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2013 Expat Cost of Living Ranking

12 February, 2013 15:04  Erin Erin

Tokyo Tower © SeanPavonePhoto - Fotolia.comA high cost of living is something expats around the world struggle with. It can even send some expats home, as seen in our latest Expat Twitter round-up in which popular Japan expat blog "Surviving Japan" admitted defeat and returned to the USA. Even if the cost of living doesn't send you home, understanding what makes a city expensive can help you find your place and thrive.

The Economist Intelligence Unit recently released it's "Worldwide Cost of Living Index 2013". The index is a weighted average of the prices of 160 products and services, with New York's figure set at 100 to provide a base for comparisons.

From this list, we draw comparisons to rankings from past years, analyze the results, and offer personal stories. We have included answers from our series of Expat Interviews to question #10,

"Is the cost of living higher or lower than the last country you lived in and how has that made a difference in your life?"

Most Expensive Cities for Expats

1. Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo has reclaimed its place as the world's most expensive city. The Japanese city has impressively ranked first 14 times in the last 20 years.

From Arizona to Oknawa: More Things Japanese - "The JET Programme provides the same salary for all participants of the same year no matter of your placement. Moving to rural Japan my costs were higher than back home, and I made less than working part time during college, yet my salary was still comfortable for my area. I'd say there is simply a bigger difference living rural versus city than the US versus Japan. Most of the saving I was able to do living rural, however, was made up by the high transportation costs between island and mainland."

2. Osaka, Japan

From Honolulu to Yokosuka: With Aloha from Japan - "Unfortunately, the cost of living in Japan is much, much higher than in the U.S. (it is even higher than Hawaii which has one of the highest costs of living in the U.S.) and that has made a huge difference for us. Although we do get some cost of living compensation from the government, it still does not adequately offset the higher costs here. As a result, we probably don't eat out AS much (as we normally would) and we haven't taken as many trips around Japan and other parts of Asia (as I would have liked to at this point). Luckily there are tons of 100 Yen stores (should be the equivalent of the U.S. Dollar Store, but they are way better) around where you can get everything from kitchen/tableware to garbage bags."

3. Sydney, Australia

Sydney is the economic and financial capital of the country. More than half of the head offices of the Australian companies and the most important banks are located in Sydney.

From Kuala Lumpur to Sydney: The New Edge - "Groceries and household items are lower, but rent is much, much higher, which evens it out. The main difference is that we now live on one and a quarter income ( I do some freelance work) instead of two, so we've had to rein in some things. We hardly eat out, and we try to do a nature-related activity on weekends. And (sigh) – no more massages."

4. Melbourne, Australia

From Michigan to Melbourne: Keys Down Under - "Prices of everything (except maybe wine) are much higher in Australia compared to the United States. Your salary increases as well, but I don't think I'll ever get over the sticker shock. Housing and food costs are especially outrageous."

4. Oslo, Norway

Oslo is one of the few cities to dethrone Tokyo's top ranking in the past 20 years, but this year it sits at 4th place.

From Canada to Norway: From There to Here - "The cost of living is extremely high in Norway as compared to Canada. Interestingly enough, we don't find it much different than what we experienced in Gabon. We didn't encounter the sticker shock that most do upon arrival in Norway as we had already adjusted to a much higher cost of living in our last expatriation. My husband's salary is also adjusted to help accommodate for the difference. We try not to let the cost of things dictate our entire life here all while remaining budget conscientious. We have cut back on dining in restaurants and going out for drinks but we generally keep the same standard of living that we were accustomed to pre-expatriation."

6. Zurich, Switzerland

Zurich has experienced one of the greatest falls. The city ranked first just last year thanks to its strong currency, but efforts to weaken its franc have been successful. Zurich is one of the few cities beside Japan to reach the top spot in the past 20 years.

7. Paris, France

Paris is another city that once reached top ranking.

From Arizona to France: Vino Vagabonds - "Previously, we were living in Mendoza, Argentina and the cost of living was considerably less. Being in France the higher cost has forced us to focus on only the most important things like groceries and other essentials (luckily, great wine is inexpensive here). As a result, we have a lot more dinners on our patio with local friends."

8. Caracas, Venezuela

Cost of living in Caracas has risen the most in the last year. Venezuela's bolívar is pegged to the dollar, which explains why Caracas is one of the top ten cities.

9. Geneva, Switzerland

Geneva still makes the list, despite Swiss efforts to weaken its franc.

10. Frankfurt, Germany

From Wisconsin to Prague to Nuremberg: Heather Goes to Deutschland - "Prague was dirt cheap, and that's a big part of its draw for expats. Beer is less than water there, so it's pretty hard to argue with that. Compared to living in Prague, the cost of living is definitely higher here. But salaries are a lot more here, so it hasn't made a huge difference in my lifestyle. I went from sharing an apartment with three other people, to my own place here for not that much more money, which I love. I've also been able to do a lot more traveling since living here, so that has been great too."

Resources for Living in A City with a High Cost of Living

These expat bloggers prove that life abroad is possible, no matter the challenges. To formulate your own plan for life abroad, or assist in your current expat life, refer to our expat guides with information on finding work, visas, education, and more. We also refer you to our articles, "How to Live in a City with a High Cost of Living" and tips for a cheap night out in "Most Expensive Cities For a Night Out".

Do you live in one of these cities, or have tips on how to manage a high cost of living? Leave a comment below or contribute to the cost of living posts in the expat forum.


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         EasyExpat on

Tokyo gets a bad rap [Reply]

Accomodation is almost unavoidably expensive, but a lot of other things are much more affordable in Tokyo than other major cities. Where else can you get a whole authentic Neapolitan pizza at a sit down restaurant for $US4?
It's not living per se, but this article we did last year showing how to stay in Tokyo all expenses included for 3 nights on $US125 is a good indication of the possible 'hacks'. http://tokyocheapo.com/...in-tokyo-on-125-dollars/

  Greg Lane     21 Feb 2013, 12:13