The 9 Most Expensive Cities for Expat Living

As an Aussie expat, there are many reasons you may decide to live overseas. You may wish to pay less tax, discover new investment opportunities, pursue a new career, or simply enjoy greater freedoms. For some, pursuing a better life comes with a much higher cost of living. To demonstrate this, here are the top nine most expensive cities to live in as an expat. Along with this, we’ll show you what these destinations have in common to make basic living costs so expensive.

#1 Zurich, Switzerland – Zurich has the infamous honour of being both Europe’s and the world’s most expensive city. From rent to clothing, entertainment and more, almost everything in this city is expensive. This fact is further highlighted by the strong Swiss Franc. Perhaps to compensate, it provides exceptionally high living standards.

Unfortunately, it’s incredibly difficult to immigrate here. This is perhaps because Zurich has among the highest rate of millionaires per capita. And, Zurich is not exactly desperate to allow more in. The average Swiss family’s net worth is among the highest on Earth (standing at $600,000). Unsurprisingly, this translates to virtually everything from maid service to taxi fare costing far too much.

#2 Geneva, Switzerland – Regarding the cost of living, Geneva is not far behind Zurich. Regardless of low tax rates and high salaries, many Geneva residents see their money evaporate into things like mandatory insurance premiums and massively overpriced goods and services.

In Geneva, food, healthcare, utilities, clothing and entertainment cost more than in any other European city. Interestingly, the city also holds the record for the world’s most expensive cinema and boneless chicken breast. The cost of electronics and transportation are comparable to other European countries. And, although gas is cheaper than it is in Italy and France, car ownership is extremely costly.

The average rent in Geneva is higher than in cosmopolitan cities like New York or Paris. The average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $4,914.35 (AUD). And a home costs twice that. This means a family of four would need at least $9828.70 per month, just to cover expenses.

#3 Reykjavik, Iceland – On the surface, Iceland is quite unassuming. However, it’s a very expensive capital city to settle down in. By comparison, Reykjavik far outweighs cities such as Tokyo and New York for the cost of living. Average consumer prices are 17.76% higher than New York, groceries are 14.32% higher and restaurant meals are 20.47% higher. A “cheap” meal will cost $20, while a “mid-range” dinner will cost at least $100. Reykjavik also boasts the world’s second most expensive fuel and a costly public transport network. A monthly public transport ticket will set you back $110.

Despite this, rent is considerably low. It will cost you between $2,000-$2,500 per month for a 900 square foot apartment. This isn’t a bargain, but it is comparatively lower than many other entries on this list.

#4 Oslo, Norway – Oslo is not renowned for being inexpensive, especially when compared to other European nations. This is even noticeable for small consumables (Oslo has the world’s most expensive Coca-Cola). On top of exorbitantly high imported food prices, consumers must pay a 14% VAT. Frustrated by the expense, many Norwegians regularly cross the border to Sweden to stock up on cheaper food staples.

Although salaries are quite good, the numerous taxes and high living costs force many residents to tighten their belts. A single person will need at least $1,200 per month (plus between $2,579.58-$3,510.25 for monthly rent, depending on which suburb you live in). And, if you want to obtain a car licence, it will cost you up to $7,722.55.

#5 Bergen, Norway – Bergen is one of Norway’s top tourist destinations. From the West Coast, you can see the truly stunning views of the famous Nordic fjords. If you’re planning a permanent holiday, however, you may reconsider. For starters, food and drinks are astoundingly expensive. Local supermarkets regularly charge double what you’d see in most European stores.

There is a silver lining, however. The city’s 3- and 4-star hotels are remarkably affordable. And, most attractions are either free or very cheap. If you’re planning to live in Bergen, a 900 square foot apartment will cost between $1,965.74 and $2,948.61 per month.

#6 Honolulu, Hawaii, USA – Just beating out New York, Honolulu is the most expensive residential city in the United States. Similar to Norway, food prices are astronomically high, due to incredibly steep importing costs. Unfortunately, though, skyrocketing food prices are just the start of Honolulu’s cost of living issues. Living expenses are 90% higher than the national average, whilst house prices are a staggering 209% above average. Increasing demand for holiday homes has driven Oahu’s median house price to $1,024,993. And it is rare to find a rental property below $2,948.61 per month.

If you move here, you also have to prepare for extremely high gas and electricity bills. Electricity is three times the natural average, and gas prices are the most expensive in the US.

#7 New York, USA – New York has the reputation of one of the world’s most expensive cities. You can expect to pay between 28% and 39% more for groceries, and restaurant prices are equally exorbitant. Similar to Hawaii, the greatest expense is rent.

In Manhattan, for instance, the median monthly rent is $4,352.71 (with an average of $5,404.76). Brooklyn is only slightly lower at $3,650.66. This means rent will take up to 65% of your income. As such, after covering your rent, you probably won’t have too much disposable income.

In addition to rent, a family of four will need an additional $4,300 per month to cover living expenses. Unfortunately, things do not get much simpler if you’re single. You’ll still be required to pay some of the city’s highest tax rates, along with other taxes which aren’t found in most other states.

#8 Tokyo, Japan – Regarded as Japan’s “new capital”, Tokyo is one of the countries most populated cities. However, this fast-paced, high-tech lifestyle comes at a price. The average rent for a three-bedroom apartment in Tokyo is an astonishing $12,636.90 per month. Fortunately, the average monthly unit rental is a far more manageable $3,510.25.

Entertainment is ludicrously expensive. For instance, it can cost up to $65 for two cinema tickets. Sadly, public transportation, clothes, gym memberships or fast food is not any cheaper. Some grocery staples, like milk, are far too pricey.

Despite this, expats are flocking to the city in droves. This is hardly surprising. Tokyo’s unique combination of mystical Japanese culture and technological advancement make it an extremely attractive destination.

#9 Copenhagen, Denmark – Even in comparison to other European nations, Denmark is very expensive. Living costs are quite high; especially for dining out, gas and utility bills and public transport. Another reason for the high prices is the long waiting list for rental accommodation. So, you’ll often need to pay a deposit (equivalent to three months’ rent) to secure your place. In most regions, you can expect to pay $2,386.97 per month in rent. For the more expensive regions, you’ll pay around $3,229.43 each month.

These high costs are balanced out by higher average salaries. To handle the cost of living, however, a family of four will need at least $5,335.58, apart from rent. And a single person will require at least $1,404.10 to get by each month.

Common traits between these cities

There are several commonalities these expensive cities share. One of the most obvious, is these are all developed Western nations. Aside from Tokyo, each city is either in Europe, the US or Australia.

As living costs in these countries keep rising, life for middle-class expats is becoming more difficult. The cost of “just getting by” for most people to achieve their financial goals. This list also reveals that paying more does not automatically make you safer, either. Surprisingly, Tokyo was the only city on this list to be considered one of the safest.

If you do happen to be considering a posting in one of these cities or already are based in one don’t worry. Generally higher compensation helps to cover the higher costs.

In saying that one of the key factors will be to make sure your taxes are in order. You don’t want to be paying too much tax or risking any non-compliance and for that our team would only be too happy to help advise you. We’ve got clients already in most of these cities so our experience can certainly help you avoid any nasty surprises.


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