Strategy Note /

Expats in emerging markets: Cheap and attractive locations

  • Remote working adoption could drive white-collar expat growth across EM, beyond established hubs

  • However, near-term, expat flows and established expat cities are vulnerable to slower global growth

  • Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Doha, Dubai, Mexico City, Prague, Seoul, Taipei, Tallinn score well on cost and quality of living

Expats in emerging markets: Cheap and attractive locations
Hasnain Malik
Hasnain Malik

Strategy & Head of Equity Research

Tellimer Research
18 July 2022
Published byTellimer Research

Following recent updates to the Numbeo Cost of Living Index and the InterNations Expat Insider Survey, we review which expat cities score well on both counts. In emerging markets, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Doha, Dubai, Mexico City, Prague, Seoul, Taipei, and Tallinn screen relatively well.

Global expatriate cities quality of life and cost of living

Covid legacy of remote working is the impetus for an expat exodus to broader EM, beyond established hubs

Exactly 15 years ago I booked my ticket from London to start my expatriate life in Dubai. You might say I had reached my limit of weekdays bookended by boarding the early morning tube with the previous night's revellers for company and returning in the evening in the sort of close proximity to other commuters than even a sardine might find uncomfortable.

Expatriate life has had its owns share of social and professional ups and downs as well as unpredictability — much of which is chronicled here — and the opportunity cost of no longer being close to the network of family, friends, and colleagues you grew up with. But the biggest testament to the positives is that I am still here.

My experience pre-dates the era of even starker political and social polarisation — thanks to the echo chamber of social media and the easy liquidity which has inflated the value of assets for those fortunate enough to own them in the first place and put them out of reach for those now unable to earn enough to afford them — the normalisation of remote working during Covid, and the increase in taxation subsequent to Covid in developed markets.

Covid has, of course, been handled very differently globally, not least in the expatriate hubs. Putting the tightening of political liberties to one side, which expats tend to place very low down on their list of wishes, persistent Covid restrictions have impacted Hong Kong more than Singapore, and far more than, for example, Dubai. Each of these internationally-driven cities, and others like London, of course, have little insulation from decelerating global growth.

Dubai and Singapore property prices up as Covid disruption receded whereas Hong Kong stagnating, London now falling

The drivers of an expatriate move vary from purely economic (better job, lower taxation), to citizenship (ie an interim step to naturalisation), to social (better law and order), to facilities (better healthcare), to environmental (better weather, less pollution) etc.

And the drivers of the retention of expats by the host city depends on a range of factors: education (as expat children age), healthcare (as expat parents age), and paths to long-term residency, welfare benefits, or citizenship (as expats transition from employment to retirement).

The experience and results of Covid (particularly remote working and contracting work, rather than full-time employment) may be widening the net of potential expatriates from developed markets. Many destinations in the emerging markets may be candidates for a new wave of expats, not merely the well established ones based around trading or finance hubs.

Higher tax in developed markets and remote working could drive white-collar expatriate growth in emerging markets