Posted by Sophie Grosvenor on January 25th, 2023.
This train of thought begs the question – which countries have the highest and lowest cost of living? This article will examine living costs on a per-continent basis, revealing the countries where it’s cheapest to set up home in Africa, America, Asia, Europe and Oceania.
According to Numbeo’s 2023 Cost of Living Index, Senegal is the most expensive place to live in Africa. The country remains far cheaper than its counterparts in other continents, but still manages to double the score of Egypt at the other end of the spectrum.
Relative to the cost of living in New York City (NYC), Senegal scored 46.4 – meaning it costs Senegalese citizens approximately 46.4% of the cost of living in NYC. This figure is broken down into the rent index, cost of living plus rent index, groceries index, restaurant price index, and local purchasing power index.
Meanwhile in Egypt, the cost of living is 21.6% of that of NYC. The cost of renting index reads at a mere 4.3.
The Egyptian city of Cairo featured in 2021’s InterNations Expat Insider survey: results suggest that while Egypt boasts the lowest cost of living out of all of the African countries, this is reflected in residents’ quality of life.
Cairo ranks 52nd out of 57 overall, scoring particularly low in the Quality of Urban Living and Urban Work Life Index. In relation to the former, occupants are particularly dissatisfied with transportation and health & environment.
The country that scores most highly in the Americas is Bermuda, whose general cost of living index prints at 141.8. On average, rent is lower than in New York City but this is made up for by the higher cost of groceries and eating out.
Expat advice platform ‘Expatra’ observes that the majority of emigrants choose Bermuda because of career and financial motives. ‘Bermuda is certainly not a destination chosen for the cost of living,’ warns the site, ‘or even ease of integration by expats.’
The lowest-scoring country in America is Colombia, which prints at 21.1. The cost of rent in Colombia is a tiny 7% of the cost of rent in NYC, while groceries are 79% cheaper. Numbeo’s Quality of Life Index ranks Colombia tenth out of twelve American countries – suggesting, as with Egypt, that the lower cost of living comes at a price.
Numbeo ranks Singapore as the most expensive country to live in Asia, followed by Israel and South Korea.
From a global perspective, the cost of living in Asia is comparatively low, even in its most expensive environs. However, the quality of life in a global context is also relatively low. Singapore, for example, is ranked below the UK, the United States and several European countries.
The Asian country with the lowest cost of living is Pakistan. Rent in Pakistan is around 3.4% of the cost of living in New York City; prices of groceries and eating out also score favourably.
In a similar position to Pakistan are India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, which likewise score particularly well for rental costs. Numbeo estimates that in Sri Lanka, the monthly living costs for a family of four would equal around £966.90 without rent.
At the top of Europe’s cost of living index is Switzerland, scoring 114.2. Life in the watchmaking capital is notoriously expensive – groceries and the cost of dining out are particularly steep – but unlike in other continents, the country’s premium price tag is matched by a high score in the global quality of life rankings.
With a cost of living more than 75% lower is Ukraine, scoring 25.6 overall and 8.1 in the rent index. Eastern Europe generally has far smaller living costs although this is matched with a lower quality of life. Given recent events in Ukraine, emigration to the country is strongly discouraged.
One country that scores favourably in both living costs – 20th out of 43 – and quality of life – 12th out of 36 – is Estonia. Having narrowly missed out on a top-ten spot in InterNations’ 2022 Expat Insider survey, Estonia is revered for its modern working life and high level of digitization.
Overall, the cost of living in Oceania is less than in the wealthier environs of America and mainland Europe, but comparable with most Western nations. Between Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, Australia ranks highest while Fiji’s indexes print significantly lower than the other two.
The highest-scoring factor across the breakdown of Fijian living costs is groceries – and these remain 58.1% lower in price than their NYC equivalent. According to Economist Dr Rohit Kishore, strong growth in the tourism sector and increased investment contribute to a steady economic recovery which enables lower living costs.
Expat forums caution, however, that inequality is rife in Fiji and it can be difficult to find work outside of tourist resorts.
Is it Worth the Move?
Given the lower quality of life that accompanies lesser living costs in many of the countries featured, moving on the basis of cost alone may not be the best idea.
On the other hand, there are accounts of expats who’ve thrived in countries where the average quality of life is low. This may be on account of external work opportunities, cultural advantage or family connections.
On the whole, budding expats may find it more prudent to cross reference living cost data with quality-of-life indicators to ensure they’re not compromising in areas such as healthcare, schooling opportunities and overall safety.
Furthermore, consider the countries in the middle, where living costs are lower than the UK or United States but higher than in developing nations. Such places may be all the more affordable for a lack of publicity.
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