Thinking of working abroad? The most expensive city in the world for expats may surprise you.
Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, has bumped Hong Kong from the top of Mercer’s latest Cost of Living list, which ranks the destinations with the highest cost of living for Americans working overseas. Ashgabat took the crown as the most expensive city this year due to its ongoing financial crisis. “High local inflation” was the reason for its hefty cost of living, Mercer leader Jean-Philippe Sarra told Agence France-Presse.
Turkmenistan makes most of its money from natural-gas exports, and the country has had a difficult time repairing its economy since the global energy-price slump in 2014, according to Barron’s.
No. 3 was another surprise, as Beirut, Lebanon, which ranked No. 45 last year, jumped all the way to third after the country experienced a financial depression and suffered the consequences of the Port of Beirut explosion last fall.
Tokyo; Zurich; Shanghai; Singapore; Geneva; Beijing; and Bern, Switzerland, rounded out the top 10 most expensive expat cities.
Mercer formulated its rankings after considering 209 cities and their costs of housing, utilities, transportation, food and entertainment. New York City was used as a baseline to compare the differences.
New York City had a higher cost of living last year, when it was ranked the sixth most expensive. Now at No. 14, it falls after cities like Seoul, Shenzhen and N’Djamena, in Chad. However, it remains more expensive than other major American cities like Los Angeles, which was No. 20, and San Francisco, at No. 25.
On the other end of the spectrum, the cheapest places for Americans to live abroad include Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan; Lusaka, Zambia; and Tbilisi, Georgia.
Vince Cordova, Mercer’s Northeast International Mobility Leader, told CNN that the emergence of remote work likely affected the rankings. Amid COVID-19 travel restrictions, many companies didn’t relocate employees last year, and instead chose to hire international remote workers.
“As the types of international assignments change, this is creating changes in the demand for certain goods and services and different consumer profiles,” he said.
Cordova also noted that many cities in China rose in the rankings compared with last year, and that the country had a “swift but uneven” financial recuperation. “It’s the only major economy to achieve growth in 2020.”
The most expensive cities for expats in 2021
- 1. Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
- 2. Hong Kong, Hong Kong (SAR)
- 3. Beirut, Lebanon
- 4. Tokyo, Japan
- 5. Zurich, Switzerland
- 6. Shanghai, China
- 7. Singapore, Singapore
- 8. Geneva, Switzerland
- 9. Beijing, China
- 10. Bern, Switzerland
The least expensive cities for expats in 2021
- 200. Banjul, Gambia
- 201. Karachi, Pakistan
- 202. Gabarone, Botswana
- 203. Tashkent, Uzbekistan
- 204. Windhoek, Namibia
- 205. Brasilia, Brazil
- 206. Tunis, Tunisia
- 207. Tbilsi, Georgia
- 208. Lusaka, Zambia
- 209. Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
- Getting the most bang for your buck
In addition to ranking cities by price, Mercer created a “Quality of Living Index.”
The index is based on each city’s economic, natural and political environments as well as educational and medical systems, consumer goods and public services. New York City was again used as the standard to compare these factors.
European cities Vienna, Munich, Zurich and Copenhagen had some of the highest quality-of-living indexes. Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Bamako, in Mali; and Lagos, Nigeria, had the lowest.
Tokyo, Chicago, Rome and Barcelona all had comparable living qualities, yet the Spanish city was the most affordable of the four.