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 cost of necessities such as housing, utilities, groceries, clothing, and transportation. Middle- and higher-income individuals fortunate enough to cover the basics without worry will still find less left for savings, vacations, their children's education, and retirement. A high cost of living can even make a country less appealing to vacationers and ex-pats, 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/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:
Top 10 Most Expensive Countries to Live In (per month US$)- Living Cost
- Monaco - $3743
- Cayman Islands (UK Territory) - $2844
- Switzerland - $2497
- Ireland - $2316
- Liechtenstein - $2306
- Iceland - $2207
- Singapore - $2169
- Luxembourg - $2163
- Norway - $2074
- United States - $1951
Top 10 Most Expensive Countries to Live In (New York City, USA = 100) - Numbeo
- Bermuda (UK Territory) - 126.71
- Switzerland - 92.59
- Jersey (UK territory) - 80.36
- Hong Kong (China) - 79.31
- Luxembourg - 75.53
- Iceland - 75.12
- Singapore - 74.46
- Norway - 72.72
- Denmark - 63.53
- Ireland - 63.18
Top 10 Most Expensive Countries to Live In (Global average = 100) - Global Economy
- Bermuda (UK Territory) - 225.86
- Iceland - 209.10
- Switzerland - 197.89
- Norway - 186.52
- Denmark - 171.78
- Barbados - 169.90
- Australia - 168.02
- Israel - 167.52
- New Zealand - 160.18
- Bahamas - 158.09
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 126.71. 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 US$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 cost) results in consumer goods prices much higher than those in mainland Europe. To be fair, Iceland has many perks to balance out its price, including consistently ranking as the world's safest country.
Speaking of perks, Norway appears on all three 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.
For a complete look at all the countries and their respective scores, see the table below.