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Below are a list of countries I am considering moving to (from within Europe). My preference was initially the Netherlands, but I have read that the bureaucratic side of things can make moving there difficult.

I am trying to decide which one will make the most financial sense based on: Income tax (earning approx 40k p/a), national health compulsory contributions / insurance premiums, house prices (I would be selling my current and buying in new country) and the general cost of living (food, childcare etc.).

Of the list below, which one would be the most financially sound (lowest total costs including ongoing taxes etc.)?

Please note: Since I come from another European country, I exclude visa considerations for all except Switzerland and Iceland of course.

  • Netherlands
  • Denmark
  • Norway*
  • Sweden
  • Iceland*
  • Switzerland*
  • France

*Non EU

Bonus points if you can order them from best to worst!

closed as primarily opinion-based by Grade 'Eh' Bacon, Dheer, Nathan L, Brythan, mhoran_psprep Feb 27 '18 at 11:08

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    I don't think you can really come up with a generic whole-country answer, because so much is going to differ depending on where in the country you live. The cost of living in Paris or other urban centers is much higher than in say a small town in the Perigord. In Switzerland, places along the "Swiss Riveria" (the shore of Lac Leman) are more costly than more rural cantons: lenews.ch/2016/12/16/… – jamesqf Feb 26 '18 at 19:09
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    In Switzerland things like rents will likely be more expensive (depending on where you live but still) but salaries may also be higher than in the other listed countries. If there is no expectation that you will get a higher salary by moving to Switzerland, I would choose one of the other countries. Other than that this is sort of like comparing apple sauce with mashed potatoes. A site that I have sometimes used for this sort of information is numbeo.com; they have information like prices by country – x457812 Feb 26 '18 at 19:46
  • Also comparing taxes between the countries is not straightforward because while e.g. Sweden has a tax rate that covers your health insurance (b/c they technically do not have "health insurance" because everyone is covered if you have the social security number) Switzerland on another hand has a lower "tax rate" but then you need to pay health insurance separately from your pocket. And the cost of health insurance varies based on your age, gender, family size, employer, medical needs, etc. – x457812 Feb 26 '18 at 19:51
  • Norway isn’t a member state of the European Union, either. (But it and Iceland belong to the European Economic Area.) – chirlu Feb 26 '18 at 21:43
  • @x457812: As with the US, Swiss taxes also vary considerably by canton. A single person with 40K CHF living in Berne would pay almost 4 times as much as one living in Zug: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxation_in_Switzerland#Taxes_by_canton – jamesqf Feb 26 '18 at 22:49
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One huge problem with those "cost of living comparison" lists is, they are just political. Because you simply have to price different factors in different ways.

For example, anyone would agree that Sweden has a much better medical system than the US; but "how much" better? Is it "$5000 a month better" or "$1000 a month better"? Same for every other category of thing.

These lists are, simply, various publications, making such decisions. So, a list that puts France above the US in terms of schooling is incredibly obvious, but "how much" do you value that? If your kid goes to school in France, they will know how to write and spell, but what's that "worth"? (How much extra would you have to pay in the US to achieve that?) Would it be "$2000 a month per kid?" "$500 a month for the average family?" "$5000 a month?" .. who knows.

Another factor is, that it depends incredibly on your personal

  • financial circumstances

  • family situation

Consider the useful list shown in an answer from expatistan. Now, let's say you make quite a lot of income: you make more than $500,000 a year, let's say. In fact, on that Switzerland just utterly crushes the other list entries (at that level, you pay incredibly less tax living in Switzerland than living in one of the other competitors on the list). If that is your financial situation, from that list Switzerland just utterly crushes the rest. At the other extreme, if you have little money, or even want to live off the state, the choices are hugely different.

So that's income - but then, consider the case of having four kids versus no kids. And let's stay merely within the USA, forget other nations. Now, there are a number of well-off suburbs in the US that are setup so that school taxes (== property taxes) are extremely high (you might pay 20, 40, 60 grand a year) but the schools are superb. IF you have a family and four kids, it's an incredible bargain. But IF you are single, it would be absurd to buy a house in such a suburb.

So as always your major cost in life is tax; after that say medical. Again, how you "value" the medical advantages of the different countries, greatly depends on your family/age situation. And again, tertiary education is another major decision point, vastly different in different jurisdictions.

Thus in short, while jurisdiction shopping is the major decision in life,

  1. Overwhelmingly, the answer depends on your particular life situation (which basically comes down to the big ones - income category; number of children)

  2. Even setting aside that difference - so, for the sake of compiling a list, pick some average such as "three children and 100k a year". Even then unfortunately those lists are just statements of how things are valued. Certainly, you can write down the dollar value of the factual difference in tax you would pay between country A and B, but, if you want to write down an equivalent dollar value of a difference in education, healthcare, whatever - unfortunately such lists are just "attempts at doing that"; different thinkers on the topic would value it totally differently.

In short, to answer this interesting question for OP, OP would have to say basically two things,

  • general situation (example: "single and grandma left me $3m!" or "married with four kids nearly leaving home", etc), and,

  • what is "valuable"; ie do/don't care about quality of food, do/don't care about healthcare, etc etc.

  • Hi 'Fattie' :) I did provide some of this information in my question. My personal income is just north of 40k per year and my partner around 25. So 65k total household so I guess about average. We don't have children but plan to have one. Maybe that will help you refine the answer a bit, if you have time of course. Thanks so much! – Cloud Feb 26 '18 at 14:26
  • really sorry if I missed the info, @Cloud ! cheers! – Fattie Feb 26 '18 at 17:55
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    Actually FWIW IMO the answer for you is "Sweden", if you can get in. (Funnily enough I know a number of folks who were living in the US, who moved to Sweden, because in reality it is incredibly cheaper to live there, all told.) I also think Poland can be a win in your situation. – Fattie Feb 26 '18 at 17:56
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A cost of living index is used to compare the cost of living in different locations. These lists are compiled by city or by country. You can find them by searching Google. For example, if you search “European cost of living index,” one of the top results is this page on Expatistan.com. According to this page, your list of countries would be ranked as follows from lowest cost of living to highest:

  1. Sweden
  2. Netherlands
  3. France
  4. Denmark
  5. Norway
  6. Switzerland
  7. Iceland
  • Thanks a lot :) Not sure why the downvotes? – Cloud Feb 26 '18 at 12:56
  • @Cloud I’m not sure, either. – Ben Miller Feb 26 '18 at 13:08
  • On most SE sites, voting is irrational. Means nothing. – Fattie Feb 26 '18 at 20:21
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For once I agree with @fattie, at least in principle. The "best place to live" depends on a million factors, many of them hard to quantity. Let me add a few more:

As Fattie notes, a better education system may be very important if you have children or plan to have children. Not so important if you have no plans to have children or if your children are all already grown.

Likewise a better healthcare system is vitally important if you have a serious chronic illness. If you're in perfect health, no so much.

You mention your income. But would you make the same income in another country? If your income is independent of where you live -- like you have a consulting business with clients from all over the world -- okay. But if you expect to get a job in your new homeland, you should look at prevailing salaries in that place, not what you're making where you live now.

Are money and health care the only issues? Suppose that financial calculations said that you can do the best living at the South Pole. Would you want to live there? Or if you love cold weather, would you want to live in the Sahara Desert?

What about laws and culture? No matter how much they were paying me, I wouldn't want to live somewhere that my religion or political beliefs were illegal and I was in constant danger of being arrested and tortured. Maybe that's obvious, but what about less extreme situations? What if your beliefs would simply subject you to mild harassment by the government? Or make you a social outcast? Even if people didn't deliberately shun you, would it bother you if it was hard to find like-minded people? Again, whether it's religion, politics, hobbies, musical preferences, whatever. Or would you not care as long as people left you alone?

A society with liberal drug laws would likely be preferable if you like to smoke marijuana now and then. If you hate drugs, you might want the opposite. Ditto laws about other controversial issues.

Etc.

  • "But would you make the same income in another country?" An excellent point. It's easy to assume thee days everyone just works for themselves in their PJs at home. – Fattie Feb 26 '18 at 20:19
  • @Fattie: Not everyone wears clothes to sleep :-) – jamesqf Feb 26 '18 at 22:52
  • @Jay thanks for the response. I feel like yours and Fattie's responses are not answers as they are mainly questions, whereas Ben Miller has provided an answer. Perhaps it is because as you rightly state, there is no obvious answer. I guess a visit to each country is due to analyse the culture / lifestyle before worrying about finances... – Cloud Feb 27 '18 at 11:26
  • @Cloud True this is not a direct answer. But sometimes the only serious answer to a question is to challenge the premise. If someone asked, "Why did Winston Churchill become a German spy?", the only accurate answer would be to say that he did no such thing. An answer that gave reasons why Churchill would become a German spy would just be ... wrong. :-) – Jay Feb 27 '18 at 18:38
  • @Jay haha ok, but what premise in this case would we challenge? One that says there is any difference at all between these countries? – Cloud Feb 28 '18 at 7:36

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