Most expensive cities for expats in 2021

Most expensive cities for expats in 2021 – the topic of today.

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International consultancy Mercer (headquartered in New York) has published a study on the cost of living for expats in 2021.

Mercer’s study of more than 400 cities around the world compared the value of more than 200 items in each location, including housing, transportation, food, clothing, household goods, and entertainment. The results showed that more than half of the 10 most expensive cities for expatriates are located in Asia.

The capital of Turkmenistan in Central Asia is recognized as the most expensive city in the world for foreign workers. Ashgabat, a city with a population of about one million, has spearheaded a 2021 cost-of-living survey conducted by consulting firm Mercer.

So, Ashgabat unexpectedly took the first position. Mercer testified that over the past year, Ashgabat has soared in the ranking of high prices by five steps.

The company’s analysts explain this breakthrough by the fact that the country is going through a severe crisis. As a result, the cost of living here has increased significantly.

In the ranking, Ashgabat is above the most expensive city of last year – Hong Kong, which came in second, followed by Beirut in Lebanon and Tokyo in Japan.

In the annual report, more than 200 cities were ranked by the cost of expenses such as housing, food or transportation costs.

Expatriates or emigrants are people who live or work outside their countries.

Most of the cities in the Mercer Top 10 are business centers where economic growth has driven higher home prices and other living expenses.

But Ashgabat owes its high rating to economic problems, not prosperity, which makes it stand out.

For the third year in a row, Hong Kong has been holding the palm of questionable primacy. The city owes this to the political unrest, as well as the super-expensive real estate market.

In the top ten of the rating, in addition to the above three leading cities, there are three more Asian megacities: Singapore, Shanghai, and Beijing. In the overall results (indicated above), Shanghai and Beijing ranked sixth and ninth, respectively, up to one position from last year. In fact, the poll saw ratings rise in all cities in mainland China, especially Tianjin and Chengdu, which climbed 12 positions to 26 and 28, respectively. The reason cited in the report is “the appreciation of the currency against the US dollar and the rapid recovery from the impact of COVID-19.”

Switzerland has become the most disadvantageous country for foreign specialists to live in. Three of its cities are located on the steps of the top ten at once: Zurich, Bern, and Geneva.

Top 10 cities in Mercer’s 2021 cost of living ranking:

  1. Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
  2. Hong Kong
  3. Beirut, Lebanon
  4. Tokyo, Japan
  5. Zurich, Switzerland
  6. Shanghai, China
  7. Singapore
  8. Geneva, Switzerland
  9. Beijing, China
  10. Bern, Switzerland

In compiling the ranking, Mercer analysts took into account a number of factors that shape the cost of living. Including fluctuations in exchange rates, the impact of inflation on the prices of goods, services, and housing. Let’s now discover a little about these cities and their cost of living.

Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

The cost of living in Turkmenistan is $ 1,057, which is 1.43 times the world average. Turkmenistan ranked 55th out of 197 countries for the cost of living and 146th among countries with the best living standards.

The average salary after taxes in Turkmenistan is $ 370, which is enough to cover living expenses for 0.3 months.

Sot the life in Turkmenistan cost 2.9 times the average salary. Thus, the cost of living in Turkmenistan for local residents and expats differs significantly.

The main advantage of such a rapid development of Turkmenistan is the presence of oil and gas deposits on its territory. Thanks to investments from foreign investors in the development of this industry, Turkmenistan reached a fairly high standard of living in 2021.

This is evidenced by prices, living standards, availability of jobs, and well-organized work of all management personnel. Over a fairly short period, the government adopted many reforms.

The improvement in economic indicators occurred not only due to the availability of oil and gas but also due to the very successful development of the agricultural system. Turkmenistan is one of the largest suppliers of wheat and cotton. Beets account for a very large share of exports.

Today this republic is characterized by stability, balance, and very liberal views. The construction business is well developed in the country.

Honk Kong

Now Hong Kong is in the status of an autonomous territory under the control of China: the PRC government oversees defense and foreign policy issues, and legislation, monetary system, and immigration policy are the subject of local authorities’ concerns.

The cost of living in Hong Kong is undoubtedly high: according to some reports, the cost of living in the city is the highest in the world. For a number of years, including 2020, Hong Kong topped Mercer’s cost of living rankings. This is partly due to the region’s overblown real estate market, which is making it expensive to find housing.

Add to that the fact that most of the food and goods are imported, and you might find that Hong Kong essentials tend to be more expensive than other cities. However, the usually high salaries foreigners receive tend to offset these costs, and many feel that their quality of life is better than it was at home.

Housing in Hong Kong is really expensive and expats depending on their own needs can expect a higher salary to spend on an apartment. The older Chinese-style apartments, in particular, maybe more reasonably priced, but don’t afford the space that Western expats may be used to.

Public transport is cheap, clean and reliable. In comparison with that, owning and keeping that car in Hong Kong is also very expensive. Most people even think that they don’t need one in case they live in the city center, plus the cost and other not comfortable facts – generally not worth it.

Beirut, Lebanon

This beautiful country is as different as the people living there, Lebanon offers a non-ordinary experience of life as a crossroads between the Middle East and the Mediterranean.

Most expats working in Lebanon are employed by NGOS or within the diplomatic arena. Other specialists, who are expats there, can work in construction, architecture, or engineering. Tourism also offers different opportunities for expats in Lebanon.

New expats in Lebanon can find the cost of living in Beirut, Lebanon’s capital, really higher in comparison to other cities in the Middle East. The cost of housing, food, and energy largely can be considered as enough high.

Another expense that expats in Lebanon should know is the transportation price. There is a lack of public transport in Beirut, which leads to the use of a private car, which is also expensive.

Living expenses in Beirut are comparable to other cities, where the average monthly living expenses can range from $ 1,200 to $ 2,000.

The easiest way to find an apartment is online through agencies. The cheapest option is to rent a room in a shared apartment (on average $ 300 to $ 500 per month) to private rentals from $ 600 or more, depending on size and location.

The food cost differs depending on where you eat! Groceries are cheap if you buy ordinary Lebanese items; Western and Asian goods are expensive. Near Saifi, there are restaurants and shops where you can eat or buy food. In general, eating out costs $ 2 to $ 5 for a sandwich, and for lunch $ 8 or more.

Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo is notorious for its high cost of living, which is often a major concern for expats moving to the city. With the salaries offered in Tokyo, expats can still build a comfortable life here. ranked fourth out of 209 cities for expats ranked in the Mercer Cost of Living Survey. It is much more expensive.

The food standards are high enough. Delicious food can be found in every corner of the city. Competition between businesses is fierce, making it easy to find great deals on most dishes.

Surprisingly, food at a restaurant is usually cheaper than food in groceries. One of the most affordable options is bento boxes, which can be purchased in stores. Most department stores also have food courts on the basement floors that sell food at reasonable prices.

The price of fresh food in Tokyo is higher than some expats might be used to, but the quality and quality are top-notch. Seafood is relatively cheap. Many supermarkets offer evening discounts to get rid of daytime supplies.

The biggest expense for an expat in Tokyo is living. Apartments are the most popular type of housing for expats. Monthly rents can be sky-high for housing, which is often much less than expats are used to. Foreigners should also be aware that other fees apply when initially moving to a location.

Additional costs that need to be budgeted for include deposits, principal, first month’s rent in advance, and agency fees. Due to the high cost of parking in Tokyo, most expats prefer to use public transportation rather than have a car. Compared to other Asian capitals such as Seoul, public transport in Tokyo is expensive but extremely efficient.

Zurich, Switzerland

Zurich’s cost of living is also high, even according to the standards of expensive countries. In addition to accommodation, transportation, food, and education, expats will also have to pay various taxes, license fees, and insurance premiums.

However, its high cost of living is offset by high wages and good quality of life. It is important for expats to anticipate what their living expenses in Zurich will be so that they can negotiate a good salary and plan ahead. The cost of living in Zurich.

Most residents, including locals, rent their homes in Zurich, so competition for a relatively small amount of affordable properties is fierce. Foreigners could spend between a fifth and a third of their income on monthly rent. Renters have to pay their own utility bills, which are usually about 10 percent of the rent. TV and radio license fees are also worth considering when considering utility bills. Foreigners living in Zurich need to get used to recycling. The municipality levies a tax on residents for each garbage bag, and significant savings can be made by separating the garbage into plastic, glass, and aluminum and dumping it in free recycling sites around Zurich.

While Zurich’s public transport network is excellent and extensive, it doesn’t come cheap. Regular users should invest in monthly and yearly transport passes that will save them a significant amount of money in the long run.

Owning and maintaining a car in Zurich is very expensive and completely unnecessary for most expats. Public parking fees are increasing rapidly. Drivers also have to pay for parking in residential areas, so expats planning to get a car should check residential parking rates when they are looking for a home.

Shanghai, China

Shanghai is one of the most popular cities in China, which is eagerly visited by numerous tourists from all over the world. Some of them decide to go on a tourist trip, while others plan to stay there a little longer. Many people choose to study in this big city due to the large number of universities.

The cost of living in Shanghai is considered the highest in China and is the sixth most expensive city out of 209 cities for expatriates, according to the 2021 Mercer Cost of Living Survey.

Depending on the expat’s budget, some will naturally choose the more economical lifestyle in the city, while others will tend to live more extravagantly than at home, taking advantage of Shanghai’s luxury and famous nightlife. No matter which end of the spectrum an expat lives on, it is good to know the basic cost of living in Shanghai prior to arriving.

Renting a two-room apartment in downtown Shanghai usually costs between $ 582 – $ 1,400. For comparison: for the same apartment with similar conditions outside the center, you will pay from approximately 291 – 874 US dollars per month.

The taxi driver starts the course with an entry fee, which in Shanghai is about $ 2. The toll for each kilometer is approximately US $ 0.36. For example, if you drive 10 km, the taxi fare will be about $ 5.60. It is worth remembering that an hour of waiting for you with a taxi driver usually costs from approximately 4.40 – 8.70 US dollars.


Unfortunately, the cost of living in Singapore is rising. The good news is taxes are low, professional salaries tend to match the high cost of living, and expat packages can include perks such as transportation, school fees, and living allowances.

Expats who prefer to live in houses and bungalows can also look forward to big bucks. A large house can cost S $ 35,000 per month, while a three bedroom apartment will cost around S $ 3,000 per month.

Costs vary greatly depending on the age, condition, and location of housing, and it is clear that expats will get more return on their investment the further they live from the city center.

Depending on personal habits, grocery shopping can be frugal or extortionate. Foreigners who like to buy imported goods from home may be amazed at how quickly costs can add up. While Singapore offers many tempting options for delicious food, eating out can be costly. However, there are alternatives, and if expats prefer hawkers over restaurants, local food may be much more affordable.

Public transportation in Singapore is efficient and significantly less expensive than using personal transportation as EZ-Link passes provide good value for money. Owning a car in Singapore is more of a luxury than a necessity, and due to the high taxes levied on cars as well as parking costs, it can be an expensive luxury.

Geneva, Switzerland

As in all of Switzerland, the cost of living in Geneva is inevitably high. Fortunately, most expats are lured into the city with high salaries that offset the costs they may incur.

Accommodation is likely to be the biggest expense for an expat in this Swiss city. Geneva has a severe housing shortage and landlords may charge additional fees. The rent can be high even for a one-room apartment on the outskirts of the city. Landlords can also ask for up to three months’ rent as security.

Expats moving with their families to Geneva looking for a larger home may need to consider housing options abroad in France. Here they will find more options with slightly better rental rates.

While Geneva’s public transport infrastructure is extensive and efficient, it is not cheap at all. However, this remains cheaper than owning and maintaining a car in the city. There are various discounts available to reduce travel costs. The cheapest way to get around Geneva is by bike. The city is well equipped for cyclists and it is a fast, efficient and economical way of getting around.

The amount an expat spends on leisure activities will depend on their personal preference. There are great restaurants in Geneva, but restaurants, bars, and clubs are not cheap. Skiing can be quite expensive too, but there are plenty of free trails for hikers and bikers.

Beijing, China

The cost of living in Beijing is on par with many European capitals. As the cultural and political center of China, Beijing is not far behind Shanghai when it comes to the high cost of living.

In short, while life in China is generally more affordable than in other great economic powers, Beijing is not cheap – especially for expats who demand a certain level of comfort and luxury.

Many expats are attracted to Beijing’s lucrative pay packages to work in Beijing, and therefore costs are usually not a concern.

Living in Beijing will be the biggest expense for expats. Over the years, property prices have generally risen, and foreigners will find that buying and even renting a property in Beijing can cost a lot of money.

As a rule, the closer the house is to the city center, the more expensive it is. Beijing is organized along the ring roads, where the first ring road is closest to the city center. Despite the high cost of housing and education, food in Beijing is relatively cheap, including good quality food. Sure, there are many five-star establishments that can quickly drain a person’s funds, but dining at a decent restaurant for four can be perfectly reasonable.

For newcomers who are brave enough, the best and cheapest food often comes from the back streets; and often, eating out can be cheaper than preparing meals at home.

The cost of food will be significantly higher for expats who rely on Western food and rarely eat local Chinese food. Many foods that are considered staples in the Western diet are rarely found in Chinese food, such as cheese and bread.

Bern, Switzerland

Switzerland is almost as famous for its high cost as it is for its scenic ski slopes. The three Swiss cities ranked in the top 10 in the 2020 Mercer Cost of Living Survey – Zurich, Bern, and Geneva – and rural areas aren’t necessarily much cheaper.

On the other hand, wages and living standards in Bern are also among the highest in the world. And with efficient government services and well-maintained infrastructure, most expats find the high costs to be worth it.

Most people in Bern rent real estate, resulting in a shortage of available apartments. In many cases, it is also necessary to make a prepayment of three months. In Bern, garbage collection requires special garbage bags, the price of which depends on their size, so households that produce more garbage will pay more. Recycling is free of charge, and even expats with little concern for the environment can look forward to a greener life in Switzerland.

The extensive and efficient public transport system in Bern is unfortunately also quite expensive. Foreigners living in the city center and planning to commute regularly to work should consider buying a multiple-trip pass.

Car ownership in Switzerland is more expensive due to additional fees. Many who can drive without a car get by. In addition to the cost of importing, buying, or renting a vehicle, expats will have to pay for monthly insurance, Cantonese tax, parking permit, road sticker, and gasoline.

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