Mercer’s 25th annual Cost of Living Survey finds cities in Asia most expensive locations for employees working abroad

Mercer’s 25th annual Cost of Living Survey finds cities in Asia most expensive locations for employees working abroad

Mercer’s 25th annual Cost of Living Survey finds cities in Asia most expensive locations for employees working abroad

  • June 26, 2019
  • Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur

Multinationals’ focus on mobility as a workforce strategy supports career growth and global competitiveness

  • Kuala Lumpur rises from 145 to 141
  • Hong Kong remains the world’s costliest city
  • Eight of the world’s top 10 most expensive cities are in Asia

Eight of the world’s top 10 most expensive cities are located in Asia as a result of the region’s high costs for consumer goods and a dynamic housing market, with Kuala Lumpur (141) rising four places, according to Mercer’s 25th annual 2019 Cost of Living Survey.

Hong Kong tops the list as the world’s costliest city for the second consecutive year with the local housing market increasingly out of reach for many. Other cities appearing in the top 10 are Tokyo (2), Singapore (3), Seoul (4), Zurich (5), Shanghai (6), Ashgabat (7), Beijing (8), New York City (9), and Shenzhen (10). Ashgabat in Turkmenistan saw the biggest rise in rankings, jumping an astonishing 36 places from 43rd in 2018, as a result of the country’s shortage of currency and imported goods driving up prices.

While Kuala Lumpur didn’t experience a rise in prices, currency fluctuations saw the Malaysian ringgit lose four per cent to the US dollar. Despite this, Kuala Lumpur rose slightly due to the movement of other cities.

Mario Ferraro, Mercer’s Global Mobility Practice Leader for Asia, Middle East and Africa, said Asia continued to be a major engine of global economic growth.

“Despite the relatively high cost of living, many organizations still see a strong business rationale for moving talent into and within the region. At the same time, cost considerations are still an issue, and we are seeing an increasing focus on having a clear business case for the assignment, as well as measuring the return on investment,” he said.

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.

Of the world’s major cities, the costs of movie tickets, coffee, property rental and petrol in Hong Kong were the most expensive, with Beijing topping the list for a price of milk at USD $4.45 in comparison to just USD $1.21 in New York.

Mercer's widely recognized survey is one of the world’s most comprehensive, and is designed to help multinational companies and governments determine compensation allowances for their expatriate employees. New York City is used as the base city for all comparisons, and currency movements are measured against the US dollar.

“In a skill-focused economy driven by digital disruption and the need for a globally connected workforce, deploying expatriate employees is an increasingly important aspect of a competitive business strategy for global companies,” said Ilya Bonic, President of Mercer’s Career business.

“There are numerous personal and organizational advantages for sending employees overseas, including career development, global experience, new skillsets, and re-allocation of resources. By offering fair and competitive compensation packages, organizations can facilitate moves that drive business results.”

Asia Pacific

Eight of the top ten cities in this year’s ranking are in Asia due in part to a strong housing market. Hong Kong (1) remains the most expensive city for expatriates both in Asia and globally as a result of the housing market and currency being pegged to the US dollar, driving up the cost of living locally. This global financial center is followed by Tokyo (2), Singapore (3), Seoul (4), Shanghai (6), and Ashgabat, Turkmenistan (7).

Mumbai (67) is India’s most expensive city, followed by New Delhi (118) and Chennai (154). Bengaluru (179) and Kolkata (189) are the least expensive Indian cities ranked. Elsewhere in Asia, Bangkok (40) jumped twelve places from last year. Hanoi (112) and Jakarta (105) also rose in the ranking, up twenty-five and twelve spots, respectively. Bishkek (206) and Tashkent (208) remain the region’s least expensive cities for expatriates.

Australian cities have continued to fall in the ranking due to the depreciation of the local currency against the US dollar. Sydney (50), Australia’s most expensive ranked city for expatriates, dropped twenty-one places. Melbourne (79) and Perth (87) dropped twenty-one and twenty-six spots, respectively.

The Americas
Cities in the United States climbed in the ranking due to the strength of the US dollar against other major currencies as well as the significant drop of cities in other regions. New York jumped four places to rank 9, the highest-ranked city in the region. San Francisco (16) and Los Angeles (18) climbed twelve and seventeen places, respectively, while Chicago (37) jumped fourteen places. Among other major US cities, Washington, DC (42) is up fourteen places, Miami (44) is up sixteen places and Boston (49) is up twenty-one spots. Portland (107) and Winston Salem, North Carolina (138) remain the least expensive US cities surveyed for expatriates.

In South America, Montevideo, Uruguay (70) ranked as the costliest city followed by San Juan (72), which jumped twenty-three spots. Other cities in South America that climbed on the list of costliest cities for expatriates include Panama City (93), San Jose (131), and Havana (133) rising twenty-one, ten, and twenty-two spots, respectively. Cities that fell in the ranking despite price increases on goods and services and accommodation costs include Brazil and Argentina. In particular, São Paolo (86) dropped twenty-eight spots. Rio de Janeiro (121) dropped twenty-two places, while Buenos Aires (133) fell fifty-seven places. Managua (200) is the least expensive city in South America.

Although most Canadian cities remained stable in the ranking, the country’s highest-ranked city, Vancouver (112), dropped three places. Toronto (115) dropped six spots, while Montreal (139) climbed eight spots. Calgary (153) and Ottawa (161) remained stable.

Europe, the Middle East, and Africa
Only one European city is among the top ten list of most expensive cities, which is Zurich at number five, followed by Bern (12). Geneva (13) is down two places. Eastern and Central European cities, including Moscow (27), St. Petersburg (75), Prague (97), and Warsaw (173), dropped ten, twenty-six, fourteen, and nineteen spots, respectively.

Cities in Western Europe, including Milan (45), Paris (47), Oslo (61), and Madrid (82), fell in the ranking as well, by twelve, thirteen, fourteen, and eighteen spots, respectively. The German city Stuttgart (126) dropped significantly as did Berlin (81) and Dusseldorf (92). Cities in the United Kingdom saw modest drops, including Birmingham (135), which fell seven places, Belfast (158) six spots, and London (23) four spots.

“Despite moderate price increases in most of the European cities, European currencies have weakened against the US dollar, which pushed most cities down in the ranking,” said Yvonne Traber, Global Mobility Product Solutions Leader at Mercer. “Additionally, other factors like recent security issues and concern about the economic outlook, have impacted the region.”

Tel Aviv (15) continues to be the most expensive city in the Middle East for expatriates, followed by Dubai (21), Abu Dhabi (33), and Riyadh (35). Cairo (166) remains the least expensive city in the region. “Many currencies in the Middle East are pegged to the US dollar, which pushed cities up in the ranking, as well as steep increases for expatriate rental accommodations,” said Ms. Traber.

Despite dropping from the top ten most expensive cities for expatriates, N’Djamena (11) remains the highest-ranking city in Africa. Following are Victoria (14) rising seven places, and Kinshasa (22) rising fifteen spots. Libreville (24) dropped six places. Dropping one spot, Tunis (209) in Tunisia ranks as the least expensive city in the region and globally.

The figures for Mercer’s cost of living and rental accommodation cost comparisons are derived from a survey conducted in March 2019. Exchange rates from that time and Mercer’s international basket of goods and services from its Cost of Living Survey have been used as base measurements.

Governments and major companies use data from this survey to protect the purchasing power of their employees when transferred abroad; rental accommodation costs data is used to assess local expatriate housing allowances. The choice of cities surveyed is based on demand for data.

Mercer produces individual cost of living and rental accommodation cost reports for each city surveyed. For more information on city rankings, visit  https://www.asean.mercer.com/our-thinking/cost-of-living.html. To purchase copies of individual city reports, visit https://www.asean.mercer.com/our-thinking/cost-of-living.html#contactForm or call Mercer Client Services at +48 22 434 5383.

 

Mercer Cost of Living Survey – Worldwide Rankings 2019

(Mercer international basket, including rental accommodation costs)

Rank as of March

City

Country/Region

2018

2019

1

1

HONG KONG

Hong Kong (SAR)

2

2

TOKYO

Japan

4

3

SINGAPORE

Singapore

5

4

SEOUL

South Korea

3

5

ZURICH

Switzerland

7

6

SHANGHAI

China

43

7

ASHGABAT

Turkmenistan

9

8

BEIJING

China

13

9

NEW YORK CITY

United States

12

10

SHENZHEN

China

8

11

NDJAMENA

Chad

10

12

BERN

Switzerland

11

13

GENEVA

Switzerland

21

14

VICTORIA

Seychelles

16

15

TEL AVIV

Israel

28

16

SAN FRANCISCO

United States

15

17

GUANGZHOU

China

35

18

LOS ANGELES

United States

23

19

OSAKA

Japan

14

20

COPENHAGEN

Denmark

26

21

DUBAI

United Arab Emirates

37

22

KINSHASA

Dem. Rep. of the Congo

19

23

LONDON

United Kingdom

18

24

LIBREVILLE

Gabon

42

25

LAGOS

Nigeria

6

26

LUANDA

Angola

17

27

MOSCOW

Russia

25

27

NANJING

China

22

29

NOUMEA

New Caledonia

24

30

ABIDJAN

Côte d'Ivoire

31

30

CHENGDU

China

29

32

TIANJIN

China

40

33

ABU DHABI

United Arab Emirates

41

33

NAGOYA

Japan

27

35

TAIPEI

Taiwan

45

35

RIYADH

Saudi Arabia

51

37

CHICAGO

United States

54

38

HONOLULU

United States

19

39

BRAZZAVILLE

Congo

52

40

BANGKOK

Thailand

36

41

QINGDAO

China

56

42

WASHINGTON

United States

32

43

DUBLIN

Ireland

60

44

MIAMI

United States

33

45

MILAN

Italy

38

45

SHENYANG

China

34

47

PARIS

France

66

47

DHAKA

Bangladesh

70

49

BOSTON

United States

29

50

SYDNEY

Australia

39

51

VIENNA

Austria

43

52

YAOUNDE

Cameroon

65

53

BEIRUT

Lebanon

48

54

BANGUI

Central African Republic

46

55

ROME

Italy

79

56

WHITE PLAINS

United States

77

57

MANAMA

Bahrain

50

58

AMSTERDAM

Netherlands

73

59

DJIBOUTI

Djibouti

86

59

HOUSTON

United States

47

61

OSLO

Norway

85

62

DALLAS

United States

63

63

ACCRA

Ghana

90

64

SEATTLE

United States

53

65

HELSINKI

Finland

73

66

DOUALA

Cameroon

55

67

MUMBAI

India

57

67

MUNICH

Germany

95

69

ATLANTA

United States

75

70

MONTEVIDEO

Uruguay

97

70

MORRISTOWN

United States

62

72

DAKAR

Senegal

95

72

SAN JUAN

Puerto Rico

68

74

FRANKFURT

Germany

49

75

ST. PETERSBURG

Russia

94

75

AMMAN

Jordan

67

77

BRUSSELS

Belgium

102

78

MINNEAPOLIS

United States

58

79

MELBOURNE

Australia

69

79

SANTIAGO

Chile

71

81

BERLIN

Germany

64

82

MADRID

Spain

97

83

PORT OF SPAIN

Trinidad & Tobago

71

84

LUXEMBOURG

Luxembourg

99

85

ABUJA

Nigeria

58

86

SAO PAULO

Brazil

61

87

PERTH

Australia

106

88

CONAKRY

Guinea

81

89

AUCKLAND

New Zealand

116

90

DETROIT

United States

79

91

BARCELONA

Spain

82

92

DUSSELDORF

Germany

114

93

PANAMA CITY

Panama

122

94

ST. LOUIS

United States

93

95

LISBON

Portugal

77

96

CANBERRA

Australia

83

97

PRAGUE

Czech Republic

123

97

NAIROBI

Kenya

125

97

PITTSBURGH

United States

88

100

HAMBURG

Germany

117

100

JEDDAH

Saudi Arabia

106

102

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

Brunei

84

103

BRISBANE

Australia

117

103

MUSCAT

Oman

117

105

JAKARTA

Indonesia

125

106

CLEVELAND

United States

130

107

PORTLAND

United States

142

108

PHNOM PENH

Cambodia

87

109

ADELAIDE

Australia

138

109

MANILA

Philippines

92

111

RIGA

Latvia

109

112

VANCOUVER

Canada

137

112

HANOI

Vietnam

101

114

WELLINGTON

New Zealand

109

115

TORONTO

Canada

115

115

DOHA

Qatar

91

117

YANGON

Myanmar

103

118

NEW DELHI

India

121

119

KUWAIT CITY

Kuwait

124

120

HO CHI MINH CITY

Vietnam

99

121

RIO DE JANEIRO

Brazil

132

121

LIMA

Peru

105

123

LYON

France

120

124

BAMAKO

Mali

104

125

POINTE A PITRE

Guadeloupe

108

126

STUTTGART

Germany

89

127

STOCKHOLM

Sweden

111

128

COTONOU

Benin

112

128

ATHENS

Greece

128

128

CASABLANCA

Morocco

113

131

BRATISLAVA

Slovakia

141

131

SAN JOSE

Costa Rica

76

133

BUENOS AIRES

Argentina

165

133

HAVANA

Cuba

128

135

BIRMINGHAM

United Kingdom

130

136

GUATEMALA CITY

Guatemala

134

137

ABERDEEN

United Kingdom

161

138

WINSTON SALEM

United States

147

139

MONTREAL

Canada

140

140

TALLINN

Estonia

145

141

KUALA LUMPUR

Malaysia

132

142

LJUBLJANA

Slovenia

138

143

ZAGREB

Croatia

157

144

MEXICO CITY

Mexico

134

145

LOME

Togo

134

145

OUAGADOUGOU

Burkina Faso

148

145

GLASGOW

United Kingdom

156

148

QUITO

Ecuador

143

149

NIAMEY

Niger

173

150

KIEV

Ukraine

145

151

NUREMBERG

Germany

148

152

VILNIUS

Lithuania

154

153

CALGARY

Canada

144

154

CHENNAI

India

163

154

ISTANBUL

Turkey

150

156

LEIPZIG

Germany

164

157

KINGSTON

Jamaica

152

158

BELFAST

United Kingdom

179

159

MAPUTO

Mozambique

165

160

RABAT

Morocco

153

161

LIMASSOL

Cyprus

160

161

OTTAWA

Canada

161

161

PORT LOUIS

Mauritius

151

164

BUDAPEST

Hungary

125

165

PORT AU PRINCE

Haiti

172

166

TIRANA

Albania

174

166

SAN SALVADOR

El Salvador

188

166

CAIRO

Egypt

178

169

SANTO DOMINGO

Dominican Republic

168

170

BOGOTA

Colombia

180

171

DAR ES SALAAM

Tanzania

183

171

ADDIS ABABA

Ethiopia

154

173

WARSAW

Poland

158

174

BRASILIA

Brazil

169

175

KIGALI

Rwanda

176

176

BUCHAREST

Romania

175

177

SOFIA

Bulgaria

186

178

BAKU

Azerbaijan

170

179

BENGALURU

India

170

180

CAPE TOWN

South Africa

181

181

BELGRADE

Serbia

158

182

COLOMBO

Sri Lanka

192

183

KAMPALA

Uganda

195

184

ALGIERS

Algeria

177

185

JOHANNESBURG

South Africa

183

186

ASUNCION

Paraguay

193

187

MONTERREY

Mexico

165

188

HARARE

Zimbabwe

182

189

KOLKATA

India

189

189

GABORONE

Botswana

187

191

ALMATY

Kazakhstan

194

192

NOUAKCHOTT

Mauritania

204

193

BLANTYRE

Malawi

191

194

SARAJEVO

Bosnia and Herzegovina

199

195

LA PAZ

Bolivia

185

196

LUSAKA

Zambia

198

197

YEREVAN

Armenia

202

198

MINSK

Belarus

201

199

TEGUCIGALPA

Honduras

200

200

MANAGUA

Nicaragua

197

201

SKOPJE

Macedonia

203

202

TBILISI

Georgia

190

203

ISLAMABAD

Pakistan

196

204

WINDHOEK

Namibia

206

204

BANJUL

Gambia

207

206

BISHKEK

Kyrgyzstan

205

207

KARACHI

Pakistan

209

208

TASHKENT

Uzbekistan

208

209

TUNIS

Tunisia

 

Source: Mercer’s 2019 Cost of Living Survey

 
 
 
 
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