Life as an expat can be full of surprises; a new culture to learn, surroundings to explore and barriers to overcome. Amidst so much uncertainty, if you are planning to make a big move overseas but have not yet decided where, or want to get the lowdown on your destination of choice, UBS’s latest Cost Of Living Around The World report may well have the answers you are looking for.
Most people exploring the expat lifestyle will have to be prepared to make sacrifices to make the project work, but one area where certainty can represent a big advantage and allow you to hit the ground running, is understanding the financial demands that will be placed on you. UBS has ranked 13 major world cities, in order of affordability, and the results are part predictable, part surprising, and part eye-opening.
It’s unlikely to surprise many people that, in terms of affordability, Geneva, Switzerland is the costliest place on earth to live and work. There are little or no bargains to be had, with the cost of “basic expenses”; food, beverage, personal care, clothing and household items; as high as anywhere you will find. Worse still, accommodation is, relatively, even pricier!
UBS estimates basic expenses as $2,099.30, and “expat extras”; 2-bed furnished accommodation, household help, an international school admission fee, and enrolment onto a local language course; at an eye-popping $4,227.43. Geneva, then, can only really be put on the bucket list if you stand to earn a small fortune by living and working there, which is, in fact more or less guaranteed. On average, UBS calculates that residents of Geneva earn more than anybody else in the world, based on a study of 15 separate professions, from bus drivers to bankers. Geneva comfortably beats Zurich into 2nd place on that score, with Luxembourg, Los Angeles and Copenhagen making up the top 5.
If not Geneva? Brussels is ranked the next costliest place to live by UBS. Whilst basic expenses are lower than the Swiss city ($1,431.18), expat extras come in at a whopping $4,728.04. It may be worth remembering that politician and bureaucrats do not earn quite the same salaries as Swiss bankers, either.
Dubai is next costliest, scarcely cheaper than Brussels ($5,856.99), whilst Frankfurt, then Hong Kong, the next 2 cities on the list, will save you a further $500 dollars per month; enough to fund a bi-monthly trip home to catch up with family and friends, perhaps.
Working backwards now, Mumbai, surely one of the most exotic, romantic cities on earth (as anybody who has read “Shantaram” while travelling in their twenties will know), is just one third as costly as Geneva ($2338.45) with accommodation especially cheap, and the capital city of India is at the epicentre of arguably the most promising, explosive economy on the planet.
Jakarta is some $600 per month pricier than Mumbai, all in, UBS estimates, and Buenos Aires a further $200 more than Jakarta, followed by Bangkok, where accommodation is inexpensive but extras add up – learning to speak Thai, for example, is likely to be a costly, although rewarding endeavour.
Santiago de Chile comes in at under $4,000 per month, Sydney at a shade below $5k, and Toronto at a shade above.
Hedging your bets, then, perhaps 2 cities perhaps represent the best deal; Amsterdam ($5,185.62), and Hong Kong ($5,306.12) rank fifth and sixth. They may have contrasting styles, types of employment, and cultures, but financially speaking, there is little to choose between them.
UBS’ report also looks at the cost of “millennial must haves” around the world; from Netflix, to iPhones, an avocado, and a Big Mac. It’s easy to be attracted by a high salary, but if everything costs more, how much better off will you really be? Likewise, is it worth taking a drop in salary to move to a city where living is inexpensive, but the creature comforts you are used to are unobtainable?
In this regard, UBS estimates that Buenos Aires is the most deceptive destination on UBS list. It may be cheap, but the cost of iPhone is a massive $2,244. A Big Mac in Zurich will set you back $7, and a cup of coffee $5 – only Dubai charges more.
In another interesting study, UBS has calculated how many working hours you will require to be able to afford to buy an iPhone. Whilst it takes just 4.7 working days to save up the required sum in Zurich, and 6.7 in New York, in Panama, you will be busy for 18.7 working days, in Beijing, 39.3, and in Lagos? 133.3 days!
Best buy yourself a smartphone before you decide to relocate to West Africa, then.
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