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10 most expensive locations in Asia: Singapore falls to 7th place

Although Singapore has overtaken cities like Seoul and Shanghai, it fell to being the 7th most expensive location for expats in Asia, according to ECA's latest cost of living rankings.

The island nation also dropped by one place in the global ranking, taking the title of 13th most expensive in the world.

In the previous edition of the ranking, released in June, Singapore was the sixth most expensive location in Asia for expatriates and 12th most expensive location in the world.

In this edition of the ranking, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, remained the most expensive location in Asia, as well as globally.

The city rocketed up from 146th place in 2017 and has remained at the top spot ever since, due to a combination of high inflation and a black market currency rate far weaker than the official exchange rate. This makes purchases particularly expensive for expatriates in their home currency unless they can access the illegal black market exchange rate.

Lee Quane, Regional Director - Asia for ECA International, said: "Future living costs in Turkmenistan could potentially follow the same trajectory that we are currently seeing in Angola. The once-booming oil-based economy of the Angolan capital, Luanda, which topped the rankings in 2017’s Cost of Living survey, has continued to fall, dropping 50 places to 92nd place."

Tokyo, Japan, overtook Hong Kong to take second place. According to Quane, Hong Kong has only been overtaken by Tokyo due to the strong performance of the Japanese yen throughout 2019, which has moved many Japanese cities up the rankings.

"Furthermore, we expect prices in Japan to increase further due to the recent increase in consumption tax, and next year’s Olympics in Tokyo are likely to have further inflationary effects. As such, we expect Tokyo to remain above Hong Kong in 2020."

While Hong Kong fell to third place in Asia, its rank remained stable globally, with the city continuing to be the sixth most expensive location in the world for expatriates.

Despite the ongoing socio-political upheavals and the fact that the economy is in recession, there has yet to be a real impact on the cost of living in the city, Quane noted, adding that inflation remained high relative to many other locations that occupy the upper reaches of the rankings.

Top 10 most expensive locations in Asia

#1  Ashgabat, TurkmenistanDecember 2019 ranking: 1June 2019 ranking: 1

#2 Tokyo, JapanDecember 2019 ranking: 2June 2019 ranking: 3

#3 Hong KongDecember 2019 ranking: 3June 2019 ranking: 2

#4 Yokohama, JapanDecember 2019 ranking: 4June 2019 ranking: 7

#5 Nagoya, JapanDecember 2019 ranking: 5June 2019 ranking: 10

#6 Osaka, JapanDecember 2019 ranking: 6June 2019 ranking: 11

#7 SingaporeDecember 2019 ranking: 7June 2019 ranking: 6

#8 Seoul, Korea RepublicDecember 2019 ranking: 8June 2019 ranking: 4

#9 MacauDecember 2019 ranking: 9June 2019 ranking: 14

#10 Shanghai, ChinaDecember 2019 ranking: 10June 2019 ranking: 5

Elsewhere in Asia, Thai cities continue to be among the biggest risers in the Cost of Living rankings, with Bangkok rising 43 places and entering the top 50 most expensive locations for the first time, at 47th place.

Quane said: "Bangkok, long seen as a cheap destination for holidaymakers and expatriates alike, has seen a huge jump in its rankings, moving the most out of all Asian cities surveyed. This is largely the result of a strong Thai baht. We have seen Thai cities moving significantly up the rankings over the past few years – Bangkok has moved up 75 places in the last two years alone while Chiang Mai moved up 56 places in the same period."

In other parts of Southeast Asia, cities in Indonesia and Malaysia have risen in ECA’s rankings. Locations in Indonesia rose the fastest, largely on account of the relatively higher rate of price increases in comparison to elsewhere in the region.

In spite of recent price increases in many Chinese cities, which can be partly attributed to the impact of Swine Flu on meat prices, many Chinese cities have fallen slightly in the rankings. This is mainly due to the weakness of the yuan against major currencies in the past 12 months.

"While pork prices have increased significantly in the past 12 months, the impact on the cost of living for expatriates in Chinese cities versus their peers elsewhere has been muted by the weakness of the currency", said Quane.

"Furthermore, while pork represents a mainstay of the diet of most residentsin China, it is less commonly consumed by expatriates. As such, the impact of higher pork prices is likely to have less effect on expatriates working in China," he added.

Globally, the top 10 most expensive locations are:

  • Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
  • Tokyo, Japan
  • Zurich, Switzerland
  • Geneva, Switzerland
  • Basel, Switzerland
  • Hong Kong
  • Bern, Switzerland
  • Yokohama, Japan
  • Tel Aviv, Israel
  • Nagoya, Japan

Note: ECA International has been conducting research into the cost of living for more than 45 years. It carries out two main surveys per year to help companies calculate cost of living allowances. The surveys compare a basket of like-for-like consumer goods and services commonly purchased by assignees in over 480 locations worldwide. Certain living costs, such as accommodation rental, utilities, car purchases and school fees are usually covered by separate allowances. Data for these costs are collected separately and are not included in ECA's cost of living basket.

Photo / iStock

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