Dublin, June 22, 2021 – COVID-19 continues to cause unparalleled disruption to international mobility, prompting companies to re-evaluate how they will manage a mobile workforce in a post-pandemic world. Cost of living data, mobility research conducted by Mercer and the learnings from Mercer’s work with clients demonstrates that after several years of organisations’ efforts to modernize mobility strategies, organisations are beginning to implement alternate forms of international assignments and cross-border working arrangements to sustain their overseas operations and workforces.
Dublin (39) is up 7 places from its 2020 position behind Paris (33) and Milan (36), as the most expensive cities for expatriates in the Eurozone. Other higher ranking western European cities include London (18), Vienna (37) Amsterdam (44), Rome (47) and Munich (52).
Commenting on the survey results, Noel O’Connor, Senior Consultant at Mercer said, “In 2021, the Euro strengthened against the dollar and most cities in the Eurozone climbed significantly in the ranking. Dublin, which recorded deflation during the year, didn’t climb as sharply as other Eurozone cities like Paris, Vienna, Amsterdam and Rome where official inflation caused faster price rises”.
According to Mr. O’Connor, “One of the factors influencing Dublin’s ranking is the cost of rental accommodation. High demand, coupled with supply constraints in the private rental market, mean some expatriates have difficulty finding appropriate rental accommodation, often the biggest cost for companies placing employees on assignment”.
As the Cost of Living Survey uses New York as the base city, strengthened European currencies against the US dollar is driving western European cities up in this year’s rankings. These rises have been more pronounced in Eurozone locations, while cities in the UK saw more modest increases.
“Looking ahead, as the potential effects of Brexit continue to evolve, Dublin has an opportunity to expand the availability of rental accommodation for expatriates, to help improve its ranking. Overall, Dublin remains an attractive location for multinational organisations,” said Mr. O’Connor.
Mobility is evolving from traditional long-term assignments – i.e., relocating an employee for a few years then repatriating them to their home location – to other kinds of mobility moves such as short-term assignees, international foreign hires, permanent transferees, commuters, international remote workers and international freelancers.
“Cost of living has always been a factor for international mobility planning, but the pandemic has added a whole new layer of complexity, as well as long-term implications related to health and safety of employees, remote working and flexibility policies, among other considerations,” said Ilya Bonic, Career President and Head of Mercer Strategy. “As organisations rethink their talent and mobility strategies, accurate and transparent data is essential to compensate employees fairly for all types of assignments.
Mercer’s 2020 Worldwide Survey of International Assignment Policies and Practices confirmed that many of the companies surveyed are offering more flexible options to accommodate diverse personal circumstances of the assignees. Another 2020/2021 Mercer survey found that over 50% of employers surveyed expected changes in terms of the number of one-way transfers, talent development, short-term and commuter assignments in their organisations due to the pandemic.
Mercer’s latest Cost of Living Survey helps employers understand the importance of monitoring currency fluctuations and assessing the inflationary and deflationary pressures on goods, services and accommodation in all operating locations. The data also helps employers determine and maintain compensation packages for employees on international assignments and when working abroad. Additionally, the cost of living in a location can have a significant impact on its attractiveness as a destination for talent, and influences site selection decisions for organisations expanding and transforming their geographic footprint.
Mercer’s 2021 Cost of Living City Ranking found Ashgabat the most expensive city for international employees, pushing Hong Kong to second place. Beirut ranked third, climbing 42 positions up the ranking as a result of a severe and extensive economic depression due to escalation of several crises — the country’s largest financial crisis, COVID-19 and the Port of Beirut explosion in 2020. Tokyo and Zurich each dropped one spot from third and fourth respectively to fourth and fifth positions, and Shanghai ranked sixth, up one place from last year. Singapore moved from fifth place to seventh.
Other cities appearing in the top 10 of Mercer’s most costly cities for international employees are Geneva (8), Beijing (9), and Bern (10). The world’s least expensive cities for international employees, according to Mercer’s survey, are Tbilisi (207), Lusaka (208), and Bishkek, which ranked as the least costly city at 209.
Cities in the US have dropped in this year’s ranking mostly due to currency fluctuations between March 2020 and March 2021, despite the rising inflation of goods and services in the country. New York (14) ranked as most expensive city in the US, though it dropped eight positions since last year, followed by Los Angeles (20), San Francisco (25), Honolulu (43) and Chicago (45). Winston Salem (151) remains the least expensive US city surveyed for international employees. San Juan (89) dropped 23 positions due to deflation in the second part of 2020 and a very low inflation in the beginning of 2021 hence affecting the position in the ranking.
The Canadian dollar has appreciated in value in relation to the USD, triggering jumps in this year’s ranking. Vancouver (93) is the most expensive Canadian city in the ranking, followed by Toronto (98) and Montreal (129). Ranking 156, Ottawa is the least expensive city in Canada.
In South America, Port of Spain (91) ranked as the most expensive city, followed by Port-au-Prince (92) and Pointe-à-Pitre (107). Brasilia (205) is the least expensive city in South America.
Europe, the Middle East, and Africa
Two European cities are among the top 10 list of most expensive locations. Number five in the global ranking, Zurich remains the most costly European city, followed by Geneva (8).
The strengthening of local currency resulted in several European cities climbing in the ranking, with Paris climbing to 33. Local currency in the United Kingdom remains strong with London (18), Birmingham (121) jumping one and eight places, respectively.
The United Arab Emirates continued to diversify its economy, which reduced the impact of the oil industry on GDP. With this ongoing process, there has been negative price movement in both Dubai (42) and Abu Dhabi (56). Beirut is the costliest city in the Middle East for international employees, jumping 42 positions to third in the global ranking. N’Djamena (13), Lagos (19) and Libreville (20) are first, second and third costliest cities in Africa for international employees. Lusaka ranked 208 is the least costly city in Africa.
More than half of the top 10 most expensive cities are located in Asia. Ashgabat climbed one position in this year’s ranking, making it the costliest city for international employees, both in Asia and globally. Hong Kong (2), Tokyo (4), Shanghai (6), Singapore (7) and Beijing (9) followed suit. Mumbai (78) is India’s most expensive city but dropped 18 places in this year’s ranking due to a relatively weak Indian rupee in comparison with other cities in the ranking.
Australian cities have climbed in this year’s ranking as the local currency significantly gained value against the USD. Sydney (31), Australia’s most expensive ranked city for international employees, experienced a climb of 35 places, followed by Melbourne (59) with a climb of 40 places.
Notes for editors
Mercer's widely recognized ranking is one of the world’s most comprehensive, and is designed to help multinational companies and governments determine compensation strategies for their expatriate employees. New York City is used as the base city for all comparisons and currency movements are measured against the US dollar. The survey includes over 400 cities throughout the world; this year’s ranking includes 209 cities across five continents and measures the comparative cost of more than 200 items in each location, including housing, transportation, food, clothing, household goods, and entertainment. The data collected provides all of the key elements employers need to design efficient and transparent compensation packages for international assignees. Learn more here.
The figures for Mercer’s cost of living and rental accommodation cost comparisons are derived from a survey conducted in March 2021. Exchange rates from that time and Mercer’s international basket of goods and services from its Cost of Living Survey have been used as base measurements.
Governments and major companies use data from this survey to protect the purchasing power of their employees when transferred abroad; rental accommodation costs data is used to assess local expatriate housing allowances. The choice of cities surveyed is based on demand for data from Mercer’s clients.
Mercer believes in building brighter futures by redefining the world of work, reshaping retirement and investment outcomes, and unlocking real health and well-being. Mercer’s approximately 25,000 employees are based in 43 countries and the firm operates in 130 countries. Mercer is a business of Marsh McLennan (NYSE: MMC), the world’s leading professional services firm in the areas of risk, strategy and people, with 76,000 colleagues and annual revenue of $17 billion. Through its market-leading businesses including Marsh, Guy Carpenter and Oliver Wyman, Marsh McLennan helps clients navigate an increasingly dynamic and complex environment. For more information, visit www.mercer.com. Follow Mercer on Twitter @Mercer.
|Mercer Cost of Living Survey – Worldwide Rankings 2021|
|Rank as of March||City||Country/Region|
|1||2||HONG KONG||Hong Kong (SAR)|
|6||14||NEW YORK CITY||United States|
|17||20||LOS ANGELES||United States|
|16||25||SAN FRANCISCO||United States|
|49||30||BANGUI||Central African Republic|
|24||41||KINSHASA||Dem. Rep. of the Congo|
|23||42||DUBAI||United Arab Emirates|
|39||56||ABU DHABI||United Arab Emirates|
|48||65||WHITE PLAINS||United States|
|66||89||SAN JUAN||Puerto Rico|
|73||91||PORT OF SPAIN||Trinidad & Tobago|
|175||92||PORT AU PRINCE||Haiti|
|83||103||ST. LOUIS||United States|
|134||107||POINTE A PITRE||Guadeloupe|
|118||122||BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN||Brunei|
|78||124||SAN JOSE||Costa Rica|
|111||143||HO CHI MINH CITY||Vietnam|
|132||151||WINSTON SALEM||United States|
|163||167||DAR ES SALAAM||Tanzania|
|168||169||SAN SALVADOR||El Salvador|
|167||173||SANTO DOMINGO||Dominican Republic|
|187||178||CAPE TOWN||South Africa|
|160||191||RIO DE JANEIRO||Brazil|
Source: Mercer’s 2021 Cost of Living Survey
 Mercer’s Alternative International Assignments survey
 Mercer’s data was collected in March 2021; price variances in many locations were not significant at the time of the data gathering due to the pandemic as various measures were adopted by governments worldwide, such as refraining from collecting value-added tax for a period of time.