June 21, 2017

Canada, Toronto

Despite worldwide changes, multinationals focus on mobile workforces to support career growth and ensure global competitiveness

Mercer’s annual Cost of Living Survey finds African, Asian, and European cities dominate the list of most expensive locations for working abroad

  • Driven by rise in Canadian dollar since the last survey period, Canadian cities climb higher in the rankings
  • Due to more rapidly rising rents, Vancouver (107) pulls away from Toronto (119) to cement its position as the most expensive city in the Canadian ranking
  • Ranking 152, Ottawa is the least expensive city in Canada

In a rapidly changing world, mobility has become a core component of multinational organizations’ global talent strategy. To support the growing number of international assignees working in an increased number of locations, organizations are focusing on evaluating assignments from a cultural perspective, preparing for regional and lateral moves, and modifying compensation approaches to stay competitive. As organizations grapple with these challenges, they are working hard to accommodate the needs of their workforce and to support employees’ careers. According to Mercer’s 2017 Global Talent Trends Study, fair and competitive pay as well as opportunities for promotion are top priorities for employees this year – not surprising given the current climate of uncertainty and change.

As a result, multinational organizations are carefully assessing the cost of expatriate packages for their international assignees. Mercer’s 23rd annual Cost of Living Survey finds that factors like instability of housing markets and inflation for goods and services contribute to the overall cost of doing business in today’s global environment.

“Globalization of the marketplace is well documented with many companies operating in multiple locations around the world and promoting international assignments to enhance the experience of future managers,” said Ilya Bonic, Senior Partner and President of Mercer’s Career business. “There are numerous personal and organizational advantages for sending employees overseas, whether for long- or short-term assignments, including career development by obtaining global experience, the creation and transfer of skills, and the re-allocation of resources.”

Mercer’s 2017 Cost of Living Survey finds Asian and European cities – particularly Hong Kong (2), Tokyo (3), Zurich (4), and Singapore (5) – top the list of most expensive cities for expatriates. The costliest city, driven by cost of goods and security, is Luanda (1), the capital of Angola. Other cities appearing in the top 10 of Mercer’s costliest cities for expatriates are Seoul (6), Geneva (7), Shanghai (8), New York City (9), and Bern (10). The world’s least expensive cities for expatriates, according to Mercer’s survey, are Tunis (209), Bishkek (208), and Skopje (206).

Mercer's authoritative survey is one of the world’s most comprehensive, and is designed to help multinational companies and governments determine compensation allowances for their expatriate employees. New York is used as the base city and all cities are compared against it. Currency movements are measured against the US dollar. The survey includes over 400 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.

“While historically mobility, talent management, and rewards have been managed independently of one another, organizations are now using a more holistic approach to enhance their mobility strategies. Compensation is important to be competitive and must be determined appropriately based on the cost of living, currency, and location,” said Mr. Bonic.

Cities in the United States are the most expensive locations in the Americas, with New York City (9) ranked as the costliest city, climbing two spots from last year. San Francisco (22) and Los Angeles (24) follow, having climbed four and three spots respectively. Among other major US cities, Chicago (32) is up two places, Boston (51) is down four places, and Seattle is up seven places. Portland (115) and Winston Salem (140) remain the least expensive surveyed cities for expatriates in the US.

Nathalie Constantin-Métral, Principal at Mercer with responsibility for compiling the survey ranking, said, “Overall, US cities either remained stable in the ranking or have slightly increased due to the movement of the US dollar against the majority of currencies worldwide.”

In South America, Brazilian cities Sao Paulo (27) and Rio de Janeiro (56) surged 101 and 100 spots, respectively, due to the strengthening of the Brazilian real against the US dollar. Buenos Aires, the Argentina capital and financial hub ranked 40 followed by Santiago (67) and Montevideo, Uruguay (65), which jumped forty-one and fifty-four places, respectively. Other cities in South America that rose on the list of costliest cities for expatriates include Lima (104) and Havana (151). Dropping from 94th position, San Jose, Costa Rica (110) experienced the largest drop in the region as the US dollar strengthened against the Costa Rican colon. Caracas in Venezuela has been excluded from the ranking due to the complex currency situation. Depending on which exchange rate is being used, the city would arrive at the top or at the bottom of the ranking.

“Inflationary concerns continued to cause some South American cities to rise in the ranking, whereas the weakening of the local currencies in some of the region’s cities caused them to drop in the ranking,” said Ms. Constantin-Métral.

Up thirty-five places from last year, Vancouver (107) has overtaken Toronto (119) to become the most expensive Canadian city in the ranking, followed by Montreal (129) and Calgary (143). Ranking 152, Ottawa is the least expensive city in Canada. “The Canadian dollar has appreciated in value triggering the major jumps in this year’s ranking,” explained Ms. Constantin-Métral.

“Although the cost of living in Vancouver or Toronto may be high for locals, both cities remain attractive destinations for expatriates placed by organizations outside the country,” says Gordon Frost, Partner and Leader of Mercer Canada’s Career business. “Global costs give us some perspective: compared to the rest of the world, even with a strong dollar, Canada remains relatively affordable.”

Only three European cities remain in the top 10 list of most expensive cities for expatriates.

Zurich (4) is still the most costly European city on the list, followed by Geneva (7) and Bern (10). Moscow (14) and St. Petersburg (36) surged fifty-three and one hundred and sixteen places from last year respectively, due to the strong appreciation of the ruble against the US dollar and the cost of goods and services. Meanwhile, London (30), Aberdeen (146) and Birmingham (147) dropped thirteen, sixty-one and fifty-one spots respectively as a result of the pound weakening against the US dollar following the Brexit vote. Copenhagen (28) fell four places from 24 to 28. Oslo (46) is up thirteen spots from last year, while Paris fell eighteen places to rank 62.

Other Western European cities dropped in the rankings as well, mainly due to the weakening of local currencies against the US dollar. Vienna (78) and Rome (80) fell in the ranking by 24 and 22 spots, respectively. The German cities of Munich (98), Frankfurt (117), and Berlin (120) dropped significantly as did Dusseldorf (122) and Hamburg (125).

“Despite moderate price increases in most of the European cities, European currencies have weakened against the US dollar, which pushed most Western European cities down in the ranking,” explained Ms. Constantin-Métral. “Additionally, other factors like the Eurozone’s economy have impacted these cities.”

As a result of local currencies depreciating against the US dollar, some cities in Eastern and Central Europe, including Prague (132) and Budapest (176) fell in the ranking, while Minsk (200) and Kiev (163) jumped four and thirteen spots, respectively, despite stable accommodations in these locations.

Ranking 17, Tel Aviv jumped two spots from last year and continues to be the most expensive city in the Middle East for expatriates followed by Dubai (20), Abu Dhabi (23), and Riyadh (52), which have all climbed in this year’s ranking. Jeddah (117), Muscat (92), and Doha (81) are among the least expensive cities in the region. Cairo (183) is the least expensive city in the region plummeting ninety-two spots from last year following a major devaluation of its local currency.

“Egypt’s decision to allow its currency to float freely in return for a 12 billion dollar loan over three years to help strengthen its economy resulted in the massive devaluation of the Egyptian Pound by more than 100% against the US dollar, pushing Cairo down the ranking” said Ms. Constantin-Métral.”

Quite a few African cities continue to rank high in this year’s survey, reflecting high living costs and prices of goods for expatriate employees. Luanda (1) takes the top spot as the most expensive city for expatriates across Africa and globally despite its currency weakening against the US dollar. Luanda is followed by Victoria (14), Ndjamena (16), and Kinshasa (18). Tunis falls six spots to rank 209 as the least expensive city in the region and overall.

Five of the top 10 cities in this year’s ranking are in Asia. Hong Kong (2) is the most expensive city as a result of its currency pegged to the US dollar, which drove up the cost of accommodations locally. This global financial center is followed by Tokyo (3), Singapore (5), Seoul (6), and Shanghai (8).

“The strengthening of the Japanese yen along with the high costs of expatriate consumer goods and a dynamic housing market pushed Japanese cities up in the ranking,” said Ms. Constantin-Métral. “However, the majority of Chinese cities fell in the ranking due to the weakening of the Chinese yuan against the US dollar.”

Australian cities have all experienced further jumps up the global ranking since last year due to the strengthening of the Australian dollar. Sydney (25), Australia’s most expensive city for expatriates, gained seventeen places in the ranking along with Melbourne (46) and Perth (50) which went up twenty-five and nineteen spots, respectively.

India’s most expensive city, Mumbai (57), climbed twenty-five places in the ranking due to its rapid economic growth, inflation on the goods and services basket and a stable currency against the US Dollar. This most populous city in India is followed by New Delhi (99) and Chennai (135) which rose in the ranking by thirty-one and twenty-three spots, respectively. Bengaluru (166) and Kolkata (184), the least expensive Indian cities, climbed in the ranking as well.

Elsewhere in Asia, Bangkok (67) jumped seven places from last year. Jakarta (88) and Hanoi (100) also rose in the ranking, up five and six places, respectively. Karachi (201) and Bishkek (208) remain the region’s least expensive cities for expatriates.

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.

Mercer Cost of Living Survey – Worldwide Rankings 2017
(Mercer international basket, including rental accommodation costs)
Rank as of March City Country
2016 2017
2 1 LUANDA Angola
1 2 HONG KONG Hong Kong
5 3 TOKYO Japan
3 4 ZURICH Switzerland
4 5 SINGAPORE Singapore
15 6 SEOUL South Korea
8 7 GENEVA Switzerland
7 8 SHANGHAI China
11 9 NEW YORK CITY United States
13 10 BERN Switzerland
10 11 BEIJING China
12 12 SHENZHEN China
67 13 MOSCOW Russia
16 13 VICTORIA Seychelles
9 15 NDJAMENA Chad
19 16 TEL AVIV Israel
6 17 KINSHASA Dem. Rep. of the Congo
18 18 GUANGZHOU China
21 19 DUBAI United Arab Emirates
22 20 OSAKA Japan
26 21 SAN FRANCISCO United States
25 22 ABU DHABI United Arab Emirates
27 23 LOS ANGELES United States
42 24 SYDNEY Australia
43 24 TAIPEI Taiwan
128 26 SAO PAULO Brazil
24 27 COPENHAGEN Denmark
13 28 LAGOS Nigeria
17 29 LONDON United Kingdom
34 31 CHICAGO United States
28 32 LIBREVILLE Gabon
29 32 NANJING China
54 34 NAGOYA Japan
37 35 HONOLULU United States
152 35 ST.PETERSBURG Russia
30 37 TIANJIN China
45 37 DHAKA Bangladesh
38 39 WASHINGTON United States
41 40 BUENOS AIRES Argentina
45 41 MIAMI United States
31 42 SHENYANG China
32 42 NOUMEA New Caledonia
56 42 ABIDJAN Côte d'Ivoire
33 45 QINGDAO China
71 46 MELBOURNE Australia
34 46 CHENGDU China
59 46 OSLO Norway
40 49 DJIBOUTI Djibouti
69 50 PERTH Australia
47 51 BOSTON United States
57 52 RIYADH Saudi Arabia
50 52 BEIRUT Lebanon
47 54 ACCRA Ghana
71 55 MANAMA Bahrain
156 56 RIO DE JANEIRO Brazil
82 57 MUMBAI India
66 57 ASHGABAT Turkmenistan
50 59 AMMAN Jordan
20 59 ABUJA Nigeria
98 61 AUCKLAND New Zealand
62 62 DALLAS United States
44 62 PARIS France
61 64 WHITE PLAINS United States
119 65 MONTEVIDEO Uruguay
47 66 DUBLIN Ireland
108 67 SANTIAGO Chile
39 67 YANGON Myanmar
74 67 BANGKOK Thailand
50 70 YAOUNDE Cameroon
98 71 CANBERRA Australia
50 71 MILAN Italy
96 71 BRISBANE Australia
75 74 HOUSTON United States
60 75 PORT OF SPAIN Trinidad & Tobago
83 76 SEATTLE United States
102 77 ADELAIDE Australia
54 78 VIENNA Austria
67 79 SAN JUAN Puerto Rico
58 80 ROME Italy
76 81 DOHA Qatar
71 81 MORRISTOWN United States
78 83 ATLANTA United States
62 84 BANGUI Central African Republic
64 85 AMSTERDAM Netherlands
123 86 WELLINGTON New Zealand
91 86 MINNEAPOLIS United States
81 88 PANAMA CITY Panama
93 88 JAKARTA Indonesia
64 88 HELSINKI Finland
36 91 CONAKRY Guinea
94 92 MUSCAT Oman
79 93 DAKAR Senegal
70 94 DOUALA Cameroon
103 95 DETROIT United States
80 95 MANILA Philippines
88 97 HO CHI MINH CITY Vietnam
77 98 MUNICH Germany
130 99 NEW DELHI India
110 100 CLEVELAND United States
108 100 ST. LOUIS United States
106 100 HANOI Vietnam
86 104 BRUSSELS Belgium
141 104 LIMA Peru
84 106 STOCKHOLM Sweden
142 107 VANCOUVER Canada
86 107 LUXEMBOURG Luxembourg
112 107 PITTSBURGH United States
94 110 SAN JOSE Costa Rica
126 111 GUATEMALA CITY Guatemala
116 111 NAIROBI Kenya
103 111 KUWAIT CITY Kuwait
105 111 MADRID Spain
118 115 PHNOM PENH Cambodia
117 115 PORTLAND United States
88 117 FRANKFURT Germany
121 117 JEDDAH Saudi Arabia
143 119 TORONTO Canada
100 120 BERLIN Germany
110 121 BARCELONA Spain
107 122 DUSSELDORF Germany
137 123 TASHKENT Uzbekistan
127 123 QUITO Ecuador
113 125 HAMBURG Germany
190 126 BRASILIA Brazil
114 126 RIGA Latvia
115 126 BAMAKO Mali
155 129 MONTREAL Canada
122 130 POINTE A PITRE Guadeloupe
130 130 CASABLANCA Morocco
139 132 COLOMBO Sri Lanka
124 132 PRAGUE Czech Republic
145 134 PORT AU PRINCE Haiti
158 135 CHENNAI India
143 136 ADDIS ABABA Ethiopia
134 137 LISBON Portugal
132 137 LYON France
124 139 COTONOU Benin
147 140 WINSTON SALEM United States
129 141 STUTTGART Germany
101 142 ISTANBUL Turkey
162 143 CALGARY Canada
137 144 ATHENS Greece
132 144 LOME Togo
85 146 ABERDEEN United Kingdom
139 147 KIGALI Rwanda
96 147 BIRMINGHAM United Kingdom
136 147 BRATISLAVA Slovakia
148 150 SANTO DOMINGO Dominican Republic
170 151 HAVANA Cuba
171 152 OTTAWA Canada
146 153 OUAGADOUGOU Burkina Faso
190 153 BOGOTA Colombia
152 155 KINGSTON Jamaica
160 156 SAN SALVADOR El Salvador
157 156 HARARE Zimbabwe
149 158 NIAMEY Niger
159 159 ZAGREB Croatia
150 160 TALLINN Estonia
119 161 GLASGOW United Kingdom
154 161 LJUBLJANA Slovenia
176 163 KIEV Ukraine
174 164 DAR ES SALAAM Tanzania
151 165 KUALA LUMPUR Malaysia
180 166 BENGALURU India
167 167 VILNIUS Lithuania
160 168 NURNBERG Germany
168 169 RABAT Morocco
134 170 BELFAST United Kingdom
175 171 PORT LOUIS Mauritius
165 172 LEIPZIG Germany
180 173 ISLAMABAD Pakistan
162 173 LIMASSOL Cyprus
196 175 ALMATY Kazakhstan
165 176 BUDAPEST Hungary
169 177 MEXICO CITY Mexico
183 178 ASUNCION Paraguay
200 179 LUSAKA Zambia
177 180 WARSAW Poland
172 181 BUCHAREST Romania
172 182 BAKU Azerbaijan
91 183 CAIRO Egypt
182 184 SOFIA Bulgaria
194 184 KOLKATA India
187 186 KAMPALA Uganda
185 187 ALGIERS Algeria
164 188 MAPUTO Mozambique
186 189 TIRANA Albania
178 189 NOUAKCHOTT Mauritania
205 191 JOHANNESBURG South Africa
179 192 BANJUL Gambia
184 193 LA PAZ Bolivia
192 194 MANAGUA Nicaragua
189 195 YEREVAN Armenia
201 196 GABORONE Botswana
188 197 TEGUCIGALPA Honduras
193 198 BELGRADE Serbia
208 199 CAPE TOWN South Africa
204 200 MINSK Belarus
201 201 KARACHI Pakistan
195 202 SARAJEVO Bosnia and Herzegovina
197 203 MONTERREY Mexico
198 204 TBILISI Georgia
206 205 BLANTYRE Malawi
209 206 WINDHOEK Namibia
199 206 SKOPJE Macedonia
207 208 BISHKEK Kyrgyzstan
203 209 TUNIS Tunisia

Source: Mercer’s 2017 Cost of Living Survey

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 2017. Exchange rates from that time and Mercer’s international basket of goods and services 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.

Mercer is a global consulting leader in health, wealth and careers. Mercer helps clients around the world advance the health, wealth and performance of their most vital asset – their people. Mercer’s more than 20,000 employees are based in more than 40 countries and the firm operates in over 130 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 57,000 employees worldwide and annual revenue exceeding $13 billion, 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 @MercerCanada.

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.