When it comes to Asia—rather than Asia Pacific, neither Hong Kong, Singapore or any cities in South Korea, Japan, and China is the most expensive for expatriates.
Ashgabat, the capital city of Turkmenistan—yes you read it correctly—is the most pricey city for expats in 2018, according to a survey by ECA International.
Turkmenistan is often referred to as the North Korea in Central Asia. Its capital city has rocketed up from 146th in 2017 to take the top spot amid a deepening economic crisis, said ECA.
“A plunging black market exchange rate, coupled with foreign exchange shortages, have stoked the levels of inflation in Turkmenistan and have led the prices of goods to increase enormously over the past twelve months,” said Lee Quane, Regional Director - Asia for ECA International.
A shortage of goods and hard currency means that it is now much more expensive for expatriate workers in Ashgabat to purchase the items and services that they normally would, he observed.
Hong Kong the most pricey in APAC; S’pore inches back into top 20
In Asia Pacific, Hong Kong remains the most expensive location and is the sixth most pricey globally.
“Hong Kong has continued to rise in our cost of living rankings in recent years” said Lee Quane said. “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.”
Singapore returned to the global top 20 most expensive locations for expats, after briefly dropping out last year, ECA pointed out.
“The Singapore dollar has performed strongly this year, making the city state more expensive for visitors and overseas workers,”Quane said. “This has resulted in a slight rise in the rankings, up three places to become the 18th most expensive location in the world.
While Singapore has long been considered one of the most expensive cities for expats, the city-state’s cost of living is still below that of other Asian locations with large expat populations such as Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo, Quane noted.
Chinese cities among the top 50
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.
“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,” Quane said.
Thai cities the biggest risers
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, according to ECA.
Malaysian cities outside top 150 but see big rises in cost of living
Malaysian cities have seen big rises in the cost of living rankings, but all three of the surveyed locations are still outside of the global top 150, said ECA.
Kuala Lumpur is the highest placed Malaysian city in the rankings and has risen 24 places to 188th most expensive location, the firm added.
“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.