A country's cost of living is determined by comparing local prices of various goods and services to those in a baseline location, often New York City; however, methodologies vary among organizations.
Switzerland and Iceland are the only two countries that appear on all three different organizations’ lists of the most expensive countries to live in.
The high cost of living in some of the countries is offset by perks. For example, in Norway, these include strong wages, reduced income disparities, and extensive public benefits.
A high cost of living can impact a country's quality of life in many ways. For those on the lower end of the economic scale, such as low-wage workers or retirees on fixed incomes, a high cost of living can make it difficult to keep up with the costs of necessities such as housing, utilities, groceries, clothing, and transportation. Middle- and higher-income individuals fortunate enough to cover the basics without worry still find less left for savings, vacations, their children's education, and retirement. A high cost of living can also make a country less appealing to vacationers and expats, who get less for their money than they might elsewhere.
Computing the cost of living in a given area is typically done by measuring the cost of various goods and services, from rent or mortgage and utilities to groceries and sneakers, then comparing those amounts to the cost of the same goods and services elsewhere. The final number is often given in respect to a baseline location, such as the notoriously pricey New York City. No two lists of expensive countries are identical. Different research organizations use slightly different equations to compute the cost of living, and some include territories that others leave out or get their information from alternate sources. Nonetheless, viewing multiple lists reveals some identifiable trends.
Many of the most expensive countries in which to live fall into one of two categories. They are either exotic vacation destinations such as Monaco, the Cayman Islands, and Bermuda, or they are located in Northern Europe, as are Switzerland, Iceland, and Norway. The U.K.-controlled island territory Bermuda ranks as the most expensive place to live in two of the three surveys (the third does not track Bermuda), with a Numbeo score of 141.1. Bermuda's capital city of Hamilton is deemed to be one of the most expensive cities in the world, where a 900-square-foot apartment can cost $4,058 per month.
Two other consistently expensive countries are Switzerland, which registers the highest food prices in the European Union, and Iceland, whose remoteness (and the attendant shipping costs) results in much higher prices for consumer goods than in mainland Europe. That said, Iceland has many perks to balance out its high cost of living, one of which is consistently ranking as the world's safest country.
Speaking of perks, Norway appears on two of the lists, but the score does not tell the whole story. Norwegian wages are high, and the disparities in income are much smaller in Norway than in the United States. People in the service industry, education, and areas of the public sector all earn living wages. Furthermore, Norway has a very progressive taxation system that imposes some of the highest taxes in the world but provides free universal health care and free college to its citizens.
Perhaps surprisingly, the United States breaks the top 10 on only one of the three lists. To be sure, the U.S. does have its fair share of expensive places to live—particularly cities such as New York City, San Francisco, and Chicago. However, lower costs in rural areas bring down its nationwide average a bit. The table below offers a complete view of all the countries and their respective scores.
The data and analysis methodologies used by the three organizations—Living Cost, Numbeo, and Global Economy—vary by year collected, factors analyzed, calculation equation used, and countries included.
Monthly Cost of Living
CoL plus Rent (Numbeo)
|United Arab Emirates||$1,576||46.80|
|Antigua and Barbuda||$1,465|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||$1,145|
|Trinidad and Tobago||$979|
|Sao Tome and Principe||$880|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||$599|
|Central African Republic||$538|
|Papua New Guinea||$530|
The country with the highest cost of living is Monaco. About $3955 per month is needed just to get by in this country.