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Manhattan most expensive city for expatriates in the Americas

  • Manhattan drops nine places to fall out of global top 20 most expensive locations
  • Buenos Aires falls significantly in both regional and global rankings
  • Tokyo retakes the global top spot for first time since 2012 - Japanese locations move back into global top 10 most expensive
  • UK cities fall dramatically in global rankings – Central London drops 57 places & out of top 100

Manhattan is the most expensive location in the Americas and the 24th most expensive location in the world for expatriates. This was one of the findings of the latest Cost of Living survey published by ECA International, the world's leading provider of knowledge, information and software for the management and assignment of employees around the world. Manhattan fell by nine places over the past year to move out of the top 20 in the global rankings.

Over the past five years*, US locations have climbed by 53 places on average. Even though Manhattan has fallen in the global rankings in the last year, from 15th in 2015 to 24th this year, it has gone up by 24 places since 2011.

“Once again Manhattan tops the regional rankings. On a global scale, it has fallen in the rankings by nine places due to the relative strength of other currencies between surveys. However, this decline may be short lived as the dollar has started to appreciate again in recent weeks. We could see US locations climb back up the rankings in upcoming surveys,” said Michael Witkowski, Vice President, ECA International New York.

To ensure that an employee’s spending power is maintained when they are sent on international assignment, a cost of living allowance is often provided as part of the pay package. This allowance will be affected by differences in inflation levels as well as exchange rate movements between the employee’s home and host countries.

Manhattan was one of many locations in the US to have fallen in the global rankings, with the 30 ranked locations here falling three places on average. Within the US, Manhattan (24th globally) is just ahead of Honolulu (29th), New York (34th), Los Angeles (48th) and San Francisco (50th).

ECA International has been conducting research into cost of living for more than 40 years. It carries out two main surveys per year to help companies calculate cost of living allowances so that their employees' spending power is not compromised while on international assignment. The surveys compare a basket of like-for-like consumer goods and services commonly purchased by assignees in over 450 locations worldwide. 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.

Americas highlights:

Buenos Aires significantly falls in both regional and global rankings

The Argentine capital, Buenos Aires, now ranks 77th globally – in sharp contrast to last year when it was 21st. The peso significantly weakened after the currency was allowed to float following the presidential elections in late 2015.

By contrast Brazilian cities in ECA’s rankings rose by an average of 60 places, one of the largest single-year rises in the survey. The real rebounded strongly, despite Brazil’s economic recession deepening, as a new government took power after the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff.

Conversely, cities in Canada, where the currency has strengthened against a number of currencies between surveys, including the US dollar, have risen in the global rankings. Vancouver, the most expensive city in Canada for expatriates has gone up 22 places to 100th globally. However, over the past five years, Canadian locations have fallen dramatically in the global rankings. Vancouver, in 45th position in 2011, has fallen 55 places to its current position. Montreal, in 134th position this year, has fallen 69 places since 2011. Toronto has fallen 77 places to 136th position globally.

European highlights:

Brexit sends UK cities tumbling down global rankings due to weaker pound

Central London has fallen out of the top 100 most expensive cities in the world. One year ago, London was among the top 50 most expensive cities.

“This is the first time Central London has not featured in the top 100 since ECA’s Cost of Living rankings began. The weakened pound means that UK businesses are paying more when sending staff to work overseas, although it is cheaper to bring staff to the UK”, said Steven Kilfedder, Production Manager, ECA International. “London is now cheaper than Paris, Berlin and Brussels thanks to the weak pound”.

UK based locations have seen the largest declines in our European rankings this year and the third largest decline in the world, behind Nigeria and Mozambique. Edinburgh has fallen to 151st place globally, down from 67th last year. Cardiff is now ranked at 162nd place and Belfast has dropped 73 positions to 169th in 2016.

Zurich has fallen off the global top spot this year, moving into 3rd place in the rankings. Despite prices falling in the previous year, Swiss cities continue to top the European rankings with all ranked locations placed in the global top 10.

The relative strength of the euro between surveys has seen most Eurozone locations rise in the global rankings with French, Dutch and German ones among those rising most in the past year. However, over a 5-year period, locations in the Eurozone have fallen dramatically by 51 places on average, with the most significant decline seen in Spanish and Greek locations. Madrid (154th globally) and Barcelona (157th) have fallen 91 and 73 places respectively while Athens has fallen 86 places to 150th most expensive in the world.

Moscow has risen nearly 50 places in the rankings this year, to 118th in the world, after the rouble strengthened. However, it has a long way to go to reach the heights of five years ago, when it was ranked 17th in the world.

Asia Pacific highlights:

Tokyo retakes the global top spot for first time since 2012

The city of Tokyo is the world’s most expensive location for expatriates. Tokyo rose by 11 places over the past year to top the global rankings for the first time since 2012. All four of the ranked locations in Japan rose in the regional and global rankings. Within Japan, Tokyo (1st globally) is just ahead of Yokohama (5th), Nagoya (7th) and Osaka (9th).

Surveyed locations in New Zealand now all rank in the world's top 60 most expensive locations. Auckland is the costliest, in 44th position globally, followed by Wellington (47th) and Christchurch (54th). Auckland is now more expensive than Sydney for expatriates for the first time since ECA’s rankings began. On average, ranked locations in New Zealand now sit higher than their Australian counterparts. The New Zealand dollar has gone from strength to strength making New Zealand a relatively expensive place to live.

Australian locations also rose in the rankings, by an average of 42 places compared to last year – a reflection of the stronger Australian dollar following an improved economic outlook domestically and from China over the survey period. Sydney remains the most expensive city in Australia at 53rd in the global rankings.

Shanghai, which was ranked as the most expensive location for expatriates in the Asia Pacific region a year ago, has moved down six places to 7th. Within China, Shanghai (13th globally) is just ahead of Beijing (15th), Guangzhou (25th) and Shenzhen (32nd). 13 out of the 14 ranked Chinese cities sit in the global top 50 most expensive locations for expatriates, with only Xiamen ranking just outside at 51st.

“We have seen a small depreciation of the renminbi against the yen and HK dollar over the past year and this has led to Shanghai and Beijing falling below Tokyo and Hong Kong in the rankings,” said Lee Quane, Regional Director – Asia, ECA International. “However, this does not truly follow the general trend seen in China over the past five years, during which locations in mainland China have averaged an 88 place increase in the global rankings. It is likely that major Chinese cities will remain expensive destinations for mobile employees for the near future.”

Rest of world highlights:

Luanda has risen from 5th position last year to 2nd place this year, retaining its title as Africa’s most expensive location surveyed. Nigerian locations have seen the largest fall in our September 2016 survey, tumbling 137 places on average. Earlier this year, the Nigerian Central Bank abandoned the fixed rate for the naira against the U.S. dollar that it defiantly held for 16 months and allowed the currency to float more freely, leading to a significant currency depreciation.

Israel remains the Middle East’s most expensive country for expatriates with Tel Aviv and Jerusalem occupying the top two spots in the region, at 19th and 22nd place respectively in the global rankings.

Americas regional rankings for most expensive locations


Global top 20 - Most expensive locations for expats


Notes to Editors

* Please note that when ‘five years’ is referenced in the text this is referring to the period between ECA’s September 2011 and September 2016 surveys.

Figures used in this release were taken from ECA's September 2016 Cost of Living Survey.

About ECA's Cost of Living Survey

ECA International's main cost of living surveys are carried out in March and September using a basket of day-to-day goods and services commonly purchased by assignees. The data used above refers to year-on-year movements between ECA's September 2011 to 2016 surveys. ECA’s Cost of Living Survey rankings began in 2004.

Cost of living indices are used by ECA clients to calculate cost of living allowances for assignees. The survey covers:

Food: Groceries; dairy produce; meat and fish; fresh fruit and vegetables 
Basic: Household goods; recreational goods; general services; leisure services
General: Clothing; electrical goods; motoring; meals out; alcohol and tobacco

Certain living costs such as accommodation rental, utilities charges (electricity, gas, and water), car purchases and school fees are not included in the survey. Such items can make a significant difference to expenses but are usually compensated for separately in expatriate packages.

This comparison of cost of living was calculated on a base composed of various developed countries and is used to reflect an international lifestyle. Other indices available from ECA reflect specific city-to-city comparisons, and different levels of shopping efficiency.

ECA's blog provides updates and commentary on currency, inflation and expatriate cost of living. Follow the blog here

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