The financial capital of the world’s biggest economy has a subway where you can hear a dozen different languages in a single day and streets where you are always bumping into any one of eight million fellow New Yorkers from all over the world, trying to find their groove in a city where anything can happen.

New York is home to some of the world’s best bars and cocktail waiters, a seemingly limitless supply of theatre and music, restaurants of every variety and ethnic cuisine, museums packed with some of the world’s greatest artworks and shopping to punish the toughest credit card. All of this is squeezed onto a tiny island, its inhabitants stacked high, their windows staring straight into the neighbour’s or, if they are lucky, gazing inwards at the oasis that is Central Park.

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New York thoroughly lives up to its reputation for excitement, cultural stimulation and money-making opportunities, and everything that is said about the pitfalls is true, too. Apartments are pricey, small and hard to acquire, and the city’s pace can wear many people down eventually.

While their countrymen regard New Yorkers as the rudest of all Americans, to an outsider the natives are unusually warm and approachable, if occasionally impatient. Everyone has their own New York City. If you get a chance to find yours, don’t miss it.

SAN DIEGO

If you hate urban sprawl, pray you are not posted to Los Angeles. If year-round chilly weather makes you grouchy, stay away from San Francisco. But if you want the best of both of those cities – a high-tech expertise, plentiful capital and excellent infrastructure – go to San Diego, California’s southernmost city. It offers sunny days, day trips to Mexico, a relaxed lifestyle and casual business culture. There are also the upper crust ways of the Mission Bay Yacht Club – but San Diego is so friendly that even the blue bloods tend to welcome strangers so long as they can sail decently.

The city has not been immune from the intense development that has taken place throughout the state, especially in the past few years. No matter – somehow San Diego has managed to hold onto its original small-town, small-neighbourhood charm.

SANTIAGO

One of South America’s most-visited cities by business travellers, Santiago is a vibrant, sophisticated town cashed up by 15 years of economic high times in Chile.

While its capital is a more expensive place to live than most Latin cities, Chile enjoys greater prosperity and political stability than its neighbours (its boom aided by 2004’s free trade agreement with the US), and corruption levels are relatively low.

Santiago is clean and safe, medical services are world class and the subway system is excellent. The neighbourhoods of Providencia, Vitacura and Las Condes have earned the nickname ‘Sanhattan’ for their bars, restaurants and hip clothing boutiques, and you can find all the consumer goods you would ever need. At weekends, it is easy to get away from the smoggy streets, with both the Pacific coast and the nearby Andean snowfields an easy drive from town.

Despite former dictator General Augusto Pinochet’s on-again, off-again trial, the wounds left by his rule are healing. The mood in Santiago is one of a society that quite rightly regards itself as ‘developed’. The citizens are outward-looking and friendly, if somewhat straight-laced – the Argentines call their neighbours the Germans of Latin America. Although plenty of executives speak English, there is little chance that the local shopkeeper will understand a word, so don’t forget your Spanish phrase book.

SHANGHAI

If New York is the city that never sleeps, Shanghai is the city that never stands still. The frenetic pace has become its very hallmark – from the never-ending development, to the stylishly dressed inhabitants power-walking down the streets, to the rushing influx of foreign companies establishing operations here. At the same time, traditional Chinese culture is alive and well in the city; like most Asian cities, it has a vibrant market scene where just about any goods – legally manufactured or not – are available alongside stalls preparing traditional cuisine and steam carts selling ready-to-eat food.

The pace is reflected not only in the city’s streets, but also in the business community. Conducting commerce in China has never been for the faint-hearted, and that is doubly true for Shanghai, which has a reputation as being especially Darwinistic. But like inhabitants of other rough-and-tumble capital cities, the Shanghainese would not have it any other way.

SINGAPORE

Singapore is regularly accused of being boring. It is sedate, maybe even a bit staid, and it might be a stretch to call it exciting. But this oasis of calm is still a highly attractive place to live. An almost perfectly formed and perfectly functioning little universe, Singapore offers a working environment that, well, works. And despite its small size and stuffy laws, there is more than enough to keep an enterprising expat occupied. Anyway, what’s so boring about fantastic shopping, tasty food and warm weather?

With its low crime rate, good schools and clean streets, Singapore is a prime posting for people with families. And young singletons could do worse than cocktails on the Quay and a stroll down Club Street.

If the city-state does start to feel a bit too small, its location at the heart of south-east Asia makes it an easy jumping-off point to more exotic locations.

STOCKHOLM

How wired, or wireless, is Stockholm? Well, if you want to take a tour of this ‘Venice of the North’, you can start out with a mobile phone, a map and a set of codes to key in and listen to a tour-guide in the language of your choice. Other cities have started to offer guided mobile phone walks but, like just about everything mobile related, Stockholm was one of the first. The Swedish city considers itself the de facto capital of Scandinavia, receiving more foreign visitors than any other city in the region.

Stockholm has been dubbed the European capital of the internet for good reason. The creativity, innovation and energy that have marked development in this space are also characteristic of every other facet of life in Stockholm, from design to music, restaurants and city planning.

And the freezing cold weather? That’s in Finland. Thanks to the Atlantic Gulf Stream, winters in Stockholm are quite mild, with snow most likely to be on the ground during the first three months of the year.

SYDNEY

Once home to hoards of convicts and rum-soaked soldiers, Australia’s founding city is now its economic capital and one of the world’s most attractive and vibrant cities.

Surveys consistently rank Sydney in the top 10 most inhabitable cities for its blend of open space, physical beauty and big-city bustle. The locals are friendly and open, the city is safe, schools are good and in general everything functions well – except perhaps the public transport system, which causes some grumbling.

An outdoor people, the hedonistic locals can sometimes seem interested in nothing but their wonderful lifestyle. That is no surprise: the restaurants and cafes serve delicious, fresh and inventive food (legendary New York Times food critic RW Apple ranks Sydney’s eateries with those of London, New York and Paris), and its dramatic harbour location and excellent weather bring Sydneysiders closer to nature than most urbanites can hope to get without a long journey.

On a summer’s day, the well-heeled head out for a leisurely sail among the harbour’s many bays and quiet coves, while everyone else enjoys a barbecue picnic or heads for the beach. In recent years, the city’s waters have become pristine: you can sometimes spot dolphins at the famous Bondi Beach, tiny fairy penguins make their home in the harbour and whales have been seen sporting among the ferry boats under the Harbour Bridge.

If you’re posted here, pack thoroughly – you may want to make Sydney your permanent home.

TORONTO

If you are doing business in Canada, you are probably doing it in Toronto. Leading global manufacturers, IT, medical and biotech companies, banks and other financial institutions will automatically base their headquarters here. The majority of Canadian corporates, too, guide their national operations from this financial centre – about 72% of the country’s largest employers are headquartered in Toronto, according to local statistics.

A posting to Toronto is probably inevitable if your company is targeting Canada. And, fortunately, it is also an enviable one. Although, the city’s business culture can often be rather buttoned-down, outside of work there is plenty to see and do in the city centre, from the kitschy shops and world-class restaurants along Yonge and Dundas Streets to its latest development, the Mimico Waterfront Linear Park project, which broke ground in July. Nearby suburbs, such as Hamilton, offer reasonably affordable housing.

And then there is the legendary friendliness of Torontonians themselves; tourists that visit Niagara Falls and the CN Tower – the tallest building in the world – usually return home with at least one story of how polite the locals were. Toronto’s worst kept secret is that this attitude also permeates the city’s business community.

ZURICH

It is a well-worn line that the trains always run on time in Switzerland. But it’s true. And for busy executives with jam-packed schedules, this is a blessing. Transport is not the main attraction, though. No place in Switzerland could be considered a hardship posting, with stunning scenery, crisp Alpine air and a general feeling of serenity.

French-flavoured Geneva and Germanic Zurich, each serving as capitals of two very different swathes of the country, both have long lists of attributes, and both regularly appear at the top of lists of the world’s most inhabitable cities.

Both know their roles: Zurich plays the businessman to Geneva’s diplomat. Not that Zurich is all business. While often overlooked in favour of glamourous Geneva, Zurich has a better buzz to it and a slightly quirkier charm – or quirky by Swiss standards at least. Like Geneva, it also has that rare commodity: a city-centre lake that is clean enough for swimming and sunbathing while waiting for the ski season to roll around.