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Hong Kong is the fourth most expensive location in the world

  • Hong Kong is now the fourth most expensive location in the world for expatriates, climbing from 11th last year
  • Hong Kong jumps ahead of cities such as Tokyo, Seoul and Shanghai 
  • Singapore rises to 12th in the cost of living rankings, up from 20th 
  • Ashgabat, Turkmenistan is the most expensive location in the world for expatriates

Hong Kong is now the fourth most expensive location in the world for expatriates, up from 11th last year, and most expensive in the Asia-Pacific region. 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.

Hong Kong has risen to fourth place from outside of the global top ten last year, and from 28th place just five years ago, and now only sits behind Ashgabat, Turkmenistan and the Swiss cities of Zurich and Geneva.

“Hong Kong is now one of the top five most expensive locations for expatriates due primarily to the continued strength of the Hong Kong dollar in the past 12 months” said Lee Quane, Regional Director – Asia at ECA International. “Prices in Hong Kong rose at a faster rate in the past 12 months than in Tokyo, Shanghai and Seoul, all of which were ranked higher in our previous survey. Combined with the continued strength of the HKD relative to other regional currencies, Hong Kong is now the second most expensive city in the APAC region.”

ECA’s Cost of Living Survey compares a basket of like-for-like consumer goods and services commonly purchased by international assignees in 482 locations worldwide. The survey allows businesses to ensure that their employees’ spending power is maintained when they are sent on international assignments. 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. ECA International has been conducting research into cost of living for over 45 years.

Asia Highlights

Singapore also saw a significant rise in the most recent cost of living rankings, moving up to 12th place from 20th. 

Quane said “Singapore has seen an increase in the cost of living largely on the basis of the strength of its currency. Singapore now sits as the 12th most expensive location in the world and fifth in Asia, having overtaken Beijing, Busan and Yokohama in the past year. This also reflects a longer-term trend, with Singapore rising 18 places since 2014 when it was just 30th in the global rankings.”

The Chinese cities included in the rankings all remained fairly static, with none of the 14 locations moving more than four places. Shanghai was the only Chinese city to feature in the global top ten, staying in tenth place.

“The yuan has been very stable compared to other currencies during the survey period. Prices have risen at a faster rate in second tier locations, resulting in the gap in living costs for expatriate workers narrowing between tier one and tier two cities in the past year. This represents the continuation of a trend we have seen, with a number of developing cities such as Chengdu and Tianjin rising significantly in our rankings over the course of the past 5 years. All 14 of the Chinese cities in our rankings now feature in the global top 50, compared to five years ago when there were only four” explained Quane.

The rankings of locations in Taiwan remain largely unchanged. Taipei has fallen 1 place between 2018 and 2019 to 32nd. Macau has risen 7 places to 25 owing to the strength of the pataca which is indirectly pegged to the US Dollar.

The location with the highest cost of living in the world was Ashgabat in Turkmenistan, which rose a staggering 110 places from last year.

Quane said “Although the rise of Ashgabat in the rankings may be a surprise to some, those familiar with the economic and currency issues experienced by Turkmenistan over the past few years may have seen this coming. Ever-escalating levels of inflation, coupled with a prominent illegal black market for foreign currencies pushing up the cost of imports, mean that at the official exchange rate, costs for visitors to the capital city Ashgabat have increased enormously - putting it firmly at the top of the rankings.”

Global Highlights

Eurozone cities have all seen a marked fall in their rankings compared to last year, after an uncertain year for the euro that saw prominent European locations such as Berlin, Rome and Madrid all drop over twenty places in the rankings.

Quane explained “The euro has had a mixed performance over the past 12 months or so and has suffered compared to other major currencies. This has resulted in nearly all of the European cities in our list dropping in the rankings, with those in the Eurozone moving the most significantly. The only European locations that bucked this trend were UK cities which were fairly static, and a few Eastern European locations that were unaffected by the poor performance of the euro.”

US cities all saw big rises in the cost of living rankings, as the US dollar strengthened. Philadelphia and Boston each rose by over 40 places each from last year, whilst Manhattan was the highest placed US location, moving up nine places to 21st. 

“The strong US dollar has resulted in dramatic rises in the rankings for all locations in the United States, meaning that expats and overseas visitors to the US will now find that they need more of their home currency to buy the same goods and services as they did just one year ago. However, there is no US city currently featured in the global top 20 and the vast majority of locations in our rankings still sit outside of the global top 50, so the United States still remains generally cheaper than many places in the world” said Quane.

In the Middle East there were major moves up the ranking, often due to many countries in the region pegging their currency to the US dollar. One such example is Doha, Qatar which saw the most significant rise as it jumped over 50 places to 52nd after prices were pushed up by the currency strength and newly introduced ‘sin taxes’ which have raised the prices of alcohol and soft drinks dramatically. Tel-Aviv meanwhile entered the top ten most expensive locations in the world for the first time, whilst Dubai also jumped 13 places to enter the global top 50. Conversely, the Iranian capital Tehran was named as the cheapest location in ECA’s rankings as a weakened economy was made worse by the introduction of US sanctions, severely affecting the nation’s international trade capabilities. 

Top 10 most expensive locations – Asia
Location
2019 ranking
Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
1
Hong Kong
2
Tokyo, Japan
3
Seoul, Korea Republic
4
Shanghai, China
5
Singapore
6
Yokohama, Japan
7
Beijing, China
8
Busan, Korea Republic
9
Nagoya, Japan
10
Top 10 most expensive locations - Global
Location
2019 ranking
2018 ranking
Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
1
111
Zurich, Switzerland
2
2
Geneva, Switzerland
3
3
Hong Kong
4
11
Basel, Switzerland
5
4
Bern, Switzerland
6
5
Tokyo, Japan
7
7
Seoul, Korea Republic
8
8
Tel Aviv, Israel
9
14
Shanghai, China
10
10
 
-ENDS-

Notes to Editors

About ECA International

ECA International is the market-leading provider of knowledge, information and technology that enables businesses to manage their international reward programmes.

Partnering with thousands of clients on every continent, we provide a fully-integrated suite of quality data, specialist software, consultancy and training. Our unparalleled insights guide clients as they mobilise their most valuable resource: people.

We make the complex world of international mobility simple, providing clients with the expertise and support they need to make the right decisions - every time.

ECA International: Mobility solutions for a world that’s constantly moving.

About ECA's Cost of Living Survey

ECA International's 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 March 2014 and March 2019 surveys. ECA’s Cost of Living Survey rankings began in 2005.

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.

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