Would you like to know in which cities around the globe expats could make it on a shoestring budget? Take a closer look at the destinations listed below.
Every year the international HR consultancy Mercer conducts its Cost of Living Survey, releasing a ranking of the most (and least) expensive cities for executive assignees.
The survey takes into account the costs of 200 goods and services, including housing, transportation, food, and entertainment. The ranking is determined by using New York as the base city and US dollars as the reference currency.
The results are therefore closely linked to worldwide economic developments. The two main factors which determine shifts in the rankings are actual price changes and fluctuations of the local currency compared to the US dollar.
So, these are the places to go to for international employees looking to stretch their money. Unfortunately, most of them are found in countries known for income inequality, underperforming economies, or political instability.
1. Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, is the cheapest city worldwide to live in as an expat. The Central Asian country is still on its way to becoming a stable democracy while the after-effects of the Soviet era remain noticeable.
Kyrgyzstan is definitely an unusual destination. There’s always a certain demand for English teachers, but expats also work in mining or international development. Bishkek has a surprisingly vibrant nightlife, and it makes a good starting point for exploring the ancient Silk Road or the Tien Shan mountains. You’d better be prepared for the occasional power outage, though.
2. Windhoek, Namibia
Windhoek is the capital of, as well as the largest city in Namibia, one of southern Africa’s most scenic nations, which sadly suffers from one of the highest rates of social inequality in the world. Nevertheless, Namibia benefits from political stability, a skilled workforce, and a growing economy.
Most expats work in the tourism or mining sectors: resources like diamonds and uranium contribute strongly to export revenues. Moreover, the amazing biodiversity attracts visitors keen on ecotourism – the country is famous for orange sands and safari tours.
3. Karachi, Pakistan
While Islamabad serves as the country’s political capital, Karachi is Pakistan’s unrivalled industrial, commercial, and financial center, as well as among the fastest-growing cities in the world. Home to two seaports and a flourishing banking sector, Karachi prides itself on its booming economy and one of the largest film industries worldwide.
However, Pakistan’s economic development is hampered by political and religious tensions, and expatriates may be understandably reluctant to relocate to a destination where assaults or terrorist attacks pose a security risk.
The risky security situation is unfortunately among Tunis’s disadvantages, too, as recent tragic events have drastically shown. Thanks to its unique blend of Arab, Oriental, and French influences and its magnificent coastline, Tunisia has become a popular tourist destination. However, bloody terrorist attacks on international visitors have claimed dozens of lives, and expats should definitely consult their foreign office’s travel warnings or check back with their embassy or consulate.
The 400,000 tourism-related jobs are of major importance to a country with an unemployment quota of 15%. In addition to the service sector, the economy is mostly driven by petroleum, mining, and manufacturing; many expats are employed as management professionals in these areas.
5. Skopje, Macedonia
Most expats moving to this small, land-locked nation congregate in Skopje: They are frequently employed by international corporations or the diplomatic service, or they work for NGOs or in language teaching.
The Macedonian capital, home to one-fourth of the population, is becoming more and more expat-friendly, with an increasing number of restaurants and shops emerging. You can also shop in the largest bazaar in the Balkans outside Istanbul. Additionally, you’re never very far from Macedonia’s three national parks or its many mountain lakes.
6. Banjul, Gambia
The tiny state along the Gambia River is home to fewer than two million people and has a fairly small expat community. Most expatriates work for the United Nations or other NGOs and IGOs, though some set up their own business or try their hand at farming.
Gambia is politically stable and relatively safe, but very poor – important sectors are agriculture (mostly peanuts), fishing, and tourism. The pace of life is slow, but the beaches are stunning.
7. Minsk, Belarus
The political situation in Belarus is characterized by a presidential regime often described as authoritarian in nature: highly dependent on neighboring Russia, the country is rather isolated from the international community. As the economy is heavily state-controlled, employment opportunities are limited.
Most expatriates in Minsk are language teachers or diplomats, and there’s also a few students and volunteers. While Minsk isn’t exactly a common destination, on the plus side, its foreign community tends to be close-knit.
8. Cape Town, South Africa
The second-largest city in South Africa offers a multicultural environment, a Mediterranean climate, beautiful scenery, and a variety of leisure activities.However, the divide between the haves and the have-nots looms large, and precautions against crime should be taken seriously.
Cape Town’s low position in the Mercer ranking also reflects the weak rand. The US dollar has been strengthened in comparison to the South African currency, which partly explains Cape Town’s appearance on this list.
9. Managua, Nicaragua
Nicaragua’s tropical climate and cheap living expenses attract retirees and globetrotters from countries like the US and Canada, as well as those hoping for entrepreneurial opportunities in property development and real estate.
10. Tbilisi, Georgia
Georgia doesn’t have much of an expat community, although the country is increasingly attracting foreign investment: in addition to corporate executives and members of the diplomatic service, Tbilisi is home to volunteer workers, adventure travelers, English teachers, and students specializing in Russian or Eastern European studies.
The eclectic architecture, with Middle Eastern, European, and Soviet influences, lends the crumbling cityscape with its narrow streets and local markets a certain bohemian charm. If you want to explore the Caucasus, though, Russian language skills are an invaluable asset!
Alissa Maier is a German-American student who recently returned back to her roots to Munich, Germany. When she isn’t biking or running outside, she enjoys reading a good book and planning her next adventure abroad.
(Image credit: iStockphoto)