New York City

Most Expensive Cities to Live in the World – 2023

ECA International’s latest Cost of Living report revealed the most expensive cities to live in 2023. Following a four-year reign, Hong Kong (2nd) loses the top spot to New York.

Geneva remains the most expensive location in Europe and the third most expensive in the world for expatriates.

London has retained its title as the fourth most expensive location in the world for expatriates.

Elsewhere in the UK, Birmingham (115th), Cardiff (118th) and Belfast (123rd) have fallen outside the top 100 most expensive cities in the world, with Birmingham falling 16 places, just one place above St Petersburg, Russia.

Steven Kilfedder, Head of Production at ECA International, said: “The cost of living crisis in the UK persists, with rising costs driven primarily by food, utilities, and housing prices. Despite these challenges, all UK cities bar London have experienced a decline in the global ranking. This can largely be attributed to the weakness of the pound, which has made the country cheaper for people coming to the UK from other countries.”

ECA International has researched the cost of living globally for 50 years. It carries out two main surveys per year to help companies assess living costs around the world as part of salary calculations for cross-border moves. The surveys compare a basket of like-for-like consumer goods and services commonly purchased by assignees in over 500 locations worldwide, such as coffee, sugar and eggs. ECA’s accommodation data is also factored in, comparing rental costs in areas typically inhabited by expatriate staff in over 430 locations worldwide.

According to its latest report, food prices globally have risen by around 15% on average in the last year, more than twice the rate of last year. In the UK, food prices rose faster than the global average, up almost 20%. There were rises across the basket of goods, but particularly large ones included ketchup (up 45%), cooking oil (up 80%) and eggs (up 36%). By comparison food prices rose around 10% in the US and France and 13% in Germany.

Mixed trends in European cities

More than half (54%) of European cities have moved up in the Cost of Living ranking, driven by high rates of inflation. The top five is dominated by Switzerland, with Geneva retaining its position as the most expensive city for expatriates, followed by London, Zurich, Bern, and Copenhagen. Zurich, Switzerland, has risen one place globally, becoming the sixth most expensive city in the world.

While in Norway, both Oslo and Stavanger fell nine and 14 places respectively to 28th and 40th positions. Similarly in Sweden, Stockholm and Gothenburg fell 10 and nine places and rank 46th and 86th in the world.

Within the Eurozone, nearly two-thirds of locations (61%) have risen in rank, including Dublin which has risen six places to 38th position due to high inflation. France is one of the exceptions as all surveyed French cities have seen marginally lower inflation than many other cities using the euro.

“These developments across Europe highlight the dynamics influencing the cost of living in different regions,” Kilfedder added. “Our Cost of Living rankings are affected by two factors: prices and exchange rates. Even when prices are rising quickly as they are in much of Europe, a city can become comparatively cheaper for visitors if the currency is weaker. This is the case for Norwegian and Swedish cities, where the inflation rates peaked at around 10%, but their rankings have plummeted by an average of 10 places due to the weakening of their respective currencies,” he explained.

European top 20 most expensive locations for expatriates

Location
Country
2023 European ranking
2022 European ranking
Geneva
Switzerland
1
1
London
United Kingdom
2
2
Zurich
Switzerland
3
3
Bern
Switzerland
4
4
Copenhagen
Denmark
5
5
Moscow
Russia
6
18
Oslo
Norway
7
6
Luxembourg City
Luxembourg
8
10
Dublin
Irish Republic
9
13
Amsterdam
Netherlands
10
14
Stavanger
Norway
11
7
Vienna
Austria
12
12
Paris
France
13
11
The Hague
Netherlands
14
15
Stockholm
Sweden
15
9
Munich
Germany
16
16
Reykjavik
Iceland
17
8
Helsinki
Finland
18
17
Berlin
Germany
19
22
Frankfurt
Germany
20
19
 

Impact of Russian invasion of Ukraine on cost of living

 

The ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine continues to impact the cost of living in the warring countries themselves, the wider region and around the world. Despite Western sanctions, the Russian rouble has rebounded in the past year, pushing Moscow up 37 places to become the 25th most expensive location in the world.

Accommodation costs in locations where many Ukrainian refugees have fled the war have surged, making these cities more expensive for everyone including expatriates. Polish cities have seen the biggest impact, with colossal rises in rental prices of between 25% and 50%, which have pushed Krakow up 23 places in the global rankings to 178th and Warsaw up 11 places to 158th.

The same scenario has happened for Russians fleeing to cities such as Dubai, Yerevan, Nicosia and Tbilisi, in order to avoid possible mobilisation as a result of the war. Rents in Dubai, UAE, rose by almost a third (30%), pushing the city up to 12th in the global rankings, while rents also rose by more than a fifth in Tbilisi, Georgia – as supply could not rise to meet the increased demand from Russian expatriates. The Georgian city rose 65 places to 102nd in the ranking thanks to a stronger currency that also contributed to making the city more expensive for visitors.

Rapid rise in Istanbul’s rankings

Istanbul is the biggest riser in this year’s rankings, up 95 places to 108th due to a myriad of factors. Kilfedder explained: “While the city has been impacted by the war in Ukraine, the main reason behind prices increasing by over 80% is the economic policies of the recently re-elected President Erdogan. Rents have also gone up partly due to increased demand from displaced Turkish nationals after February’s earthquake.”

Global top 20 most expensive locations for expatriates

Location
Country
2023 global ranking
2022 global ranking
New York
United States of America
1
2
Hong Kong
Hong Kong
2
1
Geneva
Switzerland
3
3
London
United Kingdom
4
4
Singapore
Singapore
5
13
Zurich
Switzerland
6
7
San Francisco
United States of America
7
11
Tel Aviv
Israel
8
6
Seoul
Korea Republic
9
10
Tokyo
Japan
10
5
Bern
Switzerland
11
16
Dubai
United Arab Emirates
12
23
Shanghai
China
13
8
Guangzhou
China
14
9
Los Angeles
United States of America
15
21
Shenzhen
China
16
12
Beijing
China
17
14
Copenhagen
Denmark
18
18
Abu Dhabi
United Arab Emirates
19
22
Chicago
United States of America
20
25

 

Cities in Western and Eastern hemispheres travel opposite ways in ranking

In North America, rankings for all US cities have risen this year, primarily driven by the strength of the US dollar. New York has overtaken Hong Kong as the most expensive location in the world for expatriates, having experienced higher rates of inflation and rental price increases compared to other US cities. Meanwhile in Canada, Vancouver is still the most expensive city in the country, climbing three places to 30th in the world.

The biggest riser in the region was Mexico City, which rose 50 places into the top 100 at 92nd most expensive in the world. The strength of the peso and high inflation made the city considerably more expensive for expatriates.

In South America, financial difficulties in Argentina have led to serious economic problems. Buenos Aires rose eight places to become the 29th most expensive location in the world. Kilfedder explained: “The rise in Buenos Aires’ ranking is due to a soaring inflation rate of over 100% during the survey period. The complexities of multiple exchange rates, an overvalued peso, and a burgeoning black market all reflect the uncertainty and fragility of the Argentinian economy, impacting various aspects of daily life.”

In Asia, Hong Kong’s fall in the ranking was matched by nearly all major locations in the region. Singapore, Seoul and Yangon were among the exceptions, with Singapore having leapt up into the top five most expensive cities in the world, up from 13th position in 2022.

Contrary to last year, Chinese cities have dropped further down in the ranking due to the weaker Chinese yuan against other currencies and a lower rate of inflation compared to other countries. Shanghai and Guangzhou, remain the most expensive cities in China, but have fallen out of the global top 10, ranking as the 13th and 14th most expensive cities in the world for expatriates.

In Japan, all cities have dropped in the latest ranking as the Japanese yen weakened. Tokyo, which was consistently amongst the top five globally in recent years, has dropped five places to the 10th globally.

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