The most expensive city in the world for expats is not London or New York

It's not Hong Kong or Singapore either.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 25 Jun 2015

Global cities like London, New York and Singapore are renowned for being expensive, both for permanent residents and expats. But none of them takes the top spot when it comes to the priciest place to base overseas workers.

That honour goes to the Angolan capital Luanda for the third year in a row, with the cost of living in safe neighbourhoods and the steep price of imported goods creating a ‘two-tier economy’, according to consultancy Mercer’s annual Cost of Living Survey.

Switzerland takes three of the top 10 spots, after the franc surged against the euro when its peg was abandoned earlier this year. High rent lifted Beijing, Shanghai and Seoul into the top 10, which was completed by Chad’s capital, N’djamena.

If your company is feeling particularly stingy they might send you to Bishkek, Kyrgystan, which took 207th place below Namibian capital Windhoek and Pakistani commercial centre Karachi.

Here are the top 20:

1. Luanda, Angola

An ‘international standard’ unfurnished apartment in the Angolan capital will set employers back an average of £4,441 a month. You won’t find a Maccy D’s in Luanda, but a comparable club sandwich and fizzy drink meal will set you back an eyewatering £11.

2. Hong Kong

Food is cheap as chips in the former British colony, but typical rent is an eyewatering £4,295 a month (and you may not get much space for your money either).

3. Zurich, Switzerland

The Swiss financial centre is Europe’s priciest capital for expats. For your financial troubles, you get some very nice mountain views.

4. Singapore

The city state is one of Asia’s wealthiest metropolises and one of the most densely populated, so it’s not surprising there’s a high premium for living and working there.

5. Geneva, Switzerland

A pint in the French-speaking city will set you back almost £6, so why not drown your monetary sorrows with a dip in Lake Geneva?

6. Shanghai, China

Credit: Wiz Kha

The highest-ranking Chinese city, the strengthening yuan has made the imported goods beloved of expats increasingly pricey.

7. Beijing, China

Not only do you have to share the Chinese capital with 22 million other people, but you have to pay top drawer for the privilege too.

8. Seoul, South Korea

Credit: Philippe Teuwen

Want to live in Gangnam Style? It’s going to cost you, especially for rent and foreign brands.

9. Bern, Switzerland

The capital is the third extremely pretty and pricey Swiss city in the top 10. Darn that franc.

10. N’djamena, Chad

Another African city where the safety of a supposedly salubrious neighbourhood hikes up the costs of an expat life.

11. Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo dropped four places this year as the yen weakened against the dollar. More sushi, please.

12. London, UK

A flat worthy of an international worker will set you back £3,200, according to Mercer. We’ll take a Zone 5 house-share any day.

13. Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo

Road blocks and anti-government protests are a way of life in this city of almost 10 million people.

14. Shenzhen, China

Just across the border from Hong Kong, Shenzhen may not be the first Chinese city that leaps to western minds, but the mega-metropolis is home to more than 15 million people.

15. Guangzhou, China

Credit: Don Dexter Antonio Photography

Hot on Shenzhen’s costly tail, Guangzhou’s population was 14 million in 2013.

16. New York, US

Credit: Prayitno

A top-drawer New York apartment will set you back £3,527 a month, but clothes, coffee and petrol are all cheaper than in other global cities.

17. Victoria, Seychelles

There’s a price to pay for living in paradise.

18. Tel Aviv, Israel

Credit: Sandra Cohen-Rose

Israel’s commercial capital is a thriving, albeit pricey, tech hub.

19. Buenos Aires, Argentinia

A big increase in the cost of goods and services lifted Buenos Aires 67 places this year, making it by far the most expensive Latin American city for expats.

20. Lagos, Nigeria

Rounding off the top 20, Nigeria’s commercial capital is an increasingly expensive playground for both newly-minted middle classes and the uber-rich in Africa’s most populous country.

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