Should I Stay or Should I Go?
The definitive guide to moving abroad and whether it's right for you

Cost of Living

This is a preview to the chapter Cost of Living from the book Should I Stay or Should I Go? by Paul Allen.
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“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result misery.” – Wilkins Micawber in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield (1849)

Inevitably, living costs will range enormously between the various cities and regions of any given country. Just look at the UK’s north-south divide. Or that of Italy or Spain. Therefore getting one average figure for a country as a whole will mask sizable differences.

Nevertheless, if you want a broad overview of the sort of relative expenses you can expect to find in any of your potential destinations, then a good (if slightly outdated) place to start is the World Salaries Group’s International Cost of Living Comparison.

As you can see, from a pure cost perspective Europe is not the place to be ...


As for specific cities, Mercer’s annual Cost of Living Survey is a useful tool2. As noted earlier, the 2009 survey featured 143 cities from six continents, and measured the cost in each location of more than 200 items, including housing, food, clothing, household goods, transport and entertainment. 

Since it takes New York as the base city, and the US dollar as the base currency, the comparisons are somewhat distorted by fluctuations in the dollar’s fortunes, which in the 2009 rankings resulted in a major reshuffle in positions. Nevertheless, it makes for eye-opening reading.

Mercer Cost of Living Survey - Worldwide Ranking 2009


The Mercer surveys are helpful then when it comes to moving to a major city. But this is only part of the picture.

Take the United Kingdom. London may have slipped down this year’s rankings, but it still shows up as an expensive place to live. However, since no other UK city made it into the top 50, the 2009 results give us no indication as to what living costs are like around the rest of the country. To get that requires a little more digging.
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"Packed with the results of surveys, all backed up with case studies as well as stories from Paul's own life..."

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