, this time we’re looking at the most popular cities around the world that people want to move to.
Over the last three decades, there’s been a continued increase in international migration, with the latest stats showing that an estimated 281 million people live in a country other than their country of birth as of 2020 — 128 million more than in 1990, and the equivalent of 3.6% of the global population.
Using a similar methodology to our previous study, we analysed Google search volumes for the phrase ‘move to [city]’ for 164 countries around the world, and created an overall ranking based entirely on how many countries prefer a move to a specific city above all others.
But which are the most popular cities for people looking to live overseas? Are employment prospects and generous salaries more important to people than guaranteed warm weather or a solid, growing infrastructure? This is what we learned...
Which are the most popular cities for moving abroad?
The overwhelming favourite of the countries and cities we analysed was sunny Dubai, which topped the wish lists of an incredible 60 countries, including Canada, the United Kingdom and the US.
CityNumber of countries that want to move here most
1. Dubai60
2. Miami12
3. Paris10
4= New York City8
4= Madrid8
4= Singapore8
7= London6
7= Brussels6
9. Toronto3
10= Washington DC, Buenos Aires, Christchurch, Quebec City, Bogota, Portland, Vienna, Phoenix, Chicago2
Known for its ultramodern architecture, lively nightlife scene, year-round sunshine and plentiful employment opportunities, Dubai is clearly viewed around the world as an incredibly desirable place to live with its population having risen by almost 100,000 during the 12-month period between 2022 and 2023. For anyone wanting a fresh start in a new city where it's easy to meet and make friends from all corners of the world, Dubai appears to be the ideal relocation destination.
However, those in the United Arab Emirates themselves were found to be angling for a move to Singapore, another city featuring in our top ten list and known for its varied community of expats, and vast array of job opportunities. Other popular options included Miami, known by locals as ‘The Magic City’, Paris, New York City, and Spain’s capital Madrid.
We’ve created a colour-coded map below to provide an at-a-glance view of which cities are most popular in different parts of the world.
The Most Popular Cities for Moving Abroad | Remitly
The USA’s top city relocation destination choices (in the US)
As it’s such a vast country, we decided to delve a little deeper in the US by looking at both the US cities and non-US cities that each state most want to move to, and created a map for each.
The East and West coasts were tied in terms of the most popular US cities to relocate to, with the ‘Big Apple’ New York and Portland, Oregon (known for its natural beauty, world-class cuisine, and thriving tech industry), both having 12 other US states wanting to move to these cities the most.
CityNumber of US states that want to move here most
1= New York City, New York State12
1= Portland, Oregon12
3. Chicago, Illinois10
4. Los Angeles, California4
5= Charlotte, North Carolina3
5= Washington D.C.3
The Most Popular Cities for Moving Abroad | Remitly
The USA’s top city relocation destination choices (outside of the US)
When we look further afield at the non-US cities that prove most popular with Americans, Dubai once again proved an overwhelming winner, and the relocation destination of choice for 37 of the 50 US states. Only Amsterdam in the Netherlands, Singapore, and Vancouver registered more than one state selecting them as their favourite relocation hotspot.
CityNumber of US states that want to move here most
1. Dubai, United Arab Emirates37
2. Amsterdam, Netherlands4
3= Singapore, Singapore2
3= Vancouver, Canada 2
The Most Popular Cities for Moving Abroad | Remitly
Where else would Canadians like to live (in Canada)?
We applied the same logic to the ten provinces that form part of the winner of our 2020 most popular relocation country, Canada. Calgary is the most popular city, favoured by six other provinces, followed by Toronto with two provinces favouring it as their relocation destination of choice.
The Most Popular Cities for Moving Abroad | Remitly
Where else would Canadians like to live (outside of Canada)?
Once again, it’s Dubai that tops the rankings, this time for the non-Canadian city that Canadians most want to move to most. Dubai featured as the number one city for seven of the 10 Canadian provinces, with New York City, Miami and Doha all getting a vote each too.
The Most Popular Cities for Moving Abroad | Remitly
The most popular cities for Europeans moving overseas
You guessed it, Dubai is also the number one choice when focusing solely on European searchers, topping the list for 14 countries within the continent. Brussels, the capital of Belgium and administrative centre of the European Union, was the preferred destination of four other European countries, as was the sprawling metropolis of London.
South America’s top cities for moving abroad
It was a much more varied picture in South America with Dubai only preferred by two countries (Guyana and Suriname). Argentinians and Chileans are keen on a move to Miami, Brazilians favour London, and Madrid is the top pick for people in Peru and Uruguay.
Top overseas picks for Oceanic countries
Five oceanic countries – Australia, Fiji, Tonga, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu — are searching most for a move to Dubai, meaning that the Emirati country secures top spot in yet another continent. However, there is variety elsewhere in the region including New Zealand, having neighbouring Brisbane as its preferred relocation city, while those living in the sprawling chain of the volcanic Marshall Islands are seemingly ready to swap life on the beach for life in Las Vegas.
Preferred overseas living locations for people from Asia
Dubai is, once again, the favourite city when we look at the top locations searched for by Asian countries, though only narrowly. Seven countries had Dubai as their top choice including India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, however Miami wasn’t far behind, featuring as the top choice for six Asian nations. Intriguingly, the Philippines has Phoenix, Arizona at number one and Thailand prefers Chicago above any other city to relocate to.
Where do people from African countries hope to move?
And it's another win for Dubai, with 20 of the African countries, including Cameroon, Ghana and Nigeria, showing the most interest in a move there. It’s clear that the UAE’s diverse population and strong economic opportunities are a tempting offer for people all around the globe. Paris comes in second, topping the bill for eight African countries on our list with Singapore also the preferred selection of two African nations, Lesotho and Liberia.
Have any of these city choices tempted you to make your own move to a city overseas? If you’re ready to take the next step on a move abroad and are starting to plan for the future, you’ll still be able to transfer money securely and conveniently with Remitly. Discover more and get some tips and advice on immigration in our blog.
How we researched our dream cities
Google search data (searching all languages) was used to establish the annual search volume (October 2022 to September 2023) in 164 countries* for the term ‘move to [city]’. The most searched for location was used as the top destination for the specific country and the overall rankings were created by totalling how many times each city featured as the number one choice of another country.
Data correct as of October 2023.
*Not all countries provided enough search data to be featured – we’ve included the countries with enough data to be analysed.