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Asia cities dominate the top 10 ranking of the most expensive cities for expats

Asia cities dominate the top 10 ranking of the most expensive cities for expats

Singapore ranks seventh out of over 400 cities, while its counterpart Hong Kong gives up the top spot to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. Meanwhile, Tokyo ranks fourth and Shanghai ranks sixth.

In Mercer’s survey of over 400 cities throughout the world, it compared the cost of more than 200 items in each location, including housing, transportation, food, clothing, household goods, and entertainment. Results revealed that more than half of the 10 most expensive cities for expatriates are located in Asia.

Survey results

Top 10 cities for Mercer’s 2021 cost for living ranking:

  1. Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
  2. Hong Kong
  3. Beirut, Lebanon
  4. Tokyo, Japan
  5. Zurich, Switzerland
  6. Shanghai, China
  7. Singapore
  8. Geneva, Switzerland
  9. Beijing, China
  10. Bern, Switzerland

In the overall results (listed above), Shanghai and Beijing ranked sixth and ninth respectively, one ranking higher compared to last year. In fact, the survey witnessed a rise in rankings across all Mainland China cities, most notably, Tianjin and Chengdu which climbed 12 positions to 26th and 28th respectively. The reason cited in the report is “currency appreciation against the US dollar and a swift recovery from the impact of COVID-19.”

Closer to home, Singapore dropped from fifth place to seventh.

Due to currency fluctuations and deflation, neighbouring cities like Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur dropped in the rankings too. Bangkok (46th) dropped 11 places, while Kuala Lumpur (144th) dropped 8 places.

Meanwhile, in the Philippines, Manila ranks 78th; Indonesia, Jakarta ranks 104th, and Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City ranks 143rd.

In a similar vein, Hong Kong gave up top spot—a position it held for the three consecutive years—to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, now the costliest city for international employees, both in Asia and globally.

According to BBC, who cited AFP news, "high local inflation" is the reason for Ashgabat's rise to become the world's most expensive city.

Tokyo, Japan dropped one ranking lower, while Beirut, Lebanon climbed 42 positions and replaced it at third place. It was cited in the report that this is “a result of a severe and extensive economic depression due to escalation of several crises - the country’s largest financial crisis, COVID-19 and the Port of Beirut explosion in 2020.”

“Cost of living has always been a factor for international mobility planning, but the pandemic has added a whole new layer of complexity, as well as long-term implications related to health and safety of employees, remote working and flexibility policies, among other considerations,” said Ilya Bonic, Career President and Head of Mercer Strategy.

“As organisations rethink their talent and mobility strategies, accurate and transparent data is essential to compensate employees fairly for all types of assignments.”

In the Pacific, Australian cities have climbed in this year’s ranking. Sydney (31st), Australia’s most expensive ranked city for international employees, experienced a climb of 35 places, followed by Melbourne (59th) with a climb of 40 places.

Other notable rankings see Taipei jumping six places to 22nd, and Mumbai dropping 18 places to 78th.

European cities that appear in the top 10 of most costly cities for international employees are mainly Switzerland cities: Zurich (5th), Geneva (8th) and Bern (10th).

Rankings for Other Regions

The Americas

New York (14th) is ranked as most expensive city in the US, although it dropped eight positions since last year. It is followed by Los Angeles (20th), San Francisco (25th), to name a couple.

Looking at its neighbour, Canada, Vancouver (93rd) takes top spot as the most expensive Canadian city in the ranking, followed by Toronto (98th) and Montreal (129th).

In South America, Port of Spain (91st) ranked as the most expensive city, followed by Port-au-Prince (92nd) and Pointe-à-Pitre (107th).

Brasilia (205th), on the other hand, is the least expensive city in South America.


Other than Switzerland cities leading the way, Paris, France rose to 33rd. While cities in the UK such as London (18th) and Birmingham (121st) jumped one and eight places, respectively.


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