Sunset over Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong 

Mercer’s 25th annual Cost of Living Survey ranks cities across a number of factors, including costs of goods and services.

For the second year in a row, Hong Kong takes the (unfortunate) top honor of being the world’s most expensive city for expats, according to Mercer’s just-released “Cost of Living Survey.” The comprehensive annual report, now in its 25th year, ranks 209 cities across five continents based on the cost of more than 200 items in each location, including housing, transportation, food, clothing, household goods, and entertainment.

In Hong Kong, one cup of espresso at a “popular, fashionable café” costs around $8, according to the report. A pair of men’s blue jeans rings in around $119, and one litre of gasoline will run you more than $2 in the autonomous territory in southeastern China.

Hong Kong is hardly the only Asian city to make the cut: In fact, eight of the top 10 most expensive cities are in Asia, with Tokyo (2), Singapore (3), and Seoul (4) following closely behind. In large part, this is due to a competitive housing market and a currency tied closely to the U.S. dollar, which has recently become stronger. 

 

 

Because of this strength, U.S. cities have also climbed in the rankings: The highest-ranked U.S. city on the list, New York is the ninth-most expensive city for expats in the world, while San Francisco (16) and Los Angeles (18) jumped 12 and 17 places, respectively, from their position on last year’s list.

Only one European city made the report’s top 10: Zurich, Switzerland. Eastern and Central European cities have otherwise largely dropped in the rankings, said Yvonne Traber, Global Mobility Product solutions leader at Mercer, who pointed to security issues, economic concerns, and weakened European currencies as factors. 

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Circular Quay and Opera House, Sydney, Australia
A weakened currency against the U.S. dollar also led to Australian cities falling in the rankings: Sydney (50), Australia’s most expensive city for expats, dropped 21 places, as did Melbourne (79). Perth, ranked 87, tumbled 26 spots.

In some ways, those drops are good for expats and travelers alike, who may be searching for cosmopolitan cities to settle in or visit without breaking the bank. Major cities like Milan (45), Paris (47), Oslo (61), Berlin (81), and Madrid (82) all fell in the rankings for Western Europe; likewise for cities in the United Kingdom: London is down four spots to 23, and Birmingham fell seven places to 135.

Outside of Europe, as AFAR’s Lyndsey Matthews previously reported, some of the best places to make your dollar go further are in Southeast Asia (Thailand, Malaysia) and South America (Colombia, Ecuador): a seven-course lunch cooked by Michelin-ranked chefs at the Shangri-La Hotel in Chiang Mai, Thailand, costs $44, for example. Rather retire on an island? Isla Mujeres, Mexico, will cost you between $2,500 and $3,000 per month, and Bali rings in at around $1,900. 

Below, the 10 most expensive cities in the world for expats:

  1. Hong Kong
  2. Tokyo, Japan
  3. Singapore
  4. Seoul, South Korea
  5. Zurich, Switzerland
  6. Shanghai, China
  7. Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
  8. Beijing, China
  9. New York, United States
  10. Shenzhen, China

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