Traveling is on everyone’s mind. Try listening to some ofthe very popular horoscope shows and you will inadvertentlyhear: “Fi safar?” Any travel plans? As opportunities foreducated, professional people diminish in Lebanon, all eyesstart to turn abroad. Most of the people looking to traveltend to be young men in search of better opportunities inother countries. But what if you are a young family? Howmuch would it cost you to relocate?
Many couples with young kids now think of moving as a meansof offering their children a future filled with security andopportunity rather than political and financial uncertainty.But if, like me, you are a snob, and would only agree tomove to Europe (I am not one for grass grown withdesalinated water, fake snow or culture that is importedrather than produced) then the question that begets itselfis: can we afford it?
Answer: Probably not.
Before we go any further, I must admit that, yes, the vastmajority of Lebanese families live on a lot less than thenumbers I am going to throw out, but for the purposes of oursurvey, I have been forced to take the young, upwardlymobile couple as the model.
Such a family in Beirut needs a minimum of $2,500 per monthin living expenses. This sum includes rent (three-bedroom apartment in a good area), private school fees, onefull-time, sleep-in domestic helper, bills andtransportation fees, but it does not include groceries,clothes, cars, travel, etc. The modest amount affords adecent living by all standards, especially with income taxat around 10%. How much would this same family need tosatisfy these same conditions abroad?
Take three examples: Athens, Milan or London, all greatcities in which to live. Culture, history, beauty, greenspaces, organization and respect for the rule of law aboundin these places, but as you can see from the table below,you would need to spend about $6,500 a month to livedecently in Athens (albeit not in absolute luxury) andalmost double that to reside London. Add to that what youhave to pay in income tax (40% average) and you realize youneed to be grossing quite an annual yearly income just to‘live’. Dubai has traditionally been a popular destinationfor the spirited expat, but even that emirate is now provingbeyond the reach of many.
Plus, there are other, immaterial, issues to consider whenliving abroad, such as proximity to family, distances,traffic, work permits in some cases and even the weather!Sure, in these big cities, you’re at the center of the worldrather than in the margins, plus you have peace of mind whenit comes to political, financial and economic security. Butan increasing number of people are carefully reviewing theseconsiderations and wondering: is it worth it?
The result is a relatively new phenomenon in Lebanon: thesplit family, when parents choose to live and educate thekids in Lebanon while the breadwinner makes a “Western”salary abroad, mostly either in Europe or the Gulf.Financially, its cheap, and socially, many believe a tighterclan fabric means less crime and apparently no drugs.
Ever wonder where all the money is coming from when staringat the array of Porsche Cayennes and Lexus 4x4s in parkinglots? At the last estimate, 25% of GDP is in the form offoreign remittances. So although it can be hard on manycouples to be separated and married women sometimes feellike they are single mothers, this arrangement is actually ahappy medium between risking it all here and giving it allup there. It also makes more financial sense.
Most conversations about relocating end in the sameconclusion: define your priorities. But once your prioritiesare defined, if you decide to relocate, check your wallet!