The Most Expensive Cities in the World to Live

March 13, 2024

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Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

Wherever you go in the world, you’ll likely find the cost of living has increased. Prices for housing, food, and travel have steadily increased, putting pressure on already stretched household budgets. However, in some cities, residents have been feeling the pinch more than others.

Based on data from the Economic Intelligence Unit, we’ve looked at which cities have earned the dubious honor of being named the most expensive places to live. The survey was conducted on 179 cities around the world and compared over 200 prices for individual services and products. The prices are converted into US dollars and weighted against various categories. Each city has an index score based on these comparative factors.

So, without further ado, let’s look at which cities come with a hefty price tag!

1. Singapore, Singapore (tied with Zurich)

Sunset over Singapore
Sunset over Singapore

Singapore is world-renowned for its rich heritage and fusion of Malay, Chinese, Indian and European cultures. However, for nearly a decade, the city has been famous for another reason β€” being the world’s most expensive city to live in.

One of the main reasons for Singapore’s costly lifestyle is the city’s housing market. High demand and limited supply have forced property prices to rise dramatically over the last few years. Over six million people live in the city in an area of just 728.6 kmΒ² (281.3 miΒ²).

Day-to-day life is also pricey for those living in the city. Singapore has one of the most developed public transportation systems in the world, but it’s also one of the most expensive. You can’t necessarily save money by buying a car, though, as taxes and fees are also sky-high.

The island nation has limited agricultural land, which means most of the food needs to be imported. This pushes food and drink prices up within the city.

1. Zurich, Switzerland (tied with Singapore)

Zurich

The largest city in Switzerland is tied with Singapore as the world’s most expensive city to live in. Luckily, salaries in Zurich are amongst the highest in the country and the world. Taxes are also relatively low, although these two factors consequently mean Zurich residents have to pay more for accommodation, food, and other essential and luxury items.

Zurich is a largely walkable city, which means you can save money on public transport and car maintenance. However, if you do have to use trains and buses, you’ll find that the fares are anything but cheap. A local zone single train ticket in the city costs β‚£2.70 (US $3.02), while a ticket across all zones costs β‚£17.20 ($19.26)

3. Geneva, Switzerland (tied with New York)

Geneva and Lake Geneva
View across Lake Geneva

Switzerland is famed for its high wages, but this in turn leads to a high cost of living, with costly accommodation, food, travel and other expenses. The country’s standard of living is high and has a strong currency, which also pushes prices up across the city.

Geneva is home to Europe’s United Nations headquarters and the Red Cross. The city is also a hub for diplomacy and banking, all of which attract international visitors. However, tourists are met with hefty prices for food, public transport, and hotel rooms.

3. New York, United States (tied with Geneva)

Times Square, New York
Times Square, New York

New York City is the most populated city in the United States, with over eight million people. The Big Apple’s popularity is one of the reasons it costs so much to live here: demand is high, which is reflected by the steep rent. Residents and businesses are also faced with lofty tax rates, which average 8.52% for the state and local sales tax rates combined.

Transportation costs in the city are higher than the national average. Many native New Yorkers and visitors get around via the subway and buses. A standard bus or subway fare costs $2.90 in New York City, while a regular fare on the metro in Los Angeles costs just $1.75 and $2.25 for a bus fare in Chicago.

5. Hong Kong, China

Hong Kong
Hong Kong waterfront

As with most cities, Hong Kong’s expensive cost of living is a result of high demand and low supply of properties. This pushes rent and purchasing prices up to astronomical levels. Hong Kong has a population of over seven million people and very little land for development. The city is sandwiched between mountains and large bodies of water.

Although Hong Kong is known for its tax-friendly economy, this is at the expense of land. The government makes a large chunk of its revenue from land sales. It’s in the government’s interest for property prices to stay high. Otherwise, the government could have to up the tax rates to compensate.

Inflation has seen the cost of goods and services sharply rise at historically high rates. However, the likes of Singapore and New York’s faster rises have kept Hong Kong in fifth place.

6. Los Angeles, United States

Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles
Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles

Tinseltown attracts wannabe actors and musicians from around the world, along with those who just crave sunshine and gorgeous beaches. Thanks to its starry appeal, Los Angeles is the second-most populated city in the US and one of the most populated cities in the world. The high demand for housing is a major reason for the city’s expensive price tag.

LA has some of the highest taxes in the country, which is a major factor in its high cost of living. The various studios, production companies, and various other entertainment businesses have also pushed up the city’s cost of living.

The city also has a large number of millionaires and billionaires who aren’t afraid to splash the cash. This is reflected in the high cost of food, property, and entertainment in LA.

7. Paris, France

Eiffel Tower, Paris
Eiffel Tower, Paris

Paris, famed for its art, fashion, and food, is the most expensive city in the European Union. Like other cities in this list, Paris suffers from limited housing and high demand. It doesn’t have the skyscrapers as Hong Kong and New York do due to a city height limit on buildings over 37 meters (121 feet). While this has preserved the historic architecture of Paris, it means most people struggle to find affordable housing.

Thanks to its reputation for the arts and suave culture, it has attracted some of the wealthiest people from around the world. This affluent community is one of the major reasons Paris has so many designer shops. People travel from all over to buy luxury goods from the City of Lights. You can’t walk through Paris without spotting the many designer shops and restaurants lining the sidewalks. However, these places are usually out of the price range of the average person. Demand for retail space in the city is high, which also contributes to the high cost of items.

8. Copenhagen, Denmark (tied with Tel Aviv)

Copenhagen
Kayakers on the Copenhagen canal

Due to Copenhagen’s popularity, you’ll find hotels and shops are more expensive the closer you get to the city center and tourist attractions. However, housing is also expensive for those living in the city due to the scarcity of properties; Copenhagen only covers 179.8 kmΒ² (69.4 miΒ²) and has limited land to build on.

Denmark, as a whole, has costly tax rates. The so-called ‘tax ceiling’ (the maximum tax rate for income) is a whopping 52.07%, while the personal income tax rate on dividends and capital gains is 42%. High earners in Copenhagen can expect to pay a large chunk of their wages, as can people on lower incomes.

Watch out if you fancy a night out on the town. Copenhagen has some of the most expensive alcohol prices in Europe. Beer usually costs between €6 to €8, while cocktails can set you back €10 to €15.

8. Tel Aviv, Israel (tied with Copenhagen)

Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv skyline

Tel Aviv, the second-most populous city in Israel, once again ranks as one of the most expensive cities to live in. It was top of the list in 2021 but has dropped to eighth place in 2023.

In recent years, the shekel (Israel’s currency) has reached its highest valuation against the US dollar in over 20 years. The fast-appreciating currency has increased the price of goods and services. Tel Aviv is now the second-most expensive city for transportation costs and the second-most expensive for alcohol.

Housing costs have increased across Israel over the past decade. The trend is particularly evident in Tel Aviv, where land is limited and in high demand among real estate investors. There is a large divide between the north and south of the city. Wealthier residents tend to live in northern areas, while residents from low-income backgrounds (many of which come from minority groups) live in the city’s southern areas.

10. San Francisco, United States

Golden gate Bridge, San Francisco
Golden gate Bridge, San Francisco

The Bay Area is as expensive as it is beautiful. A major reason is the limited space for land development, which has led to a high property demand. The city’s prospering economy has brought thousands of people to the area, but there’s not enough housing to accommodate the demand.

San Francisco is home to Silicon Valley, where various global technology giants such as Apple, Facebook, and Google are based. This industry has attracted a number of wealthy people to the area, which has increased the cost of living. The city has some of the highest average wages in the country, which also has a major impact on the local economy and living costs.

Data Sources:
Economic Intelligence Unit: Worldwide Cost of Living

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