Mercer Cost of Living Survey 2021: The unusual city that's now the world's most expensive to live in

The capital of Turkmenistan has been named the world's most expensive city to live in for overseas workers.

Ashgabat has topped the annual Mercer Cost of Living Survey which measures worldwide cities on more than 200 expenses including housing, transportation, entertainment, as well as food and household bills.

The city of more than one million has moved up from second place due to ongoing food shortages and hyperinflation, according to Mercer.

Turkmenistan is one of the most secretive countries in the world and is ruled with an iron fist by president Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow. Press freedoms are severely restricted in the former Soviet country, and the Central Asian state is still claiming to be Covid-19 free, which is rated highly suspicious in a population of more than 6 million.

In second place on the Mercer ranking of 209 cities is Hong Kong, which topped the chart last year. One of the biggest moves comes from Lebanon's capital Beirut which has vaulted from 45th to third thanks to an economy still crippled from the massive explosion at a port in August last year.

Fourth place is Japan's capital Tokyo with Switzerland's Zurich in fifth.

Five Australian cities have shot up the rankings. Australia's most expensive city, Sydney, jumped from 66 to 31, just ahead of Paris, which sits at 33rd most expensive city in the world.

Melbourne also had a steep rise from 59, up from 99 a year ago, placing it just behind the likes of Oslo (Norway), and the American cities of Washington and Boston. Perth moved from 104 to 63, Brisbane from 126 to 81, Canberra  from 118 to 75 and Adelaide 126 to 88.

Coming bottom of the rankings and therefore the cheapest cities to live in are Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, followed by Zambia's Lusaka and Tbilisi in Georgia.


Ilya Bonic, Career President and Head of Mercer Strategy, says Covid-19 had caused huge disruption to how companies mobilised workforces around the world.

"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 Bonic.

"As organisations rethink their talent and mobility strategies, accurate and transparent data is essential to compensate employees fairly for all types of assignments."

World's most expensive cities according to the Mercer Cost of Living Survey:

  1. Ashgabat (Turkmenistan)
  2. Hong Kong
  3. Beirut (Lebanon)
  4. Tokyo (Japan)
  5. Zurich (Switzerland)
  6. Shanghai (China)
  7. Singapore
  8. Geneva (Switzerland)
  9. Beijing (China)
  10. Bern (Switzerland)

World's cheapest cities

  1. Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan)
  2. Lusaka (Zambia)
  3. Tbilisi (Georgia)
  4. Tunis (Tunisia)
  5. Brasilia (Brazil)
  6. Windhoek (Namibia)
  7. Tashkent (Uzbekistan)
  8. Gaborone (Botswana)
  9. Karachi (Pakistan)
  10. Banjul (Gambia)

See also: Move over, Melbourne and Sydney: Australia has a new most liveable city