Most of the world's most expensive cities are in Asia

02 July 2021 3 min. read

Turkmenistan’s capital Ashgabat is now the world’s most expensive city to live in – according to Mercer’s latest global Cost of Living Index, which puts seven Asian cities among the top 10 most expensive worldwide.

From bread and gas to beer and blue jeans: Mercer’s Cost of Living Index takes into account various metrics of housing, transportation, food, clothing, household goods and entertainment to find the global cities that draw the highest spend from residents. New York is the base for comparison, while all currencies are weighed against the dollar.

The goal is to give multinational businesses an idea of how much it costs to transfer/relocate employees – and results from the last few years have shown that Asia is among the most expensive regions worldwide for workers. This year is no different – with Asia accounting for four of the top five cities on Mercer’s list. 

Mercer 2021 - Cost of living city ranking

Ashgabat in Turkmenistan placed as the second most expensive city last year, and has moved up to first this year – switching places with Hong Kong, which has dropped to second. In third place is Beirut – making a staggering 42-place jump on the list. 

A Mercer statement attributed Beirut’s rise to “a severe and extensive economic depression due to escalation of several crises — the country’s largest financial crisis, Covid-19 and the Port of Beirut explosion in 2020.” 

Tokyo comes next, making it four in four for Asia, while Zurich rounds off the top five as the first non-Asian city on the list. Sixth and seventh positions come back eastwards with Shanghai and Singapore, followed by Geneva, Beijing and Bern completing the top 10. 

“The survey saw a rise in rankings across all Mainland China cities, buoyed by currency appreciation against the US dollar and a swift recovery from the impact of Covid-19,” read the statement. Other examples include Shenzen (12th) and Guangzhou (17th), which saw jumps of one and three spots respectively. Seoul (11th) and Tel Aviv (15th) were other Asian cities to make the top 20. 

Rethinking mobility

The index clears up a relocation map for employers worldwide – at a time when the concept of relocation itself is under question. Mercer’s global mobility leader for Asia Pacific Julia Radchenko explained the transforming landscape of multinational workforces. 

“Across the region, companies are actively reassessing their talent and mobility strategies in light of the complex challenges brought on by Covid-19. Companies are realising more than ever that they need to diversify their mobility scenarios and related compensation practices.” 

“And it is no longer about just geographical mobility, it is about talent mobility which implies lateral moves, distributed workforce, geographical mobility, international remote working, virtual assignments, etc.”

“That said, international remote working arrangements bring with it other complexities such as determining the right compensation and whether such arrangements can fully replicate the importance and impact of having someone in a specific market,” she concluded – highlighting the nuanced challenges ahead.