There always seems to be a new list doing the rounds, running down the most expensive expat destinations. Locations in which the cost of living will squeeze every penny out of your pocket, leaving precious little to actually enjoy the sights of city.Recent polls are usually topped by the financial titans of the Far East, Singapore and Hong Kong. These economic powerhouses attract expats to high-powered, highly-paid jobs in the banking and investment sector. This often balances out, ensuring there is some cash left over at the end of the contract.
However, many European cities are leaving expats pinching pennies just to ensure they have money left at the end of the month. The cost of living and working in larger cities, especially capitals, can hopelessly outweigh the moderate income of the average expat.
London has long been a bright light on the expat scene, drawing people from around the world with its mix of history and forward-looking industry. However, with fierce competition for roles plus high costs, the UK capital can be a difficult place to settle.
The HSBC Expat Explorer Survey 2017 showed that 65 percent of expats in the UK came from Europe, and 79 percent of all respondents were seeking either career progression or a new challenge.
Uncertainty reigns in the UK thanks to Brexit. Brits and expats alike face uncertain futures. Trading relationships with EU neighbours are in question, with businesses considering their options, scaling back plans and holding their breath in nervous anticipation.
With so much up in the air, it’s time to make careful decisions about what to do next. For the majority of expats, this means taking stock of their cash flow and working out if the cost of life in London outweighs the benefits. The hardest hit are likely to be those living in the eye-wateringly expensive West London.
It’s no accident that the most expensive properties on the Monopoly board all have a ‘W’ in their real-world postcodes. Although this is a crude way of assessing the costs of living in the city, it does illustrate the postcode lottery that affects life in London.
Property agents in the capital have always used imaginative methods to fudge the boundaries between parts of the city, placing properties in different areas and moving them up a price bracket.
The term ‘West London’ can technically cover a vast area, taking in the bustling Theatreland as well as the shopping havens of Oxford, Regent and Bond Streets. Further out from the centre are the famously opulent boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea, Knightsbridge and Notting Hill.
The residents of these areas are some of the wealthiest in the UK. Properties for sale often come complete with underground swimming pools and neighbours like Gwyneth Paltrow and Stella McCartney. Obviously, these playgrounds of the super-rich come with price tags to match; the average property price in Kensington is GBP£1.7 million, and houses have sold in Knightsbridge for GBP£35million.
Further out, the boroughs of Hammersmith, Chiswick and Hounslow represent much more affordable options. These areas have their own character and a very different price tag, and London’s famous underground network makes it easy to get into town from them.
Renting a modest studio apartment in the posher parts of West London can cost in the region of GBP£1,600 per month, with an extra GBP£125 needed for bills. This cost comes down to GBP£1,100 for a studio. Expats willing to share a flat can expect to pay between GBP£500-700 a month, with additional bills split between tenants.
That’s not to say these prices are uniform across the boroughs. Parts of Hammersmith overlook picturesque parts of the Thames, resulting in big increases in cost. Parts of Chiswick are home to Hollywood actors and rock stars, but just a few streets away, prices tumble into the realms of the reasonable.
Heading north, away from the river, rental prices stay pretty stable. Ealing and Brent offer flat shares for around the GBP£600 per month mark.
The cost of living isn’t just about having a roof over your head. There’s bills to pay and food to put on the table. These costs too can be elevated depending on the location. A grocery budget of GBP£70 per week will suffice in most parts of London, but eating out can see this amount spent on one meal for two.
The perfect illustration of this is the cost of a pint. Britain’s beloved beer costs an average of GBP£3.09 according to the Good Beer Guide. However, in London this rises to GBP£4.20, with one Chiswick pub charging GBP£6.40 for a bottle of Belgian brew.
As with any part of the world, there are hot spots to hit to find bargains. Expats in West London may need to spend a little energy to save money, pushing further afield to find cheaper options.
London’s high streets are packed with mini supermarkets, miniature versions of the familiar, larger stores. In affluent areas, there are likely to be Waitrose or Marks and Spencer branches nearby, offering their products for higher cost than average. Expats can stretch their budget further by doing their regular shop at discount supermarkets, which may be further from home.
Although the London Underground is speedy and largely reliable, its costs can add up. Even using the money-saving Oyster card, charges are calculated depending on how many zones travellers zoom through. Bus journeys, however, are simpler, charging a flat rate per bus boarded. Researching the journeys you do regularly may reveal savings.
Even when rationalising the journeys you make, there may be more savings to be had. Oyster cards can be paired with any number of discount cards, lowering the cost of fares across the capital.
Ultimately, like all expensive destinations, London is a trade-off. Her rich culture and vibrant nightlife can burn a hole in expat pockets, but it would be a great shame not to experience the very things that make London a world-class city.
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