The global cost of living crisis continues around the world, with rising inflation driving up the cost of travel, household bills and everyday purchases. The main cause of the global cost of living crisis continues to be the war between Russia and Ukraine. As two of the world’s major exporters, the conflict has affected supply lines of commodities like grain and oil, and these price increases have fallen back on world economies. Naturally, some countries have been worse affected than others.
In this article, we’ll look at the worldwide cost of living, seeing how it affects expats in particular, and offer some advice on ways you and your family can manage the cost of living crisis in 2023.
How is the cost of living crisis affecting expats?
Expats are currently facing a cost of living crisis, which means the cost of living – composed of purchases such as energy, food and transportation – is rising faster than income.
This means prices are higher across the board, rather than in just one area. The current emergency is particularly severe because it’s being driven by several different factors. Some of these factors include:
- High demand for oil and gas since the beginning of 2021 coupled with uncertainty over supply due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. This has led to higher costs for energy companies and subsequently, their customers.
- The ongoing impact of COVID-19 on the global economy.
- Shortages in staff across a number of sectors including hospitality and transport. This is particularly acute in the UK, where Brexit has seen a widespread exodus of the European workforce.
How is the war in Ukraine influencing the cost of living crisis?
The current cost of living crisis can be traced back to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. News of the invasion sent stock markets and currencies plummeting, and many businesses are still fighting to recover from the initial impact.
Many countries responded to the invasion by placing sanctions on Russia. As the world’s largest exporter of natural gas, the second-largest exporter of oil and the third-largest exporter of coal, the loss of trade with Russia has forced many countries to find other – often more expensive – trading options. This has caused the cost of energy in these countries to rapidly increase, as consumers bear the brunt of increased prices.
Furthermore, Ukraine – known to many as ‘Europe’s breadbasket’ – is one of the world’s largest exporters of sunflower seeds, wheat and corn. The war has impacted Ukraine’s ability to trade overseas, thus pushing up the prices of its key commodities. This has caused the price of foodstuffs to increase around the world, which has again impacted consumers.
As the war in Ukraine continues, it seems that these commodities will remain scarce (and therefore expensive), until those countries dependent on Russian and Ukrainian exports can find economical alternatives.
Cost of living in the UK
In the UK, these disruptions have pushed the rate of inflation – the official measure of how much the cost of everyday goods and services is rising – up to 8.7% as of June 2023.
The Bank of England has set a target of 2% for inflation, warning that a failure to achieve this target will see rising unemployment and a continued decline of household income.
For every percentage point that inflation increases, the price of everyday items increases by 1%, which accumulates monthly.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Many countries are already succeeding in lowering inflation, and the global average is declining from its 2022 high.
However, for many countries, the projected end rate of inflation will remain higher than it was in 2019, so it is likely the cost of living will continue to increase in the coming years, albeit at a slower rate.
The cost of living crisis has driven up the price of almost every expat essential. You’ve probably noticed the cost of everything from your groceries, to energy bills, to flights going up.
Global inflation is starting to ease, and the rate at which these prices go up will decrease, however the cost of living in most countries will remain high, and perhaps even continue to rise throughout 2024 and 2025.
Here are some of the ways the cost of living crisis has affected prices around the world.
One of the biggest impacts of the cost of living crisis has been on household and business energy bills.
This is especially true in Europe, which for a long time has been dependent on exports of natural gas from Russia. Meanwhile, countries that are able to produce their own energy, or who import it from relatively secure countries have not been as badly affected.
In response to the rising cost of energy, many governments have implemented schemes or caps to help citizens manage their household bills. For instance, in 2022, the UK government introduced an energy price cap, which expired in June 2023.
The average global price of fuel hit a peak in August 2022, coming in at 3.7x the price of fuel in 2016. Prices are currently on a downward trend, but remain nearly twice as high as they were in 2016.
One of the sectors most affected by rising fuel prices has been travel, where the average cost is still increasing as of June 2023. Travel is still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, and it looks like it will be a long time before airfares and hotel costs return to normal.
3/ Food and groceries
The price of many major commodities has skyrocketed since 2020. As well as the pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been a major factor in this, as Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat.
The global food price index reached an all-time high in March 2022. While prices have started to fall in recent months, they remain significantly higher than they were in 2023.
2020 Price (FAO Food Price Index Points)
May 2023 Price (FAO Food Price Index Points)
The rising cost of food commodities has impacted everyone from food manufacturers to restaurants, which is why you will see the price of food everywhere increasing.
4/ Rent and property prices
Global property prices continued to rise throughout the pandemic, defying many economists’ predictions. As a result, global rent prices have also increased, and are still on the way up as of 2023.
In the UK, for instance, average rental costs are up 10% in May 2023 as compared to May 2022.
Rising inflation has also pushed up mortgage prices in many parts of the world. Those on variable-rate mortgages have found that their monthly repayments are significantly higher as a result of baseline inflation.
As with many other retail sectors, the cost of clothing has increased. As of May 2023, the EU Consumer Price Index shows that clothing and footwear prices are at their highest level since records began, and around 9% higher than they were in 2020.
6/ Internet and phone bills
The cost of telecommunications has also increased as a result of the global cost of living crisis. As such, households will need to pay more for their phone and broadband bills.
In the UK, telecom prices increased by around 15%, driven mainly by the high rate of inflation.
Inflation rate (%)
UK Price per kWh
Which countries provide the most affordable electric around the world?
Sudan tops the list of the most affordable electric around the world – relying on hydropower for about 50% of their electricity supply. Sudan is also investing in solar energy, however up to 50% of the country remains unelectrified.
The top 5 most affordable electric around the world:
UK Price per kWh
Brits now have less disposable income, after paying for necessities and taxes, than they did during the 2008 financial crisis. No matter where you live and work abroad, you might face a raft of challenges brought on by the cost of living crisis in the UK, including:
- Economic hardship caused by Brexit and the war in Ukraine and the sanctions imposed as a result.
- Psychological impact from a variety of factors, including fear and uncertainty about the future.
Global crises are mostly to blame for this impact, and these challenges are likely to persist through to 2023, possibly with long-lasting effects on quality of life. This economic turbulence does not appear to be nearing an end, with inflation hitting 11% in October 2022.
But are there other countries that could see Brits living a more lavish lifestyle? Is it worth moving abroad? Is the grass actually greener on the other side?
“When you emigrate, you’ll almost certainly need to convert your life savings, maybe your salary or pension and the equity from a house sale into a new currency. Doing that cost effectively and timing the transfers to make the best use of exchange rate movement is something you shouldn’t leave to chance. Whether to move all your funds in a lump sum or make a number of smaller payments, how to avoid receiving fees in the new country and when would be the best time to exchange are all questions that can be answered by a specialist in the field and the savings can run into thousands. “
We have conducted intensive research on average salaries in the 38 OECD countries for 36 different job titles. Now, utilising what we have found, you can check here if you could be earning more abroad by taking a look at our most recent work abroad salary calculator.
However, it is not just income that should be considered when planning to move abroad, as the cost of living crisis has not just impacted the UK. Across 36 job titles, the UK salary averaged at £35,302 and while this was not in the top 10, it was also nowhere near the bottom. In comparison, the UK ranked 14th in cost of living with a comparative price level of 105 while the average salary ranked 18th highest. While earning an average salary over £70,000 per year sounds like an idyllic situation, it’s worth keeping in mind the varying costs of living in these countries. Here are the price level indices according to OECD:
Taking some simple steps can help to reduce some of your outgoing costs and stabilise your spending. Here is our checklist with the things you can do as an expat to reduce your cost of living in 2023.
- ☐ Think about diversifying your income streams. Employers are tightening their purse strings too, so you may not see a pay increase. But you can earn extra income by taking freelance or consulting jobs to supplement your usual income.
- ☐ Inflation is a major threat to the value of savings. Savers are losing value by parking their money in cash accounts. Investing could be the solution. Keeping your money in cash or in savings accounts leads to lost value, as it can’t keep up with inflation. The economic situation isn’t likely to improve any time soon as inflation is here to stay – so if you’re hoping that the effects of inflation will only be temporary, you should think again. Before you start investing, you should carefully consider what level of risk you are prepared to take on. Ensure your investments are properly managed.
- ☐ Cut out unnecessary spending. Many expatriates are enticed by a more luxurious lifestyle while living abroad, but you may find it more economical to cut out spending on conveniences such as car leasing or sports and leisure.
- ☐ Are you helping relatives abroad? If so, you may find that pays to shop around for the best deals on money transfers.
- ☐ As Martin Lewis puts it, ‘heat the human not the home’ and try to cut down on energy usage.
- ☐ Top-up your state pension. Pension credit is a tax-free, means-tested benefit aimed at retired people on low incomes and can be worth £1,000s a year.
- ☐ Make do and mend via a Repair Cafe. If you have broken household items you are unable to repair, check for local Repair Cafes, where volunteers repair anything from clothes, toys, electricals, computers etc. It’s free, but they appreciate a donation of what you can afford. It avoids adding to landfill.
- ☐ Think about the cost of your international health insurance. You may be able to save by switching suppliers or by reducing the comprehensiveness of your plan.
- ☐ Consider taking out global income protection. This form of insurance promises to pay out up to 80% of your usual salary if you become incapacitated while living abroad and unable to work.
Cost of living: help and support
Need in-depth advice or practical support? If you need extra advice or support, many organisations and charities offer detailed guidance and advice. Here are a few that you may find useful:
Why do you need international health insurance when you move abroad?
Starting a new life overseas can be deeply rewarding, but is not without its challenges. With international health insurance, you can knowing you and your family will be covered no matter what life throws at you.
If you don’t have the right health insurance abroad, the cost of medical treatment abroad can be enormously expensive: for example, according to the Association of British Insurers, you could face a US$124,000 bill for treating a fractured spine in Thailand or US$74,000 for a hospital stay following a road accident in Spain. From broken bones to even bigger things such as cancer, there is always a risk that you and your family will experience a health crisis while living abroad – which is why it pays to be prepared. Here are the main reasons to have international health insurance as an expat:
- International health insurance can cover you for the things public healthcare doesn’t.
- It can help you avoid surprise costs.
- It can cover you in multiple regions or countries.
- International health insurance ensures you get priority treatment at world-class facilities.
- It can provide you with a medical evacuation (Medevac), if you need one.
- It can help cover the cost of medications and prescriptions.
Thinking of moving abroad in 2023?
Prices in housing, transport, food, and non-alcoholic beverages saw the sharpest incline, as a result of rising consumer goods, fuel and electricity costs globally. What can expats do to deal with the upcoming crisis?
We are here for the safety and security of your family. At William Russell, we have 30 years of helping expatriates living overseas. At a time like this, the value of international health insurance, international life insurance and international income protection is perhaps greater than ever. Speak to us today to find out more about our suite of products designed especially for expatriates and their families.