Expat Retirement - But Where? Financial Advisors' Daily Digest

by: SA For FAs


James Joyce, Albert Einstein, and Vladimir Lenin, if they were around today, probably couldn’t afford Zurich.

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One hundred years ago, Zurich was the place for the expat life. It was from self-imposed exile in the major Swiss city that Irish author James Joyce wrote novels set in his native Dublin. The formative but un-illustrious stage of Einstein's career took place there as well, and Bolshevik leader Lenin zoomed off from Zurich to St. Petersburg worried the Russian Revolution might start without him. It has been speculated that some of these or other historic figures passing through Zurich at the time rubbed shoulders, possibly at the famed Café Odeon.

The affluent and attractive burg situated on Lake Zurich is a fine place to visit but would not work as a place of residence for the next generation of starving artists and intellectuals, or humble retirees, because it is so expensive, a finding confirmed by the (not ironically) Swiss wealth management firm UBS in its new survey of the cost of living around the world. Zurich, UBS's headquarters, is the world's most expensive city, followed by its country rival Geneva.

My own experience confirms this. I was in Zurich once, and while the highlight of my visit was the view of the Alps from the lakeshore, the next most vivid memory was paying the equivalent of $11 for two cups of coffee (which together, would barely fill half a cup in bounteous America). That's just not going to work for an expat retiree used to carting out a Starbucks "tall" or the like.

So what might today's James Joyce do? He might reluctantly go back home to Dublin, ranked No. 17 - but only as a stopping point of course, to greet family, en route to Lisbon, ranked No. 42.

Lenin, seeing the city he renamed Leningrad grew livelier and more expensive after recapturing the name Peter the Great gave it, would probably move from St. Petersburg (No. 51) - or in any case would not be welcome there or in Moscow (No. 54). And since Mexico City (No. 69) didn't work out so well for his former comrade Trotsky, perhaps Istanbul (No. 67) would give him an acceptable northern exposure to the Black Sea warm-water port cherished by Russian leaders of all stripes.

Einstein would be unable to afford the tuition at Zurich's Swiss Federal Polytechnic, and his performance on the entrance exam would surely not have entitled him to a scholarship. But were he to move to Tel Aviv (No. 19), he'd find that the low cost of even full tuition at Bar-Ilan University would more than make up for all the shekels he spent in the city's lively cafes.

With that introduction, I quote Doug Eberhardt, commenting on a podcast discussing the trend toward working until ever later ages. Writes Doug:

I think we'll see more and more [of] those age 65d+ continuing to work as long as they are able. Especially if inflation kicks in. I imagine at some point they will raise the qualification age for Social Security too. It won't be easy for those not prepared, but moving to a country where the cost of living is affordable might be a solution."

So I ask you readers: Expat retirement has become a thing. Most people would never do it, for all sorts of understandable reasons. But to those for whom such a move would be plausible, what considerations would be important to you, and most of all, where would you consider moving to? Here is UBS's cost of living index for 77 major global cities.


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