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Do you expect New York or London to be the priciest cities to live in? The list of the most expensive cities for expats will probably surprise you. Several studies show settling in a developing country can be very costly. Every year, 3 surveys rank cities worldwide depending on the cost of living for expatriates. The conclusions of these reports are useful both for expat employers and the future expats themselves. Find out which are the world’s costliest cities before relocating.

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3 worldwide cost of living rankings

There are 3 annual major world cost of living rankings:

  • Mercer’s Cost of Living Rankings Report, which examines cost of living in 214 cities worldwide by comparing prices of over 200 items,
  • the Cost of living survey, by ECA International, which compares prices in over 400 cities around the world,
  • the Worldwide cost of living report, published by The Economist Intelligence Unit, which ranks 131 cities in the world based on a comparison of 400 prices across 160 products and services.

World’s 10 most expensive cities

The list of world’s 10 costliest cities is different from one survey to another. Nevertheless, Geneva, Tokyo and Zurich appear in each list. Between 2 and 4 Swiss cities also always rank among all top tens.

Rank Mercer ECA International The Economist Intelligence Unit
1 Luanda, Angola Caracas, Venezuela


2 Moscow, Russia Luanda, Angola

Paris, France

3 Tokyo, Japan Oslo, Norway

Oslo, Norway

4 N’Djamena, Chad Juba, South Sudan

Zurich, Switzerland

5 Singapore Stavanger, Norway

Sydney, Australia

6 Hong Kong Zurich, Switzerland

Caracas, Venezuela

7 Geneva, Switzerland Geneva, Switzerland

Geneva, Switzerland

8 Zurich, Switzerland Bern, Switzerland

Melbourne, Australia

9 Bern, Switzerland Basel, Switzerland

Tokyo, Japan

10 Sydney, Australia Tokyo, Japan Copenhagen, Denmark

Calculating the cost of living

How much does a movie ticket cost in Sydney? What is the cost of a three-room apartment in Luanda or of cup of coffee in Zurich? To rank cities worldwide depending on their cost of living, the surveys are based on the prices of goods and services commonly purchased by expats. The costs which are taken into account may vary from one survey to another. For instance, the prices of the following items in each city might be examined:

  • home rents,
  • transport,
  • food,
  • drink,
  • clothing,
  • household supplies,
  • personal care products,
  • leisure activities,
  • private schools,
  • domestic help…

Exchange rate variations, inflation and availability of the goods most commonly sought by expats also have an impact on the rankings. Expat’s tendency to buy the more costly imported goods and seek secure accommodation is what makes the Angolan capital city so expensive.

Is there a link between cost of living and quality of living? Not necessarily: only 4 countries ranked among the top ten happiest countries appear in the rankings of world’s most expensive cities.

To find out more about world’s costliest cities:

Take a look at Mercer, ECA International and EIU websites.

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