Singapore has dropped out of the top 20 most expensive locations in the world for expatriates, ranking 21st out of over 260 cities – the lowest it has featured since 2014. This was one of the findings of the latest cost of living research published by ECA International, the world’s leading provider of knowledge, information and software for the management and assignment of employees around the world. Singapore has dropped five places since 2016, having been overtaken in the rankings by cities such as Tel Aviv and Copenhagen. “European currencies have performed very strongly over the past 12 months, outpacing many other currencies in the world – including the Singapore dollar,” said Lee Quane, Regional Director – Asia, ECA International. “This has resulted in Singapore slipping down the rankings slightly, with some of the more expensive European cities rising above it in the table.”

ECA International has been conducting research into cost of living for over 45 years. It carries out two cost of living surveys per year to help companies calculate cost of living allowances so that their employees’ spending power is not compromised while on international assignment. The surveys compare a basket of like-for-like consumer goods and services commonly purchased by assignees in 470 locations worldwide*. Certain living costs, such as accommodation rental, utilities, car purchases and school fees are usually covered by separate allowances. Data for these costs are collected separately and are not included in ECA’s cost of living basket.

Asia Pacific highlights:
Asian cities lead the way as the most expensive locations to live in, with over half of the top 50 most expensive locations surveyed this year being in Asia. A total of 26 of the top 50 entries were Asian cities, with 14 Chinese cities alone featured on the list. This compares with just four EU cities and three US making it into the top 50.

In Japan, Tokyo has fallen seven places and relinquished the global top spot in the process – falling to eighth in the table. Despite this, Tokyo remains the most expensive location for expatriates in the Asia Pacific region. Other Japanese cities have performed similarly – with Yokohama, Nagoya and Osaka all dropping out of the top ten. Quane said, “Japanese cities have dropped in the rankings as the yen has weakened in the last year. However, with four cities in the global top 20 Japan is still an expensive place for expatriates.”

Hong Kong is once again one of the top ten most expensive locations in the world for expatriates, ranking ninth out of the 262 cities included in our rankings. “Hong Kong now has the second highest cost of living of any city in the Asia-Pacific region, up from fifth this time last year,” Quane said. “Although Hong Kong briefly dropped out of the top ten last year, it has generally risen in the ECA global rankings over the past five years and has now reclaimed its place in the top ten most expensive cities.”

Singapore’s neighbours rank among the world’s cheapest locations. Although Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, claims the status as Asia’s cheapest location, it is closely followed by locations in Malaysia – with Kuala Lumpur down to 213th in the global rankings. “This highlights the curiosity of managing the movement of people in Asia for many companies and their HR departments,” added Quane. “Asia is home to some of the world’s most expensive locations as well its cheapest. This level of variety is only matched in Africa which is home to both the world’s most expensive location and its cheapest.” Ulaanbaatar is joined by Johor Bahru, George Town (Penang), Yangon and Karachi in making up the cheapest locations in Asia, with all these locations falling in our global rankings over the past 12 months.

Elsewhere in Asia, the newly introduced GST tax in India seems to have had little impact on the cost of living in Indian cities. All Indian locations that were surveyed have risen slightly from their positions in the 2016 survey, but the highest-placed location remains New Delhi in 166th place. Quane said, “When a new tax is introduced prices do not always rise overnight. The introduction of national goods and services tax in India to replace a range of central and state taxes seems to have had little impact on the costs overall.”

Global highlights:
Luanda returns to the top spot, Khartoum rises over 200 places in five years and UK cities continue to fall Luanda has returned to the top of ECA’s global rankings this year. The Angolan capital has been consistently in the top five most expensive cities since 2012. “The cost of goods typically purchased by international assignees in Luanda, which was already high due to poor infrastructure and significant oil-fuelled demand, continues to be pushed even higher. The Angolan kwanza is increasingly overvalued, which pushes up relative costs; while the ongoing weakness of the black-market exchange rate has also inflated the price of imported goods,” said Quane.

Khartoum, Sudan, is up to second place on the list of most expensive cities and has risen by 224 places in just five years, as currency shortages and rising prices continue to take effect on the African nation. Central London has slipped down the rankings and is now the 139th most expensive location for expatriates, down 36 places on the 2016 survey and falling 78 places in five years. Other UK cities have shown the same trend, with the next most expensive cities, Edinburgh and Manchester, dropping to 163rd and 173rd respectively.


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