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The world’s most expensive cities for 2013 have been identified by the Economist Intelligence Unit and there is a good chance your dream destination for living abroad is among them.

Tokyo, Paris and Singapore are, predictably, among the top 10 cash-sapping destinations. In fact, Tokyo has ranked first for 14 out of the last 20 years. Other budget-busting centres are possibly more unexpected – at least if you are unfamiliar with local prices – with Australian cities Melbourne and Sydney both in the top five.

But in many cases, for each incredibly expensive destination there is a city that offers similar experiences, for less. In these five inspiring alternatives, comparable lifestyle, location and experiences can be found for a fraction of the cost.

In most cases, it’s best to relocate with an existing job. In Europe, for instance, the euro zone crisis has hit hard and unemployment rates are high, but quality of life can still be good.

Tokyo, Japan / Seoul, South Korea
Tokyo may be your heart’s desire, but just over the Sea of Japan lies the South Korean city of Seoul, a city equally fused with high-tech, neon-lit modernity. According to Numbeo, a user-generated cost-of-living statistics website, overall consumer prices (including rent) in Seoul can be approximately 35% cheaper than Tokyo. Essential costs such as rent and food are estimated to be around 40% less.

An increasingly dynamic city, Seoul is an exemplary hub of technology and engineering as South Korea achieves global greatness with brands such as Samsung, LG and Hyundai. It is also is home to all the skyscrapers and neon you could wish for, while offering historic contrast with ancient temples, palace complexes and teahouses. Architecturally, this Unesco City of Design is emerging from its post–Korean War rebuild with a bold look, as creations by architects Zaha Hadid and Daniel Libeskind add to the skyline.

Like Tokyo, the city is easy to access through extensive and efficient public transport. If you love Tokyo’s Ueno Park, riverside Seoul will more than satisfy with its peppering of central green spaces. A variety of bright-lights entertainment runs all night; from karaoke, games arcades and K-Pop to stylish cocktail bars and pumping nightclubs, street-side food stalls and fine dining. Try youthful Hongdae as an alternative Shibuya. Shopping-wise, the city more than competes with its markets, chic boutiques and flashy department stores that line the streets of Myeong-dong.

Melbourne, Australia / Berlin, Germany
Culturally minded, food-obsessed Melbourne is officially the world’s most liveable city, and with that title comes a hefty price tag. Berlin, with its cool, artistic lifestyle and comparable riverside location provides ample similarities without blowing the budget. According to Numbeo, consumer prices, including rent, in Berlin can be around 45% lower than in Melbourne. While rapid gentrification in central neighbourhoods such as Prezlauer Berg and Kreuzberg has increased housing prices, rental costs can still be around 50% cheaper than Melbourne’s Fitzroy neighbourhood and other inner north suburbs.

Like Melbourne, liberally minded Berlin is cultural to its core, a haven for artists, musicians and writers, with a penchant for innovation and subversion. It is home to museums galore, and has a thriving 24-hour nightlife, ranging from basement clubs to cocktail bars to world-class symphonies and theatre. There is plenty to feast on too, and not just famed Wurst. Berlin fare runs the gamut from Michelin-starred fine dining to locavore organic eateries to fantastic, affordable ethnic food, particularly Turkish.

Cycling in Berlin is just as popular as in Melbourne, and with Berlin’s excellent bike lanes and open spaces, it is an enjoyable and cost-effective way to get around the compact city.

Singapore / Bangkok, Thailand
Urban giant Bangkok may be a lot grittier and more prone to gridlock than impeccably clean and efficient Singapore, but if excellent shopping, food, entertainment and a megacity vibe are what you are looking for in a hometown, it could be the perfect, affordable alternative. Numbeo suggests consumer prices including rent can be 55% cheaper in Bangkok compared to Singapore. You cannot beat that for value.

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