Mercer’s 25th annual cost of living survey finds cities in Asia most expensive locations for employees working abroad

June 26, 2019

Philippines, Manila


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


  • Manila rises 29 places to 109, the fourth sharpest climb worldwide
  • 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 Manila (109) making the fourth sharpest climb jumping 29 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.


Manila’s rise in ranking was largely due to a marked increase in foreign investment and a buoyant expatriate market, as well as 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 increased 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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