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Expat Heaven? How does your city match up to other popular expat destinations?

By Sean Kearns

Expat Heaven - Does Your City Match Up

With the increased globalization of businesses, rapid growth of new economies, and ever decreasing air fares, more people than ever before are taking up roots and moving overseas in search of a new life. We look at some of the most popular expat destinations around the world and see how they compare&

London

People's perceptions of London tend to vary widely. Some see a hectic dog-eat-dog environment, some see opportunities to make their name, fortune or both, others are simply drawn by the capital's heritage, history and reputation as both a top party destination and the gateway to the rest of western Europe.

Whichever, thousands line up each year to give it their best shot.

While the work permit system is designed to protect British workers, in reality most sectors are open to expatriates who have either secured a job in advance or belong to one of the visa categories that allow them to enter the UK and then look for work. Some professions, such as teaching and social work, are constantly struggling with staff shortages so any qualified person stands a good chance of finding work in these areas.

These employment and cultural positives come with a hefty price tag. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, London is the seventh most expensive city in the world ' of the other major European cities only Paris is more expensive. Residential rents in London are notoriously high ' the average one bed flat costs around '1,000 per month ' and tend to be on a slightly upward trend.

Why?

Excellent nightlife, culture and shopping

What's stopping you?

High living costs and those crowded tubes

New York

The epicentre of global trends, the media and publishing hub, the core for the financial industry, the greatest city on earth and certainly up there with the most expensive ' New York is the city that has inspired a thousand reputations. But the cost of living in NYC is high and seems to always be creeping ever higher. Manhattan is often seen as a desirable neighbourhood, but it's worth considering the boroughs since the gentrification process sweeping the city is turning certain areas into absolute gems. In fact, certain areas of Brooklyn are already surpassing parts of Manhattan in terms of property prices and general standards of living.

You'll need a job that pays well if you want to keep up ' but getting and staying there isn't easy. Immigration law in the United States, which is controlled by the Immigration and Nationality Act, has grown into a daunting body of law. It is not for the faint of heart, but with some perseverance and a lot of patience, you will learn to navigate the system, as millions of others before you.

Once employed in New York, you will most likely find that the job you worked so hard to get looks after you pretty well. An increasing number of companies have created casual Fridays and instituted programmes such as yoga classes and group field trips to museums. But be aware that New Yorkers generally spend over half their salary on rent and then a large proportion on dinner and going out. Take this as par for the course. Rents in New York City only seem to go in one direction ' up.

Why?

It's the most exciting city on earth

What's stopping you?

Tough visa and immigration controls

Singapore

Singapore is a great place to live, offering a taste of Asia in a clean, modern and safe environment. Life here moves at a bit more of a 'tropical' pace than that of its neighbours Japan and China, but still offers plenty of buzz and excitement. And on the whole life can be quite comfortable for the traditional expat with the services of a maid; a large, modern residence with all the facilities; and a commute that probably won't exceed 15 minutes. Salaries may not be as high as they once were but taxes remain low and entrepreneurs will love the excitement that comes with being in the fastest growing economic region in the world. It has a vibrant, international business environment and provides excellent opportunities for regional exposure and career advancement.

It's fairly common for expat employment contracts to include an accommodation allowance, providing you with a set amount of money to put towards the rent at a residence of your choice. It is unlikely your contract will specify your accommodation unless the contract is a short-term one, in which case your employer may arrange a hotel suite or serviced apartment for you. If not, be aware that rents are rising ' landlords have been increasing rents by 5-10% since 2006.

Why?

A taste of Asia with added comfort

What's stopping you?

Limited expat packages, unlimited humidity

Hong Kong

Hong Kong is an exotic, attractive and exciting destination and seldom do people pass up the opportunity to move here. It's surprisingly rich in cultural and scenic gems. With a city so dense, a territory so mountainous and a coastline so indented, a modest 1000 sq km can provide an incredible number of attractions. You can have a lifestyle that's a good mix of both East and West, and Hong Kong is one of the few places in Asia where people stay on and make it their permanent home, happily and contentedly. The Asian Financial Crisis of 1997 took its toll as companies downsized and expatriate packages changed, but now, as the economy is picking up, expanding housing allowances and generous relocation packages are making a comeback. It is home to many international companies, because of its sound legal and financial infrastructure, low tax, reasonably stable government and its geographic location. Foreigners and locals have worked side by side for close to two centuries, with big rewards and few frustrations. But be aware that housing in Hong Kong is extremely expensive, whether buying or renting, making even London look like a cheap alternative.

Why?

Fascinating culture and access to cheap travel

What's stopping you?

Prohibitively expensive rents

Sydney

Sydney has a near-perfect climate, economic robustness, democratic political and legal systems, significant arts and entertainment, and third generation communications ' no wonder it's one of the world's most popular draws for migrants. Living and working standards are among the best on earth and Sydney regularly appears near the top of the Economist Intelligence Unit's survey of the world's most liveable cities. Expats from more affluent nations might balk at the modest salaries: entry-level assistant store managers earn about '15,000, while corporate lawyers with five years' experience get about '57,000. However, as Sydney becomes more desperate for skilled workers it is becoming an employee's market. The cost of living is generally low (for staples such as food, public transport, taxis, domestic flights, etc), but residents bemoan tax rates and property prices. A good two-bedroom apartment in the sought-after eastern suburbs will cost at least '900 a month to rent. Mortgage repayments on the same place could be twice as high.

Why?

Sun, sand, sea and city living

What's stopping you?

Relative isolation and lower salaries

Dubai

The meteoric growth of Dubai has not gone unnoticed, and each year thousands of expats arrive to claim a slice of the action. The sun shines almost every day of the year, the shopping, leisure, sporting and entertainment facilities are excellent, and best of all ' the salaries are tax-free. However, with Dubai's dizzying growth and rising popularity, the expat experience has changed in recent years. Whereas once it was easy for an expat to walk into any job, nowadays more competition means that employers can be more choosy. And with so many candidates from all over the world looking for a slice of the action, who have equal qualifications and experience, salaries are dropping. The cost of living is on the up too, with rents in particular seeing huge increases over the past couple of years. Prices for apartments match and even outstrip London (although you'll likely get access to a pool and gym) and you have to buy an entire year's rent in advance. To make it worthwhile you may need to hold out for a good expat package with housing, schooling, and medical expenses all included, but these are becoming rare. Jobs in certain industries (such as real estate, engineering and construction) are likely to be much more available in the UAE due to the continued efforts to establish Dubai as a tourist and business centre.

Why?

No rain and no tax

What's stopping you?

Increasing rents and stupidly hot summers

Cost of living comparison

Prices in GBP

LondonNew YorkSydneyHong KongSingaporeDubai
Bottle of house wine (restaurant)1310.28111617
Bus journey (10km)1.102.301.6050p60p20p
Cappuccino1.801.501.301.801.151.65
Cigarettes (pack of 20)644.7023.3080p
Cinema ticket956.403.902.954.20
Loaf of bread85p1.5011.2065p75p
New release DVD19.999.2014139.9011.80
Petrol (gallon)41.401.902.302.1385p
Pint of beer2.502.802.652.903.953.45
Rent (One bedroom apartment a month)10001115560130012501150

Explorer Publishing produces Residents' Guides to more than 12 destinations across the world. Each book covers everything an expat needs to know, from visas and licences to housing and healthcare, plus leisure activities, shopping, and restaurants and bars. For more information, see www.explorerpublishing.com

About the Author

Sean is a Lead Editor for Explorer Publishing, who specialise in producing Residents' Guides to more than 12 destinations across the world

Each book covers everything an expat needs to know, from visas and licences to housing and healthcare, plus leisure activities, shopping, and restaurants and bars. For more information, see explorerpublishing.com.

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Sep 24, 2012 13:27

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First Published: Oct 13, 2007

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