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Expat • Global Citizen • Nomad Capitalist Lifestyle

The 10 Most Expensive Cities for Expat Living

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This article discusses the ten most expensive cities in the world for expat living. Not all expats crave affordability and modest living. Some want all the nice things in life no matter where they go. If you’re a high-net-worth individual looking for the most expensive cities with the highest standard of living, this article is for you.

Most people we deal with want to reduce their taxes legally, and for that, naturally, you can’t live full-time in a high-tax country. 

Some, however, have different goals and don’t want to compromise their lifestyle standards by moving to an unfamiliar city.No matter your preferences, we’ll help you find a place to call home. All you need to do is reach out to us, and we’ll handle the rest.

The 10 Most Expensive Cities for Expat Living

1. Zurich, Switzerland

Zurich is not only one of the most expensive cities in Europe but also the world. It is followed closely by its other Swiss counterpart, Geneva. Almost everything from entertainment to transport and rent is expensive in Zurich, a stance that is further accentuated by the strong Swiss Franc.

However, Zurich does compensate by offering a superb standard of living to all those who dare to live there. Sadly, Switzerland has become far more difficult to immigrate to. It is one of those countries that, like others on this list, has enough millionaires and is not exactly desperate for more.

In fact, Zurich has one of the highest concentrations of millionaires per capita. That is hardly surprising considering that the average Swiss family has a net worth nearing $600,000, the highest average in the world. That means that everything from maid service to taxis costs a fortune.

2. Geneva, Switzerland

Geneva is in close competition with Zurich as the most expensive city in the world. Despite lower taxes and higher salaries, many residents in Geneva see their money disappear into mandatory insurance payments and over-priced goods and services.

Utilities, food, healthcare, clothing, and entertainment cost more in Geneva than anywhere in Europe. Costs for transportation and electronics are similar to the rest of Europe, and though gas is cheaper than in countries like France and Italy, owning a car is very costly.

Rent in Geneva is higher than even in New York or Paris. The average cost for a two-bedroom apartment is $3,500 USD a month, and a home costs twice as much. A family of four would need to make at least $10,000 USD a month to get by in Geneva – let alone live abundantly.

3. Reykjavik, Iceland

While Iceland may seem unassuming, it will quickly take your cash and run with it if you ever decide to settle down for a time in the country’s capital city.

Reykjavik beats out cities like New York and Tokyo for cost of living by a long shot. Consumer prices are 17.76% higher in Reykjavik than in New York, grocery prices are 14.32% higher, and restaurant prices are 20.47% higher.

In fact, Reykjavik is one of the most expensive cities for dining in the world. An “inexpensive” meal will cost about $20, while a mid-range restaurant will come with a check well above $100. The city also has a pricey public transportation system – a monthly transport ticket will cost you $110.

While the cost of living in Reykjavik is 21.6% higher than in New York, the rent is considerably lower. A 900sqft apartment will cost you roughly $2000-$2500 – not cheap, but better than what you’ll pay in many of the other countries on this list. Still, a family of four will need an additional $ 5,000 in monthly income (on top of rent) to make it in this island nation.

4. Oslo, Norway

Very few things in Norway’s capital, Oslo, could be considered cheap, not even in comparison to prices in the rest of Europe.

On top of the already-high prices of imported food products, there is also a 14% VAT consumers have to deal with. These high prices motivate many Norwegians to cross the border into Sweden on a regular basis to stock up on the lower-priced food staples available in shopping centers set up on the border just to accommodate cash-strapped Norwegians.

While salaries are substantially higher in Oslo, between taxes and the high cost of living, most residents are forced to stick to a strict budget. A single person can expect to spend $1,200 a month plus rent (which can cost an average of $1850 to $2500 a month, depending on where you choose to live).

Oh, and if you want a license, be prepared to fork over $5,500 just for the privilege of driving.

5. Bergen, Norway

Bergen is one of Norway’s biggest tourist destinations, boasting stunning views of the Nordic country’s fjords along its west coast. Anyone looking to become more than just a tourist in Bergen may be convinced otherwise by the city’s brutally expensive food and drinks. Even supermarkets charge prices that are almost double anything else you will find in Europe.

The silver lining is that 3-star and 4-star hotels offer remarkably good value, and most attractions are either free or almost free. If you’re looking for a more permanent residence, a 900sqft apartment will cost you anywhere from $1500 to $2500 monthly.

6. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA

Beating New York City as the most expensive city in the United States, Honolulu, Hawaii, takes sixth place among the world’s most expensive cities.

Like Norway, Hawaii’s food prices are sky-high thanks to the increased costs of importation. 

But high food prices barely scratch the surface of Honolulu’s real cost of living problems. While the city’s overall cost of living is 90% higher than the national average, housing prices are a full 209% above average. Demand for vacation properties in Hawaii means the median price of a home on Oahu is $730,000. And if you can manage to rent something long-term, you’ll be lucky to get something below $2100 a month.

Other commodities that will cost you an arm and a leg in Honolulu are gas and electricity. Electricity costs twice as much in Hawaii as it does in Alaska (the second most expensive state for electricity) and more than three times the national average. Gas prices in Honolulu are also the highest in the country.

7. New York, NY, USA

New York unquestionably lives up to its reputation as one of the most expensive cities in the world. Groceries can cost anywhere from 28 to 39% more than the US national average, and eating out is equally expensive. A meal for two at a half-decent restaurant with some wine will cost you at least $75, if not more – 60% higher than the national average.

Like Honolulu, the most painful price point for New Yorkers is rent. The median monthly rent in Manhattan is a whopping $3,100 (and an average of $3,600), and Brooklyn isn’t much better at just over $2,600. These prices are an astounding 65% of New Yorkers’ median income.

There’s not much room for an abundant life when you hand over two-thirds of your monthly paycheck just to put a roof over your head.

On top of rent, a family of four can expect to spend an additional $4,300 on day-to-day expenses. No one said raising a family in New York was cheap. And, even if you’re single, you will still have to pay the city’s higher tax rates and additional taxes you won’t find in most other parts of the country.

8. Tokyo, Japan

One of the world’s most populous cities, Tokyo is Japan’s “new capital,” reflective of the fast-paced, high-tech vibe that the “New Japan” has embraced. A three-bedroom apartment can cost upwards of $9,000, while astronomical real estate prices put the likes of New York’s SoHo lofts to shame. Still, the average monthly rent sits at just around $2,500.

The cost of entertainment is ludicrously high in Tokyo, where it can cost as much as $46 for two tickets at the movie theatre. Transportation isn’t any cheaper, neither is fast food, gym memberships, or clothes. Some grocery items, such as milk, will substantially set you back.

Still, many expats and tourists continue to flock to the city, enchanted by the mysticism surrounding Japanese culture. Japanese food and traditions are unlike anything in the rest of the world.

9. Copenhagen, Denmark

Even by European standards, Denmark is an expensive expat destination. The cost of living is high, especially when it comes to eating out, paying for gas and utilities, and spending on accommodation and transportation.

There is high demand for the limited amount of accommodation in Copenhagen. This means you will often be asked to make an initial deposit of up to three months’ worth of rent to lock down a place. One month of rent can cost an average of $1,700 in normal areas and over $2,300 in more expensive areas of the city.

Higher salaries balance out many of the higher costs, but a family of four can still expect to spend about $3,800 a month apart from rent, and a single person should plan on spending just over $ 1,000. One way to cut costs is to cycle or walk through the picturesque city.

10. Sydney, Australia

Sydney is a beautiful city. From the Opera House to the Harbour Bridge to Bondi Beach and Darling Harbour, there are many ways to enjoy the fascinating Australian city. All the sites do come with a cost, though.

Sydney is Australia’s most expensive city. As with most places in this top ten ranking, rent is the largest contributor to the high cost of living. Depending on where you rent, you can expect to pay $2,000 to $2,700 for a 900sqft apartment, which makes it one of the most expensive cities for housing.

Sydney is the worst, but Australia as a whole is not cheap. While the cost of living is 13.72% lower than in New York, compared to the US as a whole, it is more expensive to live in Australia. This is especially true regarding entertainment, clothes, and transportation.

Many of the world’s most expensive cities share some common characteristics. One of the easiest to note is that they are all from the “developed” West. With the exception of Tokyo, every city is either located in Europe, the United States, or Australia. 

Another look at the list will reveal that paying more to live in the world’s most expensive cities may not even get you closer to your end goals. If your goal is to live in a safe city, you may be surprised to learn that of the world’s most expensive cities, only Tokyo made it onto the list of the world’s ten safest cities. Ironically, one of the least expensive cities on the list – Georgia – did make it into the top ten ranking for safety.

If you already live in one of the world’s most expensive cities, you understand that paying more doesn’t always get you more. That is why it is so important to sit down and decide exactly what you are looking for.

That’s exactly what we do at Nomad Capitalist. We don’t impose a cookie-cutter approach. We assess your individual situation, and only then we create a holistic, tailored strategy to meet your goals.

If that’s what you’re looking for, get in touch with us today, and we’ll handle the rest.


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