Organizations revamp mobility programs with alternate forms of international assignments and a focus on employee well-being

Mercer’s Cost of Living Survey  helps employers navigate expatriate packages, essential due to uncertainty from pandemic

 

New York, Tuesday, June 9, 2020 - In the wake of COVID-19, social and economic disruption has spurred organizations to reassess their global mobility programs with a focus on the well-being of their expatriate employees. As they leverage new working arrangements, changing technology, and adaptive ways of thinking, they are considering alternate forms of international assignments in addition to traditional mobility programs to sustain their overseas operations and workforces.

 

Despite an appetite to grow and scale globally while navigating the uncharted waters of a health and economic crisis, reductions in staff and salaries as well as changes to benefit programs have challenged overseas expansion strategies. As organizations re-examine talent portfolios, mobility programs, and remuneration packages with a keen eye that balances empathy with economics, accurate and transparent data is essential to compensate fairly for all types of mobility assignments, taking into account changes resulting from the current pandemic and subsequent market volatility.

 

Mercer’s 26th annual Cost of Living Survey  finds that specific factors such as currency fluctuations, cost inflation for goods and services, and instability of accommodation prices, are essential to determining the cost of expatriate packages for employees on international assignments.

 

“The COVID-19 pandemic reminds us that sending and keeping employees on international assignments is a huge responsibility and a difficult task to manage,” said Ilya Bonic, Career President and Head of Mercer Strategy. “Rather than bet on a dramatic resurgence of mobility, organizations should prepare for the redeployment of their mobile workforces, leading with empathy and understanding that not all expatriates will be ready or willing to go abroad.”

 

In the short-term, preparation for this new approach to global mobility may involve re-relocating assignees who have been repatriated. In the medium-term, the priority will be about realigning the mobile workforce with new economic models centered on shortened supply chains, more regional moves and a renewed need to train talent. In addition to these concerns, relevant information about the cost and location of assignments worldwide will be a critical factor post-crisis.

 

Mercer’s 2020 Cost of Living Survey

According to Mercer’s 2020 Cost of Living Survey, Hong Kong tops the list of most expensive cities for expatriates, followed by Ashgabat, Turkmenistan in second position. Tokyo and Zurich remain in third and fourth positions, respectively, whereas Singapore is in fifth, down two places from last year. New York City ranked sixth, moving up from ninth place. Mercer’s data was collected in March; price variances in many locations were not significant due to the pandemic[1].

 

Other cities appearing in the top 10 of Mercer’s costliest cities for expatriates are Shanghai (7), Bern (8), Geneva (9), and Beijing (10). The world’s least expensive cities for expatriates, according to Mercer’s survey, are Tunis (209), Windhoek (208), Tashkent and Bishkek, which tied to rank 206.

 

Mercer's widely recognized survey is one of the world’s most comprehensive, and is designed to help multinational companies and governments determine compensation strategies for their expatriate employees. New York City is used as the base city for all comparisons and currency movements are measured against the US dollar. The survey includes over 400 cities throughout the world; this year’s ranking includes 209 cities across five continents and measures the comparative cost of more than 200 items in each location, including housing, transportation, food, clothing, household goods, and entertainment.

 

“Border closings, flight interruptions, mandatory confinements, and other short-term disruptions have affected not only the cost of goods and services, but also the quality of living of assignees,” said Mr. Bonic. “Climate change, issues related to environmental footprint, and health system challenges have pushed multinationals to consider how a city’s efforts around sustainability can impact the living conditions for their expatriate workers. Cities with a strong sustainability focus can greatly improve living standards, which can in turn improve employee well-being and engagement.”

 

Properly vetting locations and compensating employees on international assignments is as important as it can be costly. Mercer’s survey shows that costs of goods and services shift with inflation and currency volatility making overseas assignment costs sometimes greater and sometimes smaller.

 

“Sudden changes to exchange rates has been mainly driven by the impact COVID-19 is having on the global economy,” said Yvonne Traber, Global Mobility Product Solutions Leader at Mercer. “This volatility can affect mobile employees in a variety of ways, from shortages and price adjustments for goods and services, to supply chain disruptions or when employees are paid in home country currency and need to exchange funds into the host country for local purchases.”

 

The Americas

While the global economic downturn took hold during the first part of the year, the strength of the dollar drove up costs for expatriates in US cities. As a result, cities in the United States have climbed in this year’s ranking of most costly cities. New York (6) is the highest-ranked city in the country followed by San Francisco (16) Los Angeles (17) Honolulu (28) and Chicago (30). Winston Salem, North Carolina (132) remains the least expensive US city surveyed for expatriates.

 

In South America, San Juan (66) ranks as the costliest city, followed by Port of Spain (73), San Jose (78) and Montevideo (88). Managua (198) is the least expensive city in South America. Caracas in Venezuela is excluded from the ranking due to the complex currency situation; its ranking would have varied greatly depending on the official exchange rate selected.

 

The Canadian dollar has appreciated in value, triggering jumps in this year’s ranking. Up eighteen places from last year, Vancouver (94) is the most expensive Canadian city in the ranking, followed by Toronto (98). Ranking 151, Ottawa is the least expensive city in Canada.

 

Europe, the Middle East, and Africa

Three European cities are among the top 10 list of most expensive locations. At number four in the global ranking, Zurich remains the most costly European city, followed by Bern (8), up four spots from last year. The next European city in the ranking, Geneva (9), is up four places from last year.

 

Despite some low price increases across the region, several local currencies in Europe have weakened against the US dollar, pushing many cities down in the ranking. As France and Italy's economies shrank at the end of 2019, Eurozone growth came close to zero. Yet, there are no signs of crisis when it comes to inflation in any of the leading EU countries. The region saw cities like Paris (50), Milan (47) and Frankfurt (76) drop in this year’s ranking.

 

A decision by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union has not impacted its local currency which remains strong, gaining value to all major global currencies. London (19), Birmingham (129) and Belfast (149) jumped four, six, and nine places, respectively.

 

The United Arab Emirates continue to diversify the economy, subsequently reducing the impact of oil industry on GDP. With this ongoing process, there has been negative price movement in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Just like UEA, Saudi Arabia is seeking to limit the impact of oil exports and move to a more diversified economic model. Prices have remained stable over the course of the last six months; however, with the upcoming value-added tax increase there is an expectation to see prices change. Tel Aviv (12) continues to be the most expensive city in the Middle East for expatriates, followed by Dubai (23), Riyadh (31), and Abu Dhabi (39). Cairo (126) remains the least expensive city in the region despite rising forty places.

 

Ndjamena, Chad (15) is the highest ranked city in Africa while Tunis (209) in Tunisia ranks as the least expensive city in the region and globally.

 

Asia Pacific

Six of the top 10 cities in this year’s ranking are in Asia. Hong Kong (1) retained its spot as the most expensive city for expatriates both in Asia and globally due to currency movements measured against the US dollar and driving up the cost of living locally. This global financial center is followed by Ashgabat (2) Tokyo (3) Singapore (5) Shanghai (7) and Beijing (10). Mumbai (60) is India’s most expensive city while Kolkata (185) is the least expensive Indian city ranked.

 

Australian cities have fallen in the ranking this year as the local currency has depreciated against the US dollar. Sydney (66), Australia’s most expensive ranked city for expatriates, experienced a drop of sixteen places. The least expensive city in the region, Adelaide fell seventeen places to rank 126.

 

Mercer produces individual cost of living and rental accommodation cost reports for each city surveyed. For more information on city rankings, visit https://bit.ly/3c9EzFN. To purchase copies of individual city reports, visit https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/multinational-approach-cost-of-living-data.

 

Notes for editors

The figures for Mercer’s cost of living and rental accommodation cost comparisons are derived from a survey conducted in March 2020. Exchange rates from that time and Mercer’s international basket of goods and services from its Cost of Living Survey have been used as base measurements.

 

Governments and major companies use data from this survey to protect the purchasing power of their employees when transferred abroad; rental accommodation costs data is used to assess local expatriate housing allowances. The choice of cities surveyed is based on demand for data.

 

About Mercer

Mercer believes in building brighter futures by redefining the world of work, reshaping retirement and investment outcomes, and unlocking real health and well-being. Mercer’s more than 25,000 employees are based in 44 countries and the firm operates in over 130 countries. Mercer is a business of Marsh & McLennan (NYSE: MMC), the world’s leading professional services firm in the areas of risk, strategy and people, with 76,000 colleagues and annual revenue of $17 billion. Through its market-leading businesses including Marsh, Guy Carpenter and Oliver Wyman, Marsh & McLennan helps clients navigate an increasingly dynamic and complex environment. For more information, visit www.mercer.com. Follow Mercer on Twitter @Mercer.

 

Mercer Cost of Living Survey – Worldwide Rankings 2020

(The Mercer international basket, including rental accommodation costs)

Rank as of March

City

Country/Region

2019

2020

1

1

HONG KONG

HONG KONG (SAR)

7

2

ASHGABAT

TURKMENISTAN

2

3

TOKYO

JAPAN

5

4

ZURICH

SWITZERLAND

3

5

SINGAPORE

SINGAPORE

9

6

NEW YORK CITY

UNITED STATES

6

7

SHANGHAI

CHINA

12

8

BERN

SWITZERLAND

13

9

GENEVA

SWITZERLAND

8

10

BEIJING

CHINA

4

11

SEOUL

SOUTH KOREA

15

12

TEL AVIV

ISRAEL

10

13

SHENZHEN

CHINA

14

14

VICTORIA

SEYCHELLES

11

15

NDJAMENA

CHAD

16

16

SAN FRANCISCO

UNITED STATES

18

17

LOS ANGELES

UNITED STATES

25

18

LAGOS

NIGERIA

23

19

LONDON

UNITED KINGDOM

17

20

GUANGZHOU

CHINA

27

21

MOSCOW

RUSSIA

19

22

OSAKA

JAPAN

21

23

DUBAI

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

22

24

KINSHASA

DEM. REP. OF THE CONGO

20

25

COPENHAGEN

DENMARK

33

26

NAGOYA

JAPAN

47

26

DHAKA

BANGLADESH

35

28

TAIPEI

TAIWAN

38

28

HONOLULU

UNITED STATES

37

30

CHICAGO

UNITED STATES

35

31

RIYADH

SAUDI ARABIA

42

32

WASHINGTON

UNITED STATES

24

33

LIBREVILLE

GABON

27

34

NANJING

CHINA

40

35

BANGKOK

THAILAND

30

36

ABIDJAN

CÔTE D'IVOIRE

44

37

MIAMI

UNITED STATES

32

38

TIANJIN

CHINA

33

39

ABU DHABI

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

30

40

CHENGDU

CHINA

49

41

BOSTON

UNITED STATES

29

42

NOUMEA

NEW CALEDONIA

41

43

QINGDAO

CHINA

39

44

BRAZZAVILLE

CONGO

53

45

BEIRUT

LEBANON

43

46

DUBLIN

IRELAND

45

47

MILAN

ITALY

56

48

WHITE PLAINS

UNITED STATES

54

49

BANGUI

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC

47

50

PARIS

FRANCE

59

51

HOUSTON

UNITED STATES

57

52

MANAMA

BAHRAIN

62

52

DALLAS

UNITED STATES

51

54

VIENNA

AUSTRIA

64

55

SEATTLE

UNITED STATES

52

56

YAOUNDE

CAMEROON

63

57

ACCRA

GHANA

59

58

DJIBOUTI

DJIBOUTI

75

59

ST. PETERSBURG

RUSSIA

67

60

MUMBAI

INDIA

69

60

ATLANTA

UNITED STATES

70

62

MORRISTOWN

UNITED STATES

45

63

SHENYANG

CHINA

58

64

AMSTERDAM

NETHERLANDS

55

65

ROME

ITALY

50

66

SYDNEY

AUSTRALIA

72

66

SAN JUAN

PUERTO RICO

85

68

ABUJA

NIGERIA

78

69

MINNEAPOLIS

UNITED STATES

66

70

DOUALA

CAMEROON

75

71

AMMAN

JORDAN

67

72

MUNICH

GERMANY

83

73

PORT OF SPAIN

TRINIDAD & TOBAGO

65

74

HELSINKI

FINLAND

72

75

DAKAR

SENEGAL

61

76

OSLO

NORWAY

74

76

FRANKFURT

GERMANY

77

78

BRUSSELS

BELGIUM

131

78

SAN JOSE

COSTA RICA

90

80

DETROIT

UNITED STATES

109

80

MANILA

PHILIPPINES

81

82

BERLIN

GERMANY

84

83

LUXEMBOURG

LUXEMBOURG

94

83

ST. LOUIS

UNITED STATES

117

83

YANGON

MYANMAR

105

86

JAKARTA

INDONESIA

82

87

MADRID

SPAIN

70

88

MONTEVIDEO

URUGUAY

88

89

CONAKRY

GUINEA

93

90

PANAMA CITY

PANAMA

97

91

PITTSBURGH

UNITED STATES

107

92

PORTLAND

UNITED STATES

106

93

CLEVELAND

UNITED STATES

112

94

VANCOUVER

CANADA

97

95

NAIROBI

KENYA

103

96

MUSCAT

OMAN

97

97

PRAGUE

CZECH REPUBLIC

115

98

TORONTO

CANADA

79

99

MELBOURNE

AUSTRALIA

92

100

DUSSELDORF

GERMANY

118

101

NEW DELHI

INDIA

91

102

BARCELONA

SPAIN

89

103

AUCKLAND

NEW ZEALAND

87

104

PERTH

AUSTRALIA

100

104

JEDDAH

SAUDI ARABIA

95

106

LISBON

PORTUGAL

100

106

HAMBURG

GERMANY

150

106

KIEV

UKRAINE

108

109

PHNOM PENH

CAMBODIA

115

109

DOHA

QATAR

120

111

HO CHI MINH CITY

VIETNAM

121

112

LIMA

PERU

111

113

RIGA

LATVIA

119

113

KUWAIT CITY

KUWAIT

26

115

LUANDA

ANGOLA

112

116

HANOI

VIETNAM

149

116

NIAMEY

NIGER

96

118

CANBERRA

AUSTRALIA

102

118

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

BRUNEI

144

120

MEXICO CITY

MEXICO

128

121

CASABLANCA

MOROCCO

136

122

GUATEMALA CITY

GUATEMALA

114

123

WELLINGTON

NEW ZEALAND

123

123

LYON

FRANCE

133

123

HAVANA

CUBA

103

126

BRISBANE

AUSTRALIA

109

126

ADELAIDE

AUSTRALIA

166

126

CAIRO

EGYPT

135

129

BIRMINGHAM

UNITED KINGDOM

86

130

SAO PAULO

BRAZIL

126

130

STUTTGART

GERMANY

138

132

WINSTON SALEM

UNITED STATES

127

133

STOCKHOLM

SWEDEN

79

134

SANTIAGO

CHILE

125

134

POINTE A PITRE

GUADELOUPE

137

134

ABERDEEN

UNITED KINGDOM

139

137

MONTREAL

CANADA

128

138

ATHENS

GREECE

131

139

BRATISLAVA

SLOVAKIA

128

140

COTONOU

BENIN

145

141

GLASGOW

UNITED KINGDOM

124

142

BAMAKO

MALI

154

143

CHENNAI

INDIA

141

144

KUALA LUMPUR

MALAYSIA

148

145

QUITO

ECUADOR

140

146

TALLINN

ESTONIA

153

146

CALGARY

CANADA

142

148

LJUBLJANA

SLOVENIA

158

149

BELFAST

UNITED KINGDOM

157

150

KINGSTON

JAMAICA

161

151

OTTAWA

CANADA

143

152

ZAGREB

CROATIA

133

153

BUENOS AIRES

ARGENTINA

145

154

LOME

TOGO

151

155

NUREMBERG

GERMANY

154

156

ISTANBUL

TURKEY

152

157

VILNIUS

LITHUANIA

156

158

LEIPZIG

GERMANY

160

159

RABAT

MOROCCO

121

160

RIO DE JANEIRO

BRAZIL

159

161

MAPUTO

MOZAMBIQUE

145

162

OUAGADOUGOU

BURKINA FASO

166

163

TIRANA

ALBANIA

171

163

DAR ES SALAAM

TANZANIA

188

165

HARARE

ZIMBABWE

161

166

LIMASSOL

CYPRUS

169

167

SANTO DOMINGO

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

166

168

SAN SALVADOR

EL SALVADOR

173

169

WARSAW

POLAND

164

170

BUDAPEST

HUNGARY

179

171

BENGALURU

INDIA

178

172

BAKU

AZERBAIJAN

161

173

PORT LOUIS

MAURITIUS

176

174

BUCHAREST

ROMANIA

165

175

PORT AU PRINCE

HAITI

175

176

KIGALI

RWANDA

182

177

COLOMBO

SRI LANKA

183

177

KAMPALA

UGANDA

187

177

MONTERREY

MEXICO

177

180

SOFIA

BULGARIA

170

181

BOGOTA

COLOMBIA

171

182

ADDIS ABABA

ETHIOPIA

181

183

BELGRADE

SERBIA

192

184

NOUAKCHOTT

MAURITANIA

189

185

KOLKATA

INDIA

193

185

BLANTYRE

MALAWI

180

187

CAPE TOWN

SOUTH AFRICA

186

188

ASUNCION

PARAGUAY

191

189

ALMATY

KAZAKHSTAN

174

190

BRASILIA

BRAZIL

197

191

YEREVAN

ARMENIA

185

192

JOHANNESBURG

SOUTH AFRICA

195

193

LA PAZ

BOLIVIA

184

194

ALGIERS

ALGERIA

198

194

MINSK

BELARUS

199

196

TEGUCIGALPA

HONDURAS

194

197

SARAJEVO

BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA

200

198

MANAGUA

NICARAGUA

189

199

GABORONE

BOTSWANA

203

200

ISLAMABAD

PAKISTAN

196

201

LUSAKA

ZAMBIA

201

202

SKOPJE

NORTH MACEDONIA

202

203

TBILISI

GEORGIA

204

204

BANJUL

GAMBIA

207

205

KARACHI

PAKISTAN

206

206

BISHKEK

KYRGYZSTAN

208

206

TASHKENT

UZBEKISTAN

204

208

WINDHOEK

NAMIBIA

209

209

TUNIS

TUNISIA

Source: Mercer’s 2020 Cost of Living Survey

[1] Due to timing of the COVID-19 outbreak, Mercer conducted further analysis on availability of goods in April and May to verify pricing.

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