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World's most expensive cities for expatriates

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(MoneyWatch) If you think Starbucks is expensive in the U.S., try ordering a cup of coffee in Moscow, where your morning jolt will set you back a whopping $8.29. And there's probably no better way to break your fast-food habit than to move to Caracas, where it costs $13.49 for your basic burger.

Paying high prices for a small taste of home is a regular challenge for people who take work abroad. And while many Americans may be tempted by the lure of high pay and the adventure of living overseas, it's wise to consider the cost of living before you go, lest this high pay still has you living like a pauper.

Mercer, a global consulting firm headquartered in New York, conducts an annual survey of most costly places for expatriates to live and work abroad. The data is often surprising, since poor countries can often be costly for Americans. The main reason: Safe living accommodations that are up to U.S. standards can be hard to come by. Companies use the data to help set pay rates, while employees can find it instructive to know just how hard it will be to replicate their lifestyle in another location.

What are the world's most expensive cities for expatriates?

World's most expensive cities for expatriates

Visitors look at the Opera House being lit up by a projection during Vivid Sydney, the annual festival of light, music and ideas, in Sydney on May 28, 2013. More than 60 interactive and immersive light sculptures and installations across Circular Quay, The Rocks, Walsh Bay, Darling Harbour and North Sydney took part in the festival. City skyscrapers will light up along with 3D mapped projections on Customs House, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, and Cadman?s Cottage. AFP PHOTO / Saeed KHAN (Photo credit should read SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images) SAEED KHAN

10. Sydney, Australia

You can rent a three-bedroom home for a relatively moderate (by expensive city standards) $5,164, but other day-to-day costs to get a taste of home -- from a $9.24 burger meal to a $5.16 cup of coffee - make Sydney the world's 10th most costly city for expatriates. Seeing a movie in Sydney runs $19.62 and buying a pair of blue jeans costs an average of $114, according to the Mercer survey.

World's most expensive cities for expatriates

9. Bern, Switzerland

Apartments are cheaper in Bern, running about $2,687 per month, but the rest of your day-to-day expenses are high, much like they are in the rest of Switzerland. A movie ticket is nearly $19; a pair of blue jeans, $138; a cup of coffee runs $4.68, while a liter of gasoline will set you back $2.02.

World's most expensive cities for expatriates

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8. Zurich, Switzerland

Like Bern, Zurich has become more expensive for Americans as the dollar has weakened against the franc. An unfurnished two-bedroom apartment will cost nearly $4,000 a month -- averaging $3,915 to be exact. A movie ticket costs $21; a fast-food burger meal is $12.51, but milk is comparatively cheap -- $1.74 a liter.

World's most expensive cities for expatriates

A Geneva flag flies on the shores of Geneva Lake in front of the Geneva Fountain (L) on June 14, 2013 in the center of Geneva. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images) FABRICE COFFRINI

7. Geneva, Switzerland

Exchange rates played a key role in putting three Swiss cities at the top of Mercer's ranking of the world's most costly for expatriates. Unlike much of Europe, which has moved to a common currency called the euro, to buy goods and services in Geneva, you must first exchange your dollars for Swiss francs. And the value of the dollar is weak; the Swiss franc is strong, making all goods and services comparatively more expensive. The costs of an apartment runs $4,350; a pair of jeans roughly $141; while an international newspaper will set you back $4.35 and a cup of coffee runs $6.52.

World's most expensive cities for expatriates

Flickr,Roger Wagner

6. Hong Kong

You'll have no trouble with language here. Once a British Crown Colony, English is among the national languages and the city is rife with the same luxury retailers -- and fast food joints -- that you'd see in New York. But it is also one of the most costly places in the world to rent an apartment or house. Mercer estimates the average cost of a two-bedroom unfurnished apartment (that meets U.S. standards) to be $7,092 and the cost of renting a three-bedroom house at $13,539 per month.

World's most expensive cities for expatriates


5. Singapore

This island city-state at the tip of the Malay Peninsula has become the world's fourth-largest financial center and boast's the world's fifth busiest port. Pristine clean, Singapore offers many of the trappings of home, including having English as one of the four official languages. Newspapers, coffee, fast food and milk cost roughly what they do in New York. But housing expenses are high, with the cost of a two-bedroom apartment averaging $3,795 and a unfurnished three-bedroom home setting you back roughly $7,267 a month.

World's most expensive cities for expatriates

Flickr,Ken Doerr

4. N'Djamena, Chad

If you choose to move to the central African nation of Chad, you should plan on leaving behind some of the trappings of home. There is no Burger King or McDonald's, so your closest approximation for fast food would be a club sandwich and soda, which will cost you about $25. Forget renting a downtown apartment or seeing a new release movie. Not available. Blue jeans? Buy them in New York. Renting a three-bedroom home is a relatively inexpensive $2,244.62, but the cost of transportation, groceries, electricity and electronics is high, says Nathalie Constantin Metral, a Mercer consultant who compiles this listing. Power outages are also common, so to keep your home humming you need a generator and a ready supply of gasoline.

World's most expensive cities for expatriates


3. Tokyo, Japan

Long one of the world's most expensive places to live, expatriates living in Tokyo will find fast food plentiful and relatively reasonable, with the cost of a burger meal running $7.31 and milk at $3.05 a liter. But watching a movie costs almost twice as much as it does in the U.S. -- $19.34 per ticket. And your two-bedroom apartment or three bedroom home will cost you $4,513.34 and $7,199.86 per month, respectively.

World's most expensive cities for expatriates

The Kremlin wall and towers dominate the skyline at the Red Square in Moscow, on March 2, 2012. Russia on March 4 votes in presidential elections expected to send Vladimir Putin back to the Kremlin after his four year stint as prime minister. AFP PHOTO / SERGEI SUPINSKY (Photo credit should read SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images) SERGEI SUPINSKY

2. Moscow, Russia

The monthly cost of housing in Moscow is a whopping $4,600 for a two-bedroom apartment or $8,000 for a three-bedroom home. Other day-to-day expenses are also steep: A cup of coffee will set you back $8.29. Want an international newspaper? You'll pay nearly $10. A liter of milk runs $7.59 and a pair of blue jeans costs $169.13.

World's most expensive cities for expatriates

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1. Luanda, Angola

The main factor making Luanda the world's most expensive city for expatriates is the cost of housing. An unfurnished two-bedroom apartment will set you back $6,500, while renting a three-bedroom house would cost an astounding $15,000 a month. You'd also want to avoid buying a pair of jeans in this Southern African nation, since they cost an average of $204.41 a pair. Luanda has no McDonald's, so Mercer had to sub in a club sandwich and soda meal -- $20.06. The cost of the other items aren't dramatically more than they are in the U.S. -- $3.88 for coffee, $3.18 for milk, $5.42 for the paper and $10.42 for a movie ticket.

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