Costing-up the expat option

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Foreign jobs sound delicious but plush salaries don't count for quite so much when the cost of living's taken into account.

London is 26.3% dearer than New York; Sydney is 5% cheaper than NY and 31% cheaper than London.

Dr Peter Rogers of Mercer, the consultancy behind the figures, says employers adjust salaries to fit the cost of living and tax rates in host countries, creating a benchmark for positions anywhere. So while an analyst might get 50K in London, AU$120k in Australia and S$140k in Singapore, all should have the same buying power.

The reality is that this rarely happens. Even when London living costs are taken into account, bankers in the UK are still paid best. The latest salary survey from recruitment firm Robert Walters shows a foreign exchange supervisor in London earning 50k to 68k (AU$117k to AU$159k) and their counterparts in Sydney earning AU$60k to AU$90k (26k to 38k). When the cost differential is taken into account, London bankers are still up to 30% better off.

Surveys also can't keep pace with salary pressures, says Neil Dyball at Robert Walters. He says huge demand in Singapore, for instance, has escalated salaries ''aggressively''. Barclays Capital has 5000 staff there, up from 3000 two years ago.

Jim Hayman, a headhunter at Heidrick & Struggles, spends his life moving people. "Youngsters don't worry so much about the costs or standards of living. They want the experience and adventure. People in their 30s and 40s are more likely to focus on quality of life - safety, good schools, decent housing - and older people often go for the experience. Money at this stage of their career is less important."

So, where to go? London is the centre of the universe; Singapore offers foreign experience, high pay and low taxes; and Australia has dreadfully high tax rates but, Dyball says, the best lifestyle in the world.

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