Cost of Living City Ranking 2023 

Aerial view of Hong Kong skyline
Aerial view of Hong Kong skyline

Hong Kong, Singapore and Zurich are the most expensive cities for international employees this year.  How has the cost of living crisis affected multinational organisations and their global talent?

The key factors that have shaped the world’s economy in 2022 will continue to exert an influence into 2023. More than a year after the escalation of the Russia-Ukraine crisis and the emergence of more contagious COVID-19 variants, many economies are still absorbing the shocks produced by these events. Due to the recent introduction of aggressive national monetary policies and the tightening of global financial conditions, many economies are likely to see slower income growth this year, along with rising unemployment. Debt levels among many countries remain high and core inflation has not yet peaked in many markets. Inflation and exchange-rate fluctuations are directly impacting the pay and savings of employees who are internationally mobile. 

The most expensive cities in the world for international employees

Hong Kong once again tops our Cost of Living City Ranking. It is followed by Singapore, which jumped up six positions since last year, pushing Zurich to spot number three. The least expensive locations in the ranking include Havana, which dropped 83 spots, due in part to strong currency devaluations mid last-year, and two cities in Pakistan — Karachi and Islamabad.
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This map presents the most and least expensive cities in the world for international employees. The top 10 most expensive cities are, in order from rank 1 to rank 10: Hong Kong, Zurich, Geneva, Basel, Bren, Tel Aviv, New York City, Singapore, Tokyo, Beijing. The 10 least expensive cities are, in order from rank 218 to 227: Algiers, Almaty, Tunis, Tashkent, Istanbul, Karachi, Islamabad, Dushanbe, Bishkek, Ankara.

This year, only two out of 10 of the most expensive cities for international assignees to live in are located in Asia, compared to four last year. However, these cities top the ranking, with Hong Kong ranked first, followed by Singapore (2). The two least expensive locations in the world are also Asian cities — Karachi (226) and Islamabad (227).

The global top ten includes five European cities and four of those are in Switzerland, with the fifth being Copenhagen. Other most expensive cities in the region include London, Vienna, Amsterdam, Prague (up 27 spots in the global ranking since last year) and Helsinki.

Tel Aviv remains the costliest city in the Middle East for international employees, ranked 8th on the global ranking. The next most expensive cities in this region are in the United Arab Emirates, namely Dubai (18) and Abu Dhabi (43), both of which have seen fairly significant increases in their rankings since last year. Saudi cities such as Riyadh (85) and Jeddah (101) have also jumped up the global list, by 18 and 10 spots respectively.

Within Central and South America, Nassau ranks as the most expensive location for international employees (number 10 globally), followed by San Juan (44) and Buenos Aires (45). It is worth noting that several locations within the region rank significantly higher than last year, with a move up of 76 spots for San Jose and 70 spots for Mexico City.

New York City (number six in the global ranking) continues to be the most expensive city in North America, followed by Los Angeles (11) and San Francisco (14). All US cities in the ranking have gone up since last year, with the largest changes being for Detroit (+27 positions), Houston and Cleveland (both +24 positions).

African cities placed highest in the global cost of living ranking are Bangui (26), Djibouti (27) and Luanda (30). The least expensive cities in the region include Windhoek, Durban and Tunis. Notably, these follow quite closely behind Cairo, which dropped 63 spots since last year. 

Rank City Location Change
1 Hong Kong Hong Kong (SAR) 0
2 Singapore Singapore 6
3 Zurich Switzerland -1
4 Geneva Switzerland -1
5 Basel Switzerland -1
6 New York City, NY United States 1
7 Bren Switzerland -2
8 Tel Aviv Israel -2
9 Copenhagen Denmark 2
10 Nassau Bahamas 6
11 Los Angeles, CA United States 6
12 Shanghai China 0
13 Beijing China -3
14 San Francisco, CA United States 5
15 Honolulu, HI United States 5
16 Seoul South Korea -2
17 London United Kingdom -2
18 Dubai United Arab Emirates 13
19 Tokyo Japan -10
20 Shenzhen China -7
21 Boston, MA United States 9
22 Miami, Fl United States 10
23 Washington, DC United States 6
24 Chicago, IL United States 12
25 Vienna Austria -4
26 Bangui Central African Republic -3
27 Djibouti Djibouti 14
28 Amsterdam Netherlands -3
29 Atlanta, GA United States 13
30 Luanda Angola 34
31 Seattle, WA United States 14
32 Kinshasa The Democratic Republic of the Congo 21
33 Prague Czech Republic 27
34 Helsinki Finland 9
35 Paris France 0
36 Guangzhou China -18
37 Berlin Germany 9
38 Munich Germany -5
39 Conakry Guinea Republic 37
40 N'Djamena Chad 40
41 Brussels Belgium -2
42 Victoria Seychelles -4
43 Abu Dhabi United Arab Emirates 18
44 San Juan Puerto Rico 28
45 Buenos Aires Argentina 69
46 The Hague Netherlands 1
47 Lagos Nigeria 8
48 Frankfurt Germany 14
49 Milan Italy -1
50 Philadelphia, PA United States 20
51 Dublin Ireland -2
52 Libreville Gabon -28
53 Dallas, TX United States 22
54 Montevideo Uruguay 69
55 Qingdao China -33
56 Sydney Australia 2
57 Taipei Taiwan -29
58 Luxembourg Luxembourg -6
59 Rome Italy -2
60 Oslo Norway -33
61 Houston, TX United States 24
62 Hamburg Germany -3
63 San Jose Costa Rica 76
64 Riga Latvia 15
65 Pittsburgh, PA United States 17
66 Dakar Senegal -1
67 Minneapolis, MN United States 16
68 Busan South Korea -34
69 Stuttgart Germany 2
70 Noumea New Caledonia -16
71 Melbourne Australia -4
72 Portland, OR United States 19
73 Nanjing China -47
74 Dusseldorf Germany 7
75 Barcelona Spain 3
76 Shenyang China -36
77 Abidjan Côte D'Ivoire -9
78 St. Louis, MO United States 23
79 Mexico City Mexico 70
80 Detroit, MI United States 27
81 Douala Cameroon -4
82 Brisbane Australia 2
83 Madrid Spain 7
84 Brazzaville The Republic Of Congo -10
85 Riyadh Saudi Arabia 18
86 Edinburgh United Kingdom -20
87 Santiago Chilli 43
88 Cleveland, OH United States 24
89 Chengdu China -45
90 Toronto Canada -1
91 Leipzig Germany 8
92 Lyon France 4
93 Osaka Japan -56
94 Canberra Australia 10
95 Stockholm Sweden -8
96 Nuremberg Germany 20
97 Athens Greece 29
98 Manama Bahrain 19
99 Chongqing China -43
100 Tallinn Estonia 40
101 Jeddah Saudi Arabia 10
102 Yaounde Cameroon -2
103 Pointe-à-Pitre Guadeloupe (France) -15
104 Bratislava Slovakia 1
105 Bangkok Thailand 1
106 Adelaide Australia -4
107 Perth Australia -10
108 Xian China -45
109 Glasgow United Kingdom -23
110 Amman Jordan 5
111 Auckland New Zealand -16
112 Suzhou China -43
113 Nagoya Japan -62
114 Harare Zimbabwe 15
115 Yokohama Japan -65
116 Vancouver Canada -8
117 Lisbon Portugal -8
118 Birmingham United Kingdom -24
119 Aberdeen United Kingdom -26
120 Port of Spain Trinidad & Tobago 15
121 Toulouse France -11
122 Wuhan China -49
123 Vilnius Lithuania 25
124 Taichung Taiwan -32
125 Belfast United Kingdom -4
126 Doha Qatar 7
127 Kingston Jamaica 26
128 Bamako Mali -10
129 Bujumbura Burundi 15
130 Muscat Oman -11
131 Kuwait City Kuwait 0
132 Phnom Penh Cambodia 2
133 Manilla Philippines -11
134 Lome Togo -10
135 Montreal Canada -10
136 Guatemala City Guatemala 0
137 Ottawa Canada -5
138 Kaohsiung Taiwan -25
139 Wellington New Zealand -19
140 Abuja Nigeria 7
141 Yerevan Armenia 56
142 Bucharest Roumania 16
143 Ljubljana Slovenia 2
144 Cotonou Benin -16
145 Calgary Canada -4
146 Zagreb Croatia 13
147 Mumbai India -20
148 Panama City Panama 4
149 Ouagadougou Burkina Faso -12
150 Quito Ecuador 6
151 Jakarta Indonesia 0
152 Sao Paulo Brazil 16
153 Tirana Albania 8
154 Dhaka Bangladesh -56
155 Monterrey Mexico 30
156 Hanoi Vietnam -6
157 Niamey Niger -19
158 Casablanca Morocco -15
159 Maputo Mozambique 8
160 Santo Domingo Dominican Republic 13
161 Budapest Hungary 19
162 Dar Es Salaam Tanzania 2
163 Nouakchott Mauritania 6
164 Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam -1
165 Limassol Cyprus 0
166 Kampala Uganda 0
167 Lima Peru 5
168 Sofia Bulgaria 2
169 New Delhi India -14
170 Warsaw Poland 4
171 Rio De Janeiro Brazil 5
172 Bandar Seri Begawan Brunei 7
173 Nairobi Kenya -13
174 Rabat Morocco -12
175 Belgrade Serbia 0
176 San Salvador El Salvador 6
177 Baku Azerbaijan 9
178 Accra Ghana -32
179 Tegucigalpa Honduras 10
180 Kuala Lumpur Malaysia 1
181 Tbilisi Georgia 36
182 Minsk Belarus 22
183 Port-Au-Prince Haiti -12
184 Chennai India -7
185 Istanbul Turkey 37
186 Wroclaw Poland 1
187 Port Louis Mauritius 4
188 Brasilia Brazil 12
189 Bengaluru India -11
190 Krakow Poland 0
191 Kigali Rwanda 17
192 Asuncion Paraguay 3
193 Antananarivo Madagascar -5
194 Addis Ababa Ethiopia 20
195 La Paz Bolivia 1
196 Manaus Brazil 11
197 Lusaka Zambia 2
198 Blantyre Malawi -14
199 Belo Horizonte Brazil 11
200 Skopje North Macedonia 6
201 Managua Nicaragua 11
202 Hyderabad India -10
203 Sarajevo Bosnia-Herzegovina 6
204 Yangon Myanmar -6
205 Johannesburg South Africa -12
206 Algiers Algeria 12
207 Banjul Gambia -5
208 Almaty Kazakhstan 11
209 Vientiane Lao People's Democratic Republic -52
210 Cape Town South Africa -16
211 Kolkata India -8
212 Johor Bahru Malaysia -1
213 Pune India -12
214 Bogota Colombia -9
215 Colombo Sri Lanka -32
216 Gaborone Botswana -1
217 Cairo Egypt -63
218 Tashkent Uzbekistan 3
219 Tunis Tunisia 1
220 Durban South Africa -4
221 Ankara Turkey 6
222 Windhoek Namibia -9
223 Dushanbe Tajikistan 2
224 Bishkek Kyrgyzstan 2
225 Havana Cuba -83
226 Karachi Pakistan -3
227 Islamabad Pakistan -3

The cost of living crisis – Impact on employers and employees

High inflation and market fluctuations impact the cost of living across the world, impacting our purchasing power and standard of living.

Join our live webinar on 28 June for highlights of our latest cost of living research, and the implications for multinational organisations looking to design efficient and equitable compensation packages for their globally mobile employees.

Extensive use of remote working is causing many employees to reconsider their priorities, assess their work-life balances, and think about the places in which they have chosen to live. This is forcing many organisations to reimagine their work setups. Overall, this has meant that many employers are having to rethink how they manage a globally distributed workforce. This is particularly true for those that operate in tight labour markets.

For companies in this situation, Mercer’s cost of living data can help. It provides the information that employers need to develop effective compensation strategies for their globally distributed workforces. This is particularly important in markets where the labour supply is restricted. The information that Mercer supplies highlights the importance of monitoring currency fluctuations and assessing inflationary and deflationary pressures on goods, services and accommodation in all operating locations. The data can also help employers determine and maintain compensation packages for employees on international assignments and when working full-time abroad.

Four steps in revisiting mobile talent compensation

The scope of global mobility has been shifting from expatriate management to a more comprehensive vision of talent mobility. At the same time, business priorities and strategies may also change, especially during volatile and unstable times. Our guide outlines four simple steps in revisiting compensation approaches for your global workforce, integrating new trends, and realigning your policies with business priorities. 

Attracting international businesses and talent

Cost is not the only factor that influences how attractive a location is to employees and corporations. An equally important factor is the overall quality of life that a city offers. Conversely, risks and other negative issues, such as natural disasters, political and/or economic turmoil, high crime rates, poor infrastructure and inadequate international connectivity, can be major deterrents to companies and their employees.

In general, countries and cities are continuously striving to attract international businesses as well as digital nomads and mobile employees. The most successful locations are currently those combining flexible governance for mobile talent, a high quality of life and a reasonable cost of living.

The chart below shows the correlation between the cost and quality of living across selected cities around the world. It also highlights how each location ranks with respect to three specific aspects: safety (including criteria such as crime, law enforcement, limitations on personal freedom and media/censorship), eco-friendliness (considering water potability, waste removal, sewage, air pollution, water availability and traffic congestion) and infrastructure (looking at electricity, water availability, telephone, mail, public transport, traffic congestion and airports).

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This infographic shows the correlation between the Cost of Living Index and Quality of Living Index for selected global cities, as well as their score in the Eco-City Index. Some of the locations with the lowest cost of living and highest quality of living are Vancouver, Toronto, Stockholm, Lisbon and Frankfurt. Hong Kong has the highest cost of living but lower quality of living than many other locations. The general trend shows that the locations with higher cost of living and quality of living also rank higher for eco-friendliness.

At a glance: Price movement around the world

With continued inflationary pressures across the globe, we’re taking a closer look at how the cost of selected goods has evolved since last year. Analysing a basket of ten every-day items, sugar, cooking oil and butter stand out as those whose prices have increased the most. Gasoline price, on the other hand, seems to have slowed down its rise, with a decrease occurring in a number of locations.
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Gasoline: The chart shows the movement of gasoline prices across selected locations. By far, the highest price increase occurred in Istanbul, followed by Los Angeles, Barcelona, New York City and Berlin. No price movement occurred for Dakar. Gasoline price decrease did not occur in any of the locations. The data refer to one litre of gasoline, unleaded 95 octane.
Cooking oil: The chart shows the movement of cooking oil prices across selected locations. The highest price increase occurred in Barcelona, followed by Istanbul, Dublin, Beijing and Warsaw. No price movement occurred in Berlin, Hong Kong, London, Paris and Tokyo. Price decrease occurred in Mumbai, Seoul, Dubai, Toronto and Johannesburg. The data refer to cooking oil (1 lt / 33.8 oz / 920 gr).
Beer: The chart shows the movement of beer prices across selected locations. By far, the highest price increase occurred in Istanbul. No price movement occurred in 9 out of the 25 cities. The most significant price decrease occurred in Warsaw, followed by Berlin, Nairobi, Toronto and Beijing. The data refer to international branded beer (0.33l / 11.2oz).
Bread: The chart shows the movement of bread prices across selected locations. The highest price increase occurred in Istanbul, Mexico City, São Paulo, Dublin and Warsaw. No price movement occurred in Beijing, Berlin, Dakar, Hong Kong, Paris, Seoul and Sydney. The most significant price decrease occurred in New York City, Los Angeles, Dubai, Johannesburg and Mumbai. The data refer to white sliced toast bread (1000 gr / 35.3 oz).

About Mercer’s Cost of Living Survey

Mercer's widely recognised survey is one of the world’s most comprehensive studies of its kind. It is designed to help multinational companies and governments determine compensation strategies for their international assignees.

Governments and major companies use data from this survey to protect the purchasing power of their employees when they are transferred abroad. For example, data on rental accommodation costs is used to assess local international assignees’ housing allowances. The choice of cities surveyed is based on demand for data from Mercer’s clients.

How we calculate the cost of living index

New York City is used as the base city for all city ranking comparisons. Currency movements are measured against the US dollar. The survey includes over 400 cities.

This year’s ranking includes 227 cities from across five continents. It measures the comparative cost of more than 200 items in each location, including housing, transportation, food, clothing, household goods and entertainment. The data collected provides all of the key information employers need to design efficient and transparent compensation packages for international assignees. Learn more here.

The figures used in Mercer’s cost of living and rental accommodation cost comparisons are derived from a survey conducted in March 2023. Exchange rates from that time, along with Mercer’s international basket of goods and services from its cost of living survey, were used for calculations and baselines.

Mercer inflation definition

Inflation is generally defined as the measure of price movements from time T to time T+1, using exactly the same specifications of items in terms of their packaging sizes and characteristics.

For the purpose of Mercer’s cost of living survey, Mercer’s quoted inflation figure is designed to provide an indication of how the index has moved in the last six or 12 months in local currency terms, regardless of the currency fluctuations between home and host locations. 

  • Housing

  • Transportation

  • Utilities

  • Food

  • Domestic Supplies

  • Home Services

  • Personal care

  • Clothing and footware

  • Recreation and entertainment

  • Alcohol and tobacco

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