12 Most Expensive Cities to Be an American Expat

Editors' pick: Originally published May 19.

For a certain type of person, life as an expat is a dream come true. It comes with foreign adventure, interesting food and the occasional thrill.

Of course, it's not all fun and games. Life abroad can have its downsides too. Yet for those who love it, the expat lifestyle can be addicting. They have a hard time settling back down into a community that doesn't span the globe. They're the people who spend cocktail parties dreaming of dingy rooftop bars and would happily swap fine loafers for a nice, worn pair of sandals.

The catch, as with so many things in life, is money. Finding and funding that expat adventure isn't easy, and work isn't always the worst of it. Costs of living can bite back, too.

Although moving overseas often means embracing a far cheaper cost of living, that's not always the case. Sometimes life overseas can get expensive, like in these 12 cities ranked the most expensive expat destinations in the world by the consulting firm Mercer.

12. London, United Kingdom

Between the strong pound and the expenses of one of the world's most desirable cities, this is not a home for the financially faint of heart.

Which is why it does hold firm as the world's 12th most expensive expat destination.

Sharing the heartache with its sister city across the pond, one of London's most crushing expenses is housing. They can be, in a word, brutal. With apartments costing hundreds of pounds per week and the average home purchase up to £500,000, it's almost impossible to find an affordable place to live in the heart of the United Kingdom.

On the other hand, the city makes up for it by offering some of the best beer in the world.

11. Tokyo, Japan
11. Tokyo, Japan

Why move to Tokyo? Well, there are a lot of reasons. It could be for the cooking, one of Asia's great and ever-emerging food scenes is spread across this metropolis's streets and alleyways. It could be for work, and there's certainly plenty of opportunities to advance a career in one of the great financial centers of the Pacific Rim.

It could even be for the culture -- varied, unique, utterly unlike anything found in any other part of the world. Many Westerners looking for that something they haven't found quite yet seek out the English teaching opportunities offered in Japan and discover a sort of homeland that they'd never known they needed.

Just don't do it for the money. Tokyo housing is expensive. Tokyo mass transit is expensive. Even a Tokyo beer is expensive, which is a shame because after too many days pressed onto a high priced, cargo-carrying bullet, you'll probably need one.

10. N'Djamena, Chad
10. N'Djamena, Chad

What drives the costs of living in a nation like Chad? It's not the currency. The Central African Franc, at time of writing, traded 584 to one U.S. dollar. Nor can it be raw density. N'Djamena doesn't have the kind of tourist and population pressure of a London or Tokyo, with the city measured at 1.26 million inhabitants by the CIA's Factbook.

Much of the cost of living in N'Djamena is driven instead by scarcity. This landlocked country in Africa has few good neighbors, bordering the Sudan and Libya on its east and north respectively, and with the Congo just a short distance away to the south. Expats often find themselves there for work due to the country's energy and cotton exports, and when they do they'll find that a gallon of milk can cost $7 and a pair of shoes over $130.

As those costs mount for every, single purchase, it becomes clear why this capital is one of the most expensive places on Earth to live as an American.

9. Bern, Switzerland
9. Bern, Switzerland

There aren't many more beautiful places to live than Switzerland, so it's not too surprising that the small nation's capitol is one of the most in-demand destinations worldwide.

Unfortunately that kind of demand also comes with a price tag.

Although the Swiss franc is near parity with the U.S. dollar, Switzerland has always had a high cost of living. Much of this is due to the many quirks of this country's geography. The same mountains and thin trade routes that for centuries kept invaders at bay also make it difficult to truck in food, clothing and the many other necessities that little Alpine villages just can't produce in sufficient quantity.

The result? A gorgeous landscape, friendly people, absolute dynamite skiing... and not much extra cash.

8. Seoul, South Korea
8. Seoul, South Korea

Considering that they live 35 miles from an armed maniac's missiles, not to mention the world's most comprehensive field of landmines, the people of South Korea have an incredibly upbeat attitude on life. This tech epicenter has produced quite a lot of what makes the 21st Century go.

So it's no surprise that so many expats want to live there, Kim Jong Un notwithstanding.

Part of the expense of doing so comes from food. Basic necessities such as fruit and vegetables are often more expensive, and Westerners seeking dairy products such as cheese and milk will pay a high premium to find these items (frequently imported all the way from Australia). Too, those considering a move to Seoul should consider South Korea's jeonse system, under which a renter doesn't furnish monthly rent but rather makes an up-front loan to the landlord instead. The upside is that you'll get the money back (hopefully) at the end of the tenancy... the downside is those lump sum payments can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

7. Beijing, China
7. Beijing, China

Asia has appeared often on this list and will continue to do so, largely because the East Asian markets are incredibly hot right now. Particularly for expats looking to build careers and carry on business, the Pacific Rim economies are a booming place to grow.

Enter Beijing.

What can be said about China that hasn't been already? Beijing is the capital of one of the world's biggest and fastest growing economies and literally billions of people want to move there. There is much in China, even in the cities, that remains cheap; however, the press of humanity has driven the price of Beijing housing through the roof. Don't expect to cheap out here.

6. Shanghai, China
6. Shanghai, China

Shanghai is China's biggest city, and in a nation with cities more populous than some countries, that's saying quite a lot. Recent estimates put the residents somewhere around 24 million.

Yet as a financial capital, it's hard to stay away.

Many of Shanghai's expenses show up in little ways. A pound of chicken will cost you $5. A casual lunch out can run upwards of $12. Expect to spend $90 on jeans. (That last bit, admittedly, may produce little sticker shock depending on where you buy your denim.)

In particular what drives the price of Shanghai living is the high price of expat consumer goods. Imports from the West -- whether cheese, wine or DVDs -- are expensive in this cosmopolitan city. Expats who want to live the full, local life and never miss home will find life in Shanghai considerably cheaper than those who choose to keep one foot out the door. For the latter, a word of advice from one expat to another: bring lots of boxed macaroni and cheese.

5. Geneva, Switzerland
5. Geneva, Switzerland

Tucked in a valley among the Swiss Alps, built by a lakeside where artists have installed a 100-foot jet of water for no other reason than that it looks good, is one of the prettiest cities on the face of the planet: Geneva, Switzerland.

Wandering this place is like getting lost in a fairytale. Even the coffee shops are gorgeous, while even the shopping mall has good taste. Just don't get too attached... unless someone else is footing the bill for your move, life in Switzerland is going to get expensive. Fast.

In addition to the logistical problems that drive prices up in Bern, Geneva also has the problem of every administrative epicenter worldwide. It is a hub for NGO and United Nations projects, meaning that this city imports expats the same way Washington D.C. imports politicians. Geneva's transient population is enormous, and that means that the demand for goods and services is comparable.

4. Singapore
4. Singapore

Around the world, there are improbable city states that still survive and thrive; Singapore is one such example. An island nation off the southern tip of Malaysia, this is yet another financial capitol making the list of expensive expat hubs worldwide.

A destination for bankers, lawyers, financiers and more, Singapore attracts expats from all across the world. It also has them paying through the nose for the privilege of living there.

While it would be tempting to speculate, the reasons why aren't very complicated. Like Manhattan, Singapore is a high-demand metropolis crammed into a fairly small island. Room to grow is limited, which pushes rent prices ever higher, and everything anyone eats, wears or plugs in has to be shipped across narrow bridges or cargo ships.

Oh, in the tropical heat of the Malay peninsula, expect to run up your electricity bill. A lot.

3. Zurich, Switzerland
3. Zurich, Switzerland

The Swiss just can't stay off this list. Known for its secretive banks and fine watches, the lakeside city of Zurich is also known for it's crushing expense. By the numbers:

A casual lunch out: $27

O.K., but how about a McDonald's combo meal: $14

That pair of blue jeans we keep talking about: $121

Rent in a normal section of town, for a one-bedroom apartment: $2,462

If you must move to Zurich, remember this: try not to rip your jeans. You'll need that money to keep a roof over your head.

2. Hong Kong, China
2. Hong Kong, China

Hong Kong has a troubled history. A former British colony, the city was handed over to the Chinese in 1997 who promised it a measure of political and economic independence. How closely Beijing has kept that promise remains the subject of debate, so much so that a local skyscraper has begun to count down the days until "one country, two systems" is set to expire.

Enter the expat.

Like visitors to so many of the other Pacific Rim nations we've touched on, most Westerners who find their way to Hong Kong do so to take advantage of the booming financial, business and legal scene. Much like Singapore, limited land space means that the rents are incredibly high. Meanwhile those who hate parking tickets won't find much relief either... owning a car in Hong Kong is incredibly expensive thanks to a city licensing fee that can cost as much as the vehicle itself.

1. Luanda, Angola
1. Luanda, Angola

The sad story of Luanda is one of personal safety and corruption.

Although the cost of living for most Angolans in Luanda is not high by Western standards, for expats it can be incredibly so. Imported foods and consumer goods are available at great expense, while some expats have described rents for reasonably safe and comfortable buildings as high as $5,000 to $25,000 per month.

Finding personal safety, whether through hiring a bodyguard or home and business accommodations, is not cheap in Luanda. Nor are the bribes frequently demanded by public officials at every level, down to the cops who stage traffic stops to shake drivers down. It is an unfortunate story but the reality of life in this city.

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