October 27, 2021

CFOs: Most expensive Asian cities for expatriates in 2020

a photo depicting the Hong Kong skyline

CFOs: Most expensive Asian cities for expatriates in 2020

By DigitalCFO Asia

Date: 14th June 2020


Hong Kong has once again emerged as the most expensive city for expatriates in 2020, according to Mercer’s 2020 Cost of Living Survey. Hong Kong retains its number one position from 2019, despite facing disruptions from the on-going protests and the current COVID-19 pandemic. The sky high housing cost in Hong Kong remains a big factor in Hong Kong topping the rankings for the third consecutive year.

The survey was conducted in March 2020. With China’s passing of the National Security Law in Hong Kong, and Donald Trump’s threat on removing Hong Kong’s special status, it might lead to an exodus of US & European expatriates from Hong Kong. This could very likely results in lesser demand and potentially lowering housing costs for expatriates in Hong Kong.

Asia provides six of the top 10 cities this year, with Ashgabat (Turkmenistan) enjoying a meteoric rise climbing up to second, it was only ranked 43rd in 2018. Tokyo is 3rd, Singapore 5th with Shanghai & Beijing rounding off the top 10 in 7th & 10th respectively. Tokyo dropped one place to 3rd, while Singapore dropped 2 places to 5th.

Ashgabat’s rise on the rankings is most surprising. The city is most well-known for its flashy and expensive architecture, with over 500 white marble buildings located in the city. The city is facing an economic crisis with hyperinflation rate (8%) pushing up the costs of goods and services, resulting in a rapid rise in cost of living for expatriates.

Switzerland has 3 cities in the top 10: Zurich (4th), Bern (8th) & Geneva (10th), cementing itself as the most expensive country to work in outside Asia.

The current COVID-19 global pandemic will definitely shake things up for 2021. If you factor in the current political instability in the world (USA vs China, China vs Australia, China vs India, etc), it is very likely that the rankings will look very different in 2021, resulting in a new status quo for 2021.


Subscribe to Digital CFO Asia today!