Continued Demand for Mobility in the Global Workforce Challenged by Cost of Expatriate Packages

Hong Kong leads as Kinshasa makes big jump up the ranking ladder in Mercer’s 22nd annual Cost of Living Survey

NEW YORK--()--Despite volatile global markets and growing security issues, organizations continue to leverage global expansion strategies to remain competitive and to grow. Yet, few organizations are prepared for the challenges world events have on their business, including the impact on cost of expatriate packages. Mercer’s 22nd annual Cost of Living Survey finds that factors including currency fluctuations, cost inflation for goods and services, and instability of accommodation prices, contribute to the cost of expatriate packages for employees on international assignments.

“Despite technology advances and the rise of a globally connected workforce, deploying expatriate employees remains an increasingly important aspect of a competitive multinational company’s business strategy,” said Ilya Bonic, Senior Partner and President of Mercer’s Talent business. “However, with volatile markets and stunted economic growth in many parts of the world, a keen eye on cost efficiency is essential, including a focus on expatriate remuneration packages. As organizations’ appetite to rapidly grow and scale globally continues, it is necessary to have accurate and transparent data to compensate fairly for all types of assignments, including short-term and local plus status.”

According to Mercer’s 2016 Cost of Living Survey, Hong Kong tops the list of most expensive cities for expatriates, pushing Luanda, Angola to second position. Zurich and Singapore remain in third and fourth positions, respectively, whereas Tokyo is in fifth, up six places from last year. Kinshasa, ranked sixth, appears for the first time in the top 10, moving up from thirteenth place.

Other cities appearing in the top 10 of Mercer’s costliest cities for expatriates are Shanghai (7), Geneva (8), N’Djamena (9), and Beijing (10). The world’s least expensive cities for expatriates, according to Mercer’s survey, are Windhoek (209), Cape Town (208), and Bishkek (207).

Mercer's widely recognized survey is one of the world’s most comprehensive, and is designed to help multinational companies and governments determine compensation strategies for their expatriate employees. New York City is used as the base city for all comparisons and currency movements are measured against the US dollar. The survey includes over 375 cities throughout the world; this year’s ranking includes 209 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.

“Maximizing return on investment with fewer resources and talent shortages worldwide makes growth initiatives more difficult for multinationals,” said Mr. Bonic. “Organizations must ensure they can facilitate the moves they need to drive business results by offering fair and competitive compensation packages.”

Mr. Bonic added that costs of goods and services shift with inflation and currency volatility making overseas assignment costs sometimes greater and sometimes smaller. Low levels of inflation have translated into fairly steady cost increases around the world.

The Americas

Cities in the United States have climbed in the ranking due to the strength of the US dollar against other major currencies, in addition to the significant drop of cities in other regions which resulted in US cities being pushed up the list. New York is up five places to rank 11, the highest-ranked city in the region. San Francisco (26) and Los Angeles (27) climbed eleven and nine places, respectively, from last year while Seattle (83) jumped twenty-three places. Among other major US cities, Honolulu (37) is up fifteen places, Washington, DC (38) is up twelve places, and Boston (47) is up seventeen spots. Portland (117) and Winston Salem, North Carolina (147) remain the least expensive US cities surveyed for expatriates.

Nathalie Constantin-Métral, Principal at Mercer with responsibility for compiling the survey ranking, said, “Despite mild price increases overall, most cities in the US have climbed in the ranking, primarily due to a strong US dollar.”

In South America, Buenos Aires (41) ranked as the costliest city despite a twenty-two place drop from last year. San Juan, Puerto Rico (67) follows as the second most expensive location in the region, climbing twenty-two spots. The majority of other cities in South America fell as a result of weakening currencies against the US dollar despite price increases on goods and services in countries, such as Brazil, Argentina, or Uruguay. In particular, São Paolo (128) and Rio de Janeiro (156) plummeted eighty-eight and eighty-nine places, respectively, despite a strong increase for goods and services. Lima (141) dropped nineteen places while Bogota (190) fell forty-two places. Managua (192) is the least expensive city in South America. Caracas in Venezuela has been excluded from the ranking due to the complex currency situation; its ranking would have varied greatly depending on the official exchange rate selected.

Canadian cities continued to drop in this year’s ranking mainly due to the weak Canadian dollar. The country’s highest-ranked city, Vancouver (142), fell twenty-three places. Toronto (143) dropped seventeen spots, while Montreal (155) and Calgary (162) fell fifteen and sixteen spots, respectively.

Europe, the Middle East, and Africa

Two European cities are among the top 10 list of most expensive cities. At number three in the global ranking, Zurich remains the most costly European city, followed by Geneva (8), down three spots from last year. The next European city in the ranking, Bern (13), is down four places from last year following the weakening of the Swiss franc against the US dollar.

Several cities across Europe remained relatively steady due to the stability of the euro against the US dollar. Paris (44), Milan (50), Vienna (54), and Rome (58) are relatively unchanged compared to last year, while Copenhagen (24) and St. Petersburg (152) stayed in the same place.

Other cities, including Oslo (59) and Moscow (67), plummeted twenty-one and seventeen places, respectively, as a result of local currencies losing significant value against the US dollar. London (17) and Birmingham, UK (96) dropped five and sixteen places, respectively, while the German cities of Munich (77), Frankfurt (88), and Dusseldorf (107) climbed in the ranking.

“Despite some marked price increases across the region, several local currencies in Europe have weakened against the US dollar which pushed a few cities down in the ranking,” explained Ms. Constantin-Métral. “Additionally, other factors like recent security issues, social unrest, and concern about the economic outlook have impacted the region.”

A few cities in Eastern and Central Europe climbed in the ranking as well, including Kiev (176) and Tirana (186) rising eight and twelve spots, respectively.

Tel Aviv (19) continues to be the most expensive city in the Middle East for expatriates, followed by Dubai (21), Abu Dhabi (25), and Beirut (50). Jeddah (121) remains the least expensive city in the region despite rising thirty places. “Several cities in the Middle East experienced a jump in the ranking, as they are being pushed up by other locations’ decline, as well as the strong increase for expatriate rental accommodation costs, particularly in Abu Dhabi and Jeddah,” said Ms. Constantin-Métral.

Despite dropping off the top spot on the global list, Luanda, Angola (2) remains the highest ranking city in Africa. Kinshasa (6) follows, rising seven places since 2015. Moving up one spot, N’Djamena (9) is the next African city on the list, followed by Lagos, Nigeria (13) which is up seven places. Dropping three spots, Windhoek (209) in Namibia ranks as the least expensive city in the region and globally.

Asia Pacific

This year, Hong Kong (1) emerged as the most expensive city for expatriates both in Asia and globally as a consequence of Luanda’s drop in the ranking due to the weakening of its local currency. Singapore (4) remained steady while Tokyo (5) climbed six places. Shanghai (7) and Beijing (10) follow. Shenzhen (12) is up two places while Seoul (15) and Guangzhou, China (18) dropped seven and three spots, respectively.

“The strengthening of the Japanese yen pushed Japanese cities up in the ranking,” said Ms. Constantin-Métral. “However, Chinese cities fell in the ranking due to the weakening of the Chinese yuan against the US dollar.”

Mumbai (82) is India’s most expensive city, followed by New Delhi (130) and Chennai (158). Kolkata (194) and Bangalore (180) are the least expensive Indian cities ranked. Elsewhere in Asia, Bangkok (74), Kuala Lumpur (151) and Hanoi (106) plummeted twenty-nine, thirty-eight, and twenty places, respectively. Baku (172) had the most drastic fall in the ranking, plummeting more than one hundred places. The city of Ashkhabad in Turkmenistan climbed sixty-one spots to rank 66 globally.

Australian cities have witnessed some of the most dramatic falls in the ranking this year as the local currency has depreciated against the US dollar. Brisbane (96) and Canberra (98) dropped thirty and thirty-three spots, respectively, while Sydney (42), Australia’s most expensive ranked city for expatriates, experienced a relatively moderate drop of eleven places. Melbourne fell twenty-four spots to rank 71.

Mercer produces individual cost of living and rental accommodation cost reports for each city surveyed. For more information on city rankings, visit To purchase copies of individual city reports, visit or call Mercer Client Services in Warsaw on +48 22 434 5383.

Notes for editors

The list of rankings is provided to journalists for reference and should not be published in full. The top 10 and bottom 10 cities may be reproduced in a table.

The figures for Mercer’s cost of living and rental accommodation costs comparisons are derived from a survey conducted in March 2016. Exchange rates from that time and Mercer’s international basket of goods and services from its Cost of Living survey have been used as base measurements.

Governments and major companies use data from this survey to protect the purchasing power of their employees when transferred abroad; rental accommodation costs data is used to assess local expatriate housing allowances. The choice of cities surveyed is based on the demand for data.

About Mercer

Mercer is a global consulting leader in talent, health, retirement and investments. Mercer helps clients around the world advance the health, wealth and careers of their most vital asset – their people. Mercer’s more than 20,000 employees are based in 43 countries and the firm operates in over 140 countries. Mercer is a wholly owned subsidiary of Marsh & McLennan Companies (NYSE: MMC), a global professional services firm offering clients advice and solutions in the areas of risk, strategy and people. With annual revenue of $13 billion and 60,000 colleagues worldwide, Marsh & McLennan Companies is also the parent company of Marsh, a leader in insurance broking and risk management; Guy Carpenter, a leader in providing risk and reinsurance intermediary services; and Oliver Wyman, a leader in management consulting. For more information, visit Follow Mercer on Twitter @Mercer.

Mercer also provides advice and market data on international and expatriate compensation management, and works with multinational companies and governments worldwide. It maintains one of the most comprehensive databases on international assignment policies; compensation practices; and data on worldwide cost of living, housing, and hardship allowances. Its annual global mobility conferences and other events provide companies with the latest trends and research on mobility issues. Visit for details. Follow Mercer’s mobility news on Twitter @MercerMobility.

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
16   11   NEW YORK CITY   United States
14   12   SHENZHEN   China
9   13   BERN   Switzerland
20   13   LAGOS   Nigeria
8   15   SEOUL   South Korea
17   16   VICTORIA   Seychelles
12   17   LONDON   United Kingdom
15   18   GUANGZHOU   China
18   19   TEL AVIV   Israel
35   20   ABUJA   Nigeria
23   21   DUBAI   United Arab Emirates
32   22   OSAKA   Japan
42   23   BRAZZAVILLE   Congo
24   24   COPENHAGEN   Denmark
33   25   ABU DHABI   United Arab Emirates
37   26   SAN FRANCISCO   United States
36   27   LOS ANGELES   United States
30   28   LIBREVILLE   Gabon
26   29   NANJING   China
27   30   TIANJIN   China
21   31   SHENYANG   China
39   32   NOUMEA   New Caledonia
24   33   QINGDAO   China
29   34   CHENGDU   China
42   34   CHICAGO   United States
22   36   CONAKRY   Guinea
52   37   HONOLULU   United States
50   38   WASHINGTON   United States
28   39   YANGON   Myanmar
55   40   DJIBOUTI   Djibouti
19   41   BUENOS AIRES   Argentina
31   42   SYDNEY   Australia
41   43   TAIPEI   Taiwan
46   44   PARIS   France
56   45   MIAMI   United States
63   45   DHAKA   Bangladesh
49   47   DUBLIN   Ireland
62   47   ACCRA   Ghana
64   47   BOSTON   United States
44   50   BEIRUT   Lebanon
53   50   MILAN   Italy
54   50   AMMAN   Jordan
60   50   YAOUNDE   Cameroon
56   54   VIENNA   Austria
80   54   NAGOYA   Japan
58   56   ABIDJAN   Côte d'Ivoire
71   57   RIYADH   Saudi Arabia
59   58   ROME   Italy
38   59   OSLO   Norway
76   60   PORT OF SPAIN   Trinidad & Tobago
71   61   WHITE PLAINS   United States
77   62   DALLAS   United States
    62   BANGUI   Central African Republic
67   64   HELSINKI   Finland
69   64   AMSTERDAM   Netherlands
127   66   ASHKHABAD   Turkmenistan
50   67   MOSCOW   Russia
89   67   SAN JUAN   Puerto Rico
48   69   PERTH   Australia
78   70   DOUALA   Cameroon
47   71   MELBOURNE   Australia
88   71   MORRISTOWN   United States
91   71   MANAMA   Bahrain
45   74   BANGKOK   Thailand
92   75   HOUSTON   United States
99   76   DOHA   Qatar
87   77   MUNICH   Germany
103   78   ATLANTA   United States
83   79   DAKAR   Senegal
75   80   MANILA   Philippines
104   81   PANAMA CITY   Panama
74   82   MUMBAI   India
106   83   SEATTLE   United States
106   84   STOCKHOLM   Sweden
82   85   ABERDEEN   United Kingdom
94   86   LUXEMBOURG   Luxembourg
102   86   BRUSSELS   Belgium
79   88   BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN   Brunei
90   88   HO CHI MINH CITY   Vietnam
98   88   FRANKFURT   Germany
115   91   MINNEAPOLIS   United States
120   91   CAIRO   Egypt
99   93   JAKARTA   Indonesia
110   94   SAN JOSE COSTA RICA   Costa Rica
117   94   MUSCAT   Oman
66   96   BRISBANE   Australia
80   96   BIRMINGHAM   United Kingdom
61   98   AUCKLAND   New Zealand
65   98   CANBERRA   Australia
106   100   BERLIN   Germany
99   101   ISTANBUL   Turkey
71   102   ADELAIDE   Australia
117   103   KUWAIT CITY   Kuwait
122   103   DETROIT   United States
115   105   MADRID   Spain
86   106   HANOI   Vietnam
114   107   DUSSELDORF   Germany
70   108   SANTIAGO   Chile
130   108   ST. LOUIS   United States
124   110   BARCELONA   Spain
133   110   CLEVELAND   United States
130   112   PITTSBURGH   United States
124   113   HAMBURG   Germany
111   114   RIGA   Latvia
120   115   BAMAKO   Mali
104   116   NAIROBI   Kenya
135   117   PORTLAND   United States
142   118   PHNOM PENH   Cambodia
83   119   MONTEVIDEO   Uruguay
109   119   GLASGOW   United Kingdom
151   121   JEDDAH   Saudi Arabia
111   122   POINTE A PITRE   Guadeloupe
83   123   WELLINGTON   New Zealand
133   124   COTONOU   Benin
142   124   PRAGUE   Czech Rep.
149   126   GUATEMALA CITY   Guatemala
154   127   QUITO   Ecuador
40   128   SAO PAULO   Brazil
139   129   STUTTGART   Germany
132   130   NEW DELHI   India
140   130   CASABLANCA   Morocco
144   132   LOME   Togo
147   132   LYON   France
127   134   BELFAST   United Kingdom
145   134   LISBON   Portugal
137   136   BRATISLAVA   Slovakia
136   137   ATHENS   Greece
162   137   TASHKENT   Uzbekistan
97   139   KIGALI   Rwanda
129   139   COLOMBO   Sri Lanka
122   141   LIMA   Peru
119   142   VANCOUVER   Canada
126   143   TORONTO   Canada
162   143   ADDIS ABABA   Ethiopia
96   145   PORT AU PRINCE   Haiti
153   146   OUAGADOUGOU   Burkina Faso
157   147   WINSTON SALEM   United States
165   148   SANTO DOMINGO   Dominican Rep.
155   149   NIAMEY   Niger
155   150   TALLINN   Estonia
113   151   KUALA LUMPUR   Malaysia
152   152   ST.PETERSBURG   Russia
160   152   KINGSTON   Jamaica
161   154   LJUBLJANA   Slovenia
140   155   MONTREAL   Canada
67   156   RIO DE JANEIRO   Brazil
168   157   HARARE   Zimbabwe
157   158   CHENNAI   India
167   159   ZAGREB   Croatia
169   160   NURNBERG   Germany
177   160   SAN SALVADOR   El Salvador
146   162   CALGARY   Canada
159   162   LIMASSOL   Cyprus
93   164   MAPUTO   Mozambique
170   165   BUDAPEST   Hungary
172   165   LEIPZIG   Germany
171   167   VILNIUS   Lithuania
175   168   RABAT   Morocco
137   169   MEXICO CITY   Mexico
    170   HAVANA   Cuba
162   171   OTTAWA   Canada
33   172   BAKU   Azerbaijan
178   172   BUCHAREST   Romania
179   174   DAR ES SALAAM   Tanzania
174   175   PORT LOUIS   Mauritius
184   176   KIEV   Ukraine
175   177   WARSAW   Poland
173   178   NOUAKCHOTT   Mauritania
202   179   BANJUL   Gambia
183   180   BANGALORE   India
188   180   ISLAMABAD   Pakistan
187   182   SOFIA   Bulgaria
165   183   ASUNCION   Paraguay
195   184   LA PAZ   Bolivia
181   185   ALGIERS   Algeria
193   186   TIRANA   Albania
184   187   KAMPALA   Uganda
190   188   TEGUCIGALPA   Honduras
192   189   YEREVAN   Armenia
148   190   BOGOTA   Colombia
150   190   BRASILIA   Brazil
199   192   MANAGUA   Nicaragua
196   193   BELGRADE   Serbia
193   194   KOLKATA   India
196   195   SARAJEVO   Bosnia and Herzegovina
94   196   ALMATY   Kazakhstan
182   197   MONTERREY   Mexico
198   198   TBILISI   Georgia
203   199   SKOPJE   Macedonia
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

Source: Mercer’s 2016 Cost of Living Survey


Miriam Siscovick, + 1 206-356-8549

Release Summary

Hong Kong leads as Kinshasa makes big jump up the ranking ladder in Mercer’s 22nd annual Cost of Living Survey.


Miriam Siscovick, + 1 206-356-8549