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

Luanda, Angola - the most expensive expat city in the world. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

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.

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.


17 things the proposed “Tulip” skyscraper that London mayor Sadiq Khan just scrapped definitely resembled

Artist's impression. See if you can guess which one The Tulip is. Image: Foster + Partners.

Sadiq Khan has scrapped plans to build a massive glass thing in the City of London, on the grounds it would knacker London’s skyline. The “Tulip” would have been a narrow, 300m skyscraper, designed by Norman Foster’s Foster & Partners, with a viewing platform at the top. Following the mayor’s intervention, it now won’t be anything of the sort.

This may be no bad thing. For one thing, a lot of very important and clever people have been noisily unconvinced by the design. Take this statement from Duncan Wilson, the chief executive of Historic England, from earlier this year: “This building, a lift shaft with a bulge on top, would damage the very thing its developers claim they will deliver – tourism and views of London’s extraordinary heritage.”

More to the point, the design was just bloody silly. Here are some other things that, if it had been built, the Tulip would definitely have looked like.

1. A matchstick.

2. A drumstick.

3. A cotton ear bud.

4. A mystical staff, of the sort that might be wielded by Gandalf the Grey.

5. A giant spring onion.

6. A can of deodorant, from one of the brands whose cans are seemingly deliberately designed in such a way so as to remind male shoppers of the fact that they have a penis.

7. A device for unblocking a drain.

8. One of those lights that’s meant to resemble a candle.

9. A swab stick, of the sort sometimes used at sexual health clinics, in close proximity to somebody’s penis.

10.  A nearly finished lollipop.

11. Something a child would make from a pipe cleaner in art class, which you then have to pretend to be impressed by and keep on show for the next six months.

12. An arcology, of the sort seen in classic video game SimCity 2000.

13. Something you would order online and then pray will arrive in unmarked packaging.

14. The part of the male anatomy that the thing you are ordering online is meant to be a more impressive replica of.

15. A building that appears on the London skyline in the Star Trek franchise, in an attempt to communicate that we are looking at the FUTURE.

14a. Sorry, the one before last was a bit vague. What I actually meant was: a penis.

16. A long thin tube with a confusing bulbous bit on the end.

17. A stamen. Which, for avoidance of doubt, is a plant’s penis.

One thing it definitely does not resemble:

A sodding tulip.

Anyway, it’s bad, and it’s good the mayor has blocked it.

That’s it, that’s the take.

(Thanks to Anoosh Chakelian, Jasper Jackson, Patrick Maguire for helping me get to 17.)

Jonn Elledge is editor of CityMetric and the assistant editor of the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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