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Updated 23 Jul 2021

It’s no secret that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge effect on economies across the world. Currency fluctuations and scarcity of goods have caused the cost of living to spike in many expat destinations around the globe.

As the world begins to emerge from the pandemic, some economies have fared better than others. Here are five of the most expensive cities for expats in 2021, according to Mercer’s Cost of Living Survey.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

2021 ranking: Hong Kong – 2nd
2020 ranking: Hong Kong – 1st

Hong Kong has long been considered one of the world’s most expensive expat cities and has taken the top spot in Mercer’s survey for the past three years. In 2021, though, the survey has seen Hong Kong knocked off the top spot with Ashgabat in Turkmenistan taking the title of world’s most expensive city for expats.

Still, the fact remains that living in Hong Kong costs a pretty penny and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. The good news is that while Hong Kong has a high cost of living, it offers a high quality of life to match. Expats considering moving to Hong Kong should ideally do so with a job in hand, and should make sure that their salary will be able to comfortably cover their expenses.

Learn more about moving to this vibrant island-state in our expat guide to Hong Kong.



2021 ranking: Singapore – 7th
2020 ranking: Singapore – 5th

Singapore has a lot in common with Hong Kong – both are economically robust Asian city-states with excellent infrastructure, both offer great opportunities for career progression, and both command a high cost of living.

Before it was outranked by Hong Kong in recent years, Singapore frequently topped the Mercer Cost of Living Survey, but its rank has been slowly dropping year by year, which is good news for prospective expats. It’s yet to fall out of the top 10, though, so adequate salaries and careful budgeting are essential.

Interested in exploring this exciting city-state? Read more in our expat guide to Singapore.



2021 rankings: Tokyo (4th), Osaka (23rd), Nagoya (35th)
2020 rankings: Tokyo (3rd), Osaka (22nd), Nagoya (26th)

Another Asian economic giant, Japan is represented by three cities in Mercer’s Cost of Living Survey for 2021. Tokyo takes fourth place, dropping one spot from last year, while Osaka (23) and Nagoya (35) are lower down in the rankings but still far from cheap.

Japan’s economy has done well in weathering the pandemic. The country has been able to keep supply and demand consistent, and the currency rate has remained stable.

Learn more about this fascinating country in our expat guide to Japan.



2021: Zurich (5th), Geneva (8th), Bern (10th)
2020: Zurich (4th), Geneva, (9th) Bern (8th)

Switzerland is the only European country to appear in the top 10 of Mercer’s survey – and it does so three times, with Zurich in 5th, Geneva 8th and Bern in 10th place. Jobs in Switzerland pay well and are highly desirable, but are scarce. Still, expats who manage to find work here will enjoy a comfortable lifestyle thanks to the excellent salaries.

Want to know more? Read our expat guide to Switzerland.



2021: Shanghai (6th), Beijing (9th), Shenzen (12th), Guangzhou (17th)
2020: Shanghai (7th), Beijing (10th), Shenzen (13th), Guangzhou (20th)

China is well represented in Mercer’s survey, with four cities appearing in the top 20 and climbing year on year: Shanghai (6), Beijing (9), Shenzen (12) and Guangzhou (17). The economy of this gargantuan country has managed to bounce back fairly quickly from the pandemic, partly thanks to its strong currency.

Jobs for foreigners aren’t especially hard to find in China, but the pay can vary widely according to the industry an expat chooses to work in, as well as what they can offer in terms of special skills and experience.

To find out more about this vast country, check out our expat guide to China.

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