Dubai breaches into list of 20-most expensive cities for expats

It is followed closely by Abu Dhabi in 23rd place

DUBAI 22 June 2017: Dubai and Abu Dhabi are most expensive Arab cities for expatriate cost of living, according to Mercer’s 2017 Cost of Living Survey.

The global ranking sees Dubai climbing one place from last year to become the 20th most expensive city in the world, with Abu Dhabi just behind in 23rd place and two spots up from last year. The rise in the rankings follows the wider Middle Eastern trend of GCC countries becoming more expensive.

“Dubai and Abu Dhabi continue to rise in the global rankings in line with increasing cost of living indicators in the UAE. However, this year currency fluctuation was less of a factor in worldwide changes in the rankings, so the slight rise on the list represents a true increase in the cost of living in the UAE when compared to other cities globally,” said Nuno Gomes, Principal Information Solutions Leader at Mercer Middle East, North Africa and Turkey.

Nuno Gomes - Mercer's Information Solutions Leader for the Middle East

In addition to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, six other Middle Eastern cities appeared in the world’s top one hundred Mercer list, including Riyadh (52), Beirut (53), Manama (55), Amman (59), Doha (81) and Muscat (92). Manama, Bahrain climbed by the most spots among Middle Eastern cities, coming in at 16 places higher than last year, with Riyadh and Muscat also rising by five and two places respectively. Meanwhile, Beirut fell by two places, Amman by nine and Doha by five.

Middle Eastern cities that fell just outside of the global top one hundred include Jeddah (117), which rose by four places, as well as Kuwait City (111), Istanbul (142) and Cairo (183), which dropped by eight, 41 and 92 spots respectively. The plummet in Cairo’s ranking follows a major devaluation of its local currency, and the city now represents by far the least expensive city in this part of the world. The other least expensive cities in the region are Istanbul, Jeddah and Kuwait City.

Mercer Cost of Living Survey – Worldwide Rankings 2016

(The Mercer international basket, including rental accommodation costs)

Rank as of March City Country
2015 2016
2 1 HONG KONG Hong Kong
1 2 LUANDA Angola
3 3 ZURICH Switzerland
4 4 SINGAPORE Singapore
11 5 TOKYO Japan
13 6 KINSHASA Dem. Rep. of the Congo
6 7 SHANGHAI China
5 8 GENEVA Switzerland
10 9 NDJAMENA Chad
7 10 BEIJING China

Mercer 23rd annual Cost of Living Survey finds that factors like instability of housing markets and inflation for goods and services contribute to the overall cost of doing business in today’s global environment.

“Globalisation of the marketplace is well documented, with many companies operating in multiple locations around the world and promoting international assignments to enhance the experience of future managers. There are numerous personal and organisational advantages for sending employees overseas, whether for long- or short-term assignments, including career development by obtaining global experience, the creation and transfer of skills, and the re-allocation of resources,” said Ilya Bonic, Senior Partner and President of Mercer’s Career business.

Mercer survey is one of the world’s most comprehensive, and is designed to help multinational companies and governments determine compensation allowances for their expatriate employees. New York is used as the base city and all cities are compared against it. Currency movements are measured against the US dollar. The survey includes over 400 cities across five continents and measures the comparative cost of more than 200 items in each location, including housing, transportation, food, clothing, household goods, and entertainment.

Global Top List

At a global level, European and Asian cities continue to dominate the top of the list. This year’s most expensive city though is Luanda, Angola, back at the top spot which it also occupied in 2014 and 2015. The same cities remained at the Top 5, despite changes in ranking positions; Hong Kong, Tokyo, Zurich and Singapore complete the list of most expensive cities in the world.

The Americas

Cities in the United States are the most expensive locations in the Americas, topped by New York City (9), San Francisco (22) and Los Angeles (24), which climbed by two, four and three spots respectively. Among other major US cities, Chicago (32) is up two places, Boston (51) is down four places, and Seattle is up seven places. Portland (115) and Winston Salem (140) remain the least expensive surveyed cities for expatriates in the US, said the Mercer survey.

In South America, Brazilian cities Sao Paulo (27) and Rio de Janeiro (56) surged 101 and 100 spots, respectively due to the strengthening of the Brazilian real against the US dollar. Buenos Aires ranked 40 followed by Santiago (67) and Montevideo, Uruguay (65), which jumped forty-one and fifty-four places respectively. Other cities in South America that rose in the rankings include Lima (104) and Havana (151).

Dropping from 94th position, San Jose, Costa Rica (110) experienced the largest drop in the region as the US dollar strengthened against the Costa Rican colon. Caracas in Venezuela has been excluded from the ranking due to the complex currency situation. Depending on which exchange rate is being used, the city would arrive at the top or at the bottom of the ranking.

Up thirty-five places from last year, Vancouver (107) has overtaken Toronto (119) to become the most expensive Canadian city in the ranking, followed by Montreal (129) and Calgary (143). Ranking 152, Ottawa is the least expensive city in Canada.

Mercer Cost of Living Survey – Worldwide Rankings 2016

(The Mercer international basket, including rental accommodation costs)

Rank as of March City Country
2015 2016
180 200 LUSAKA Zambia
188 201 GABORONE Botswana
205 201 KARACHI Pakistan
204 203 TUNIS Tunisia
200 204 MINSK Belarus
191 205 JOHANNESBURG South Africa
186 206 BLANTYRE Malawi
207 207 BISHKEK Kyrgyzstan
200 208 CAPE TOWN South Africa
206 209 WINDHOEK Namibia

Europe and Africa

Only three European cities remain in the top 10 list of most expensive cities for expatriates.

Zurich (4) is still the most costly European city on the list, followed by Geneva (7) and Bern (10). Moscow (14) and St. Petersburg (36) surged fifty-three and one hundred and sixteen places from last year respectively due to the strong appreciation of the ruble against the US dollar and the cost of goods and services. Meanwhile, London (30), Aberdeen (146) and Birmingham (147) dropped thirteen, sixty-one and fifty-one spots respectively as a result of the pound weakening against the US dollar following the Brexit vote. Copenhagen (28) fell four places from 24 to 28. Oslo (46) is up thirteen spots from last year, while Paris fell eighteen places to rank 62.

Other Western European cities dropped in the rankings as well, mainly due to the weakening of local currencies against the US dollar. Vienna (78) and Rome (80) fell in the ranking by 24 and 22 spots, respectively. The German cities of Munich (98), Frankfurt (117), and Berlin (120) dropped significantly as did Dusseldorf (122) and Hamburg (125).

As a result of local currencies depreciating against the US dollar, some cities in Eastern and Central Europe, including Prague (132) and Budapest (176) fell in the ranking, while Minsk (200) and Kiev (163) jumped four and thirteen spots, respectively, despite stable accommodations in these locations.

Quite a few African cities continue to rank high in this year’s survey, reflecting high living costs and prices of goods for expatriate employees. Luanda (1) takes the top spot as the most expensive city for expatriates across Africa and globally despite its currency weakening against the US dollar. Luanda is followed by Victoria (14), Ndjamena (16), and Kinshasa (18). Tunis falls six spots to rank 209 as the least expensive city in the region and overall.

Asia Pacific

Five of the top 10 cities in this year’s ranking are in Asia. Hong Kong (2) is the most expensive city as a result of its currency pegged to the US dollar, which drove up the cost of accommodations locally. This global financial center is followed by Tokyo (3), Singapore (5), Seoul (6), and Shanghai (8).

Australian cities have all experienced further jumps up the global ranking since last year due to the strengthening of the Australian dollar. Sydney (25), Australia’s most expensive city for expatriates, gained seventeen places in the ranking along with Melbourne (46) and Perth (50) which went up 25 and 19 spots, respectively.

India’s most expensive city, Mumbai (57), climbed twenty-five places in the ranking due to its rapid economic growth, inflation on the goods and services basket and a stable currency against the US Dollar. This most populous city in India is followed by New Delhi (99) and Chennai (135) which rose in the ranking by thirty-one and twenty-three spots, respectively. Bengaluru (166) and Kolkata (184), the least expensive Indian cities, climbed in the ranking as well.

Elsewhere in Asia, Bangkok (67) jumped seven places from last year. Jakarta (88) and Hanoi (100) also rose in the ranking, up five and six places, respectively. Karachi (201) and Bishkek (208) remain the region’s least expensive cities for expatriates.

By Eudore R. Chand

Dubai Gazette