Ever grumbled about the price of your grocery shop in your country? Well, how about for expats living in Ashgabat? The capital of Turkmenistan in Central Asia was ranked the world’s most expensive city for foreign workers. As for the rest, here is a list of the most expensive cities to live in the world in 2021.
This ranking was compiled by asset management firm Mercer. Its biannual report aims to help employers calculate expat compensation packages, based on the cost of expenses such as housing, transport and food. The survey also takes into account currency fluctuations, cost inflation and accommodation price instability.
According to Mercer, high living costs are the main obstacles to relocation. Companies are looking for ways to replace traditional long-term expat assignments with less costly alternatives, such as virtual assignments, one-way transfers, short-term assignments and internationally/locally hired foreigners. Expat life as we know it is changing, and fast.
Remote and hybrid working — initially brought on by the pandemic — have been gaining popularity among employees, who now expect to be able to work from anywhere.
According to another separate survey, in Ashgabat, a meal at a mid-range restaurant will set you back around $100 USD, monthly internet nearly $500 USD, and a year of primary school education nearly $20,000 USD.
As for the cheapest – Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek was ranked as the least expensive city for foreign employees.
The most expensive cities to live in 2021
- Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. With its high levels of inflation, Ashgabat is facing an economic crisis. A global decline in energy prices has raised inflation and food prices.
- Hong Kong. The special administrative region of China ranked second mostly for its extortionate housing costs.
- Beirut, Lebanon. Beirut jumped from 45th place last year to 3rd. The port explosion of 2020, the pandemic and long lasting political turmoil have brought Lebanon to a severe economic crisis. I have many friends living in Beirut and I’m told times are very tough right now.
- Tokyo, Japan. High housing and transport costs go some way to explaining Tokyo’s ranking as one of the most expensive cities to live in. Nevertheless a lot of expats argue that many other costs can be reigned in, according to where you choose to live and buying local produce only.
- Zurich, Switzerland. Three Swiss cities feature in the top ten ranking of the most expensive cities to live in. As the global hub for banking and finance, it’s perhaps no surprise that Zurich tops the list. The strength of the Swiss franc can make it expensive for foreign workers. ‘Burgernomics’ back this trend too – a Big Mac costs 6.50 Swiss francs – the equivalent of £5.10 – making it the most ‘overvalued’ burger in the world, according to the Economist’s index.
- Shanghai, China. A report by Forbes explains that Shanghai is one of the most expensive cities to live in because ‘they are now a lot of very rich people living there’. It has the sixth largest concentration of billionaires in the world.
- Singapore. Singapore is often cited as among the most expensive cities to live is, however there is more to the story. Many argue that its ranking as one of the most expensive cities to live in is more a reflection of high earning expats’ pretentious living than local prices.
- Geneva, Switzerland. Prices are high here as expats flock to the global hub for diplomacy and banking. I lived near Geneva years ago, and while I understand its ranking as one of the most expensive cities to live in, I also think there are some smart ways to get around high living costs and enjoy this fantastic city.
- Beijing, China. While transport is cheap, housing costs in Beijing are very high. Word on the block is that for expats attached to Western style goods and services, prices can be hugely inflated. However, for those embracing a more local lifestyle, the cost of living is much more manageable.
- Bern, Switzerland. Like the rest of Switzerland, Bern ranks high on this list due to its high housing, services and food costs. High demand for housing means high costs, with local Swiss residents enjoying high disposable incomes and purchasing power. In this case I hear expats praising the high costs as a measure of local equality and a high standard of living.
Have you lived in any of the cities above? What’s the most expensive city you’ve ever lived in? Leave me a comment below.