1. Economics
September 8, 2014

Where are the best and worse places to be an expat?

By Lauren Razavi

There’s a lot to consider when emigrating to another country: salary, cost of living, quality of life, entitlement to healthcare… If you’re thinking of joining the 320,000 Brits who left these shores in 2013, though, you’re in luck: combining a few recent studies does much of the work for you.

With some unexpected results. The Mercer Cost of Living survey ranks cities based on currency fluctuations against the US dollar, the cost of accommodation and the prices of imported goods. This year, it found that some of the most expensive cities to be an expat are in Sub-Saharan Africa, with Luanda in Angola and N’Djamena in Chad listed as the priciest picks.

This seems surprising – until you find out that a decent two-bedroom apartment in Luanda will set you back an incredible $7,000 per month. “Finding secure living accommodations that meet the standards of expatriates can be challenging and quite costly as well,” Mercer partner Ed Hannibal explained in a statement. Imported goods come at a costly premium, too, he added: “This is generally why some African cities rank high in our survey.”

Perhaps less surprisingly, the survey found that expats in the Swiss cities of Zurich, Geneva and Bern don’t get much bang for their buck either. Meanwhile New York, Sao Paulo and Los Angeles were the most costly options in the Americas, while Hong Kong, Tokyo and Singapore topped the Asia-Pacific portion of the list.

Other rankings reach other conclusions. HSBC’s 2013 Expat Explorer Report produced several league tables, covering expenses, economics, “experience”, and which was the best place to raise children abroad. On economics, ultra-pricy Switzerland topped the list: it costs a lot, but you can earn a lot, too. The Middle East won praise for its high earning potential and low tax rates; European countries by contrast lost points for their high public transport costs and personal tax rates.

For those seeking life “a buzzing social hub”, though, HSBC recommends you head to Asia. And topping the survey was Thailand, which combines high earning potential, low living costs, and easy integration into a rocking expat social life.

The report also provides data on which cities will be the most exciting destinations for expats in future, and identified the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China) and frontier nations (Vietnam, Indonesia, Turkey and Mexico) as the most promising. “These countries are attracting young career-minded expats, as well as international companies looking to increase their footprint,” Dean Blackburn, HSBC’s head of expat economics, notes.

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Life abroad isn’t all beach parties and climbing the corporate ladder, of course. Thailand and Indonesia see expats spend between 41 and 46 per cent less than the global average on healthcare. At the other end of the scale, Australia won’t do you any favours, with more than half of those surveyed reporting higher healthcare costs than in their home countries.

If you’re worried about little Jocasta and Sebastian when you drag your family off to experience small town life abroad, then you could do worse than move to Germany: HSBC found it was the best destination in terms of the both cost and quality of education on offer.

Last but not least, if caffeine’s your drug of choice, you might want to think again about your plans to relocate to Oslo. A comparison by the Wall Street Journal reveals that a Starbucks latte comes is at $9.83 a cup in the Norwegian capital, with Stockholm and Moscow not far behind at $7.40 and $7.27 respectively. By contrast, New Delhi ($2.80), Mexico City ($3.22) and San Francisco ($3.55) are  the best places to get a cheap coffee fix.

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