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Top 10 most expensive locations in Asia for expats

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* Note: This article has been updated to reflect the top 20 most expensive locations in Asia as well as the rankings for capital cities of Malaysia, Vietnam, and Indonesia.


Singapore has just became more expensive for expats.

The island nation has experienced a significant rise up ECA’s latest cost of living rankings and is now the sixth most expensive location in Asia for expatriates (up from ninth place last year) and 12th most expensive location in the world.

Given that the survey compares a basket of like-for-like consumer goods and services (in USD) commonly purchased by international assignees in 482 locations worldwide, this rise is largely due to it being a strong year for the Singapore dollar.

Lee Quane, Regional Director – Asia at ECA International, elaborated: “While increases in prices have been small over the past year, the strength of the Singapore dollar relative to other currencies makes Singapore the 12th most expensive location in the world and the sixth in Asia, overtaking Beijing, Busan and Yokohama from a year ago. This also marks the continuation of a longer-term trend, with Singapore rising 18 places since 2014 when it was 30th in the global rankings.”

In Asia, the location with the highest cost of living was Ashgabat in Turkmenistan, which rose a whopping 28 places from last year. Ashgabat also took the crown for being the most expensive in the world, rising a staggering 110 places from last year.

Hong Kong, now the second most expensive location in Asia, also rose up the ranks by two places. The Special Administrative Region is also the fourth most expensive in the world, up from 11th last year.

Similar to Singapore, this rise is primarily due to the continued strength of the Hong Kong dollar and relatively higher rates of inflation witnessed in the past 12 months.

According to Quane, prices in Hong Kong rose at a faster rate in the past 12 months compared to Tokyo, Shanghai and Seoul – all of which were ranked higher in our previous survey.

Other Chinese cities included in the rankings all remained fairly static, with none of the 14 locations moving more than four places. Shanghai was the only Chinese city to feature in the global top 10, staying in 10th place.

Quane explained: “The Chinese Yuan has been very stable compared to other currencies during the survey period. Inflation in tier one cities such as Beijing and Shanghai have been much more moderate when compared to other Asian cities which are situated towards the upper end of our rankings.

“Prices have risen at a faster rate in tier two locations, resulting in a narrowing gap in living costs for expatriate workers in tier one and tier two cities in the past year. This represents the continuation of a trend we have observed, with several developing cities such as Chengdu and Tianjin rising significantly in our rankings over the course of the past five years.”

All of the 14 Chinese cities in the ranking now feature in the global top 50, as compared to five years ago where there were only four, he noted.

In other parts of Asia, Thai cities also saw a significant rise in the cost of living rankings, with Bangkok jumping by 36 places.

The cost of living in Thailand has increased over several years now, with Bangkok having risen by over 100 places in the span of five years to be ranked as the 63rd most expensive location globally on the list this year. The Thai capital is also the 28th most expensive in Asia.

Quane said: “The city is now significantly more expensive than regional capitals including Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Manila.”

Elsewhere, Jakarta, Indonesia was ranked 32nd; Hanoi, Vietnam came in 33rd; and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia was 37th most expensive in the region.

Top 10 most expensive locations in Asia

#1 Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
2019 ranking: 1
2018 ranking: 28

#2 Hong Kong
2019 ranking: 2
2018 ranking: 4

#3 Tokyo, Japan
2019 ranking: 3
2018 ranking: 1

#4 Seoul, Korea Republic (South Korea)
2019 ranking: 4
2018 ranking: 2

#5 Shanghai, China
2019 ranking: 5
2018 ranking: 3

#6 Singapore
2019 ranking: 6
2018 ranking: 9

#7 Yokohama, Japan
2019 ranking: 7
2018 ranking: 7

#8 Beijing, China
2019 ranking: 8
2018 ranking: 5

#9 Busan, Korea Republic (South Korea)
2018 ranking: 9
2018 ranking: 6

#10 Nagoya, Japan
2019 ranking: 10
2018 ranking: 8

Rounding up the top 20 are (most expensive first): 

  • Osaka, Japan
  • Ulsan, Korea Republic (South Korea)
  • Guangzhou, China
  • Macau
  • Shenzhen, China
  • Taipei, Taiwan
  • Dalian, China
  • Chengdu, China
  • Tianjin, China
  • Qingdao, China

Top 10 most expensive locations globally

#1 Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
2019 ranking: 1
2018 ranking: 111

#2 Zurich, Switzerland
2019 ranking: 2
2018 ranking: 2

#3 Geneva, Switzerland
2019 ranking: 3
2018 ranking: 3

#4 Hong Kong
2019 ranking: 4
2018 ranking: 11

#5 Basel, Switzerland
2019 ranking: 5
2018 ranking: 4

#6 Bern, Switzerland
2019 ranking: 6
2018 ranking: 5

#7 Tokyo, Japan
2019 ranking: 7
2018 ranking: 7

#8 Seoul, Korea Republic (South Korea)
2019 ranking: 8
2018 ranking: 8

#9 Tel Aviv, Israel
2019 ranking: 9
2018 ranking: 14

#10 Shanghai, China
2019 ranking: 10
2018 ranking: 10


Note: 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.


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