Although dizziness is a common presenting symptom in general and hospital practice, its social cost is not known. We assessed the social and work life impact of dizziness on patients in two contrasting European cities, Siena and London. First, we developed the ‘Social life & Work Impact of Dizziness questionnaire’ (SWID), which was validated by administering it to 43 patients with dizziness and 45 normal controls and by correlating the results with the EQ-5D (Europe quality of life) questionnaire. The SWID and EQ-5D scores were worse in patients than controls (p < 0.001) and the two correlated significantly (r = 0.50 p < 0.001). Then two hundred consecutive patients per city attending tertiary specialised ‘dizzy patient’ clinics, one in London led by a neurologist, one in Siena led by an ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT), were investigated with SWID. Amongst the 400 patients, 27% reported changing their jobs and 21% giving up work as a result of the dizziness. Over 50% of patients felt that their efficiency at work had dropped considerably. The mean number of days off work attributed to the dizziness in the previous 6 months was 7.15 days. Social life was disrupted in 57% of all 400 patients. Factor analysis identified that detrimental effects on work, travel, social and family life combine to create a single factor accounting for much of the overall impact of their dizziness. Significant differences in some measures of handicap between London and Siena emerged, with London patients often faring worse. Reasons for these location differences include, as expected, a higher proportion of neurological patients in London than in Siena. However, factors related to city demographics and social cohesion may also modulate the impact on quality of life and working practice. Regardless of inter-city differences, these findings highlight the high social and economic impact of dizziness.