Asia’s world cities are the most expensive expat destinations, says Mercer’s Cost of Living Survey

Tokyo skyline

Asia remains an attractive place for work opportunities in 2017, especially amidst Brexit uncertainty and what not, but several of its more established expat destinations are also proving the most expensive anywhere in the world, relative to New York.

The latest Cost of Living Survey from Mercer shows that Asia’s financial hubs Hong Kong, Tokyo and Singapore are among the top 5 priciest locations worldwide, with Shanghai and Seoul also appearing in the top 10. This won’t be a surprise to many; there has been plenty of media coverage lately over the astronomical cost of housing in Hong Kong and Singapore.

Top of Mercer’s survey of more than 400 cities, however, is a destination considerably less iconic than Asia’s shiny metropolises – Luanda:

  1. Luanda
  2. Hong Kong
  3. Tokyo
  4. Zurich
  5. Singapore
  6. Seoul
  7. Geneva
  8. Shanghai
  9. New York
  10. Bern

The Angolan capital, still more likely to be the subject of a pub quiz question than rolling off the tongue of your average traveller, has seen increased demand for quality housing against a limited supply through expats pouring in over the past decade.

With Luanda also lording over the list in 2014 and 2015, like a perennial Champions League winner, it’s unlikely that other cities – microapartments and all – will knock it off its perch any time soon.

Another world city, London, has meanwhile seen a plunge in its cost of living to 30th place from 17th. Unsurprisingly Brexit is named as the cause of this, because of the pound weakening before and after the EU referendum. This comes after a similar report in March from the EIU showed a fall in London’s cost of living.

From Shanghai to Changchun: cities in China that most appeal to foreigners

West Lake, Hangzhou

In these Brexit times, China is a land of opportunity, but where to even begin? It’s not all Shenzhen and Shanghai (former British PM David Cameron visited Southwest China with his business delegation).

A cursory look at a map of East Asia will reveal a territory of mindboggling size. I once took a flight from Shanghai on the east coast to Chengdu – not even in China’s geographic centre – and landed in Sichuan 3.5 hours later. That’s like going from London to Kiev. A flight from Shanghai to Urumqi will meanwhile take 5.5 hours – the same as going from London to Amman in the Middle East.

A former colleague once asserted that China was more a continent than a country – and I could see his point. Twice the size of the EU (yes, including Britain) and surprisingly diverse, China is also the world’s most populous nation.

Each of China’s provinces could be considered a country in its own right. Take Shanghai – a city whose population exceeds Australia’s – a sprawling society with a thriving economy, its own identity and a language (Shanghainese) spoken by 14 million people (more than the number of native Czech speakers). Shanghai is a virtual country.

And it’s Shanghai where most foreigners gravitate to, according to a new survey. A report released by “China Society for Research on International Professional Personnel Exchange and Development” reveals the cities with most appeal to foreigners living and working in China, based on criteria such as living environment and local culture. The top 10 is as follows:

  1. Shanghai
  2. Beijing
  3. Hangzhou
  4. Qingdao
  5. Tianjin
  6. Shenzhen
  7. Suzhou
  8. Guangzhou
  9. Nanjing
  10. Changchun

If anyone is wondering, like I was, about tenth-placed Changchun, I can tell you that it’s the capital of Jilin province, bordering Russian and North Korea. Changchun is home to some 7.6 million, making it slightly bigger than Hong Kong. It’s also an important industrial base, known in China as the “City of Automobiles”.

It would be no surprise to see more cities appeal in the years to come, as foreigners explore more of the country. Some China urban areas are seemingly sprouting from nowhere, like volcanic islands rising from the sea, while other cities, from Beihai to Dezhou, are busy putting themselves on the international map.

And finally, while I’m not resident in China, of the 10 cities listed above my vote would go to Qingdao. Beaches, seafood and fresh Tsingtao beer served straight from the keg in takeaway bags.

Amsterdam is the best city for Millennials to relocate to, reveals Nestpick

Amsterdam

Throughout the year, many surveys are published on the best cities for expats to relocate to. Few are especially relevant to Millennials, who have different expectations from older generations.

Apartment-searching website Nestpick has emerged with perhaps the first study dedicated to Millennial needs specifically: the Millennial City Ranking. The 100-strong index of the cities most relevant to today’s twentysomethings shows that all but one in the top 10 are European destinations.

Top of the pack is liberal Amsterdam, a city with enduring appeal throughout the generations, followed by German hipster hotspot Berlin and Munich:

  1. Amsterdam
  2. Berlin
  3. Munich
  4. Lisbon
  5. Antwerp
  6. Barcelona
  7. Lyon
  8. Cologne
  9. Paris
  10. Vancouver

Explaining the Millennial City Ranking, Nestpick MD Ömer Kücükdere says:

Millennials travel more at a younger age than any of their preceding generations; this gives them the possibility to find the perfect city for their personal needs. With aging populations cities must cater to the Millennial demographic in order to sustain a thriving economy.

(I’d love to know what Boomers make of that last comment.)

Nestpick used the following unique criteria, on top of the usual such as housing and employment scores, to rank and compile their list of dream cities (and I’m not making this up):

  • the affordability of 500ml domestic beer
  • the number of music festivals per capita in and around the city
  • access to contraception
  • the number of Apple stores per capita
  • levels of tourism within a city
  • internet speeds

Thankfully, Nestpick have made it possible on their website to identify top scoring cities in each category.

Accordingly, we see that Beijing is best for both 500ml beer (I personally recommend the wonderful Great Leap Brewery, once you are able to locate it deep inside a hutong neighbourhood) and contraception (so go easy on that cheap beer), Geneva is best for Apple stores, San Francisco is best for startups, and Berlin is best for clubbing.

It might all seem like a bit of fun, but young people in growing numbers do talk of relocation, and major world cities are seeing a rise in the cost of living. There may be an interesting shift in the years to come, as talent moves to traditionally less appealing cities.

Goldsmiths project to look at Brexit impact on Brexpats

White buildings

Are you one of the 1.2 million British citizens living in other EU countries, and feel affected by Brexit, one way or another? Do you feel there are still more questions than answers? Help is on its way, or at least a better understanding of what the heck is happening.

An 18 month project, BrExpats: freedom of movement, citizenship and Brexit in the lives of Britons resident in the EU, aims to shed light on Brexit’s impact on the lives of the British diaspora abroad.

Led by Dr Michaela Benson of Goldsmiths University, the project will look at things like possible restrictions on movement, changes to political rights and social entitlements, and consequences for welfare and healthcare in the UK – for those choosing to come “home”.

Dr Benson explains:

By gaining a clearer understanding of their attitudes, experiences and intentions we hope to engage in a more informed debate about how Brexit can be managed to take into account the potential impacts on lives, institutions and services in the UK and within the EU.

The study will also look at how Brexit is understood by, communicated to (if at all) and influenced by Brexpats – all majorly important areas.

More expat assignments leading to failure, reveals ECA

Work stress

More and more expat assignments aren’t working out for either party, a new report reveals.

Global mobility company ECA International’s latest Managing Mobility Survey showed that the number of assignments terminated early in 2016 was 7.2%, up from 4.9% in 2012 – a difference of around 50%. The failure rate was highest in big companies (more than 10,000 staff).

Unsurprisingly, the cause of these early terminations was “a mismatch between expectations and reality”. Nearly three in five employers reported that assignments ended early because of assignees underperforming in their new role. The second most common reason given was the international assignee quitting early over dissatisfaction with their new role.

Partly this is down to not fitting in: assignments are failing because of families not adapting to cultural differences. According to the report, only 18% of employers offer cultural training for the family (which is quite astonishing, as getting it right culturally is critically important, as evident here and here.)

While the report doesn’t appear to explain why the failure rate has gone up, the following solution is offered:

The key to improving an employee’s ability to adapt to assignment and, later, post-assignment life is making sure they are well prepared for what is to come.

It’s common sense: preparation is everything. But rather than consult guides and websites, try before you buy. Get out to the overseas destination in question, interact with your new colleagues in person rather than through email, and get a feel for the culture.

And if everything goes very terribly wrong, at least you’ll have something to talk about down the pub, or at your local Fuckup Night if you’re more entrepreneurially minded.  And let’s face it, you can’t be any worse than this guy, right?: