Have you ever thought about moving to a different country? Or maybe you are wondering how far a US dollar will go on your next international vacation. Even if you are just a curious mental traveler, you’ll be fascinated to learn which countries ended up on the list of Top 20 most expensive countries to live in 2021.
To help you learn more about the world’s most expensive places, we examined the cost of living in 138 different countries worldwide and featured interviews from recent expats.
The Cost of Living Index
Cost of living refers to the price of everyday goods and services required to live a particular lifestyle.
Data scientists at Numbeo determined the cost of living index by examining the purchasing power of money in a particular location. They evaluated consumer goods prices, including groceries, restaurants, transportation, and utilities. Then they compared data from each country to New York City, which was given a baseline index of 100.
For example, if a country has a Cost of living Index of 145, it means Numbeo has estimated it is 45% more expensive than New York City. If it has an index of 80 (20 points less than 100), it is 20% less expensive than New York City.
Other Cost of Living Indices
The cost of living can be examined in a few different ways. We are focusing on the primary cost of living index, which does not include rent. However, Numbeo gathers data for six different categories, including:
Cost of living: all consumer goods and services except rent
Cost of living, plus rent: cost of goods, service, and rent
Rent index: rent costs only
Grocery index: grocery costs only
Restaurant price index: restaurant costs only
Local purchasing power: relative purchasing power in buying goods and services in a given country for its average net salary.
20 Most Expensive Countries
9 of 20 of the most expensive countries in the world are in Europe. Still, all continents are represented on the list, with 1 in Africa (Seychelles), 2 in Oceania (Australia and New Zealand), 2 in North America (Barbados and Bermuda), and 5 in Asia (Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore, Israel and Japan.)
The Most Expensive Country
The most expensive country in 2021 is Bermuda; a British island territory made up of 181 islands in the North Atlantic Ocean. Bermuda is known for its pink sand beaches and subtropical climate. The cost of living is notoriously high in Bermuda because of high import duties and its remote location.
The number one industry in Bermuda is tourism, and nearly 80% of all the food and 60% of consumer goods on the island are imported from other countries. Before COVID-19, Bermuda welcomed 600,000 tourists every year. The island is home to 65,000 full-time residents. Around 20% of the people who live and work in Bermuda are expatriates.
Largest City: St. George
Population: 63,918 (2019)
GDP: 7.48 Billion (USD, 2019)
Source: World Bank
20 Least Expensive Countries
The Least Expensive Country
Pakistan is the least expensive place to live, work and visit in the world. Despite the low cost of living and safety concerns, visitors to Pakistan often report on the country’s extraordinary hospitality. Foreign travelers note how frequently they are given gifts and how generously they are received by locals.
Many governments strongly advise against traveling to Pakistan due to the history of terrorist activity in the country, which peaked between 2008 and 2010. The country has stabilized considerably and seen a dramatic decline in the number of terrorist attacks, yet safety concerns remain.
Largest City: Karachi
Population: 216.6 million (2019)
GDP: 1.076 trillion (USD, 2020)
Most Expensive Cities By World Region
Top 5 Most Expensive Cities in North America
New York City, which is widely used as a baseline for cost of living models, is the second most expensive city in North America. Hamilton, Bermuda maintains a significant lead ahead of the rest with a cost of living index 46% higher than New York City.
|#2||New York, NY, United States||100.00|
|#3||Honolulu, HI, United States||95.92|
|#4||San Francisco, CA, United States||93.35|
|#5||Anchorage, AK, United States||92.21|
Jessalyn Dean is no stranger to adjusting to a higher cost of living. She moved from Denver, CO, to San Francisco in 2016. In San Francisco, the cost of living plus rent is 65.24% higher than in Denver.
“I ended up selling my car and only renting (car sharing) when I needed it. This saved me a lot of money, but I could no longer be spontaneous with car/road trips. Because salaries in San Francisco are still high for my industry, I could afford to live alone.”
Jessalyn stayed in San Francisco for a year and a half before relocating again to Dublin, Ireland. After a few years in Dublin, she moved again to Amsterdam in the Netherlands, where she currently lives.
To adjust to new costs of living, Jessalyn planned ahead by using Numbeo’s cost of living calculator. However, she warns against stopping your research there. When moving cities or countries, it’s important to dive deeper into local research, which will give you more specific information.
“For example, when moving to the Netherlands, I visited funda.nl to view apartments in the areas I would want to live and see the prices to confirm. This is because Numbeo.com uses averages and is not tailored to your specific tastes and interests.”
Top 5 Most Expensive Cities in Central America
Even the most expensive cities in Central America are more than 40% cheaper than living in New York City.
|#1||Panama City, Panama||58.57|
|#2||San Jose, Costa Rica||52.08|
|#3||San Salvador, El Salvador||46.75|
|#4||Guatemala City, Guatemala||46.22|
|#5||Mexico City, Mexico||40.52|
For Coretta Lewis of It’s a Family Thing, leaving the US and moving to Mexico helped her family cut their living cost by more than half.
“My family left California before the pandemic and ended up in Ohio. After I lost my job, we then decided to move to Playa Del Carmen and live on $1,000 a month over the last six months. In San Diego, we spent nearly $2,100 a month on expenses, compared to the $800 we spend now. We’re about to save 75% of our income while having a better quality of life.”
For Coretta, the benefits have been significant. She was able to enroll her son in a Dual language preschool which would have been out of their budget in the US. “He goes six hours per day five days a week for less than $200 a month. We weren’t able to send him to preschool in California due to the cost.”
Her advice to someone moving to a place with a lower cost of living is “keep your spending in check. It’s easy to spend more when your expenses go down, but you have to be disciplined and put that money to use for you. You can save, invest, or start a side hustle that will generate more income.”
Top 5 Most Expensive Cities in South America
Suriname is the smallest independent country in South America. The largest city and capital, Paramaribo, has the highest cost of living in South America. With a total estimated population of 240,924, Paramaribo is 1/35th the size of New York City.
American Expats Living in Ecuador
Scott and Jody Arnold of Adventures in Middle Earth are American expats living in Ecuador. In August 2014, Scott and Jody moved to Quito to pursue a Christian mission while Scott continued his work as a CPA.
In an interview with Expat Arrivals, Scott talks about their adjustment to the cost of living in Ecuador: “The cost of living is much lower if you can manage without imported goods. In 2015, we did two blog posts on the cost of living here, and a few things have gone up in five years, and our internet has gone down (and improved in speed).”
Although the overall cost of living is lower, Scott and Jody do send away for certain things that are hard to get or more expensive locally. “Electronics and specialty foods top that list. Computers and cell phones are about twice as expensive here as in the US. Vitamins are much more expensive here, and we always bring those back.”
Scott recommends visiting a place and talking to people who live there before planning an international move. However, he cautions that COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the local economy, so finding a job may be challenging.
Top 5 Most Expensive Cities in Europe
Switzerland sweeps the top 5 most expensive cities in Europe. The average cost of living in Switzerland is nearly 32% higher than New York City and 60% higher than the US average.
Dee Olateru of The Rich Immigrant Blog and Podcast is an experienced expat who has lived and worked on four continents. In 2015, she moved from Minneapolis, USA, to Edinburgh, Scotland.
“All in, the cost of living was slightly higher, but salaries were considerably lower compared to the US. To adjust to the overall higher cost of living and prepare for the lower salary, I researched taxes, medical expenses, and the cost of basic expenses as best I could in advance of my move. I also created a draft budget for my new life before moving. Upon my arrival, I tweaked those expenses based on my lived experience.”
Dee’s move wasn’t permanent. Instead, she planned to live in Scotland for three years before relocating. To adjust, she came to terms with the fact that she would save less during her residence in Scotland.
As a trade-off, Dee says, “I took advantage of the significantly lower costs of flights within Europe, for example (compared to the USA) to explore the region.”
Dee recommends that someone making an international move do the following:
- Create a budget that is reflective of the cost of living in your destination.
- Perform appropriate research using the cost of living comparison sites online and talk to family, friends, or acquaintances that have made similar moves
- Consider any tax implications and plan accordingly for both your home and destination countries. Seek expert financial advice where necessary.
Top 5 Most Expensive Cities in Asia
|2||Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel||93.64|
|4||Seoul, South Korea||88.37|
Rachel is an American expat and blogger who moved to China when her spouse got a job there. They live near Haiyang, in a village in China’s Shandong Province.
In an interview with Expat Arrivals Rachel discusses what life is like in China and she is adjusting to the change.
The couple live in a fairly rural area, which comes with advantages and disadvantages. “It’s great that our location is picturesque, but that means we don’t have a lot of options in terms of grocery shopping, nightlife, etc. I miss the convenience of home. I also miss working as there are no job opportunities for spouses here.”
Living accommodations are provided by her husband’s company, and the cost of living is much lower than what they were used to but travelling to the city can be costly. “Groceries within Haiyang are very affordable. So is dining out. Taxis are cheap. Getting to larger cities like Qingdao and Yantai, which are a couple hours from us, can be expensive and inconvenient since we have to hire private drivers and pay for tolls and gas. I should say that we have the option to hire a private driver, but that is quite expensive, so we’ve opted against it.”
Rachel is originally from Pennsylvania, USA and now focuses on learning Mandarin and writing about her experiences on her blog.
Top 5 Most Expensive Cities in Africa
|#1||Addis Ababa, Ethiopia||58.92|
|#2||Abidjan, Ivory Coast||55.73|
|#4||Johannesburg, South Africa||46.00|
|#5||Pretoria, South Africa||44.70|
A few years ago, Lynette Kearney of Girl Has a Mind moved from Cape Town, South Africa, to London in the United Kingdom.
“While Cape Town is generally one of the most expensive cities in South Africa to live in, nothing prepared me quite for how expensive London would be. In London, housing costs are at least a quarter of your salary, and it’s one of the few places in the world where renting is as expensive, if not more, than homeownership.”
In her first few years, Lynette noted that expenses in London add up quickly. Rent, council taxes, parking, water, electricity, gas (for central heating), internet, and transportation promptly gobbled up the majority of her income. “All in all, I would say, those first few years, probably half of my salary went on those basic expenses.”
“While London has some of the best and most reliable public transport systems in the world, it’s certainly more expensive than say Paris or Rome. And if you choose to buy a car, be prepared to spend hundreds of pounds for a resident’s parking permit, which allows you to park your car in the street you live in.”
When Lynette started saving to buy her first property, she had to give up eating out or going to nice bars, a highlight of living in the city. In December 2020, Lynette fulfilled her dream of moving out of London and into the countryside. Although she is now 60 miles from the city, it’s more than worth it because “for the price of a one-bedroom flat in London, I can now afford a three-bedroom semi-detached house with a garden and off-street parking.”
Her recommendation for anyone considering a move to a big city is to speak to someone who lives there. “If you don’t know someone, then quora or Reddit are good places for questions on what to consider before you move. While most people do some research and have an idea on what their expenses will be once they’ve moved, you have to think long term.”
Top 5 Most Expensive Cities in Oceania
|4||Auckland, New Zealand||84.82|
Mike Hawryluk is a Canadian expat who moved to Perth, Australia, in 2012. Mike moved to Perth with his family when his company bought a business there. Mike is an engineer who has worked in operations management for oil and gas services for 15 years.
In an interview with Expat Arrivals, Mike talks about the pros and cons of relocation to Australia, including the high cost of living in Perth.
“Perth, as a general rule, is very EXPENSIVE. Particularly expensive things are food (both grocery and restaurants), housing, cars, fuel, clothing, utilities, and don’t underestimate the amount you’ll be expected to pay in Australian taxes. Mobile phone plans, golf courses, technology items, and sporting items are very reasonable in price here.”
On the other hand, housing is reasonably priced depending on your needs, but be sure to find accommodation with air conditioning because you will need it.
Mike recommends relocating after you have secured a job, as expat applications are highly scrutinized. Unemployment is pretty low in Perth, and jobs are readily available for those who work in major industries like Oil, Gas and Mining.
“I think generally it is quite easy to find work in Perth if you have experience in Oil and Gas or Mining. Unemployment is low, and salaries are quite high to try to match the high cost of living. The main site for looking for work is seek.com.au. Currently, the economic climate is softening somewhat, and generous expat packages are being scrutinized due to the extremely high cost and tax treatment.”
Relocation Resources for Expats
If you plan to make a big change, like moving to a new country, doing your research is very important! Luckily, tons of online resources and blogs will give you detailed and updated information about living in a new place with a unique cost of living.
Relocation Resources for Expats