Mercer 2020 Cost of Living Ranking

What’s the best way to approach expatriate assignment costs in times of uncertainty? Which cities are the most expensive to live in?  

Mercer’s 26th annual Cost of Living Survey helps employers navigate expatriate packages with essential insights — even more critical in a time of disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Balancing empathy with economics

As organizations rethink their talent and mobility strategies in the wake of COVID-19, they strive to balance empathy with economics, ensuring fair compensation and efficient support for their expatriates throughout the crisis. Access to relevant, reliable information about the cost and location of assignments is critical for making the right decisions.

Mercer’s annual Cost of Living Survey is one of the most recognized and comprehensive of its kind, with more than 400 cities included. The study is designed to help multinational companies and governments across the world determine compensation strategies for their expatriate employees.

The study’s 2020 Cost of Living Ranking highlights the results for 209 cities across five continents, measuring the comparative costs of more than 200 items in each location.



Ranking highlights

Hong Kong once again tops the list of most expensive cities for expatriates, followed by Ashgabat in second place, Tokyo in third and Zurich in fourth. Singapore ranks fifth, down two places from last year, and New York City moves up from ninth place to sixth.


Other cities appearing in Mercer’s top 10 costliest for expatriates are Shanghai (7), Bern (8), Geneva (9) and Beijing (10). The world’s least expensive cities for expatriates according to the study are Tunis (209), Windhoek (208) and Tashkent, tied with Bishkek at 206.


Read our press release to find out more about the this year’s ranking highlights, and learn what Mercer’s mobility experts say about the impact of COVID-19 on the cost of living across the world.

Buying habits in times of lockdown

The 2020 Cost of Living Survey reveals that the pandemic has also affected our consumer buying habits. Certain categories of goods, such as popular “comfort food,” cleaning supplies and home entertainment, have seen a relative increase in demand. Mercer has conducted special analyses focusing on the cost of these items across selected locations.


The infographics below show the results of the analysis.

City Attractiveness


With the impact of COVID-19, it is even more essential for decision makers to acknowledge the challenge of globalization. Cities must inform, innovate and compete to foster the kind of citizen satisfaction that attracts both people and investment — the keys to a city’s future. How attractive is your city?


For more information on Mercer’s City Attractiveness solutions click below:

Which factors determine the cost of living?

In addition to evaluating more than 200 goods and services, Mercer’s 26th annual Cost of Living Survey highlights essential factors — such as currency fluctuations, cost inflation and accommodation price instability — in determining the cost of expatriate packages.

The overall Cost of Living Index reflects the prices of over 200 items from the following categories:


  • Food
  • Alcohol and tobacco
  • Domestic supplies
  • Housing
  • Clothing and footwear
  • Home services
  • Utilities
  • Personal care
  • Transportation
  • Recreation and entertainment