What Would Your Lifestyle Cost in These 10 Popular Destinations?

Planning for a move overseas takes a lot of moving pieces. It can be tough to get used to all the different ways life gets done from Xanadu to Brigadoon. 

The upshot is that plotting your salary overseas isn't as simple as just running the paycheck through a currency conversion. You have to account for new spending habits, costs of living and taxes. To take a look at how much a move overseas can bite into your finances, we ran the median income ($51,939 ) through Smart Expatriation's calculator and asked: What would it cost in the top ten expat destinations to duplicate the median standard of living in New York?

Here's how far your dollar would stretch around the world...

10. Casablanca: $52,467 (Moroccan Dirham: 514,284)
10. Casablanca: $52,467 (Moroccan Dirham: 514,284)

Here's looking at you, cash! Here's place where it is almost as cheap as having just stayed home.

Little surprise that it's in Morocco, a country with the low costs of living often associated with West African nations, yet without the (moderate) security concerns of the Ivory Coast. Nevertheless, Casablanca is rated as the most expensive city in Morocco, one in which housing and medical care can cost quite a lot when held to Western standards.

This port city on the Atlantic draws many expats for its commercial and trade industries, driving up the prices for expat goods more still, but given its proximity to Europe only moderately.

9. Montreal: $56,683 (Canadian Dollars: 73,695)
9. Montreal: $56,683 (Canadian Dollars: 73,695)

Why people choose Montreal with Quebec City practically right next door is a mystery for another time. They do, and in great volumes, and that's just the way it is.

Perhaps it's for the poutine.

Nevertheless, the cost of living in Montreal betrays one of the great realities of life as an expat: it's usually more expensive. Sometimes by just a little, others by a lot, the consistent truth is that by the time you've finished calculating taxes, fees, foreign schools (for families with children) and more, you almost always have to spend at least somewhat extra for the same standard of living, even someplace as utterly agreeable as Montreal.

8. Dubai: $62,549 (U.A.E. Dirham: 229,586)
8. Dubai: $62,549 (U.A.E. Dirham: 229,586)

Dubai is a little surprising.

This desert boomtown in the United Arab Emirates is known for its larger than life attitude toward... well, everything, but most of all the city skyline. Given that Dubai features buildings like the Burj Khalifa and world's highest tennis court, one would be forgiven for expecting cost of living prices to match.

Yet by any standards, no less those of a city with Lamborghinis in its police fleet, $62,549 is fairly modest.

With room to spare for housing and low tax rates, supported by the oil industry, Dubai is actually a fairly affordable option for the thrifty expat.

7. Abidjan: $66,993 (West African Francs: 39.7 million)
7. Abidjan: $66,993 (West African Francs: 39.7 million)

Congratulations those who move to the Ivory Coast; you are overnight millionaires.

This phenomenon isn't, actually, all that exceptional. Visitors to Indonesia and many other nations will have the same eye-popping relationship with the ATM. Indeed, this writer still has a receipt pocketed in Bali showing the first (and only) seven-figure sum ever to blow up his checking account.

Here it's down to the fact that the West African Franc trades 591 to the U.S. dollar, making even a modest income seem remarkable. Fortunately, given that most expats who move to the Ivory Coast do so for relatively well-compensated industries, those numbers will really stack up.

6. Shanghai: $75,354 (Chinese Renminbi: 503,352)
6. Shanghai: $75,354 (Chinese Renminbi: 503,352)

One of the biggest cities in China, a country which has municipal footprints the size of Austria (and the shape as well), Shanghai is anything but cheap. Importing a western standard of living will cost expats somewhat dearly, although not nearly as much as simply trying to keep up with the Jonses over on Portobello Road.

Still, with top medical facilities, and local lifestyles available far more cheaply, expats who are willing to embrace China can probably shave quite a bit off those numbers.

5. Paris: $76,849 (Euros: 69,490)
5. Paris: $76,849 (Euros: 69,490)

The City of Lights is... well, comparatively cheap when juxtaposed with No. 1 and No. 2 on this list. It would take $76,849 to replicate a New York City lifestyle.

What many expats don't consider is the many different ways that income moves in a new country. It's about much more than just comparing the cost of seeing old movies on a Saturday night. As explained by Smart Expatriation CEO Ghislain de Rengervé, there are many elements when considering your move to a country like France.

"Cost of living is important," he said, "so we have some ways to calculate that cost of living, but don't forget that the cost of living is just one component when you move to a new country. There will be differences on the tax side, on the social contributions and on the accommodation as well."

All of which can mean that you may need considerably more after-contribution income to sip a Nescafe during "Singing in the Rain."

4. Singapore: $78,280 (Singapore Dollars: 105,680)
4. Singapore: $78,280 (Singapore Dollars: 105,680)

Singapore isn't a cheap place to live, demanding that the average expat get a 50% raise in U.S. dollars just to keep their standard of living.

Get ready to shell out for rent in this land-squeezed town, but that's not the really eye-popping expense. Despite fast and inexpensive public transportation, owning a car in Singapore (a fact of life for most Americans) can cost about as much as owning a house in the United States. Thanks to the local traffic reduction scheme, under which a permit to have a car often costs more than the vehicle itself, this might be a huge driver in costs, but also a good way to save.

Learn to ride the bus, and that top line number can come down a lot.

3. London: $84,682 (British Pounds: 65,478)
3. London: $84,682 (British Pounds: 65,478)

The most popular expat destination by volume of requests, London is above all else expensive.

And that's with the British currency currently down. In other years when the pound hovers between $1.80 and $2, it could cost you almost $100,000 to live a median American lifestyle in the heart of Great Britain.

The biggest cost-driver here, it may not surprise you, is housing, but a close runner up is transportation. The costs of getting around Britain are soaring, making it a very expensive, if popular, choice.

2. Hong Kong: $89,164 (Hong Kong Dollars: 691,404)
2. Hong Kong: $89,164 (Hong Kong Dollars: 691,404)

Don't be scared off by the sheer volume of HKD needed to enjoy a middle class lifestyle in this former British protectorate. But do be a little concerned by how many greenbacks it would cost.

Nearly $90,000 isn't cheap, but remember: that's just what it would cost to still live an American lifestyle in Hong Kong.

Yes, it might cost nearly $100k to go out for burgers and fries and a daily latte, but this ancient city has its own heartbeat that works just fine for millions of citizens. Importing a New York City standard of living will be expensive to be sure, so would-be expats should probably get used to pulling up a plastic stool on the street corner instead. You'll probably get a better meal out of it anyway.

Just be sure to stock up on Kraft macaroni and cheese when you go home for the holidays. Those little blue boxes are like currency among many expat communities.

1. Geneva: $90,241 (Swiss Frances: 88,356)
1. Geneva: $90,241 (Swiss Frances: 88,356)

Is this a surprise to anyone? Geneva's raw expense is well-known.

It is, in order:

  • A major city,
  • Propped in a desperately inaccessible location,
  • Which imports foreign professionals from around the world.

This fashionable city can't help but cost an arm and a leg.

As one of the world's great NGO and U.N. hubs, Geneva shares many features with Washington, D.C. It has a highly transient, but well-monied, population that needs infrastructure far in excess of what the city's native population supports. If Washington were surrounded by a moat with giant alligators, boasted excellent chocolate and built only one bridge in, it would feel something like Geneva.

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