At least once in our lifetime, we’ve all wondered at one point what it would be like to live in a city that never sleeps, such as New York (c’mon, we’ve all seen Home Alone 2), with yearly parades and festivals, with so many entertaining options that you could do something different each day, with buildings that are so tall they get lost in the sky.
And it seems like every other day you hear a story about someone who’s recently been on a trip somewhere, and loved it so much that the next thing you know, they’ve packed up their life and moved to that place.
If you want to follow the steps of those brave people and take your own chance, we’ve taken the time to put together a list of the most expensive cities to live in the world (that you may want to avoid — or not?!), and found some more affordable options that can still give you the same experience (or an even better one).
Before you start your life in a new place, it’s best to do your research and know what to expect. So let’s get to it!
9 most expensive cities to live in the world
1. Paris, France
Alongside Singapore and Hong Kong, the City of Love has also been ranked to be the #1 most expensive city to live in the world, due to its high cost of living. Being a location that attracts millions of tourists each year, prices are also increasing day by day, so much so that a women’s haircut can cost up to $150.
Having a daily Parisian experience of drinking cappuccino at one of the cafes with the Eiffel Tower view, serving gourmet food and savory wine, and visiting historical sights can become very expensive, very fast.
Go here instead: Bucharest, Romania
A lot of Bucharest’s architecture, palaces, cafes, and even the language, has been influenced by the French. Since the mid-19th century, Bucharest is known as The Little Paris, and to this day, words as mon cher, madame, bonjour, and merci are used as part of the Romanian vocabulary.
And just as Paris has its own Arc de Triomphe, so does Bucharest, but less dangerous to drive around. If it’s the French architecture, extravagant nightlife, and romantic vibe of Paris you are looking for, you can find it in Bucharest — at a much more affordable price.
2. Hong Kong
This year Hong Kong is also sharing the top spot of least affordable cities in the world. In the city where East meets West, with Cantonese influence, and with an increasing number of non-Chinese expats, your budget could take a great hit.
While there are plenty of attractions and activities that are free of cost, and the incredible transportation system is very cheap, things like food, shopping, and especially rent, can add up to more than your budget can cover.
Go here instead: Guangzhou, China
Although nothing can really compare to Hong Kong, Guangzhou in China is the closest to Hong Kong in terms of feel, pace of life, and culture. Guangzhou also has Cantonese influences, similar food (international or traditional), the transportation system is as similar and efficient, and the architecture is so similar that if seen in a movie or picture, one could not tell if it is Hong Kong or Guangzhou.
You can experience the same feeling and lifestyle of Hong Kong at a more affordable price, and if you need a weekend of the real thing, just jump on a direct train and you’ll be in the big city within 50 minutes.
Due to the dramatic increase of the inflation rate for education, food, healthcare, and housing within the last few years, Singapore has been able to hold the title of most expensive cities to live in the world for five years in a row, and is now sharing first spot with Hong Kong and Paris.
Even with a good-paying job and great budgeting skills, living in Singapore can become a challenge, especially when you live in a vibrant city and want to make the best of it, like going out shopping and grabbing beers after work with your colleagues.
Go here instead: Tampines, Singapore
Chances are, you’ve never even heard of Tampines, and the reason for that is that Tampines is a small Singaporean suburb, where nothing exciting really happens. However, it is so close to Singapore City that you can have a taste of that lifestyle anytime you want.
But in order to not break the bank, you can easily live in a nice, clean, affordable apartment in Tampines, enjoy some great local shopping options, take long walks through the manmade green parks, and eat at all the affordable restaurants that you can find. Tampines will give you a great experience of what Singaporean local life is like, while you can still enjoy the occasional thrills and the unique blend of cultures of Singapore City.
4. Zurich, Switzerland
On the list of least affordable cities in the world, Zurich makes it in the top five. If you’ve ever had the chance to shop in countries like Germany, Austria or Italy, you will quickly notice on your first trip to the store that food prices in Zurich are almost double than in its neighboring countries.
Although salaries are also high, to compensate for the high cost of living, most Swiss and expats drive across the border to do their grocery shopping for the week. Housing, education and healthcare are also very expensive, and if you get a ticket for speeding…well, we advise you to stick to the speed limits or use public transportation, and pay attention to where you park.
Go here instead: Bern, Switzerland
The capital of Switzerland, less touristy and with an authentic Swiss feel, Bern is a lot more affordable to live in than international and expensive Zurich. What could be more exciting than walking through the UNESCO World Heritage Old Town of Albert Einstein’s hometown?
Life in Bern is perfect for those who want to experience a slower pace of life, from slow driving to even slow talking, and if you need a dose of nightlife and more of an international environment, you can be in Zurich in less than an hour on a train ride.
5. Tokyo, Japan
It’s not a surprise that Tokyo is also considered one of the most unaffordable cities in the world. Japan’s population covers only 30% of the country’s surface, and a quarter of its population lives within or around Tokyo, thus making housing options very limited and very expensive.
Food and transportation costs are also high, but for that you receive great services, you eat the best food and sushi in the world, and use the best existing train system. In Tokyo, you get nothing but the best.
Go here instead: Osaka, Japan
Although Osaka is also considered as one of the most unaffordable cities in the world, it is still a lot cheaper to live in than Tokyo is. Everything from accommodation, utilities, groceries, restaurants, and shopping are a lot cheaper in Osaka than Tokyo.
Granted, the feeling of the two cities is like two different countries, but with Osaka’s affordable lifestyle, you can save enough money for weekend trips to Tokyo with the shinkansen. You can’t be living in Japan and not experiencing both cities.
6. Seoul, South Korea
The high cost of living in South Korea has marked Seoul as one of the least affordable cities in the world as well. When living in Seoul, the biggest expense will go to rent, which is hard to find; when you do find something, you need to pay an upfront deposit called “key money”, which in most cases is a ridiculously high amount.
What makes life in Seoul expensive is the plateau of entertainment options, such as going out for drinks after work with your coworkers and even your boss, visiting themed coffee shops where you hang out with animals, attending K-Pop concerts, and shopping in some of the world’s most amazing shopping centers. Even electronics are more expensive here than back home.
Go here instead: Daejeon, South Korea
Daejeon is South Korea’s fifth-largest city and its location in the center of Korea offers easy access and travel opportunities to other major cities and cultural destinations. This city has a more local Korean feeling, a much more affordable cost of living than in Seoul or Busan, and a great variety of free entertainment options for nature lovers.
Plus, you can easily save up some money and take weekend getaways to vibrant Seoul, shop to your heart’s content, and enjoy the Korean nightlife.
7. Copenhagen, Denmark
While Denmark was voted as the happiest country in the world, its capital Copenhagen also ranked on the charts of one of the most expensive cities to live in the world. Apparently, for as beautiful and lively as Copenhagen is, it is twice as expensive to live in.
Finding affordable rent is almost impossible unless you have a roommate, restaurants are so expensive that even the Danes prefer cooking at home, and eating out is mostly for special occasions; personal services like haircuts, manicures, or massages are easily twice as expensive as in other cities, and the food prices even for groceries are high.
Go here instead: Aarhus, Denmark
Although Denmark is expensive to live in pretty much anywhere, Aarhus is a slightly more affordable option to enjoy the real Danish culture, with lots of beautiful parks, cold and windy beaches, a variety of different cuisines, and the same lively nightlife just as in Copenhagen.
Aarhus is also known as “the city of smiles”, and who wouldn’t want to live in a happy place anyway? If you want to explore more of the country all the way to Copenhagen even, you have a good selection of different transportation options, so use them to your liking.
8. New York City, New York
Yes, Kevin’s city has made it to the list because New York is indeed one of the least affordable cities in the world, and not just during the Christmas holidays. Everyone knows about the tiny apartments that come at high prices, still needing to share rent with a flatmate, and how public transportation is your friend.
Because the rent overall is expensive, it directly influences the prices of groceries, restaurants, and shopping options. The cost of living in New York has become so high that even rich Wall Street bankers are moving out of the city.
Go here instead: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Bet you didn’t expect that answer! And we bet you did not know how much Buenos Aires venerates New York or how much of an influence the big city has had on Argentinians. Also known as The New York City of South America, Buenos Aires is populated with New York-style cafes, shopping centers, restaurants, hot dog carts, Manhattan cocktails, so much more.
You could easily forget you’re on a different continent here. They even have their own China Town! You get to have a complete New York-like experience, as well as an Argentinian one, at half the price you’d spend if you went to the real New York. Travel smarter, not harder!
9. Los Angeles, California
As the second-largest city in the United States, Los Angeles also makes it in the top 10 least affordable cities in the world, yet the city still attracts residents from all over the world. With its perfect weather all year round, idyllic beaches, and a diverse and multicultural environment, the City of Angels makes finding housing almost an impossible mission to accomplish.
There are more people wanting to live in this glamorous city than there is housing for everyone. Utilities are high due to the constant warm weather and having a car is a necessity as public transportation is not reliable; add that to your gas and insurance costs, and you get the picture.
Go here instead: San Diego, California
Okay, we know that San Diego is also not the cheapest option, but if you really want to live close to that L.A. feel, then San Diego is your best and cheapest choice. From its year-round warm climate, sandy beaches like Mission Beach and The Gaslamp Quarter, slightly less traffic than L.A., and a much cleaner and unified environment, living in San Diego could easily pass as living in L.A.
FundMyTravel can ease your pain in the most unaffordable cities in the world
Even if there seem to be so many cheaper alternatives to the least affordable cities, such a move requires a solid starting budget, and you can get a headstart on that with FundMyTravel. Create your own campaign and share it with friends, family, and kind strangers of the internet — and you’re one step closer to following your dream!
Moving or traveling abroad takes time and a lot of preparation, but starting your campaign early on in the process will give you a pretty good idea of how your fundraising is going, and if you need to bump up your budget through other options. Check out some of the best practices for a successful campaign.
Avoid the least affordable cities in the world, or find alternatives!
When choosing a place to live in, everyone has their own personal preferences and financial possibilities, but choosing an affordable city that offers you the same vibe and soulful satisfaction as a city that is expensive simply for being famous is always the smart thing to do.
Research affordable countries in Europe that can bring you so much closer to Paris, Zurich, or Geneva, or read up about affordable yoga travel retreats in Asia and you’ll quickly see that it doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg to enjoy the beautiful places that this world has to offer.
This article was written by Lucy Dinu. Lucy is an entrepreneur and world traveler—plus writer by day, and reader by night. Born and raised in Romania, Lucy has lived in three different countries and, together with her husband, has traveled to over 20. She strongly believes in personal development, speaks five languages (with a sixth in progress!), and is passionate about everything that puts a smile on people’s faces. Through her unique traveling stories, Lucy aims to inspire others to get out of their comfort zone and explore the world.