Hong Kong remains world's most expensive expat city: survey

clock
Hong Kong remains world's most expensive expat city: survey

Hong Kong remains at the top of an annual global survey of the world's most expensive cities for expats, according to a report published last week.

Asian cities made up six of the top 10, the survey found. A surprise entry was Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, in 2nd place, ahead of Tokyo at number 3 and Singapore at 5, down from 3 in last year's survey.

Other Asian cities appearing in the top 10 of Mercer's costliest cities for expatriates are Shanghai (7) and Beijing (10). 

Border closings, flight interruptions, mandatory confinements, and other short-term disruptions have affected not only the cost of goods and services, but also the quality of living of assignees.”

In Europe, Zurich was number 4 in the list, with two other Swiss cities making the top 10: Bern (8) and Geneva (9). London rose three places to 19th place on a weakened pound.

By contrast, the world's least expensive cities for expatriates, according to Mercer's survey, are Tunis (209), Windhoek (208), Tashkent and Bishkek, which tied to rank 206.

Middle East
This year's survey found that Tel Aviv (12) continues to be the most expensive city in the Middle East for expatriates, followed by Dubai (23), Riyadh (31), and Abu Dhabi (39). Cairo (126) remains the least expensive city in the region despite rising 40 places.

Mercer's widely recognized survey is one of the world's most comprehensive, and is designed to help multinational companies and governments determine compensation strategies for their expatriate employees.

Mercer explained that New York City is used as the base city for all comparisons and currency movements are measured against the US dollar. The survey comprises over 400 cities around the world; this year's ranking includes 209 cities across five continents and measures the comparative cost of more than 200 items in each location, including housing, transportation, food, clothing, household goods, and entertainment.

Volatile times
Ilya Bonic, career president and head of strategy at Mercer, said: "Border closings, flight interruptions, mandatory confinements, and other short-term disruptions have affected not only the cost of goods and services, but also the quality of living of assignees." 

"Climate change, issues related to environmental footprint, and health system challenges have pushed multinationals to consider how a city's efforts around sustainability can impact the living conditions for their expatriate workers. Cities with a strong sustainability focus can greatly improve living standards, which can in turn improve employee well-being and engagement."

Properly vetting locations and compensating employees on international assignments is as important as it can be costly. Mercer's survey shows that costs of goods and services shift with inflation and currency volatility making overseas assignment costs sometimes greater and sometimes smaller.

"Sudden changes to exchange rates has been mainly driven by the impact covid-19 is having on the global economy," added Yvonne Traber, global mobility product solutions leader at Mercer.

"This volatility can affect mobile employees in a variety of ways, from shortages and price adjustments for goods and services, to supply chain disruptions or when employees are paid in home country currency and need to exchange funds into the host country for local purchases."

Here is the top 50 from the Mercer cost of living survey 2020:

Rank as of March

City

Country/Region

2019

2020

1

1

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

7

2

Ashgabat

Turkmenistan

2

3

Tokyo

Japan

5

4

Zurich

Switzerland

3

5

Singapore

Singapore

9

6

New York City 

United States

6

7

Shanghai

China

12

8

Bern

Switzerland

13

9

Geneva

Switzerland

8

10

Beijing

China

4

11

Seoul

South Korea

15

12

Tel Aviv

Isreal

10

13

Shenzen

China

14

14

Victoria

Seycheles

11

15

Ndjamena

Chad

16

16

San Francisco

United States

18

17

Los Angeles

United States

25

18

Lagos

Nigeria

23

19

London

United Kingdom

17

20

Guangzou

China

27

21

Moscow

Russia

19

22

Osoaka

Japan

21

23

Dubai

UAE

22

24

Kinshasa

Democratic Rebublic of Congo

20

25

Copenhagen

Denmark

33

26

Nagoya

Japan

47

26

Dhaka

Bangladesh

35

28

Taipei

Taiwan

38

28

Honolulu

United States

37

30

Chicago

United States

35

31

Riyadh

Saudi Arabia

42

32

Washington

United States

24

33

Libreville

Gabon

27

34

Nanjing

China

40

35

Bangkok

Thailand

30

36

Abidjan

Cote d'Ivoire

44

37

Miami

United States

32

38

Tianjin

China

33

39

Abu Dhabi

UAE

30

40

Chengdu

China

49

41

Boston

United States

29

42

Noumean

New Caledonia

41

43

Qingdao

China

39

44

Brazzaville

Congo

53

45

Beirut

Lebanon

43

46

Dublin

Ireland

45

47

Milan

Italy

56

48

White Plains

United States

54

49

Bangui

Central African Republic

47

50

Paris

France

 

Mercer Cost of Living Survey - Worldwide Rankings 2020

(The Mercer international basket, including rental accommodation costs)

Rank as of March

City

Country/Region

2019

2020

1

1

HONG KONG

HONG KONG (SAR)

7

2

ASHGABAT

TURKMENISTAN

2

3

TOKYO

JAPAN

5

4

ZURICH

SWITZERLAND

3

5

SINGAPORE

SINGAPORE

9

6

NEW YORK CITY

UNITED STATES

6

7

SHANGHAI

CHINA

12

8

BERN

SWITZERLAND

13

9

GENEVA

SWITZERLAND

8

10

BEIJING

CHINA

4

11

SEOUL

SOUTH KOREA

15

12

TEL AVIV

ISRAEL

10

13

SHENZHEN

CHINA

14

14

VICTORIA

SEYCHELLES

11

15

NDJAMENA

CHAD

16

16

SAN FRANCISCO

UNITED STATES

18

17

LOS ANGELES

UNITED STATES

25

18

LAGOS

NIGERIA

23

19

LONDON

UNITED KINGDOM

17

20

GUANGZHOU

CHINA

27

21

MOSCOW

RUSSIA

19

22

OSAKA

JAPAN

21

23

DUBAI

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

22

24

KINSHASA

DEM. REP. OF THE CONGO

20

25

COPENHAGEN

DENMARK

33

26

NAGOYA

JAPAN

47

26

DHAKA

BANGLADESH

35

28

TAIPEI

TAIWAN

38

28

HONOLULU

UNITED STATES

37

30

CHICAGO

UNITED STATES

35

31

RIYADH

SAUDI ARABIA

42

32

WASHINGTON

UNITED STATES

24

33

LIBREVILLE

GABON

27

34

NANJING

CHINA

40

35

BANGKOK

THAILAND

30

36

ABIDJAN

CÔTE D'IVOIRE

44

37

MIAMI

UNITED STATES

32

38

TIANJIN

CHINA

33

39

ABU DHABI

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

30

40

CHENGDU

CHINA

49

41

BOSTON

UNITED STATES

29

42

NOUMEA

NEW CALEDONIA

41

43

QINGDAO

CHINA

39

44

BRAZZAVILLE

CONGO

53

45

BEIRUT

LEBANON

43

46

DUBLIN

IRELAND

45

47

MILAN

ITALY

56

48

WHITE PLAINS

UNITED STATES

54

49

BANGUI

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC

47

50

PARIS

FRANCE

Author spotlight

Christopher Copper-Ind

Christopher Copper-Ind is editor-in-chief of International Investment. Before this, he was editorial director of The Business Year, from 2014 to 2017.