Hong Kong named the most expensive city in the world for expats

Hong Kong's skyline pictured at night
Leong Cho Pan | Getty Images

Hong Kong is the most expensive city in the world for people working abroad, new research has found, with Asian cities continuing to dominate as the priciest locations for expats.

Research published Wednesday by HR consultancy Mercer compared the cost of more than 200 items in 209 cities around the world.

Eight of the 10 most expensive cities were in Asia. Hong Kong was placed top for 2019 for a second consecutive year, with Tokyo, Singapore, Seoul and Zurich rounding out the top five.

10 most expensive cities for expats

  1. Hong Kong
  2. Tokyo, Japan
  3. Singapore
  4. Seoul, South Korea
  5. Zurich, Switzerland
  6. Shanghai, China
  7. Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
  8. Beijing, China
  9. New York, United States
  10. Shenzhen, China

At the other end of the scale, the least expensive cities for expats this year are Tunis in Tunisia, Tashkent in Uzbekistan, and Karachi in Pakistan, according to the research.

10 cheapest cities for expats

  1. Tunis, Tunisia
  2. Tashkent, Uzbekistan
  3. Karachi, Pakistan
  4. Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
  5. Windhoek, Namibia
  6. Banjul, Gambia
  7. Islamabad, Pakistan
  8. Tbilisi, Georgia
  9. Skopje, Macedonia
  10. Managua, Nicaragua

According to Mercer, Asia's dominance of the top 10 was largely due to strong housing markets.

High demand and short supply have driven property prices in Hong Kong to "unaffordable" levels in recent years, with the territory planning to build an $80 billion artificial island to help fix the crisis. The report's authors also noted that Hong Kong's currency was pegged to the U.S. dollar, which drove up the cost of living locally.

The items analyzed in the report ranged from alcohol, clothing and food to entertainment and housing.

A regular Big Mac meal from McDonald's was most expensive in Zurich, Switzerland, with a cost of almost $15. Hong Kong was the most expensive location when it came to buying gasoline or a cup of coffee in a "fashionable cafe," while Londoners paid the most for movie tickets.

The report also analyzed how living costs have changed in recent years.

In eight of the 17 Chinese cities surveyed, the price of an international brand of beer increased between 2014 and 2019, which the report's authors linked to the country's rapid economic growth.

A night out in China — which covered two movie tickets, two steak dinners and two coffees — rose from $136 in 2009 to $163 in 2019, according to the report.

Meanwhile, in Mexico City, the cost of a night out increased by more than 40% over the same period, with the research showing a date night would cost $90 in the Mexican capital this year.

Global shift

U.S. cities climbed in this year's ranking due to a strong dollar, as well as other locations experiencing "significant drops" in 2019. New York — the highest placed North American hub — rose four places to be named the ninth most expensive city for foreign workers this year. San Francisco, ranked 16th, jumped 12 places from 2018, while Los Angeles, in 18th place, climbed 17 places over the last year.

Washington, D.C., Miami and Boston narrowly made it into the top 50 most expensive cities. Meanwhile, Portland, Oregon, and Winston Salem, North Carolina, were the cheapest cities in the U.S. for expats.

Elsewhere, Dubai was named the 21st most expensive city in the world, while London was ranked in 23rd place. Mumbai was India's most expensive city, while Sydney took the top spot for Australia.

In South America, Brazilian cities Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro both fell 22 places lower on the ranking.

Canadian cities remained stable, with Vancouver, the country's highest-ranked location, named the world's 112th most expensive city.