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The world’s costliest cities for expats: 8 of the top 10 cities are in Asia

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Mercer’s 2019 Cost of Living Survey finds that eight out of the top ten of the world’s most expensive cities for expatriates are Asian cities, resulting from high costs for expat consumer goods and a dynamic housing market.

The world’s 10 costliest cities for expatriates are:

1. Hong Kong, Hong Kong (SAR) – most expensive for the second consecutive year
2. Tokyo, Japan – in the same spot as 2018
3. Singapore, Singapore – moved up from fourth spot in 2018
4. Seoul, South Korea – moved up from fifth spot in 2018
5. Zurich, Switzerland – was more expensive in 2018 in third rank
6. Shanghai, China – moved up from seventh spot in 2018
7. Ashgabat, Turkmenistan – jumped up the rankings from 43rd spot in 2018
8. Beijing, China – moved up from ninth spot in 2018
9. New York City, United States – moved up from 13th spot in 2018
10. Shenzhen, China – moved up from 12th spot in 2018

The 25th annual edition of the survey used New York City as the base city for all comparisons, and currency movements are measured against the US dollar. It measures the comparative cost of more than 200 items in each location, including housing, transportation, food, clothing, and entertainment.

Hong Kong takes top spot for the costliest city for the second consecutive year, as a result of the housing market and currency being pegged to the US dollar, driving up the cost of living locally. Meanwhile, the world’s least expensive cities for expatriates are Tunis (209), Tashkent (208), and Karachi (207).

Singapore has moved from fourth in 2018 to third in 2019, while Kuala Lumpur has moved from 145th in 2018 to 141st in 2019. Elsewhere in Asia, Mumbai is India’s most expensive city, followed by New Delhi and Chennai, while Bengaluru and Kolkata are the least expensive Indian cities ranked.


Within Asia, the following are some of the cities in the ranking upto 150 (in order of most expensive to least expensive, based on global ranking):

17. Guangzhou, China
19. Osaka, Japan
27. Moscow, Russia | Nanjing, China
30. Chengdu, China
32. Tianjin, China
33. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates | Nagoya, Japan
35. Taipei, Taiwan | Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
40. Bangkok, Thailand
41. Qingdao, China
45. Shenyang, China
47. Dhaka, Bangladesh
67. Mumbai, India
102. Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
105. Jakarta, Indonesia
108. Phnom Penh, Cambodia
109. Manila, The Philippines
112. Hanoi, Vietnam
117. Yangon, Myanmar
118. New Delhi, India
120. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
141. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
154. Chennai, India

Other highlights from the survey included:

  • London is the most expensive city to buy a single cinema ticket, averaging at about US$22, followed by Zurich and Beijing.
  • One cup of espresso coffee at a popular, fashionable cafe (including service charges) is the priciest in Hong Kong at about US$8, followed by Beijing and Zurich.
  • Zurich is the costliest city in the world to buy a fast food meal for one person (i.e. Big Mac from the regular menu), at about US$14, followed by New York and Luanda.
  • Men’s blue jeans are the most expensive to purchase in Cape Town coming in at about US$160, followed by Zurich and Johannesburg.
  • A litre of gasoline is the priciest in Hong Kong at slightly over US$2, while Singapore, London, Zurich, and Barcelona also feature among the most expensive on this aspect.

Graphics / Mercer

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