Considering relocating in the new year? Here’s how five of Asia Pacific’s biggest financial hubs stack up when it comes to cost of living.

Tokyo came out on top in a Bloomberg analysis of 10 metrics including potential salary increase, rent, personal taxes and education costs. The Japanese capital boasts relatively low international school fees and steady rents — plus residents can buy a Tesla Model Y Performance for about $50,000.

Hong Kong, which has suffered an expat exodus since the pandemic, came in second place followed by Shanghai and Sydney. Singapore, recently named the world’s most expensive city following an influx of foreign workers, trailed in fifth place.

1. Tokyo
Finance manager’s annual pay: $98,094 (based on Michael Page 2023 projections)
Michelin-starred restaurants: 183
Taylor Swift, Coldplay concerts: Yes

Many living costs in the Japanese capital are lower than other financial hubs in the regions. Foodies will also appreciate that Tokyo has more Michelin-starred restaurants than the other cities. 

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is rolling out the red carpet for global high earners including a fast-track to permanent residency.  So perhaps it’s no surprise that the city’s foreign worker population has risen in recent years.

Johanna Chomel moved to Tokyo from Paris with her husband and three children a year ago after accepting a transfer with her German-headquartered employer, Henkel AG.

“Japan is very clean, the pollution level is really low, which was important because my youngest one was only two when we arrived,” she said. “People are really respectful, and that’s a great value that we wanted for the kids.”

However, language has been a barrier for Chomel and her husband. He hasn’t yet found a job in Tokyo and consults for Asian clients outside Japan.

The city also has a comparatively high income tax rate.

2.  Hong Kong
Finance manager’s annual pay:  $92,307
Michelin-starred restaurants: 78
Taylor Swift-Coldplay concerts: No

Hong Kong’s appeal has taken a knock since the pandemic. China’s ever-tightening control and strict Covid measures resulted in international companies looking to place fewer people there, said Esther Colwill, recruitment firm Korn Ferry’s APAC president.

While geopolitics has put some potential residents off, Hong Kong offers the lowest personal income tax rate and biggest expected pay bump among the five cities. That means more take-home pay.

The government is keen to revive the city’s status as an international financial hub. Hong Kong’s leader, John Lee, has taken action including slashing levies for foreigners buying homes and launching a visa plan for high-income workers. China’s policymakers this month convened bankers in Hong Kong to seek ways to bolster confidence. “I see a very loyal base of existing expats that live there, that love Hong Kong, that have been through the tough times in Covid and they really want to stay,” said Colwill. “For new expats there's less demand pull — there's less companies saying we need expats out there. There’s just too much uncertainty around the geopolitics and frankly the future of Hong Kong.”

3. Shanghai
Finance manager’s annual pay: $53,439
Michelin-starred restaurants: 51
Taylor Swift-Coldplay concerts: No

Many expats left Shanghai as a result of its strict Covid Zero policies during the pandemic. China’s economic uncertainty and geopolitical headwinds also prompted some companies to pull money out of the country. To woo foreign capital, President Xi Jinping promised “heart-warming” steps to improve the business environment, including visa-free access to China for six countries.

Michele Aboro and Frank Tsai are among those who chose to stay put.

“Covid was pretty hard and we had to close for some time, but we have a dynamic community of people who were really behind us and we survived and succeeded,” said Aboro, a former professional boxer from the UK who runs a gym in the city.

Tsai, who hails from the US and is the founder of consulting firm China Crossroads, said the foreigner exodus has been exaggerated. “For much of the 2010s, Shanghai was seen as ‘sexy and global’ so foreigners, of course, flocked here,” he said.  Now, “there are fewer foreigners, but it still feels like the same city, with the same energy and dynamism.”

In Shanghai’s favor: Cost-of-living expenses from rents to dining to medical services have declined and there’s nowhere better to purchase a Tesla Model Y Performance in our rankings. But international school fees have gone up and the city has a relatively high tax rate.

4. Sydney
Finance and accounting plant manager’s annual pay: $114,189
Chef Hat restaurants: 141
Taylor Swift-Coldplay concerts: Yes

Geographically removed from the region’s other financial centers, Sydney offered the lowest salary bump for professionals in early 2023, coupled with relatively high taxes.

But Korn Ferry’s Colwill said Sydney was becoming increasingly popular, thanks to an appealing lifestyle and having English as the majority language.

“The cost of living is high, but it’s balanced by the fact that kids actually could just go to very good public schools,” she said. The downside to Sydney was the tax regime and the challenges of getting a visa, she added.

While Sydney doesn’t have a Michelin guide, it does have lots of choice dining options: 141 restaurants boast the local mark of fine dining, a Chef Hat award.

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