With almost 20,000 cities across the USA (compared to just 69 in the UK) there is plenty of choice when it comes to places to live in America.
Many Brits look to the larger and more well-known cities because of their access to airports, expat communities and the belief that the jobs market, education and healthcare will be superior.
However, urban areas tend to be more densely populated and, though the economies are usually stronger, getting a job is far more competitive. As a result, more and more expats are being drawn to small and medium sized cities to enjoy the benefits of a better work/life balance.
In this guide to the top ten best places to live in America, we’ve put together a list of the best candidate cities for expats — beyond simply: “New York and San Francisco”.
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The 10 Best Places For Expats to Live in the USA
We’ve factored in the key liveability standards such as schools, hospitals, jobs and accommodation. We’ve also looked at communities, public amenities and the diversity of each location.
In addition, we’ve also included how close each of our locations are to big cities that can provide the additional transport links, extended expat networks and facilities that are important when living abroad.
Lastly, because it’s so hard to choose just one location, we’ve given mention to a couple of alternatives in each of our top ten states.
In no particular order…
We’ll kick off with California.
Santa Barbara, California
Situated about a two hours drive north west of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara is idyllically nestled on the southern coast of California. With the 7,600 sq. km Los Padres National Forest to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south, Santa Barbara is known as the American Riviera.
The city is home to a population of just 100,000 people. Although it is perhaps best known for being a popular tourist destination it also has a thriving economy, high quality of living and is home to four of California’s leading institutes of higher education; The University of California, Westmont College, Santa Barbara City College and Antioch University.
The area is home to several wineries that thrive on the vineyards for which California is famed and is abundant with the most beautiful landscape; the rising Santa Ynez mountains, stunning beaches and historic Spanish colonial architecture.
Though tourism contributes to the local jobs market the economy is also well represented by the manufacturing, finance, education and health sectors.
Healthcare also rates very highly and residents enjoy good quality of life.
The arts scene is well represented and the city is a mecca for lovers of classical music having its own symphony orchestra. Santa Barbara also hosts its own annual international film festival. In fact, the city plays host to several annual festivals drawing a large number of tourists to the area and providing residents with plenty of diversity in entertainment.
There are plenty of desirable neighbourhoods but all offer great facilities and accommodation to suit every budget.
Being so close to L.A., Santa Barbara is close to transport links, major shopping and the wider expat community network upon which a lot of Brits abroad rely.
Overall, Santa Barbara is a vibrant and beautiful place to live that enjoys the conveniences of modern living alongside some of the most historic attractions in California. Though it may be a bit far to commute to L.A. on a daily basis, its proximity to the City of Angels makes it that bit more attractive.
Also worth a mention in California are Fremont just outside of San Francisco, Palo Alto, Walnut Creek, San Mateo, Napa and Santa Cruz.
Anyone looking to move to Florida will likely be doing so because they are drawn by the climate and the lure of beautiful beaches and relaxed coastal living. There are no better locations to enjoy the best of this than in Sarasota.
Blessed with beautiful beaches and fortunate enough to avoid the worst of Florida’s hurricane season, the city is home to a population of just 60,000 people though tourist numbers can significantly boost this number in the peak season.
The community is friendly and welcoming and enjoys a rich and varied and arts scene.
Employment opportunities in the city are good and there is a good mix of jobs available from across a range of sectors. The biggest employers are found in the hospitality and leisure industries.
However, there are also plenty of new businesses coming out of the city as well as careers available in the education sector. Many people choose Sarasota to live whilst working out of nearby St Petersburg, Tampa or Bradenton where there are more diverse job opportunities. Usefully, each of these areas also has their own British expat network.
Another big draw to Florida is of course the fact that the state does not collect any income taxes. This is key factor influencing the high standard of living enjoyed by expats.
It’s location just 60 miles south of Tampa also makes Sarasota really accessible and the area draws a huge community of expats from across Europe, North America and Canada including families, retirees as well as young professionals.
It’s not hard to see why, either.
The schools are excellent, the public amenities are great and the nightlife and entertainment are a rich blend of the traditional yet modern appealing to a wide demographic. Sport is a popular pastime and not just fishing, sailing and water sports.
Whilst a lot of Brits are drawn to Kissimmee, Miami Beach is a great location that offers more than just the party life. Boca Raton between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach is also worth considering.
Just half an hour outside of the capital of Colorado, Denver, Boulder is a city with a population of 100,000 people. Nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, the location is abundant with a wealth of natural beauty; verdant forests, pristine mountain streams prairie grasslands. Boulder is instantly recognisable from the rocky formations just outside of the city limits, the flatirons.
An area that has become synonymous with its hippie roots from the 1960’s, Boulder is well known for having a very liberal-minded population. This in turn has given rise to a thriving arts community as well as championing its own cultural history. Independent and local shopping is de rigueur as is the support of environmental issues.
The many and diverse restaurants in the city have helped Boulder win the award for America’s foodiest town.
When it comes to the economy and the jobs market, the proximity of Denver makes commuting a very real option but Boulder itself has an annual Gross Metropolitan Product (GMP) of $18.3 billion. This is largely a product of small to medium sized businesses but nevertheless produces a good and active jobs market.
When it comes to quality of life, education, desirability of accommodation, health and well-being Boulder consistently ranks highly. In the past, the city has appeared in the Top 25 Towns to Live Well (Forbes.com), Top 10 Cities to Live and Retire (AARP Magazine) and was No 1 in USA Today’s Well Being Index.
The city also ranked No 1 in lists ranking the Brainiest Cities, Happiest Cities and Best Place to Raise an Outdoor Kid.
With such liberal residents, Boulder is also a mini-Mecca for the LGBT community.
There’s no doubting the appeal and convenience of Boulder as an alternative to inner city living around Denver. Expats will be drawn in by the beauty but stay because of the community.
When it comes to other desirable locations in Colorado you could also look at Fort Collins, Longmont and Littleton.
Situated just 20 miles north of Dallas, Plano is one of the top ten places in America to raise a family.
The community leaders in the city focus on providing top quality public amenities for families (particularly those with young children) as well as education. 40% of the city’s 98,000 homes have children under the age of 18 and the city boasts some excellent schools and institutes of higher education. The Guildhall at the Southern Methodist University runs a very popular video game development masters programme.
As well as appealing to families, Plano has also been recognised as being a great place for retirees.
The city is home to some of America’s biggest names with Huawei, Dell, Ericsson, Toyota, Dr Pepper, Pizza hut, Frito-Lay and JC Penney all having their headquarters in Plano.
The abundance of big name employers makes the economy very buoyant and provides plentiful job opportunities. There is also a large convention centre in the city and caters for the huge number of business tourists who visit Plano each week. It is estimated that four out of every five visitors to the city do so for business. Of course, it’s proximity to Dallas also helps.
Economics aside, Plano with its population of 270,000 citizens benefit from access to some great green outdoor spaces with almost 4000 acres of parkland, golf courses and recreation centres.
Austin in Texas is a magnet for British expats and the suburb of Rollingwood is a popular place to set up home, particularly for those with families. Also take a look at Alamo Heights (San Antonio).
White Plains, New York
An affluent suburb of New York City, White Plains is the home of the US headquarters of Heineken as well as NineWest, Krasdale Foods and Xylem.
With Manhattan being just 25 miles south, the commercial links make White Plains an easy place for businesses to establish themselves as well as offering commuters an alternative to big city living.
White Plains has a population of only 60,000 residents yet it is estimated that up to 200,000 additional people work in the city.
Voted the 3rd best place to live in the New York City area, White Plains boasts fantastic schools, excellent access to healthcare and great public facilities. Also ranking among the highest in terms of quality of life, real estate is cheaper than in the Big Apple.
There isn’t the same sense of community as big city neighbourhood living but there is a small network of events which bring residents together. A regular farmers market in the downtown area, a performing arts centre and a local basketball team all provide opportunities for meeting other locals.
White Plains is a convenient and pretty suburb to live if you are drawn to New York and can give you the best of both worlds by offering small town suburban life alongside a busy super metropolitan area. Good transport networks and high salaries also help.
Other alternatives to living around the State of New York are Albany and Syracuse.
Located just 15 minutes outside of Seattle and just across Lake Washington, Bellevue is a satellite city with a population of 125,000 people.
Seattle itself offers a great number of job opportunities across sectors as diverse as manufacturing, finance and education as well as marine industries, banking and healthcare. Bellevue’s own wealth is attributed in the main to the technology sector; the neighbouring city of Redmond is home to the giant HQ’s of Nintendo and Microsoft.
Bellevue is one of the more diverse cities on our list with 40% of the city’s residents coming from minority backgrounds. This blend of cultures and occupants gives the area its unique lifestyle that is reflected in everything from the many cultural activities, food and festivals from which the city benefits.
Education is a big draw to the area with Bellevue regularly making the top lists of Newsweek’s ‘America’s Best High Schools’. The International School is recognised as one of the best schools of its kind in America.
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons that makes Bellevue such a great place to live is the convenience of modern living in a big city yet being condensed into a small and naturally beautiful space.
There isn’t an industrial aspect to the city nor does the central business district dominate the skyline. Instead, suburban family living in quality accommodation typifies the way that life is lived here.
Rated one of America’s top 25 safest cities, average incomes in Bellevue are much higher than the average and residents enjoy a high standard of living.
Washington is a great state and the cities of Olympia, Kirkland and Richland are also great considerations.
With an international airport and good road links, Portland, Maine is situated in the heart of New England and is a popular destination for British expats. The main draw of the north east coast is the infamous four seasons which enhance the stunning and rugged natural beauty of the area.
The glorious technicolour of the autumn rich with verdant evergreen, the copper and brass tones of the turning leaves against purple skies and hypnotically blue lakes and rivers epitomises Maine in the Fall.
Portland itself is a small city of just 66,000 people yet is home to a colourful and diverse community. The arts district is well supported and Congress Street is home to the city’s numerous museums, galleries, theatres and studios.
The economy of the city was largely based on its port activities until recent shifts have seen rises in the number of companies from the media and adverting sector as well as financial institutions and other representatives of the service sector.
The area has low unemployment and higher than average salaries adding to the already excellent standard of living from which residents benefit.
A seat of learning the Portland public schools are the largest in Maine and makes Portland the 9th most education city in America. Healthcare is also great here and there are plenty of recreational facilities that can be enjoyed by people of all ages from 2 to 102.
The city is home to over 230 restaurants and earns Portland the honour of having the highest number of restaurants per capita in the whole of the USA.
Overall, Portland offers a safe environment to live with plenty of good quality employment opportunities whilst catering for the needs of both growing and ageing families.
Maine is beautiful and offers families and retirees some great locations to live. Aside from Portland, Brunswick and Cumberland are also worth mentioning.
A real-life tale of two cities, Scottsdale offers far more than meets the eye.
With its desert location in the heart of the Gila Indian River Reservation, this rugged but outwardly sleepy city appeals to plenty of retirees. The abundance of golf courses, spas and colonial style condos certainly gives the appearance of Scottsdale being just another location dedicated to a life of leisure.
However, the city has a strong economy of its own as well as being well-located to service nearby Phoenix (12 miles to the west).
Quite aside from the daytime leisure pursuits, Scottsdale is also famed for having a very active nightlife bringing residents and tourist from across the greater Phoenix Area to its many clubs, bars and restaurants.
Undoubtedly tourism is a major player here yet the 220,000 residents of this sprawling city have also created its own community which is rich in arts, culture and sport. The annual Scottsdale Arts festival is ranked as the number one such event in the country and the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show has been running for over sixty years.
The historic downtown is a popular place for tourists as well as residents and is home to the famous Fashion Square Mall; a retail area with 225 shops.
The area has great schools, brilliant healthcare facilities and is well situated for transport links making it a great location for professionals as well as families and retirees. The city of Phoenix has a good expat network to supplement the friendly community of Scottsdale’s residents.
If you like the idea of living in Arizona then Tucson and Flagstaff are worth looking at.
Home to the Pentagon and the national military cemetery, Arlington is situated close to the US capital city of Washington DC. Just 6 miles separates the two cities across the Potomac River and as a result the Arlington area is populated by a lot of federal agents as well as those working as contractors to the various government departments.
The largest employers are the Departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security.
There are private companies such as Rosetta Stone, Marriott and plenty of representatives from the financial and investment sectors.
The result is a very stable economy with average salaries in the city being the highest in the country.
In contrast to the austere backdrop of the federal buildings and national landmarks is a vibrant arts and culture scene, enjoyed by the 220,000 residents.
An historic city with beautiful views, stunning architecture and the draw of the Potomac River, residents benefit from one of the best education systems in the country including the nearby institutes of Marymount and George Mason universities.
Overall, the key factors that make Arlington such a great place to live are the combination of reasonable cost of living, higher than average salaries, quality of healthcare and schooling as well local culture and access to public amenities.
Alexandria in Virginia is also worth a mention; adjacent to Arlington and very similar in history, style and demographic the city is also popular with retirees.
A charming and cultural city, Ashland has a booming economy; largely thanks to the growth of the solar industry as well as excellent city governance. The jobs market is also dominated by both the Southern Oregon University as well as the tourism sector.
Ashland is the smallest and one of our most rural picks on the list but offers a unique opportunity to experience a different aspect to living in America. To give you an idea of the style of living the city was used as the setting for the movie version of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline.
Oregon is better known for its historic association with the emigrant trails in the early 19th century when the state was populated solely by frontier towns. With a population of just 20,000 people, Ashland still evokes that small town living and the success of living here relies heavily on the local community.
It is, however, the community which makes Ashland such a great place to live. Supporting a cultural scene that includes an annual Shakespeare Festival and Independent Film Festival. There are several museums in the city as well as being home to the world’s only forensics laboratory which solves crimes against wildlife; the National Fish and Wildlife Forensic Laboratory.
Though not for everyone, Ashland is one of the best locations in the country to get a sense of the great outdoors and readily available adventure on your doorstep. The city is located between both the Siskiyou and Cascade mountain ranges and is surrounded by creeks, rivers and forests lending itself perfectly for hiking, exploring and outdoor pursuits.
School, education and healthcare are all excellent and residents have a much higher than average quality of life all making Ashland a haven for expats looking for something beyond the big cities.
Worth a mention in Oregon is the similarly styled communities of Bend and Corvallis as well as the seaport city of Portland.
Would you consider moving to the US? Have you already made the jump across the pond?
What would be your preferred city or town to settle?