Which are the most (and least) expensive cities for expats in 2024?


Joe Baker
Joe Baker
Senior Copywriter
Joe is a Senior Copywriter working on reports, news and analysis. Previously, he worked as a B2B copywriter, journalist and editor covering a broad range of topics, including technology, transport,… Read more

Hong Kong, Singapore and Zurich have topped a 2024 list showing the most and least expensive cities for international workers to live in, developed by American consulting firm Mercer. 

According to Mercer’s 2024 list, the top 10 most expensive cities were Hong Kong, Singapore, Zurich, Geneva, Basel, Bern, New York, London, Nassau and Los Angeles. 

Meanwhile, the 10 least expensive cities were Havana, Windhoek, Durban, Dushanbe, Blantyre, Karachi, Bishkek, Islamabad, Lagos and Abuja.

The company’s Cost of Living City Ranking for 2024 lists 226 cities in the world in order, from the most expensive to the least expensive places to live. It’s based on a dataset that measures the comparative cost of more than 200 items – spanning transportation, food, clothing, household goods and entertainment – in each location to give a snapshot of cost of living for expats. 

Below are some more of the key takeaways from the report for expats. 

European and North American cities are some of the most expensive for expats

With four Swiss cities in the top rankings and London now in 8th place on the list, Europe is home to some of the most expensive cities for expats in the world. 

Copenhagen, Vienna, Paris and Amsterdam also ranked high on the list, at 11th, 24th, 29th and 30th respectively. 

Several North American cities also ranked highly, with New York coming in at number 7, Nassau coming in at 9th, Los Angeles being 10th, Honolulu coming in at 12th and San Francisco at 13th.

Many cities have seen significant changes in cost of living

The most significant changes in cost of living rankings were seen in Africa. 

Three cities in Africa – Accra in Ghana, Addis Abba in Ethiopia and Cairo in Egypt – were amongst the five cities that saw the largest increase in their cost of living ranking over the last year, alongside Istanbul and Tirana. 

Meanwhile, Lagos and Abuja in Nigeria, and Luada in Angola – saw the largest decrease in their cost of living ranking. 

Cities in Mexico also saw a major leap in the rankings, with Mexico City rising 46 places to 33, while Monterrey rose 40 places on the list to 115. 

By contrast South America saw two cities that dropped significantly in the rankings – Buenos Aires in Argentina, for example, fell to 77, down 32 places, while Santiago in Chile fell by 73 places to 160th. 

High inflation rates and exchange rates are affecting the price of moving abroad

Mercer noted a number of economic factors that have influenced the world’s economy in recent years. 

A major fact for cost of living was inflation and exchange rate fluctuations, which directly influence the pay of international employees.

With the exception of Tirana, high inflation was cited by Mercer as the main reason behind the most significant increases in living costs seen across the list – Addis Ababa, Accra, Istanbul and Cairo. 

Meanwhile, currency devaluation was a significant driver of decreases in Lagos, Luanda, Abuja, Santiago and Osaka, which saw the largest cost of living decreases. In some of the cities (for example, cities in Nigeria and Angola), inflation was also a major factor. 

We’ve explored more of how the cost of living can be affected by exchange rates in our guide to the topic. 

Housing rental price changes are changing at various rites

A number of cities have also seen a surge in rental prices from 2023 to 2024. This includes Istanbul, which saw an average price increase of 301%, as well as Ankara, which grew by 141%. 

Meanwhile, Dubai – a well-known hotbed for expats – saw average prices grow by 21%, while New Delhi saw prices rise by 13%

Most of the top 10 expensive cities (with the exception of Nassau in the Bahamas) saw increases, though these weren’t as high, with Hong Kong and Singapore both seeing rental prices rise by 8%, while London and Bern saw a rise of 4% and Geneva rose by 3%. 

Mercer mentioned that the cost of housing itself has been influenced by a variety of factors, including a shortage of housing, construction costs and land prices.

Only a few cities have both low costs and a good quality of life

The company also unveiled data comparing the cost of living (from the company’s 2024 data) with quality of living (from 2023 data). 

Based on this, Mercer highlighted eight cities that combined low costs with a good quality of life, including Ljubljana, Montreal, Warsaw, Zagreb, Budapest, Panama City, Santiago and Kuala Lumpur. 

These cities, the company said, should be of interest to those looking for remote working opportunities (i.e. digital nomads), as well as families looking for better lifestyles overseas.

However, Mercer noted that high quality of life has led to higher prices across cities. Typically, the presence of more/better amenities attracts more expats, which in turn leads to rise in housing costs that then trickles down to other services.

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