Living in Asia as an Expat Might be An Expensive Choice

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I have always thought that living as an expat was a frugal choice. Perhaps it’s because of the cliche image of the young backpacker forging their way around the world.

More than that, though, I’ve had several friends who lived as expats around the world. Some of them went to Asia to teach English, fell in love with the country, and stayed for years. As expats in Asia, they seemed to have enough money to live fairly luxurious lives.

And yet, a Forbes report indicates that perhaps my assumptions are all wrong.

8 of the 10 Most Expensive Expat Cities Are in Asia

Each year, Mercer’s Cost of Living Survey looks at the most expensive cities around the world for expats. This year, eight of the ten most expensive expat cities are located in Asia. Hong Kong is right at the top of the list. If you’re an expat living in Hong Kong, then you probably aren’t getting a great deal.

The other 7 most expensive expat cities in Asia are:

  • Ashgabat
  • Beijing
  • Seoul
  • Shanghai
  • Singapore
  • Shenzhen
  • Tokyo

I wasn’t terribly surprised to see Tokyo on the list. However, having expat friends who seem happy in Shanghai, I was definitely surprised that it’s an expensive place.

What Are The Other 2 Expensive Cities for Expats?

There were two cities in the top ten that weren’t located in Asia. Zurich, Switzerland, is the fifth most expensive expat city on the list. It’s also the only one in Europe. Likewise, the only American city on the list is New York, which ranks in at number nine.

If you look further down the list, you’ll see a few other American cities. San Francisco and Los Angeles both rank in the top 20. If you look at the top 50 most expensive cities for expats then you could add Chicago, DC, Miami, and Boston to the list.

Looking over to Europe, the top fifty includes Bern, Geneva, Paris, Rome, Milan, Moscow, and London.

Expat Options Around the World

There are some regions around the world that offer a great cost of living for expats. If you’re trying to keep things frugal, then you’ll want to look at these cities, which were ranked among the least expensive.

Ten Least Expensive Expat Cities

The ten least expensive expat cities anywhere in the world are:

  1. Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
  2. Banjul, Gambia
  3. Islamabad, Pakistan
  4. Karachi, Pakistan
  5. Managua, Nicaragua
  6. Skopje, North Macedonia
  7. Tashkent, Uzbekistan
  8. Tbilisi, Georgia
  9. Tunis, Tunisian
  10. Windhoek, Namibia

Other Least Expensive Cities by Region

  • In the United States, Winston-Salem, NC and Portland are the two least expensive cities for expats.
  • Cheap choices in Central and South America include Tegulcigalpa, Honduras and La Paz, Bolivia.
  • The best option in India is Kolkata or Bengaluru.
  • Canadian cities have remained stable as in-the-middle pricewise for expats.

Some of the other least expensive expat cities include:

  • Cairo, Egypt
  • Johannesburg, South Africa
  • Lusaka, Zambia
  • Minsk, Belarus
  • Monterrey, Mexico
  • Sarajevo, Bosnia
  • Yerevan, Armenia

What Determines How Expensive a Place Is?

Mercer’s Cost of Living report factors in an array of different things. The ten key categories compared city-to-city are:

  1. Alcohol and tobacco
  2. Clothing and footwear
  3. Domestic supplies
  4. Food
  5. Home services
  6. Housing
  7. Personal care
  8. Recreation and entertainment
  9. Transportation
  10. Utilities

Moreover, they consider, “currency fluctuations, cost of inflation for goods and services, and volatility in accommodation prices.”

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