The continuous increase in urbanization has been perceived as a major threat for biodiversity, particularly within tropical regions. Urban areas, however, may still provide opportunities for conservation. In this study focused on Macao (China), one of the most densely populated regions on Earth, we used a comprehensive approach, targeting all the vertical strata inhabited by ants, to document the diversity of both native and exotic species, and to produce an updated checklist. We then compared these results with 112 studies on urban ants to illustrate the dual roles of cities in sustaining ant diversity and supporting the spread of exotic species. Our study provides the first assessment on the vertical distribution of urban ant communities, allowing the detection of 55 new records in Macao, for a total of 155 ant species (11.5% being exotic); one of the highest species counts reported for a city globally. Overall, our results contrast with the dominant paradigm that urban landscapes have limited conservation value but supports the hypothesis that cities act as gateways for exotic species. Ultimately, we argue for a more comprehensive understanding of ants within cities around the world to understand native and exotic patterns of diversity.