World’s most expensive cities for expats 2019

By Suzanne Lai
June 30, 2019

The world’s most expensive cities for expats have been re-assessed in 2019 with eight of the top 10 located in Asia.

Mercer, the world’s largest human resources consulting firm, has released its annual Cost of Living Survey, now in its 25th year. As with last year, unstable housing markets, low inflation and fluctuating prices for goods and services are impacting the cost of doing business in various cities around the world – changing how and where multinationals operate.

The digital era, ageing populations, skills shortages and unpredictable political and economic contexts are further changing the landscape of global business.

Multinationals are embracing this transformation by offering remote jobs that are critical for accessing new talent, often in unexpected corners of the world. 

Comparing the cost of living

It is important to remember that the ranking is not designed for locals. It is designed for multinational companies looking to place expat employees and is used as a tool to calculate how much overseas workers should be paid. It also provides an indication to potential expats looking to determine how expensive their new country could be to live in.

Mercer uses New York as its base city and the US dollar as the base currency. The results differ from other surveys such as the Economist’s Worldwide Cost of Living as Mercer focuses specifically on products bought by expats.

If you’re a hiring manager looking to send an analyst to Kuala Lumpur, you need to know how much it costs to live there so you are compensating that worker fairly. It’s easier to consult a ready-made list than to do your own research on the ground. Most companies who use these lists are placing highly-skilled professionals or managers who are likely to earn more than the average local salary. 

Bryan Lufkin, BBC Capital

The survey analyses the price of over 200 goods and services in over 360 cities with substantial expat communities across the globe. The methodology assumes spending patterns among expats from different nationalities remain the same.

The weighting of goods and services are the same for all locations. The approach compares prices of comparable brands and retail outlets in both the home and host cities.

A drawback with this methodology is that certain factors can skew a city’s rating. For example, the high cost of car ownership and fuel in Singapore could propel it further up the rankings.

Region by region

Hong Kong (1) and Tokyo (2) have remained the world’s most expensive cities for expats. Singapore (3), Seoul (4) and Zurich (5) round out the top five meaning four out of five of the world’s most expensive cities for expats are in Asia.

Other cities in the top 10 include the Chinese cities of Shanghai (6), Beijing (8) and Shenzhen (10) as well as Ashgabat (7) in Turkmenistan, up 36 places from last year. The world’s least expensive cities for expats are Tunis (209), Tashkent (208) and Karachi (207).

most expensive cities for expats top 5 by region
Mercer The top five most expensive cities for expats by region

New York (9) remains the most expensive city in the Americas. Zurich (5) remains the most expensive city in Europe, followed by Bern (12) and Geneva (13), all three in Switzerland.

Ndjamena (11) in Chad is the most expensive city for expats in Africa. Victoria (14) in the Seychelles follows, rising seven places. Moving up 15 spots, Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo (22) is the next African city on the list, followed by Libreville (24) in Gabon.

Mumbai (67) is India’s most expensive city, followed by New Delhi (118) and Chennai (154). Tel Aviv (15) remains the Middle East’s most expensive city for expats, followed by Dubai (21), Abu Dhabi (33) and Riyadh (35).

World’s most expensive cities for expats ranking

Sort the table below by cost of living or country to view the world’s most expensive cities for expats.

RankCityCountry/region± 2018
1Hong KongHong Kong (SAR)-
2TokyoJapan-
3SingaporeSingapore1
4SeoulSouth Korea1
5ZurichSwitzerland-2
6ShanghaiChina1
7AshgabatTurkmenistan36
8BeijingChina1
9New York CityUnited States4
10ShenzhenChina2
11NdjamenaChad-3
12BernSwitzerland-2
13GenevaSwitzerland-2
14VictoriaSeychelles7
15Tel AvivIsrael1
16San FranciscoUnited States12
17GuangzhouChina-2
18Los AngelesUnited States17
19OsakaJapan4
20CopenhagenDenmark-6
21DubaiUnited Arab Emirates5
22KinshasaDem. Rep. of the Congo15
23LondonUnited Kingdom-4
24LibrevilleGabon-6
25LagosNigeria17
26LuandaAngola-20
27MoscowRussia-10
27NanjingChina-2
29NoumeaNew Caledonia-7
30AbidjanCôte d'Ivoire-6
30ChengduChina1
32TianjinChina-3
33Abu DhabiUnited Arab Emirates7
33NagoyaJapan8
35TaipeiTaiwan-8
35RiyadhSaudi Arabia10
37ChicagoUnited States14
38HonoluluUnited States16
39BrazzavilleCongo-20
40BangkokThailand12
41QingdaoChina-5
42WashingtonUnited States14
43DublinIreland-11
44MiamiUnited States16
45MilanItaly-12
45ShenyangChina-7
47ParisFrance-13
47DhakaBangladesh19
49BostonUnited States21
50SydneyAustralia-21
51ViennaAustria-12
52YaoundeCameroon-9
53BeirutLebanon12
54BanguiCentral African Republic-6
55RomeItaly-9
56White PlainsUnited States23
57ManamaBahrain20
58AmsterdamNetherlands-8
59DjiboutiDjibouti14
59HoustonUnited States27
61OsloNorway-14
62DallasUnited States23
63AccraGhana-
64SeattleUnited States26
65HelsinkiFinland-12
66DoualaCameroon7
67MumbaiIndia-12
67MunichGermany-10
69AtlantaUnited States26
70MontevideoUruguay5
70MorristownUnited States27
72DakarSenegal-10
72San JuanPuerto Rico23
74FrankfurtGermany-6
75St. PetersburgRussia-26
75AmmanJordan19
77BrusselsBelgium-10
78MinneapolisUnited States24
79MelbourneAustralia-21
79SantiagoChile-10
81BerlinGermany-10
82MadridSpain-18
83Port Of SpainTrinidad & Tobago14
84LuxembourgLuxembourg-13
85AbujaNigeria14
86Sao PauloBrazil-28
87PerthAustralia-26
88ConakryGuinea18
89AucklandNew Zealand-8
90DetroitUnited States26
91BarcelonaSpain-12
92DusseldorfGermany-10
93Panama CityPanama21
94St. LouisUnited States28
95LisbonPortugal-2
96CanberraAustralia-19
97PragueCzech Republic-14
97NairobiKenya26
97PittsburghUnited States28
100HamburgGermany-12
100JeddahSaudi Arabia17
102Bandar Seri BegawanBrunei4
103BrisbaneAustralia-19
103MuscatOman14
105JakartaIndonesia12
106ClevelandUnited States19
107PortlandUnited States23
108Phnom PenhCambodia34
109AdelaideAustralia-22
109ManilaPhilippines29
111RigaLatvia-19
112VancouverCanada-3
112HanoiVietnam25
114WellingtonNew Zealand-13
115TorontoCanada-6
115DohaQatar-
117YangonMyanmar-26
118New DelhiIndia-15
119Kuwait CityKuwait2
120Ho Chi Minh CityVietnam4
121Rio De JaneiroBrazil-22
121LimaPeru11
123LyonFrance-18
124BamakoMali-4
125Pointe A PitreGuadeloupe-21
126StuttgartGermany-18
127StockholmSweden-38
128CotonouBenin-17
128AthensGreece-16
128CasablancaMorocco-
131BratislavaSlovakia-18
131San JoseCosta Rica10
133Buenos AiresArgentina-57
133HavanaCuba32
135BirminghamUnited Kingdom-7
136Guatemala CityGuatemala-6
137AberdeenUnited Kingdom-3
138Winston SalemUnited States23
139MontrealCanada8
140TallinnEstonia-
141Kuala LumpurMalaysia4
142LjubljanaSlovenia-10
143ZagrebCroatia-5
144Mexico CityMexico13
145LomeTogo-11
145OuagadougouBurkina Faso-11
145GlasgowUnited Kingdom3
148QuitoEcuador8
149NiameyNiger-6
150KievUkraine23
151NurembergGermany-6
152VilniusLithuania-4
153CalgaryCanada1
154ChennaiIndia-10
154IstanbulTurkey9
156LeipzigGermany-6
157KingstonJamaica7
158BelfastUnited Kingdom-6
159MaputoMozambique20
160RabatMorocco5
161LimassolCyprus-8
161OttawaCanada-1
161Port LouisMauritius-
164BudapestHungary-13
165Port Au PrinceHaiti-40
166TiranaAlbania6
166San SalvadorEl Salvador8
166CairoEgypt22
169Santo DomingoDominican Republic9
170BogotaColombia-2
171Dar Es SalaamTanzania9
171Addis AbabaEthiopia12
173WarsawPoland-19
174BrasiliaBrazil-16
175KigaliRwanda-6
176BucharestRomania-
177SofiaBulgaria-2
178BakuAzerbaijan8
179BengaluruIndia-9
180Cape TownSouth Africa-10
181BelgradeSerbia-
182ColomboSri Lanka-24
183KampalaUganda9
184AlgiersAlgeria11
185JohannesburgSouth Africa-8
186AsuncionParaguay-3
187MonterreyMexico6
188HarareZimbabwe-23
189KolkataIndia-7
189GaboroneBotswana-
191AlmatyKazakhstan-4
192NouakchottMauritania2
193BlantyreMalawi11
194SarajevoBosnia and Herzegovina-3
195La PazBolivia4
196LusakaZambia-11
197YerevanArmenia1
198MinskBelarus4
199TegucigalpaHonduras2
200ManaguaNicaragua-
201SkopjeMacedonia-4
202TbilisiGeorgia1
203IslamabadPakistan-13
204WindhoekNamibia-8
204BanjulGambia2
206BishkekKyrgyzstan1
207KarachiPakistan-2
208TashkentUzbekistan1
209TunisTunisia-1

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