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Comparing Expat Salaries And Living Costs

Moving overseas for a new job is exciting but how much money you make depends on the country’s economy and how your living costs stack up alongside your pay.

The ECA National Salary Comparison is a useful tool that compares salaries against local spending power across 58 countries.

Comparing salaries is difficult if you don’t know what to look for. Here’s a breakdown of salaries offered in popular expat destinations and what you might have left when deducting tax, social security, and living costs.

Understanding Expat Salaries

Surely a great salary is a great salary in any country?

Not quite.

The issue is that most expatriates won’t have a benchmark. For example, if you are paid £50,000 in the UK and are offered an offshore post for €90,000, that might seem like an excellent proposition.

However, if the tax rates are higher than your current rate, you may have less spending power.

Spending power is important and something we’re all growing familiar with following recent discussions around inflation and soaring utility and fuel bills.

So, the value of a currency is relative to what you can buy.

As an illustration, in the UK, you can rent a one-bedroom apartment for an average of £938 a month in a central location.

If you move to Switzerland, that same accommodation will cost you £1,370. Even a pint of milk is 43 per cent more expensive, so you need to earn a significantly higher salary to enjoy the same lifestyle in Geneva or Zurich to match London.

These factors are why expat salary comparisons are essential because what may look like an attractive offer on paper might be different in reality.

What Expats Earn In Different Countries

Some countries are well known for being high-demand destinations.

A middle management level post currently pays best in Switzerland, the United States and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The salaries below are converted to Sterling to give a clearer picture and showcase average earnings without bonuses, overtime or commissions.

LocationAverage Middle Management Gross SalaryAverage Middle Management Net Salary
Saudi Arabia£96,100£80,950
Hong Kong£84,300£78,400
The Netherlands£77,500£49,700
Costa Rica£69,600£54,800

This table shows why knowledge of tax brackets and deductions is crucial when comparing expatriate salaries with the same currency.

While gross pay averages are the second-highest globally in the United States, your net pay falls into the fourth position when you factor in taxes.

A salary in The Netherlands is just £500 lower than in Israel offers a net pay that is more than ten per cent lower.

If you’re offered a role abroad, it’s essential to check your likely tax rate. You need to ensure your take-home pay will be adequate to provide for living costs – plus international health insurance, schooling and other expenses.

Expat Relative Spending Power

Housing costs, groceries, fuel, schooling and healthcare differ massively between countries.

Lots of things need including when you calculate your monthly budget:

  • If you’re moving to an English-speaking country and whether it means you’ll need to pay private tuition fees for your children.
  • Which costs are included in your pay package, like transport and accommodation
  • How many family members are moving – do you need to replace a second income in the UK with one salary overseas?

And don’t forget currency exchange rates. If you need to send money home or continue paying a mortgage in Britain, the fluctuations in forex may erode your income further.

Here’s a comparison of what an expat salary buys in some favourite expat destinations.

RankRelative Buying PowerCountry
2£75,000United States
3£70,000Saudi Arabia
5£60,700Costa Rica
15£47,600The Netherlands
19£39,600Hong Kong

Now a different salary picture is emerging.

Japan looked like the prime choice, ranking ninth for gross salaries and eighth highest take-home pay.

When including living costs and the comparative spending power for every paycheque, actual income is the lowest of any countries listed.

Money Isn’t Everything

Often, expats look at a simple table or graph showing average wages for related roles or levels of authority and might be swayed by the numbers at the top of the pile.

Adding context to those comparisons illustrates why these figures can be misleading and why you shouldn’t plan an international move based solely on the gross salary offered.

Another vital factor is your family and how much you’re earning together.

If you have more than one income earner, you should check the associated wages for the second person’s role and go through the same exercises to calculate net pay and whether your combined income is enough.

Comparing Expat Salaries And Living Costs FAQ

What remuneration is included within expat employment packages?

Much depends on the country you’re moving to, the position you’re taking up, and the employer you work for.

Many multinationals have outstanding pay packages, with a range of benefits above and beyond your gross salary, for example:

  • Private healthcare
  • Help towards relocation costs.
  • Education allowances for kids.
  • Accommodation allowances or rent-free lodgings.
  • Financing trips home.

Of course, that might not be the case, but you’ll find that big employers, particularly in countries with fairly high-security issues, provide employee accommodation, normally a residential compound.

From there, you need to look at commuting times and costs and travelling distances to reach amenities, shops, schools, and other locations that will be important to your life overseas.

Are expats paid in the local currencies?

Yes, your pay package will normally be in the national currency or US dollars rather than Sterling.

Most expats would expect pay to be in the main currency used where they work.

This option is generally the best since you won’t need to consider foreign currency exchange costs when paying for shopping and bills.

Why do expat salaries always look higher than UK wages?

The simple answer is that host countries need to attract talent and often provide the highest salary level they can afford to entice skilled professionals to relocate.

Most countries have skill shortage lists, which indicate the careers and roles in highest demand and the greatest shortage, which tend to have the most generous pay packages.

Expat salaries also look higher when they may, in fact, not be.

As we’ve seen from our comparisons of gross and net pay and the relative spending power, what might look like an exceptional salary in the UK might have far less impact on your living costs in a more expensive country.

Do expats get paid more than local colleagues for the same job?

There is potential contention because it’s not unusual for managerial level positions to be higher paid when an expat rather than a local employee takes up the role.

Although the skills and experience may be the same, businesses find that they have to offer higher salaries to convince expats from higher-income economies and labour markets to accept a post.

Can you negotiate an expat employment package?

You certainly can – and should always do so if the opportunity arises!

The commitment to move to a different country is a big one, so the income and comfort you experience during your time abroad need to be good enough to justify the upheaval and inevitable adjustment as you get used to a new culture and community.

If you have competing offers on the table, all the better, although you should pick and choose those points that will make the most difference to your lifestyle and living expenses.

Below is a list of related articles you may find of interest.

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