The most expensive cities in the world in 2023

Published 2023-10-16 07:48:37
Pedestrians Crossing in New York City - Image by Pexels from Pixabay

New York has pushed Hong Kong off the pedestal of “most expensive city in the world” in the latest polls. Discover who comes next in our article

Expatriates are commonly nomads who leave their home country searching for adventure and opportunities in foreign countries. They are usually skilled workers or professionals who take up job posts abroad and so the cost of living is an important factor in their choice of destination.

ECA International recently released its latest “Cost of Living” research where it ranks 207 cities based on day-to-day expenses. This research helps organisations determine cost allowances for employees.  

The top-ranked cities for 2023

Ending its four-year dominance at the top, Hong Kong was outpaced by New York as the most costly city to reside in. This is according to the latest research from ECA International which ranks 207 cities from 120 countries based on daily purchases and services purchased. These purchases include household goods, transport costs, basic utilities, and food.

New York rose to prominence due to spikes in rental costs and inflation with a stronger dollar . This is also the reason San Francisco jumped from eleven to seventh position.

However, despite no longer occupying the number one in global rankings, Hong Kong is still the most expensive in Asia. The cost of living in Hong Kong is at one of its peaks because the city has not been immune to the general increase in inflation witnessed globally but this was offset by a slight drop in house prices in the city.

Mortgage interest rates were increased following the US Federal Reserve which led to an overall decrease in house prices as fewer people were able to borrow money to buy houses. Additionally, research revealed that large numbers of people left the city which can be attributed to the consequences of Covid-19 restrictions and political uncertainty.

Tokyo fell in the rankings to number ten due to a weakening yen after occupying the top five in the previous years.

Geneva retained its position at third in the rankings globally but remains in first position in Europe as the most expensive city.

London maintained its position at number four despite other UK cities dropping in the rankings with Birmingham at 115th, Cardiff at 118th, and Belfast at 123rd in global rankings. 

Steven Kilfedder, Head of Production at ECA International, stated:

“The cost of living crisis in the UK persists, with rising costs driven primarily by food, utilities, and housing prices. Despite these challenges, all UK cities bar London have experienced a decline in the global ranking. This can largely be attributed to the weakness of the pound, which has made the country cheaper for people coming to the UK from other countries.”

Ranking of top 10 most expensive cities in the world for expatriates

# Location Country 2023 Change 2022
1 New York USA
2 Hong Kong Hong Kong
3 Geneva Switzerland
4 London UK
5 Singapore Singapore
6 Zurich Switzerland
7 San Francisco USA
8 Tel Aviv Israel
9 Seoul Korea Republic
10 Tokyo Japan

The impact of food price in the results

The most recent report shows a price hike for food by approximately 15% around the world, which is almost double from last year.

UK food prices rose on average by almost 20% thereby exceeding the general 15% upward trend. Prices for certain specific items showed massive spikes, e.g. ketchup was up by 45%, cooking oil by 80% and eggs increased by 36%.

The general trend in Europe was over half of the cities jumped up the rankings due to inflation. Food prices increased by 10% in France and by 13% in Germany. If we consider only the ranking at the European level, Geneva was at the top, followed by London, Zurich, Bern and Copenhagen. Dublin featured at the 38th position after rising the ranks by six places. 

Kilfedder added:

"Our Cost of Living rankings are affected by two factors: prices and exchange rates. Even when prices are rising quickly as they are in much of Europe, a city can become comparatively cheaper for visitors if the currency is weaker.

The war in Ukraine directly impacts costs in its cities, surrounding countries, and even on a  global scale. Rental costs in areas to which Ukrainians have escaped have also spiked affecting many expatriates.

Significant cities in Poland are bearing the brunt where rental costs surged by almost 50%. Krakow jumped 23 spots up on the list to occupy position 178 while Warsaw’s new position is 158, 11 places up from the previous ranking.

On the other side of the conflict are the Russians seeking refuge in cities like Dubai and Tbilisi. Rental costs in these cities have increased by about 30%. Dubai has seen rental costs skyrocket to catapult the city into 12th position in global rankings.

The biggest increase in the rankings is Istanbul which was boosted by a whopping 95 places to now hold 108th position.

Kilfedder explained:

"While the city has been impacted by the war in Ukraine, the main reason behind prices increasing by over 80% is the economic policies of the recently re-elected President Erdogan. Rents have also gone up partly due to increased demand from displaced Turkish nationals after February’s earthquake.”

What is ECA International?

ECA researches, collects, interprets and publishes data relating to the cost of living for cities globally. The company provides solutions, information and expertise to businesses to manage salaries and benefits for their overseas employees.

The company executes surveys twice annually in March and September to provide companies with up-to-date information on salary calculations for international moves. The company has been involved in researching the global cost of living for 50 years.

The research covers certain basics like:

  1. Food which includes basic groceries; dairy produce; meat and fish; fresh fruit and vegetables
  2. Basic expenses cover necessary household goods; recreational goods; general services; leisure services
  3. General includes clothing; electrical goods; motoring; meals out; alcohol and tobacco
  4. Utility costs
  5. Public transport
  6. Housing data takes into account rental trends in each city, types of accommodation, and areas popular with expatriates. The accuracy of the information is ensured by using various sources to compile the data.

The data is processed to produce the final rankings.

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Author: KashGo
Expat Mum in the Desert and content writer for

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