The cost of living in the world's biggest cities

  • cost of living
Published 4 months ago

Besides career prospects, quality of life, environment, and safety and security, the cost of living is another significant issue to consider when planning your move abroad, whether alone or with your family. Which are the cities where you're likely to spend more regarding rent, food, transportation, and leisure? To help you choose the best destination according to your budget, gives you an insight into the world's most expensive cities in 2018 according to the latest Mercer Cost of Living report.

Once more, Asian cities are dominating the ranking with Hong Kong as the world's most expensive city followed by Tokyo (2nd), Singapore (4th), Seoul (5th), Shanghai (7th) and Beijing (9th). The top 10 also included two Swiss cities, namely Zurich (3rd) and Bern (10th). After being the world's costliest city in 2017, Luanda drops down to the 6th spot with N'Djamena at the 8th spot. Meanwhile, Bishkek (207th), Tunis (208th), and Tashkent (209th) can rejoice about being the world's cheapest cities. This annual survey takes into account the prices of over 200 products and services including rent, food, transportation, clothing, household goods, and leisure in 375 cities, using New York City as a comparison. So what does the report say about the most popular expat destinations?


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European cities remain rather expensive with Zurich and Bern at the 3rd and 10th spots while Geneva drops to the 11th spot. Copenhagen ranks 14th, followed by London, 19th. It is assumed that the resilience of local currencies against the US dollar has led to rising prices of products and services over the past few months. The most dramatic surges were noted in Germany with Munich, Frankfurt, and Berlin ranking 57th, 68th, and 71st. Paris climbs 28 places from 2017 to the 34th spot while Vienna, Rome, and Madrid rank 39th, 46th, and 64th respectively. Needless to say that London remains the most expensive city regarding leisure. So count an average of US$ 25 for a movie ticket while a coffee will cost around US$ 4 and a pair of blue jeans US$ 110.

North America

New York
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As a result of the rise of the euro against the US dollar, several major US cities dropped down the rankings. New York, for example, ranks 13th this year while San Francisco falls by seven places to the 28th spot. Los Angeles ranks 35th overall. A top destination for international students, Chicago is far behind at the 51st spot. Some other popular destinations for foreign professionals in regards to career prospects and incentives for startups, Washington DC, Miami, and Boston rank 56th, 60th, and 70th respectively. Regarding Canadian cities, Toronto, sharing the 109th spot with Vancouver, remains an expensive city due to recent increases in rent prices. On the other hand, Montreal and Calgary are more affordable.

Latin America

Sao Paulo

Every year, more and more expatriates are turning to Latin America not only for its vast cultural wealth but also for professional opportunities available. But what about the cost of living there? Dropping down 32 places compared to 2017, Sao Paulo (58th) remains the most expensive South American city followed by Santiago (69th), Montevideo (75th), and Buenos Aires (76th) due to a recent rise in the price of goods and services in Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay. For example, a pair of blue jeans in Sao Paulo costs almost as much as in Tokyo. Also, count an average of US$ 6 and US$ 7 for a hamburger in Buenos Aires and around US$ 1.30 per litre of fuel. Rio de Janeiro (99th) remains in the top 100 while Lima and Bogota rank 132nd and 168th respectively.


Hong Kong

As mentioned above, six of the world's ten most expensive cities are found in Asia. Hong Kong is world famous for having a dynamic and high standard real estate market. Also, count around US$ 2 per litre of fuel and US$ 8 for a coffee in this SAR. Mainland China, for its part, benefits from a thriving economy thanks to monetary policies aiming at promoting the Chinese yuan as an international currency. While Mumbai (55th) remains the most expensive Indian city, New Delhi and Chennai rank 103rd and 144th. Another popular expat destination, Bangkok ranks 52nd. Kuala Lumpur (145th) and Hanoi (137th) are more affordable.


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Sydney is a city where you should expect to pay more for food and leisure. With a hamburger costing around US$ 8, a coffee US$ 4, and a movie ticket US$ 18, no wonder Sydney ranks 29th globally. Melbourne (58th), Perth (61st), and Canberra (77th) are therefore the most affordable Australian cities. Considering the quality of life enjoyed by Kiwis, it's not hard to understand why Auckland, New Zealand's capital city, ranks 81st.



You're advised to keep an eye on your wallet if you're moving to Africa even though the continent is so often associated with poverty and underdevelopment. Keep in mind that you might still be spending quite a bit since two African cities are in the global top 10. Dropping to the 6th spot from being the world's most expensive city in 2017, Luanda is followed by N'Djamena. It's worth noting that while fuel costs a little less than US$ 1 per litre in Luanda, a hamburger costs around US$ 12, a coffee around US$ 4, and a pair of blue jeans an average of US$ 110. The top 20 includes two more African cities, namely Libreville climbing up 14 places to the 18th spot, and Brazzaville climbing up 11 places to the 14th spot.

Middle East

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We could not conclude without mentioning the Middle East which attracts foreign professionals from around the world thanks to prosperous countries like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia offering plenty of career opportunities. Dubai remains the region's most expensive city, while Abu Dhabi (40th) and Riyadh (45th) remain affordable due decreasing rent prices, taking into account attractive expat packages. For example, the cost of a pair of blue jeans in Dubai is around US$ 150, which is even higher than in London, Singapore, or Hong Kong. Also in Dubai, count an average of US$ 7 for a hamburger and about the same price for a coffee. On the other hand, Tel Aviv ranks 16th globally while Cairo (188th) is the cheapest city in the Middle East.

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