Top (and Bottom) Cities for Budget-Conscious Expats
- In the top 3 Kuala Lumpur (1st), Alicante (2nd), and Valencia (3rd), money goes a long way for expats.
- In Dublin (66th) and Munich (65th), expats are particularly unhappy with the housing market.
- Toronto (64th) is not the best place for expats on a budget.
- With Alicante (2nd), Valencia (3rd), and Málaga (9th), there are three Spanish cities in the top 10.
- Eight out of the bottom 10 cities are located in Western Europe.
The Top 10
The Finance & Housing Index covers two subcategories, made up of two factors each: For the Finance subcategory, survey respondents rated their overall satisfaction with their financial situation (which carried double weight in the subcategory) and answered the question whether they felt that their disposable household income was enough to cover daily costs. The affordability of housing and the ease of finding housing for expats make up the ranking of the Housing subcategory.
Based on expats’ satisfaction with the cost of living in their city, a Local Cost of Living Index is provided as additional information. However, it does not factor into the overall ranking to avoid overrepresenting financial aspects in the general results.
In 2020, 66 cities make it into the ranking, with a minimum sample size of 50 respondents each.
Malaysia’s Capital on Top
Kuala Lumpur ranks first in the Finance & Housing Index in 2020. The Malaysian capital particularly impresses expats when it comes to housing: 84% of survey respondents living in Kuala Lumpur believe that it is easy to find a place to live, and nearly half (48%) even agree completely with this statement, compared to 20% globally. Seven in ten expats in Kuala Lumpur (70%) find housing in the city to be affordable, too, and one in five (20%) considers the affordability to be very good.
Expats have a good life here in Kuala Lumpur.
Survey respondents in Kuala Lumpur are also happy with their overall financial situation: 76% say as much, compared to 61% worldwide. More than seven in eight expats in Kuala Lumpur (88%) consider their disposable household income enough or even more than enough to cover their everyday costs. Two-thirds of respondents (67%) even say that they have more than they need. “It is an easy way of life,” one British survey respondent points out. “Expats have a good life here.” This is also reflected in the fact that 6% of the survey respondents in Kuala Lumpur receive an annual income of more than 250,000 USD, compared to 3% globally.
Alicante: Low Cost of Living on the Costa Blanca
Alicante, a newcomer to the Expat City Ranking in 2020, makes it to second place, both in the Finance & Housing Index and the overall ranking.
Survey respondents are rather happy with the housing situation in Alicante: over two-thirds (68%) rate the affordability of housing positively, and 32% even find it very good. Plus, close to four in five (79%) find it easy for expats to find housing in Alicante, compared to 55% globally.
An even higher share of expats living in Alicante (81%) is also satisfied with their financial situation, and nearly three out of ten (29%) even say that they are very satisfied, compared to 21% globally. Indeed, it seems like expats in Alicante have everything they need: for 87%, their disposable household income is enough or even more than enough to cover the costs of daily living.
I love the sunshine, cheap food and vino, and the cost of living here in Alicante.
This is most likely thanks to low costs: the majority of respondents in Alicante (82%) are satisfied with the local cost of living, and nearly three times the global average (40% vs. 14% globally) even think that the cost of living is very good. This is echoed by a survey respondent from the UK who praises “the sunshine, cheap food and vino, and the cost of living”. Despite this, expats in Alicante tend to make less than the global average: 71% of survey respondents in the city earn less than 50,000 USD annually. However, finances are not the main reason for expats to move to Alicante in the first place. Instead, 32% moved for a better quality of life, and 13% were looking to retire in Alicante.
Great Value for Money in Valencia
The city that ranks first overall in the Expat City Ranking 2020, Valencia, also places in the top 3 of the Finance & Housing Index. The majority of respondents living in the city (82%) rates the affordability of housing positively, twice the global average of 41%. Over a quarter (26%) are even very satisfied with this factor. Just over four in five (81%) agree that it’s easy for expats to find housing, and close to three in ten (29%) agree completely.
I like the good value for money you get on most things here in Valencia.
Also a great destination for financially conscious expats, the Spanish city offers a lot of value for money: it ranks first in the Local Cost of Living Index, as a staggering 94% of expats in Valencia are satisfied with the cost of living in their home abroad. Moreover, 72% are happy with their financial situation, and 27% even very much so. Five out of six survey respondents in Valencia (83%) say that their disposable household income is enough or even more than enough to cover their daily expenses. Roughly six in ten (61%) even find it to be more than enough. One of the advantages of living in Valencia, according to one survey respondent from France, is the “good value for money you get on most things”.
Much like survey respondents in Alicante, the majority of expats in Valencia (62%) makes less than 50,000 USD annually (vs. 53% globally). However, with the main reasons for moving being retiring in Valencia (for 20% of respondents) and seeking a better quality of life (23%), financial matters might not play as big a role for them.
Trends in the Top
With Alicante (2nd), Valencia (3rd), and Málaga (9th), three Spanish cities are ranking in the top 10 of the Finance & Housing Index. However, the more famous destinations in the country, Barcelona and Madrid, do not follow this trend — they rank 46th and 34th, respectively. Two in three expats in Barcelona (67%) and two in five in Madrid (40%) are unhappy with the affordability of housing, and 36% and 32% say it’s a struggle for expats to find housing in their city, respectively. In both cities, just under three in ten expats (28%) are unhappy with their financial situation. When it comes to their disposable household income, 25% of respondents in Barcelona say that it’s not enough to cover the daily costs, and 30% of expats in Madrid agree.
Kuala Lumpur is not the only Asian city that makes it into the top 10 of the Finance & Housing Index; it is joined by Bangkok (4th) and Ho Chi Minh City (5th). Expats are rather happy with the housing situation in all three cities. In both Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City, 88% of survey respondents say it is easy to find a place to live. Three in five expats in Bangkok (60%) and just over five in eight in Ho Chi Minh City (63%) also agree that housing is generally affordable in their city.
The Three Worst Cities for Finance & Housing
Dublin, which also ranks in the bottom 10 of the Expat City Ranking 2020 overall, achieves particularly poor results in the Housing subcategory. Nearly nine in ten expats in Dublin (88%) rate the affordability of housing negatively, compared to 41% globally, and three in five (60%) give this factor the worst possible rating. It is also not easy to find housing in the Irish capital: 76% of respondents are unsatisfied with this factor, and close to half (47%) very much so. As a survey respondent from Portugal points out, expats either get “extremely bad quality housing or unaffordable prices for normal apartments”.
Moreover, nearly three in ten expats in Dublin (27%) say that their disposable household income is not enough to cover their everyday costs, and over a quarter (26%) are generally unhappy with their financial situation. One Croatian expat who laments the “abnormal cost of living” in the city is not alone in her assessment of the situation: 77% of respondents in Dublin rate the cost of living poorly, 36% even very much so.
Prices are just crazy here in Munich.
For expats searching for housing in Munich, the situation is similarly dire: 73% of survey respondents living in the Bavarian city believe that it’s difficult for expats to find housing, and 39% even think that it is very difficult, compared to only 9% globally. With five in six expats (83%), more than twice the global average of 41% also rate the affordability of housing in Munich negatively. Just over two in five (41%) even give it the worst possible rating (vs. 13% worldwide). As a Serbian expat puts it, “housing is very expensive and it’s very hard to find a place”, and a survey respondent from Ukraine adds, “prices are just crazy”. According to the UBS Global Real Estate Bubble Index, Munich ranks as the most overvalued housing market in the world, as real estate prices are unsustainably high in the Bavarian capital.
The results of the Finance subcategory are rather average in comparison: 61% of expats in Munich are happy with their financial situation, the same percentage as the global average. Plus, more than three-quarters (76%) say that their disposable household income is enough to cover the daily costs, only three percentage point less than the global average (79%).
Occupying 64th place in the index, Toronto shows less impressive results when it comes to finance: only 53% of respondents in the Canadian city are satisfied with their financial situation. In fact, 13% aren’t happy at all with this factor — almost twice the global average of 7%! And while 72% say that their disposable household income is enough or more than enough to pay for daily expenses (vs. 79% globally), less than two in five (39%) consider it more than enough, compared to more than half the expats worldwide (51%).
It’s unrealistic to purchase a home in Toronto.
Four out of five respondents in Toronto (80%) rate the affordability of housing negatively, almost twice the global average (41%), and four in nine (44%) are very unhappy with this factor. “The real estate market in Toronto is crazy expensive,” says one survey respondent from Serbia. “It’s unrealistic to purchase a home here.” While it seems slightly easier for expats to find housing in Toronto than in other cities, 44% of survey respondents still consider it a struggle.
Expensive Europe at the Bottom
There is a clear trend in the bottom of the Finance & Housing Index, as eight out of the bottom 10 cities are located in Western Europe. Aside from Dublin (66th) and Munich (65th), which were addressed earlier, Stuttgart (63rd), Paris (62nd), Milan (61st), Geneva (60th), London (59th), and Stockholm (58th) were rated negatively as well. Expats in these cities are mostly unsatisfied with the housing market. For instance, 38% of expats in London and 35% in Geneva give the affordability of housing in their city the worst possible rating (vs. 13% globally). Nearly one-third of respondents in Stockholm (32%) and close to a quarter of expats in Paris (23%) say that housing is very hard to find for expats in their city (vs. 9% globally).
(Not So) Strong in Finance
Next to Alicante, which ranks first in the Finance subcategory and second in the Finance & Housing Index overall, Málaga is another Spanish city which impresses financially conscious expats. Just over four in five respondents in Málaga (81%) say that their disposable household income is enough or more than enough to cover the daily costs. And 60% even say that it’s more than enough, compared to 51% globally. Thus, it is not a surprise that 79% of expats in Málaga are happy with their financial situation, 35% very much so. The third place in the Finance subcategory is occupied by Kuala Lumpur, which ranks first in the index overall.
Milan, Athens, and Seoul rank at the bottom of the Finance subcategory. More than one-third of the expats in Milan (34%) say that their disposable household income is not enough to cover their daily costs. Even more, 36% to be precise, are unhappy with their financial situation, and 11% are completely dissatisfied. Expats in Athens, which ranks 65th out of 66 cities in this subcategory, feel similarly about their city: only 44% of them are satisfied with their financial situation (vs. 61% globally), and nearly a third (32%) say that their disposable household income is not enough. With 33%, a similar percentage of expats in Seoul find their disposable household income to not be sufficient for covering daily costs. An even higher share (35%) is unhappy with their financial situation, 14% even very much so.
The Housing Struggle in Europe
The top 3 cities of the Finance & Housing Index also occupy the top 3 ranks in the Housing subcategory.
Dublin and Munich also, unsurprisingly, rank in the last two places of the Housing subcategory, along with Stuttgart (64th), which places 63rd in the index overall. Seven in nine respondents in Stuttgart (78%) are dissatisfied with the affordability of housing, and 33% even give it the worst possible rating (vs. 13% globally). Nearly four in five (79%) also find it difficult to find housing in the city, with 29% very unhappy with this factor.
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