A new report from a human resources consulting firm has revealed the ten most expensive cities in the world for people living and working abroad in 2020. The report focuses on people assigned to work outside their home country, and notes that in the wake of COVID-19, social and economic disruption has spurred organisations to reassess their global mobility programmes with a focus on the wellbeing of their expatriate employees.

As they leverage new working arrangements, changing technology and adaptive ways of thinking, many organisations are considering alternate forms of international assignments, in addition to traditional mobility programmes, to sustain their overseas operations and workforces. This is according to the 2020 Cost of Living Survey taken by Mercer, which measured over 400 cities on the comparative cost of more than 200 items, including food, housing, transportation, entertainment and household goods.

According to the survey, Hong Kong tops the list of most expensive cities, followed by Ashgabat in second position. Tokyo and Zurich come in third and fourth positions, respectively, whereas Singapore is in fifth place. New York City ranks in sixth position and Shanghai comes seventh. Bern is the city that places eighth, while its fellow Swiss city Geneva comes in ninth place and Beijing comes tenth. The world’s least expensive cities, according to Mercer’s survey, are Tunis, Windhoek, Tashkent and Bishkek.

Shinjuku at night in Tokyo, Japan.
Tokyo is the third-most expensive city in the world for living abroad © Jormungand/500px

“Border closings, flight interruptions, mandatory confinements and other short-term disruptions have affected not only the cost of goods and services, but also the quality of living of assignees,” says Ilya Bonic, career president and head of Mercer strategy. “Climate change, issues related to environmental footprint, and health system challenges have pushed multinationals to consider how a city’s efforts around sustainability can impact the living conditions for their expatriate workers. Cities with a strong sustainability focus can greatly improve living standards, which can in turn improve employee well-being and engagement.”

The Manhattan skyline at sunset in New York City.
New York City is the sixth-most expensive city in the world for expats © pisaphotography/Shutterstock

You can read the full 2020 Cost of Living survey here.

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