Expat cost of living in most of Southeast Asia falls due to weakening currencies

expat cost of living
The expat cost of living fell in Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok during the past year

Expat cost of living in most of Southeast Asia declined during the past 12 months due in large part to weakening local currencies. Research from ECA International found Singapore remains the region’s most expensive place for expats to reside while Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and other places fell in the organization’s latest global cost of living rankings.

ECA International noted Singapore was in a unique spot over the past year. Its position in the global cost of living rankings remained unchanged despite seeing some significant price rises.

“The fact that Singapore retained its ranking as the 13th most expensive location globally despite higher than-average inflation of five percent, which was fueled by rising costs for rents, utilities and petrol, may come as a surprise to some,” Lee Quane, Regional Director – Asia at ECA International, noted. “This was because the Singapore dollar has weakened against regional currencies, such as the yuan, and the US dollar at the same time, mainly due to a sharp slowdown in manufacturing and exports during the latter part of our survey period.”

In Thailand, the weakening Thai baht against the US dollar and UK pound along with relatively low inflation saw Bangkok fall 13 spots in ECA’s global cost of living rankings. Even with items, such as gas, becoming more expensive, expats living in the city now find their money going further.

“Bangkok saw a large increase in petrol prices – a rise of 33 percent over the past 12 months. But with housing costs in districts popular amongst expatriate residents falling during the same period, overall levels of inflation were lower than those experienced in many other locations. The slow pace of the recovery in the tourism sector also hit the Thai baht during the survey period, contributing further to Bangkok’s fall in our rankings,” Quane reported.

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Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, Malaysia, Laos and Myanmar all saw expat cost of living decline during the past year. While the economic situation did vary in each location, all three countries recorded currency weakness which contributed to the decline.

“While Laos and Myanmar experienced high rates of inflation – almost 10 percent – in the past 12 months, they still fell in our rankings as their currencies have weakened considerably,” Quane said. “Laos was struggling with both lower exports to China, and the affordability of its rising foreign debt. In the case of Myanmar, currency weakness was due to the economic paralysis which followed the coup in 2021.”

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