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The best 20 cities in the world for budget-conscious expats

·3-min read
A view of the skyline of Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur
The capital of Malaysia ranked first place in the Finance and Housing Index in the annual Expat Insider 2020 report by InterNations, with expats particularly impressed when it comes to housing. Photo: Reuters/Bazuki Muhammad.

Kuala Lumpur has won the title as the best city in the world for budget-conscious expats, according to a new report.

The capital of Malaysia ranked first place in the Finance and Housing Index in the annual Expat Insider 2020 report by InterNations, with expats particularly impressed when it comes to housing.

An expat is defined as an employee sent abroad on a corporate assignment or classed as a new international hire. Therefore the survey and opinions of the respondents may substantially differ compared with the overall population.

The report, which collected data in March, surveyed more than 15,000 expatriates representing 173 nationalities and living in 181 countries. It provides a good snapshot of life just before the COVID-19 crisis turned into a global pandemic.

“Since then, living conditions have changed rather rapidly in some destinations,” the report said. “As such, the results may not always reflect what expat life in all of these cities will be like in a post-COVID world.”

For a city to be featured in the 2020 ranking, a sample size of at least 50 survey participants per city was required. This year, a total of 66 cities met this requirement.

Kuala Lumpur came out on top after ranking highly in the finance and housing index, which covered 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.

Some 84% of survey respondents living in Kuala Lumpur said it was easy to find a place to live, while seven in ten found housing in the city to be affordable, and one in five (20%) considered the affordability to be very good.

Survey respondents in Kuala Lumpur revealed they were also happy with their overall financial situation with 76% saying so, compared to 61% worldwide.

Expats in the Spanish cities of Alicante (a newcomer to the Expat City Ranking in 2020) and Valencia saw money go a long way, pulling in second and third respectively on the leaderboard.

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Survey respondents said they were happy with the housing situation in Alicante with over two-thirds (68%) rating the affordability of housing positively, and 32% finding it very good. In addition to this, almost four in five (79%) said it was easy for expats to find housing in Alicante, compared to 55% globally.

Malaga was the third Spanish city in the top 10, claiming ninth place.

Kuala Lumpur was not the only Asian city that made it into the top 10 of the finance and housing index. It was joined by Bangkok (in fourth place) and Ho Chi Minh City (fifth).

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.

Making up the rest of the top 10 was Panama City, Muscat, Riyadh and Brussels, with Buenos Aires, Jeddah, Johannesburg, Moscow and Singapore following closely behind.

Pulling in at sixteenth to twentieth on the list of budget-conscious cities was Cairo, Doha, Graz, Mexico City and Nairobi.

Watch: What is the budget deficit and why does it matter?

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