Ranked: most expensive cities for expats

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9th June 2021
expenive cities

The world’s most expensive cities for expats have been re-assessed with six 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 26th year.

With over 400 cities included, Mercer’s annual report is one of the most influential and comprehensive of its kind. The study helps multinational companies and governments design expatriate compensation packages for their employees and manage international assignment costs.

According to Mercer, Ashgabat in Turkmenistan is the most expensive cities for expats, with Hong Kong in second place.

Beirut in Lebanon is in third place, climbing an astonishing 42 places from last year as fallout from several years of political turmoil.

The world’s least expensive cities for international employees are Tbilisi in Georgia, Lusaka in Zambia and Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan

Ashgabat is the most expensive cities for expats
velirina/Shutterstock Ashgabat is the most expensive cities for expats

“Cost of living has always been a factor for international mobility planning, but the pandemic has added a whole new layer of complexity, as well as long-term implications related to health and safety of employees, remote working and flexibility policies, among other considerations. As organizations rethink their talent and mobility strategies, accurate and transparent data is essential to compensate employees fairly for all types of assignments.”

Ilya Bonic, Career President & Head of Mercer Strategy

The latest analysis reveals that the global pandemic has widely affected consumer buying habits throughout the world’s expatriate communities.

Particular commodities such as “comfort food,” cleaning supplies and home entertainment have seen an increase in demand.

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.

A cost of living infographic
Mercer Comparing the cost of living for expats

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 goods and services in over 400 cities with substantial expat communities across the globe.

The index reflects the prices of over 200 items from the following categories:

  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Utilities
  • Food
  • Domestic supplies
  • Home services
  • Personal care
  • Clothing and footwear
  • Recreation and entertainment
  • Alcohol and tobacco

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.

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Region by region

Six Asian cities, three European and one Middle Eastern city make up the 10 most expensive locations.

Map of the least and most expensive cities
Mercer The least and most expensive cities for expats

Most expensive Asian cities

  1. Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
  2. Hong Kong, Hong Kong (SAR)
  3. Tokyo, Japan
  4. Shanghai, China
  5. Singapore, Singapore
  6. Beijing, China
  7. Seoul, South Korea
  8. Shenzhen, China
  9. Guangzhou, China
  10. Taipei, Taiwan


  1. Zurich, Switzerland
  2. Geneva, Switzerland
  3. Bern, Switzerland
  4. Copenhagen, Denmark
  5. London, UK
  6. Paris, France
  7. Milan, Italy
  8. Vienna, Austria
  9. Dublin, Ireland
  10. Amsterdam, Netherlands


  1. N’Djamena, Chad
  2. Lagos, Nigeria
  3. Libreville, Gabon
  4. Abidjan, Cóte d’Ivoire
  5. Bangui, Central African Republic
  6. Brazzaville, Congo
  7. Kinshasa, DR Congo
  8. Yaounde, Cameroon
  9. Dakar, Senegal
  10. Douala, Cameroon

Most expensive cities in the Americas

North America

  1. New York, USA
  2. Los Angeles, USA
  3. San Francisco, USA
  4. Honolulu, USA
  5. Chicago, USA

Latin America

  1. San Juan, Puerto Rico
  2. Port of Spain, Trin. & Tob.
  3. Port-au-Prince, Haiti
  4. Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe
  5. Santiago, Chile

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.

12Ashgabat, Turkmenistan1
21Hong Kong, Hong Kong (SAR)-1
345Beirut, Lebanon42
43Tokyo, Japan-1
54Zurich, Switzerland-1
67Shanghai, China1
75Singapore, Singapore-2
89Geneva, Switzerland1
910Beijing, China1
108Bern, Switzerland-2
1111Seoul, South Korea0
1213Shenzhen, China1
1315N'Djamena, Chad2
146New York, USA-8
1512Tel Aviv, Israel-3
1625Copenhagen, Denmark9
1720Guangzhou, China3
1819London, UK1
1918Lagos, Nigeria-1
2033Libreville, Gabon13
2017Los Angeles, USA-3
2228Taipei, Taiwan6
2322Osaka, Japan-1
2436Abidjan, Cóte d'Ivoire12
2516San Francisco, USA-9
2638Tianjin, China12
2734Nanjing, China7
2840Chengdu, China12
2931Riyadh, Saudi Arabia2
3049Bangui, Central African Rep.19
3166Sydney, Australia35
3242Nouméa, New Caledonia10
3350Paris, France17
3443Qingdao, China9
3426Nagoya, Japan-8
3647Milan, Italy11
3754Vienna, Austria17
3844Brazzaville, Congo6
3946Dublin, Ireland7
4026Dhaka, Bangladesh-14
4124Kinshasa, DR Congo-17
4223Dubai, UAE-19
4328Honolulu, USA-15
4464Amsterdam, Netherlands20
4530Chicago, USA-15
4635Bangkok, Thailand-11
4765Rome, Italy18
4837Miami, USA-11
4956Yaoundé, Cameroon7
5041Boston, USA-9
5132Washington, USA-19
5272Munich, Germany20
5378Brussels, Belgium25
5476Frankfurt, Germany22
5576Oslo, Norway21
5674Helsinki, Finland18
5639Abu Dhabi, UAE-17
5675Dakar, Senegal19
5999Melbourne, Australia40
6082Berlin, Germany22
6163Shenyang, China2
6221Moscow, Russia-41
63104Perth, AustraliaAl
6383Luxembourg, Luxembourg20
6548White Plains, USA-17
6670Douala, Cameroon4
6787Madrid, Spain20
6755Seattle, USA-12
6952Dallas, USA-17
70103Auckland, New Zealand33
7152Manama, Bahrain-19
72133Stockholm, Sweden61
7260Atlanta, USA-12
74100Dusseldorf, Germany26
7562Morristown, USA-13
7551Houston, USA-24
75118Canberra, Australia43
7860Mumbai, India-18
7880Manila, Philippines2
80106Hamburg, Germany26
81126Brisbane, Australia45
8258Djibouti, Djibouti-24
83106Lisbon, Portugal23
84102Barcelona, Spain18
8568Abuja, Nigeria-17
8669Minneapolis, USA-17
8757Accra, Ghana-30
88126Adelaide, Australia38
8966San Juan, Puerto Rico-23
9097Prague, Czech Rep.7
9173Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tob.-18
92175Port-au-Prince, Haiti83
9394Vancouver, Canada1
94123Wellington, New Zealand29
9471Amman, Jordan-23
94104Jeddah, Saudi Arabia10
97113Riga, Latvia16
9898Toronto, Canada0
99116Niamey, Niger17
100123Lyon, France23
10180Detroit, USA-21
102130Stuttgart, Germany28
10383St. Louis, USA-20
10483Yangon, Myanmar-21
10486Jakarta, Indonesia-18
10692Portland, USA-14
107134Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe27
108134Santiago, Chile26
10896Muscat, Oman-12
11091Pittsburgh, USA-19
110139Bratislava, Slovakia29
11293Cleveland, USA-19
113140Cotonou, Benin27
114121Casablanca, Morocco7
115138Athens, Greece23
115113Kuwait City, Kuwait-2
117101New Delhi, India-16
11790Panama City, Panama-27
11989Conakry, Guinea-30
11959St. Petersburg, Russia-60
121129Birmingham, UK8
122118Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei-4
123115Luanda, Angola-8
12478San Jose, Costa Rica-46
125109Phnom Penh, Cambodia-16
126142Bamako, Mali16
126148Ljubljana, Slovenia22
128134Aberdeen, UK6
129137Montreal, Canada8
130109Doha, Qatar-21
131141Glasgow, UK10
13288Montevideo, Uruguay-44
132146Tallinn, Estonia14
134155Nuremberg, Germany21
134123Havana, Cuba-11
136154Lome, Togo18
137126Cairo, Egypt-11
138158Leipzig, Germany20
139116Hanoi, Vietnam-23
140152Zagreb, Croatia12
141122Guatemala City, Guatemala-19
141165Harare, Zimbabwe24
143111Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam-32
143157Vilnius, Lithuania14
145162Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso17
14595Nairobi, Kenya-50
145146Calgary, Canada1
148149Belfast, UK1
149106Kiev, Ukraine-43
150112Lima, Peru-38
151132Winston Salem, USA-19
152120Mexico City, Mexico-32
152163Tirana, Albania11
152144Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia-8
152159Rabat, Morocco7
156151Ottawa, Canada5
156166Limassol, Cyprus10
158143Chennai, India-15
15914Victoria, Seychelles-145
160174Bucharest, Romania14
161145Quito, Ecuador-16
162170Budapest, Hungary8
163183Belgrade, Serbia20
164169Warsaw, Poland5
165150Kingston, Jamaica-15
165180Sofia, Bulgaria15
167163Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania-4
168153Buenos Aires, Argentina-15
169168San Salvador, El Salvador-1
170171Bengaluru, India1
171177Kampala, Uganda6
172172Baku, Azerbaijan0
173156Istanbul, Turkey-17
173167Santo Domingo, Dominican Rep.-6
175176Kigali, Rwanda1
176184Nouakchott, Mauritania8
177130Sao Paulo, Brazil-47
178187Cape Town, South Africa9
179161Maputo, Mozambique-18
180181Bogota, Colombia1
181185Kolkata, India4
182173Port Louis, Mauritius-9
183177Monterrey, Mexico-6
184192Johannesburg, South Africa8
185177Colombo, Sri Lanka-8
186197Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herz.11
187188Asuncion, Paraguay1
188196Tegucigalpa, Honduras8
189193La Paz, Bolivia4
190185Blantyre, Malawi5
191160Rio de Janeiro, Brazil-31
192202Skopje, North Macedonia10
193189Almaty, Kazakhstan-4
194182Addis Ababa, Ethiopia-12
195191Yerevan, Armenia-4
196198Managua, Nicaragua2
197194Minsk, Belarus-3
198194Algiers, Algeria-4
199200Islamabad, Pakistan1
200204Banjul, Gambia4
201205Karachi, Pakistan4
202199Gaborone, Botswana-3
203206Tashkent, Uzbekistan3
204208Windhoek, Namibia4
205190Brasilia, Brazil-15
206209Tunis, Tunisia3
207203Tbilisi, Georgia-4
208201Lusaka, Zambia-7
209206Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan-3

You can download Mercer’s complete Cost of Living Survey here.

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