Global top 10 most expensive locations for expatriates

2017 Cost of Living ranking Country Location
1 Angola Luanda
2 Hong Kong Hong Kong
3 Switzerland Zurich
4 Switzerland Geneva
5 Switzerland Basel
6 Switzerland Bern
7 Japan Tokyo
8 Korea Republic Seoul
9 Venezuela Caracas
10 Sudan Khartoum

*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.

South American cities re-enter the top 100 most expensive in the world

Caracas in Venezuela climbed a dramatic 252 places in the past 12 months, now ranked 9th in the world, “though this ranking is likely to change considerably in upcoming Cost of Living Surveys given ongoing exchange-rate volatility,” said Mr Kilfedder.Buenos Aires (35th), Sao Paulo (85th), Rio de Janeiro (88th) and Montevideo (97th) also re-entered the top 100 most expensive locations in the world, with Brasilia reaching 103rd, up 106 places since last year.Although falling a few places this year to 23rd globally, Manhattan remains the most expensive location in North America for expatriates.

Russia and Australia climb the Cost of Living rankings

The strengthened rouble has led to Moscow climbing the rankings by 125 places this year to 56th. However, it has a long way to go to reach the heights of five years ago when it was ranked 13th in the world.Sydney remains the most expensive city in Australia. It currently ranks 50th in the global rankings, up from 70th place last year. All ranked locations within Australia rose in the global rankings this year, with Adelaide rising the most, by 34 places to 75th position, although it is still the cheapest ranked location in Australia.

Swiss cities continue to dominate the global top ten

Despite prices falling in the previous year, Swiss cities continue to dominate the global top 10, with Zurich 3rd, Geneva 4th, Basel 5th and Bern 6th.The relative decline of the euro between surveys has seen most Eurozone locations fall in the global rankings, notably French, Dutch and German destinations. Berlin has seen the most significant decline in mainland Europe, falling by 28 places to 122nd place.

Global highlights

Luanda is now the most expensive location in the world for expats

Luanda, the capital of Angola, has risen from 8th position last year to top ECA’s global rankings this year.“The cost of goods typically purchased by international assignees in Luanda, which were already high due to poor infrastructure and high oil-fuelled demand, have been pushed much higher in the last year. The Angolan kwanza is increasingly overvalued, which pushes up relative costs, while the continued weakness of the black-market exchange rate has also inflated the price of imported goods,” commented Mr Kilfedder.


Where in the world is best for relocation?

For both companies and their relocating employees, choosing the right location and cultural fit is critical to the success of an international assignment or a new overseas operation.

Best assignment destinations

So where is the best place for an expat assignment? A wide range of surveys is published each year, and the answers can differ greatly, mainly as a result of criteria used to compile the lists.One of the most comprehensive surveys is conducted annually by Mercer, one of the world’s largest human resources consulting firms. It is aimed at enabling multinational companies and other organisations to have an accurate guide to compensating employees fairly when placing them on international assignments.The firm’s latest Quality of Living survey, published in March, provides hardship premium recommendations for 231 cities. This year, for the first time, it includes separate city infrastructure rankings, because this “plays an important role when multinationals decide where to establish locations abroad and send expatriate workers”.“The success of foreign assignments is influenced by issues such as ease of travel and communication, sanitation standards, personal safety, and access to public services,” says Slagin Parakatil, principal at Mercer responsible for its quality-of-living research. “Multinational companies need accurate and timely information to help calculate fair and consistent expatriate compensation – a real challenge in locations with a compromised quality of living.”In the Mercer rankings, Vienna occupies first place for overall quality of living for the eighth year running, with the rest of the top ten list mostly filled by European cities: Zurich in second place, followed by Munich, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Geneva, Copenhagen and newcomer Basel.The only non-European cities in the top ten are Auckland, in third place, and Vancouver, in fifth. The highest-ranking cities in Asia and Latin America are Singapore (25) and Montevideo (79).