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Bangkok cost of living : not as cheap as you may think

Thai and Vietnamese cities have once again moved up the rankings, with Bangkok rising 64 places in five years and Hanoi up 25 places over the same period.

Boris Sullivan

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The Thai capital ranked 28th in Asia according to the latest ECA International survey, or one place above Chiang Mai, on the cost of living for expatriates.

Meanwhile, Thai and Vietnamese cities have once again moved up the rankings, with Bangkok rising 64 places in five years and Hanoi up 25 places over the same period.

But it’s worth noting that ECA survey does not include certain living costs such as accommodation rental and utilities charges (electricity, gas, and water). Bangkok is still affordable when it comes to housing compared to other regional capitals like Hong Kong or Singapore.

In the global rankings, Bangkok was 60th and Chiang Mai 142nd, while Singapore is now the 14th most expensive location in the world – down two places from last year.

Strong baht

“Thailand’s steady rise up our rankings has been a constant feature of our surveys in recent years as its economy has continued to grow and attract increasing investment from overseas businesses.

This means that the baht has strengthened considerably – making the country more expensive for expatriates and tourists. However, this trend has slowed over the past year, partly in response to government attempts to weaken the baht in order to keep the country competitive,” said Lee Quane, Regional Director, Asia at ECA International.

Hong Kong has dropped slightly in the rankings after falling behind the Swiss cities of Basel and Bern, and now sits outside of the top five most expensive locations globally.

Chinese cities drop

Chinese cities have all dropped in the most recent cost of living rankings this year. This includes Beijing and Shanghai, which both fell nine places – coming in at 24th and 19th place respectively.

“Chinese cities have all fallen across the board in our latest rankings due to signs of a weakening economy and poorly performing currency. One of the key contributing factors was undoubtedly the outbreak of Covid-19. However, it is important to note that the yuan was performing poorly before this period too, with the outbreak of the coronavirus exacerbating the relative weakness of the Chinese currency against other major currencies.”

Lee Quane, Regional Director, Asia at ECA International.

Top ten most expensive locations for expatriates in Asia

CityCountry2020 global ranking2019 global ranking
AshgabatTurkmenistan11
Hong KongHong Kong64
TokyoJapan77
YokohamaJapan1014
OsakaJapan1219
NagoyaJapan1317
SingaporeSingapore1412
MacauMacau1525
SeoulRepublic of Korea178
ShanghaiChina1910
Top ten most expensive locations for expatriates – Asia

Global Highlights

The vast majority of U.S. cities saw a rise in the rankings as the U.S. dollar continued to perform well against other major currencies.

“The recent strength of the U.S. dollar has been reflected in nearly all U.S. cities moving up in the rankings, with New York and Honolulu now entering the global top 20. In uncertain times, as we are currently seeing with Covid-19 and an impending global recession, many will put their money into what is seen as ‘safe haven’ economies such as the U.S. As a result, the U.S. dollar has strengthened – making things more expensive for expatriates living in the country than in the past,” said Quane.

Many European cities saw a drop in the cost of living as the value of the euro weakened slightly from the last survey. Major European cities such as Berlin, Madrid and Rome have continued to fall in the rankings and remain outside of the top 100 most expensive cities for overseas workers. 

Australian cities have experienced some of the biggest falls in the rankings this year, with every Australian city seeing a drop of over 20 places. Sydney is now the only Australian city in the top 100 most expensive locations, but it still dropped 24 places to 97th place.

About ECA’s Cost of Living Survey

ECA International’s cost of living surveys are carried out in March and September using a basket of day-to-day goods and services commonly purchased by assignees. The data used above refers to year-on-year movements between ECA’s March 2019 and March 2020 surveys. ECA’s Cost of Living Survey rankings began in 2005.

Cost of living indices are used by ECA clients to calculate cost of living allowances for assignees. The survey covers:

  • Food: Groceries; dairy produce; meat and fish; fresh fruit and vegetables 
  • Basic: Household goods; recreational goods; general services; leisure services
  • General: Clothing; electrical goods; motoring; meals out; alcohol and tobacco

Certain living costs such as accommodation rental, utilities charges (electricity, gas, and water), car purchases and school fees are not included in the survey. Such items can make a significant difference to expenses but are usually compensated for separately in expatriate packages.

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