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Revealed: the most expensive cities in the world right now

The Economist’s latest Worldwide Cost of Living report has named three cities as the most expensive places to live

James Manning

In these turbulent times, it’s weirdly comforting to see some regular annual fixtures rolling out as usual. Like the ‘cost of living’ barometers that report on exactly how pricy it is to eat, drink, shop and sleep in various cities around the world.

The Economist Intelligence Unit just revealed its latest Worldwide Cost of Living report, which ranks 133 cities according to how expensive it is to buy a set ‘basket’ of everyday goods in each. And the winner is… a three-way tie!

According to the EIU, the most expensive places to live right now are Paris, Hong Kong and Zurich, all of which are equally pricy.

Following them in fourth place is Singapore, then Osaka and Tel Aviv (tied in fifth). New York and Geneva (joint seventh), Los Angeles and Copenhagen (joint ninth) round out the top ten. Sydney is at 15 and London appears at number 20.

The report found that the events of 2020 had changed the rankings significantly, with currency fluctuations and changing spending habits sending some cities soaring and others plummeting down the table. The survey looks at the cost of groceries, booze, household supplies and toiletries, clothes, utilities, entertainment, transport, rent and more.

Back in June, the Mercer Cost of Living Survey 2020 revealed its own list of the world’s most expensive cities – and the #1 spot also went to Hong Kong, this time on its own.

It was followed by Ashgabat, capital of Turkmenistan, home to many grandiose marble-clad buildings and a major economic crisis that has hugely driven up the cost of living. Tokyo was the third most expensive city to be an expat, down from second last year.

International cultural capitals Singapore, New York, Shanghai and Beijing also made the top ten, with the only European entries being the Swiss cities of Zurich, Bern, and Geneva, thanks to the high value of the Swiss franc.

Meanwhile, cities where you might think of life as being pretty costly – think Los Angeles, London, Dubai and Miami – were outranked by Ndjamena (the capital of Chad), Shenzhen in China and Lagos in Nigeria.

(How come? Well, it’s partly because Mercer, a major US financial consultancy firm, aims its ranking at American companies sending their employees overseas. All cities are ranked by comparison to New York – this is also the case with the EIU report – and the ‘basket of goods’ that Mercer uses to calculate the cost of living in each city has in the past included American classics like blue jeans, burgers and Heineken beer. That means that countries whose currency has been overperforming against the dollar tend to zoom up the rankings.)

Here’s the full top 20 from the Mercer Cost of Living Survey 2020.

  1. Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR
  2. Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
  3. Tokyo, Japan
  4. Zurich, Switzerland
  5. Singapore, Singapore
  6. New York City, United States
  7. Shanghai, China
  8. Bern, Switzerland
  9. Geneva, Switzerland
  10. Beijing, China
  11. Seoul, South Korea
  12. Tel Aviv, Israel
  13. Shenzhen, China
  14. Victoria, Seychelles
  15. Ndjamena, Chad
  16. San Francisco, United States
  17. Los Angeles, United States
  18. Lagos, Nigeria
  19. London, United Kingdom
  20. Guangzhou, China

See Mercer’s full ranking here.

And if you’re looking for the least expensive cities in the world? According to Mercer, those would be Tashkent in Uzbekistan, Windhoek in Namibia and Tunis in Tunisia.

Now check out Time Out’s own global rankings: the world’s best cities and the world’s coolest neighbourhoods.

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