Each year sees the release of several different surveys and reports ranking the most expensive cities in the world – and they’re not always in agreement. Different surveys take different factors into account.
But the same cities tend to pop up on most lists, providing a fairly definitive picture of those with the highest cost of living.
In March 2018, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) released the 5th installment of its annual study of the global cost of living, the Worldwide Cost of Living Survey, and ranked Singapore the most expensive city in the world for the fifth year running.
Singapore also came fourth in the Mercer Cost of Living Survey 2018. This South-East Asia city state – which is also a province and a country – has a high level of expensive foreign workers, which means demand for accommodation and imported produce is high.
The majority of purchases and services, including entertainment, clothing and groceries, are more expensive in Paris than in any other EU city, with a couple of exceptions: tobacco and wine. A standard bottle of table wine in Paris cost an average $10.35, compared to $23.68 in Singapore and $26.54 in Seoul. So living in one of the biggest wine-producing nations has benefits for all the wine drinkers out there.
Both the Worldwide Cost of Living Survey and the Mercer Cost of Living survey found Zurich to be the world’s third most expensive city. And other surveys rank this Swiss city even higher for overall cost of living, such as the UBS Price and Earnings Survey 2018, which measures how much people earn and how much the items in their average shopping basket cost, relative to New York City. The most recent results place Zurich in second place, after Los Angeles.
Hong Kong, China
Hong Kong topped the Mercer Cost of Living Survey, which is designed to show the cost of living for expatriates and takes into consideration housing as well as a 200-strong “international basket of goods and services,” including clothing, food, transportation and entertainment.
Hong Kong, which also came fourth in the Worldwide Cost of Living Survey, is particularly expensive when it comes to housing, ranking as the least affordable city for housing in the world for eight years running, according to the annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey.
Low inflation caused Japan’s capital city Tokyo to drop out of the top 10 of the Worldwide Cost of Living Survey in 2018 – it was the EIU’s most expensive city in the world until 2013 – but it came second in the Mercer Cost of Living Survey.
This was a movement upward of one position from the previous year, despite a weakening of the national currency, the yen, against the dollar. Taking into account hundreds of common expenses, such as accommodation, transport, clothes, food, entertainment and gas, Tokyo is a pretty pricey place to live.
The Norwegian capital Oslo came fifth in the Worldwide Cost of Living Survey, and car drivers in particular feel the pinch of living in this city. Despite being an oil-producing country, Norway has the highest gas prices in the world.
However, there are many financial benefits to living in Oslo. Unemployment is low, wages are high and – according to the International Monetary Fund – Norway ranks as one of the wealthiest nations in the world in monetary value, with rich resources of oil, natural gas, forests, minerals and hydroelectric power.
Another costly Swiss city is Geneva, which came sixth in the Worldwide Cost of Living Survey. Despite ranking as more affordable overall than Zurich in this survey, the USB Price and Earnings Survey 2018 found that Geneva is more expensive when it comes to food, with a European family of three paying an average $705.80 a month for food, compared to $629.30 in Zurich. Housing is also an average of $240 more expensive per month in Geneva than Zurich.
Seoul, South Korea
The Worldwide Cost of Living Survey found Seoul to be the world’s seventh most expensive city – a climb of 43 places in just five years – while it ranked fifth in the Mercer survey.
According to analysts, the South Korean capital is particularly expensive for buying everyday food items, clothes and apparel – around 50 percent pricier than in New York City. Seoul’s high prices may be due to the strength of the won (the South Korean currency) and high tariffs on imports.
Ranking eighth on the Worldwide Cost of Living Survey, the Danish capital city Copenhagen has a reputation for expensive clothes, personal grooming, beer and even soda – in 2017, two liters of Coca-Cola was 141 percent more expensive in Copenhagen than in New York City.
However, Denmark consistently ranks highly on the World Happiness Report, and you can’t put a price tag on happiness, right?
Buenos Aires, Argentina
The Argentinian capital and fifth largest city in South America didn’t feature in the top 10 of the Worldwide Cost of Living Survey or the Mercer Cost of Living Survey, but the USB survey found Buenos Aires to be the most expensive place to live for one particular group: millennials.
They reached this conclusion by comparing the prices of millennial “essentials,” such as iPhones, avocados, jeans, sneakers, Big Macs and coffee, in cities across the world. If you’re planning a move to Buenos Aires, buy your iPhone X before you go – it costs a staggering $2,244 there, almost double than it does anywhere else.
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