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24 Sep 2019

The 6 most expensive cities to live and work in

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If you’re planning to relocate or work overseas, you’ll need to know how affordable a destination is. We’re not only talking about property prices – everything from transport to the price of a loaf of bread needs to be factored in.

Following a new report released by the Economist Intelligence Unit, we’re taking a look at this year’s top 6 most expensive cities, and how to live affordably in them.

Paying top dollar

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2019 Worldwide Cost of Living report is out now. This annual study compares 400 individual prices across 160 products and services, from luxury goods to everyday essentials, and works out the average cost of living for all the cities sampled.

Last year the top five spots went to Singapore, Zürich, Paris, Hong Kong and Oslo. If you’re planning to move abroad, you’ll want to know what cities you can afford to live in, so here are the results.

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The priciest places

For the first time in the report’s 70-year history, three cities are sharing top spot: Singapore, Paris and Hong Kong.

In fourth place was Zürich and fifth place was shared by Geneva and Osaka. Those cities kept Seoul, Copenhagen, New York, Tel Aviv and Los Angeles out of the top six.

The top 6 most expensive cities

  1. Singapore (Singapore)

  2. Paris (France)

  3. Hong Kong (China)

  4. Zürich (Switzerland)

  5. Geneva (Switzerland)

  6. Osaka (Japan)

Paris has been in the top 10 since 2003, but interestingly, it’s the only city in the eurozone to make it so high in the rankings. Overall, Asian and European cities remain the priciest places, with all but three of the top 10 being located on those continents.

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Why so expensive?

The study identifies average prices of a wide range of items and services, revealing what accounts for the high cost of living in each city. It also helps to pinpoint where savings can be made.

If you know which products and services push the cost of living up in a city, you can avoid them or find cheaper alternatives, and you might find that you can live there quite comfortably.

Take men’s suits, for example. In fashion capital Paris, you can expect to pay US $2,000 for a standard two-piece, compared to US $573 in Geneva. In New York, don't expect change from $2,730.

Of course, these are average prices, so if you shop around, you’ll be able to find lower-priced items.

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In Geneva, you can expect to pay US $6.06 for a 1kg loaf of bread, almost double the price of a loaf in Singapore (US $3.40) – but in Seoul, you’d have to pay an eye-watering US $15.59.

In fact, when you look at everyday consumer products and services (food, public transport, utilities) in top-ranking Singapore, the prices look pretty reasonable – or even cheap.

What makes the city-state so expensive is that it’s a small island, meaning property and rent are expensive.

There’s not a lot you can do about that expense – so unless you want to live a frugal lifestyle, it might be worth looking elsewhere.

How to make your money go further abroad

There are ways to bring the costs of living down in these “expensive” cities.

Do your research before you go, look on travel websites and blogs for tips on cheap living, and use the Cost of Living guide to find out which purchases to avoid.

Three tips for saving money abroad

  1. Familiarise yourself with the exchange rates before you go so you know exactly what the price tags mean.
  2. If you work overseas or migrate permanently, opening a local currency bank account will almost certainly be your best bet.
    With Skrill’s Money Transfer service, you can send money from home to a bank account abroad for free – the are no fx mark-ups and no transfer fees.*
  3. Finally, find out how the locals shop, entertain themselves and travel – and live just like them.

*Offer valid at time of publication

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