Q.2 2021

Data Points

A Selection of AIRINC Research Results

This quarter’s cost of living research was conducted primarily in Europe, Asia, and mainland Southeast Asia.

Housing Update

Snapshots of expatriate-quality rental markets around the world

Channel Islands

Nicosia, Cyprus

Almaty, Kazakhstan

Athens, Greece

Istanbul, Turkey

London, U.K.

Dhaka, Bangladesh

Hong Kong

Ulsan, South Korea

Channel Islands

Both Jersey and Guernsey have a severe shortage of rental housing supply, which raised rents to historic highs. New renters must join waiting lists and attempt to be the highest bidder. Even with high budgets, assignees may not be able to find housing that matches all their preferences. Guernsey has a unique market with both “open” and “local” market properties. Open properties can only be rented by people with the right to live in the UK or EU. Local properties are for qualified residents or non-locals with a special housing permit. The imbalance of supply and demand is unlikely to abate anytime soon.

Nicosia, Cyprus

Nicosia’s steady rent increase over the last few years was slowed by the onset of the pandemic. Rents stabilized as international demand decreased but local demand remained strong. Apartment rents decreased slightly, partly due to university students studying remotely, while house rents increased due to the expanded demand for space and green areas. Supply is tight for high quality and modern housing and rents are expected to remain stable over the coming year.

Almaty, Kazakhstan

Almaty rents were stable throughout the pandemic but more recently experienced a sharp increase. COVID-19 restrictions are lifting, creating higher demand for rentals. Vacancy rates dropped due to an influx of new expatriates, but it is still possible to find housing. Sources expect the market to rise slowly in the upcoming year.

Athens, Greece

After a prolonged economic crisis, Greece has weathered the pandemic and seems to be turning a corner. During the downturn, new construction and renovation work was at a standstill for years. Now, as more international visitors and residents return to Athens, the lack of new or renovated supply is driving up rents for the few units that do exist. Sources expect demand to continue increasing but this new chapter is a fragile recovery that cannot be taken for granted.

Istanbul, Turkey

While international arrivals decreased, local demand remained high. Properties with gardens or terraces are especially high in demand and areas that were considered “expatriate neighborhoods” are now increasingly popular among wealthy Turks. Sources expect rents to stabilize or dip slightly in the future, but not below pre-pandemic levels.

London, U.K.

Rents in prime London areas bottomed out in Q1 and are starting to rebound. Demand was curtailed by travel restrictions, but strong sales reduced rental supply, especially for houses with outdoor space. Assignees face a shortage of supply, most acutely for good houses in areas like Hampstead, Notting Hill, Kensington, and parts of the Home Counties. Rents are up for houses in the suburbs that afford a more spacious work-from-home lifestyle and are expected to continue increasing.

Dhaka, Bangladesh

The expatriate rental market has been turbulent during the pandemic due to changing international travel restrictions and in-country lockdowns. Some assignees are still relocating to Dhaka, but overall vacancy is up as many expatriates left the country and rents decreased. Houses in Baridhara saw increased demand while demand for apartments in older buildings decreased. Rental market predictions are largely dependent on the pandemic situation as parts of the country remain locked down.

Hong Kong

While Hong Kong’s rental market stabilized slightly since November 2020, international moves were limited throughout the spring and hit the market hard, continuing to bring rents down as part of a longer trend. Vacancy rates are up as demand decreased and new units were completed, increasing supply. Areas like Sha Tin and Tai Po saw the largest rent decreases. Sources expect the market will decrease slightly before stabilizing.

Ulsan, South Korea

Ulsan’s rental market has risen and fallen with the number of oil and gas industry projects and international assignees and rents were falling in recent years prior to the pandemic. Anticipating increased projects and new expat arrivals, landlords are raising rents for desirable properties geared toward expatriates. Sources say renewable energy jobs may also be coming to the region as the country aims to build an offshore wind farm off the coast of Ulsan.

Goods and Services Update

Highlights from AIRINC’s in-depth research
Global Gas Prices on the Rise

Global Gas Prices on the Rise

The COVID-19 crisis led to a sharp decrease in gas prices worldwide, as the abrupt and widespread lockdowns and border restrictions caused demand to plummet. Faced with an oversupply as people stayed closer to home and bought less and less petrol, most oil-producing countries temporarily cut production. In the United States, gas prices were at their lowest in late April to early May of 2020. A year later, both demand and prices have skyrocketed. The vaccinated population has been growing, and restrictions are decreasing. This is especially true in the U.S., but the rise in gas prices since last year is a global phenomenon. Many of AIRINC’s May surveys of European and Asian locations, such as London, Frankfurt, Taipei, and Tokyo, revealed remarkable increases in the price of car fuels – with some locations showing double-digit inflation in gas prices since May of 2020. Oil production has ramped up along with demand, as more people have begun traveling. This is true for both driving and flying, as the airline industry has also begun to rebound.

Goods and Services Inflation

Selected locations with inflation higher than 5% for 6 months
Argentina
Azerbaijan
Russia
Turkey
Ukraine
Venezuela

Selected 3-month Exchange Rate fluctuations of more than 5%

Seychelles

Currency: SCR

Change vs EUR: 33.7%

Change vs USD: 35.0%

Mozambique

Currency: MZN

Change vs EUR: 18.0%

Change vs USD: 19.2%

Brazil

Currency: BRL

Change vs EUR: 9.8%

Change vs USD: 10.9%

South Africa

Currency: ZAR

Change vs EUR: 7.1%

Change vs USD: 8.2%

Hungary

Currency: HUF

Change vs EUR: 4.6%

Change vs USD: 5.5%

Georgia

Currency: GEL

Change vs EUR: 4.2%

Change vs USD: 5.1%

Angola

Currency: AOA

Change vs EUR: -5.1%

Change vs USD: -4.2%

Argentina

Currency: ARS

Change vs EUR: -5.6%

Change vs USD: -4.6%

Peru

Currency: PEN

Change vs EUR: -6.2%

Change vs USD: -5.1%

Ethiopia

Currency: ETB

Change vs EUR: -7.6%

Change vs USD: -6.7%

Sudan

Currency: SDG

Change vs EUR: -13.1%

Change vs USD: -12.1%

Turkey

Currency: TRY

Change vs EUR: -13.4%

Change vs USD: -12.6%

Myanmar

Currency: MMK

Change vs EUR: -15.5%

Change vs USD: -14.7%

Haiti

Currency: HTG

Change vs EUR: -16.7%

Change vs USD: -15.9%

Suriname

Currency: SRD

Change vs EUR: -34.0%

Change vs USD: -33.2%

Venezuela

Currency: VES

Change vs EUR: -42.0%

Change vs USD: -41.4%

Syria

Currency: SYP

Change vs EUR: -50.4%

Change vs USD: -50.0%

Country
Tax Update

Changes in expatriate tax

Australia

Barbados

Fiji

Georgia

Malaysia

Moldova

New Zealand

Poland

Spain

Venezuela

For more information, please see our blog post on COVID-19 tax updates:

Australia

Family allowances increased slightly. The Low Income Tax Offset (LMITO), originally a one-off measure for tax year 2020/2021, was extended an additional year. The net effect is a small decrease in income tax for certain families with children. Employees do not have compulsory contributions to social security. However, the employer superannuation rate increased from 9.5% to 10%, and the maximum annual contribution increased from AUD 21,694 to AUD 23,568. The superannuation rate is scheduled to incrementally increase to 12% by July 1, 2025. Separately, as part of Australia’s effort to attract more business and talent and reduce compliance and litigation costs, the government announced it will replace and modernize tax residency rules, likely beginning tax year 2022/2023. The new framework includes a new primary ‘bright line’ test of 183 days in order to be considered an Australian tax resident. There will still be a secondary test on objective criteria surrounding an individual’s center of vital and economic interests.

Barbados

Barbados introduced a ‘Welcome Stamp Visa’ to attract foreign nationals to relocate and work remotely from Barbados, tax-free, for up to 12 months. The visa does not allow employment by a local employer and applicants must certify a minimum income of $50,000 over the 12 month period or have means to support themselves during the stay.

Fiji

Effective April 1, 2020 – December 31, 2021: As part of Fiji’s response to COVID-19, the employee Fiji National Provident Fund (NFPF) rate was reduced from 8% to 5% and the employer rate was reduced from 10% to 5%. The net effect is a decrease in social security for all taxpayers. In addition, the fringe benefit tax rate was reduced from 25% to 20%.

Georgia

There are no changes to individual taxation for tax year 2021. Georgia introduced a remote work visa allowing foreign nationals from an approved list of 95 countries to enter Georgia to telework for a non-Georgian company for at least 180 days. Individuals must earn at least USD 2,000 per month, must have health insurance coverage, and must quarantine and undergo a COVID-19 PCR test. Applications must be approved by the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development.

Malaysia

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Malaysian Government temporarily reduced the employee provident fund contribution rate from 11% to 7% for the period April 1 – December 31, 2020. Continuing with the relief, the rate for the period of January 1 – December 31, 2021 will be 9%. Employees have a choice, however, to maintain contributions at 11% by submitting a form with their employer. AIRINC implemented the 7% rate last year and is using the 9% rate for 2021. In addition, the tax rate schedule was adjusted and the lifestyle relief limit increased from MYR 2,500 to MYR 3,000, with the additional MYR 500 specifically provided for sports-related expenditures, such as purchasing equipment, attending events, or paying participation fees. The net effect is a small decrease in income tax and a 2% increase in social security contributions for all taxpayers.

Moldova

Effective from January 1, 2021, employees are not required to make contributions to social security as the contributions are payable entirely by employers. Employees do have compulsory contributions to the medical assistance fund at the rate of 9% uncapped. The personal allowances were revised. Taxpayers with income below MDL 360,000 may claim an allowance of MDL 25,200. The additional allowance for spouse is no longer permitted. Children allowances increased to MDL 4,500. The income tax rate is unchanged at a flat 12%. The net effect is a decrease in the employee’s social security contributions and a small increase in income tax because social security contributions are deductible.

New Zealand

The top marginal rate increased from 33% to 39% for taxable income exceeding NZD 180,000. The net effect is an increase in income tax for higher incomes.

Poland

The maximum social security contribution increased slightly. A new occupational pension savings scheme, Pracownicze Plany Kapitalowe (PKK), was implemented effective January 1, 2021. PPK contributions are mandatory for employers and voluntary for employees. Effectively, employers are obliged to establish PPK plans for their employees unless they have another private pension system already in place, and employees may opt-out of the plan. Employer PKK contributions are 1.5% of salary and are considered taxable to the employee.

Spain

Tax reform implemented with the Spain 2021 Budget was generally intended to increase taxes for higher income taxpayers. The maximum pension contribution deduction decreased. The tax credit for charitable contributions increased slightly. The national tax added a new top marginal rate for incomes exceeding EUR 300,000, increasing from 22.5% to 24.5%. The regional tax in Barcelona modified the tax brackets, resulting in a slight increase on the tax for higher incomes. Expatriate taxpayers using the special expatriate tax regime will now pay a higher tax on incomes exceeding EUR 600,000, increasing from 45% to 47%. The budget also modified the wealth tax, increasing the top rate applied to taxable assets exceeding EUR 10.7 million. The wealth tax was also made permanent, as it was scheduled to expire this year. The net effect of these changes is an increase in tax for most taxpayers, especially with higher incomes. Social security contribution rates are unchanged.

Venezuela

The Venezuela tax code for employment income was adjusted for inflation. Recently these adjustments have been substantial. The Tax Unit Value (TUV) was adjusted as of April 6, 2021 from VES 1,500 to VES 20,000. The minimum monthly salary increased from VES 250,000 to VES 400,000. These values are used in the computation of social security maximums, deductions, credits, and tax brackets. The rates of tax and social security are unchanged. The net effect of these changes is an increase in social security contributions and a decrease in tax.

Research Location Update

Q.2 Researched Locations and Upcoming Q.3 Locations

AIRINC researches more than 150 locations each quarter.

Q.2 Researched Locations
Q.3 Upcoming Locations

In response to market volatility, we also conducted updates in Buenos Aires and Caracas in the second quarter.

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