ECA find Hong Kong the most expensive location in East Asia for expatriates.

Cost of Working

ECA International have identified Hong Kong as the second most expensive location in Asia for expatriate workers to live, and sixth most expensive in the world. This was one of the findings of the company’s latest Cost of Living survey.

“Hong Kong has continued to rise in our cost of living rankings in recent years and is now the sixth most expensive location in the world for expatriates,” said Lee Quane, regional director – Asia for ECA International. “2018 was another strong year for the Hong Kong dollar and this has seen it rise from ninth overall last year to sixth, leapfrogging locations such as Tokyo and Oslo where the respective currencies have been slightly weaker.”

ECA International has been conducting research into cost of living for more than 40 years. It carries out two main surveys per year to help companies calculate cost of living allowances so that their employees’ spending power is not compromised while on international assignment. The surveys compare a basket of like-for-like consumer goods and services commonly purchased by assignees in over 450 locations worldwide. Certain living costs, such as accommodation rental, utilities, car purchases and school fees are usually covered by separate allowances. Data for these costs are collected separately and are not included in ECA’s cost of living basket.

In mainland China, all 14 of the Chinese cities surveyed by ECA remain in the global top 50, with Shanghai leading the way as 14th most expensive location globally.

Quane said: “Developing Chinese cities such as Dalian, Chengdu and Nanjing are now firmly established in the global top 50 alongside Beijing and Shanghai and it is likely that they will remain expensive destinations for mobile employees for the foreseeable future.”

Taipei, Taiwan’s most expensive city, and Macau also continued their rise in ECA’s rankings to 31 and 25 respectively – consolidating the upward trend in the cost of living in greater China relative to other locations globally. Elsewhere, Hong Kong’s regional rival Singapore returned to the global top 20 most expensive locations for expats, after briefly dropping out last year.

“The Singapore dollar has performed strongly this year, making the city state more expensive for visitors and overseas workers,” explained Quane. “This has resulted in a slight rise in the rankings, up three places to become the 18th most expensive location in the world. Singapore has long been considered one of the most expensive cities for expats to live and work in and this looks set to continue. However, the cost of living is still below that of other major Asian locations with large expat populations such as Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo.”

Thai cities were among the biggest risers in the rankings, with Bangkok rising 32 places and entering the top 100 most expensive locations for the first time.

Quane said: “Over the past five years Bangkok has climbed over 80 places and the Thai capital now sits in 90th place in our cost of living rankings. The Thai baht has strengthened in recent years as the economy has expanded and the political landscape has stabilised. This means that Thai locations are now a great deal more expensive for expat workers than they have been in the past.”

Malaysian cities have seen big rises in the cost of living rankings, however all three of the surveyed locations still sit outside of the global top 150. Kuala Lumpur is the highest placed Malaysian city in the rankings and has risen 24 places to 188th most expensive location.

“Although the Malaysian cities in our survey have all seen significant rises of over twenty places each, Malaysia remains one of the cheapest locations in Asia for overseas workers. However, Kuala Lumpur is now more expensive for expatriates than many of the locations that sat above them in the 2017 rankings, such as New Delhi, Manila and Mumbai,” said Quane.


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