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Most Expensive Cities for Expatriates Ranked

By SHRM Online staff  4/8/2009

Moscow is the most expensive and Johannesburg, South Africa, the least expensive among a ranking of the world’s 50 priciest cities for expatriates renting living accommodations, according to a survey of 300 cities.

The figures were compiled in late October 2008 using September 2008 exchange rates and then compared with exchange rates in February 2009. Mercer, a global provider of consulting, outsourcing and investment services, conducted the survey. Data was based on typical rentals for furnished and unfurnished one- to four-bedroom apartments and three- to four-bedroom houses.

The rental property index is based on cost comparisons using the U.S. dollar, so currency exchange rates had an influence on the rankings, according to Mercer.

“The world’s housing markets have been sliding since 2008, and strong currency fluctuations in the past few months have also had a strong impact on the comparative cost of expatriate housing,” Mercer research manager and senior associate Marie-Laurence Sepede said in an April 2, 2009, press release.

Since September 2008, the euro’s value has dropped by about 12 percent against the U.S. dollar, and the Polish zloty, Mexican peso, Australian dollar, Brazilian real and British pound have lost more than 30 percent in value against the dollar during the same period, she pointed out.

Among Mercer’s findings, Asian cities continued to dominate the top 10 list of most expensive cities. For February 2009, Tokyo and Hong Kong were the second and third most expensive, respectively. Beijing was sixth, and Singapore was 10th.

Also among the top 10 were Mumbai, India (No. 4); New York City (No. 5); Geneva, Switzerland (No. 7); and New Delhi (No. 8).

Some cities on the list have fluctuated since September 2008, but they still remained among the 50 costliest places to rent living quarters. Among the top 50, for example, London moved from the fourth most expensive city to the ninth most expensive.

Other findings:

  • Middle East: Dubai of the United Arab Emirates, ranked No. 12, is the most expensive for rentals in the Middle East.
  • Africa: Jeddah in Saudi Arabia is the most expensive. It’s No. 47, up from No. 50.
  • Asia Pacific: In addition to the highly ranked Asian cities, Sydney remains the most expensive city for rental property in Australia (No. 32).
  • South America: Most cities have dropped in ranking. Caracas, Venezuela, is the most expensive city in the region, at No. 18.
  • North America: New York City’s ranking dropped slightly from the fifth most expensive to the seventh most expensive city.

“Much of the movement in the rankings can be attributed to currency fluctuations,” said Rebecca Powers, principal with Mercer. The supply also can be a factor; London residential rents are falling as the supply of rental property increases.

“Looking ahead over the next few months, rental prices are expected to decline as a result of the economic slowdown,” she said in a press release. “Multinational companies should closely monitor these changes in the markets so they don’t miss out on opportunities for cost savings.”

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