expenive cities

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

9th January 2021

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.

Yet again, Hong Kong is the world’s most expensive city for expats, followed by Ashgabat in second place, Tokyo in third and Zurich in fourth. Singapore ranks fifth, down two places from the previous year and New York moves up from ninth place to sixth.

Hong Kong has the fastest internet in Asia
EarnestTse/Shutterstock Hong Kong is the most expensive city for expats

“The COVID-19 pandemic reminds us that sending and keeping employees on international assignments is a huge responsibility and a difficult task to manage. Rather than bet on a dramatic resurgence of mobility, organizations should prepare for the redeployment of their mobile workforces, leading with empathy and understanding that not all expatriates will be ready or willing to go abroad.”

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.

the least and most expensive cities for expats
Mercer The most and least expensive cities 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 over 200 goods and services in over 400 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.

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Region by region

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

most expensive cities for expats in each region
Mercer The expensive cities by region

Most expensive Asian cities

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

MOST EXPENSIVE European CITIES

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

MOST EXPENSIVe African CITIES

  1. Victoria, Seychelles
  2. N’Djamena, Chad
  3. Lagos, Nigeria
  4. Kinshasa, DR Congo
  5. Libreville, Gabon
  6. Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire
  7. Brazzaville, Congo
  8. Bangui, Central African Republic
  9. Yaounde, Cameroon
  10. Accra, Ghana

Most expensive cities in the Americas

North America

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

Latin America

  1. San Juan, Puerto Rico
  2. Port of Spain, Trin. & Tob.
  3. San Jose, Costa Rica
  4. Montevideo, Uruguay
  5. Panama City, Panama

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/RegionRank 2019
1Hong KongHong Kong (SAR)1
2AshgabatTurkmenistan7
3TokyoJapan2
4ZurichSwitzerland5
5SingaporeSingapore3
6New York CityUSA9
7ShanghaiChina6
8BernSwitzerland12
9GenevaSwitzerland13
10BeijingChina8
11SeoulSouth Korea4
12Tel AvivIsrael15
13ShenzhenChina10
14VictoriaSeychelles14
15N’DjamenaChad11
16San FranciscoUSA16
17Los AngelesUSA18
18LagosNigeria25
19LondonUK23
20GuangzhouChina17
21MoscowRussia27
22OsakaJapan19
23DubaiUAE21
24KinshasaDR Congo22
25CopenhagenDenmark20
26DhakaBangladesh47
26NagoyaJapan33
28HonoluluUSA38
28TaipeiTaiwan35
30ChicagoUSA37
31RiyadhSaudi Arabia35
32WashingtonUSA42
33LibrevilleGabon24
34NanjingChina27
35BangkokThailand40
36AbidjanCôte d’Ivoire30
37MiamiUSA44
38TianjinChina32
39Abu DhabiUAE33
40ChengduChina30
41BostonUSA49
42NoumeaNew Caledonia29
43QingdaoChina41
44BrazzavilleCongo39
45BeirutLebanon53
46DublinIreland43
47MilanItaly45
48White PlainsUSA56
49BanguiCentral African Rep.54
50ParisFrance47
51HoustonUSA59
52DallasUSA62
52ManamaBahrain57
54ViennaAustria51
55SeattleUSA64
56YaoundeCameroon52
57AccraGhana63
58DjiboutiDjibouti59
59St. PetersburgRussia75
60AtlantaUSA69
60MumbaiIndia67
62MorristownUSA70
63ShenyangChina45
64AmsterdamNetherlands58
65RomeItaly55
66San JuanPuerto Rico72
66SydneyAustralia50
68AbujaNigeria85
69MinneapolisUSA78
70DoualaCameroon66
71AmmanJordan75
72MunichGermany67
73Port of SpainTrinidad & Tobago83
74HelsinkiFinland65
75DakarSenegal72
76FrankfurtGermany74
76OsloNorway61
78San JoseCosta Rica131
78BrusselsBelgium77
80ManilaPhilippines109
80DetroitUSA90
82BerlinGermany81
83YangonMyanmar117
83St. LouisUSA94
83LuxembourgLuxembourg84
86JakartaIndonesia105
87MadridSpain82
88MontevideoUruguay70
89ConakryGuinea88
90Panama CityPanama93
91PittsburghUSA97
92PortlandUSA107
93ClevelandUSA106
94VancouverCanada112
95NairobiKenya97
96MuscatOman103
97PragueCzech Rep.97
98TorontoCanada115
99MelbourneAustralia79
100DusseldorfGermany92
101New DelhiIndia118
102BarcelonaSpain91
103AucklandNew Zealand89
104JeddahSaudi Arabia100
104PerthAustralia87
106KievUkraine150
106HamburgGermany100
106LisbonPortugal95
109DohaQatar115
109Phnom PenhCambodia108
111Ho Chi Minh CityVietnam120
112LimaPeru121
113Kuwait CityKuwait119
113RigaLatvia111
115LuandaAngola26
116NiameyNiger149
116HanoiVietnam112
118Bandar Seri BegawanBrunei102
118CanberraAustralia96
120Mexico CityMexico144
121CasablancaMorocco128
122Guatemala CityGuatemala136
123HavanaCuba133
123LyonFrance123
123WellingtonNew Zealand114
126CairoEgypt166
126AdelaideAustralia109
126BrisbaneAustralia103
129BirminghamUK135
130StuttgartGermany126
130Sao PauloBrazil86
132Winston SalemUSA138
133StockholmSweden127
134AberdeenUK137
134Pointe a PitreGuadeloupe125
134SantiagoChile79
137MontrealCanada139
138AthensGreece128
139BratislavaSlovakia131
140CotonouBenin128
141GlasgowUK145
142BamakoMali124
143ChennaiIndia154
144Kuala LumpurMalaysia141
145QuitoEcuador148
146CalgaryCanada153
146TallinnEstonia140
148LjubljanaSlovenia142
149BelfastUK158
150KingstonJamaica157
151OttawaCanada161
152ZagrebCroatia143
153Buenos AiresArgentina133
154LomeTogo145
155NurembergGermany151
156IstanbulTurkey154
157VilniusLithuania152
158LeipzigGermany156
159RabatMorocco160
160Rio de JaneiroBrazil121
161MaputoMozambique159
162OuagadougouBurkina Faso145
163Dar es SalaamTanzania171
163TiranaAlbania166
165HarareZimbabwe188
166LimassolCyprus161
167Santo DomingoDominican Rep.169
168San SalvadorEl Salvador166
169WarsawPoland173
170BudapestHungary164
171BengaluruIndia179
172BakuAzerbaijan178
173Port LouisMauritius161
174BucharestRomania176
175Port au PrinceHaiti165
176KigaliRwanda175
177MonterreyMexico187
177KampalaUganda183
177ColomboSri Lanka182
180SofiaBulgaria177
181BogotaColombia170
182Addis AbabaEthiopia171
183BelgradeSerbia181
184NouakchottMauritania192
185BlantyreMalawi193
185KolkataIndia189
187Cape TownSouth Africa180
188AsuncionParaguay186
189AlmatyKazakhstan191
190BrasiliaBrazil174
191YerevanArmenia197
192JohannesburgSouth Africa185
193La PazBolivia195
194MinskBelarus198
194AlgiersAlgeria184
196TegucigalpaHonduras199
197SarajevoBosnia & Herz.194
198ManaguaNicaragua200
199GaboroneBotswana189
200IslamabadPakistan203
201LusakaZambia196
202SkopjeNorth Macedonia201
203TbilisiGeorgia202
204BanjulGambia204
205KarachiPakistan207
206TashkentUzbekistan208
206BishkekKyrgyzstan206
208WindhoekNamibia204
209TunisTunisia209

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


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Lead image: DmyTo/Shutterstock