The 20 Most Expensive Cities in the World

They say that can’t buy you happiness, but it can buy you a Big Mac and an iPhone. Whether you need to work four hours or 400 hours to bag them may depend on where you live as much as what you earn. A recent survey by financial firm UBS analyzed these parameters in 71 cities around the world then ranked them in order of cost of living. So, do you live in one of the world’s most expensive cities? And what are your wages actually worth? The results may surprise you.

Exp cities Helsinki
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20. Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki, the capital of Finland, is a prosperous, civilized place. The cost of goods and services for a three-person family is $2,485 per month (roughly equivalent to Hong Kong) with housing a little pricier than Brussels, but its citizens benefit from free healthcare and education, low crime rates, solid infrastructure, a clean environment, and 29 days of annual paid vacation.

Exp cities Toronto
Image: Benson Kua

19. Toronto, Canada

Toronto was one of two Canadian cities surveyed by UBS. It scored highly in terms of expense in most measures (goods and services were $2,609 per month), but when rent costs were taken into account its overall ranking fell from 12 to 19. For now, housing costs in the world’s most multicultural city remain relatively affordable.

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18. Paris, France

If time is money, Parisians aren’t poor. The working week in France is restricted to 35 hours, with a generous paid vacation allowance of 29 days. (On average, over the course of a year, French workers put in 1,000 fewer hours than those in Hong Kong.) Vacations don’t pay the bills, however. Goods and services here cost $2,426 per month, with a three-room unfurnished apartment exceeding $2,000.

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17. Seoul, South Korea

Seoul, the up-and-coming capital of South Korea, barely made it into the top 50 of most expensive cities as recently as a decade ago. Today, however, this restless, sprawling, tech-friendly metropolis boasts higher prices for food and electronics than New York City. Fortunately for its citizens, rent remains reasonable, with a furnished two-room apartment costing $970 – less than a quarter the equivalent rent in the Big Apple.

16. Milan, Italy

A producer of luxury textiles since the Middle Ages, Milan is one of the world’s great fashion capitals. Unsurprisingly, this chic Italian city ranks the second highest globally in terms of the cost of clothes. A new wardrobe here will set you back more than $1,100. In Manila in the Philippines, by comparison, the annual cost of clothing averages just $230.

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15. Dubai, UAE

Desert-bound Dubai, the dynamic capital of the United Arab Emirates, is famous for its 0 percent tax rate and its luxury shopping malls. Compared with other global cities, the cost of living isn’t exorbitant, but increased demands for housing mean a furnished two-room apartment now costs $2,320 per month – just $500 less than London in the U.K. or Geneva, Switzerland.

14. Luxembourg City, Luxembourg

Luxembourg City, the medieval capital of the micro-state of Luxembourg, has an air of quiet exclusivity. Monthly local rents are high – $2,130 compared with $1,340 in Brussels, Belgium – but costs such as income tax and social security contributions are modest (12.5 percent and 15.3 percent respectively), and purchasing power is the highest in the world, meaning most of its residents can afford it.

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13. Los Angeles, U.S.

Hollywood, Venice Beach, Rodeo Drive, Beverley hills – the sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles is the stuff of legends… and seemingly ever-rising prices. A three-course meal in one of the city’s better restaurants will now set you back $100, but cheap imports and relatively high wages means that on average, it takes just 27.2 hours to earn an iPhone in L.A. (compared to almost ten times that in Mexico City or Shanghai, China).

Exp cities Auckland
Image: Partyzane

12. Auckland, New Zealand

The harbor-side city of Auckland ranked third globally in the 2014 Mercer Quality of Living Survey, but the good life comes at a price. Excluding rent, it is the ninth most expensive city in the world, with the cost of goods and services only slightly lower than in London in the U.K.

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Exp cities Miami
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11. Miami, U.S.

A hub of glitzy night clubs and high-rise extravagance, Miami is a particularly expensive destination for visitors. A five-star hotel here will set you back $420 per night, with cheaper three-star options costing $240. Average local rents, hovering around $2,000, push the city from 16th most expensive in the world to 11th.

10. Tokyo, Japan

As a global city, Tokyo is still cheaper than London or New York, but anyone looking to set up home there should know that household appliances can be prohibitively expensive – more than the double the global average. The average cost of a meal is also equivalent to six in Mumbai, India, and it takes twice as long to earn a kilo of rice in Tokyo than it does in Zurich, Switzerland.

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Exp cities Sydney
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9. Sydney, Australia

Sydney scores highly on most measures of expense: household appliances are nearly 50 percent more expensive than the global average, and goods and services are only slightly cheaper than in London, U.K. Australia’s isolated geography plays a big role in the city’s costliness, as do comparatively high wage levels – the seventh highest in the world.

8. Copenhagen, Denmark

Transport costs in Copenhagen are three times higher than the global average and tax rates are set at an eye-watering 45 percent. Nonetheless, thanks to its interesting architecture, culture of tolerance, excellent infrastructure, and high local wages, urbane Copenhagen has three times topped Monocle magazine’s Quality of Life Survey as the world’s most livable city.

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7. Chicago, U.S.

Residents of the Windy City may be surprised to hear that it is the second most expensive place in the U.S., at least according to UBS. One reason? Clothing. Women’s clothing in Chicago is the most expensive in the world – at a staggering $1,270 per wardrobe, almost three times the global average.

6. Hong Kong, China

Industrious Hong Kong boasts an average 50-hour working week with just 17 days of vacation. The city’s apartments are among the priciest in the world and rents push it 13 places up the global ranking. There’s good news for lovers of fast food though – on average you only have to work for nine minutes to afford a Big Mac.

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5. London, U.K.

London, U.K., along with Stockholm in Sweden, tops the bill for public transport, but it is the high cost of housing for which the city is really notorious. A million dollars might buy you a cozy 21-square-meter corner of prime real estate while the average apartment rent, a staggering $3,350 per month, could get you two pads – one in Beijing, China, and one in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

4. Oslo, Norway

Travelers to the capital of Norway may find that they hemorrhage money. According to a Tripadvisor survey, an evening out in the city (including four-star lodging) will set you back more than $500. Taxi fares are part of the total, with a three-mile journey costing $32 (and for the same money you could travel 41 miles in Cairo, Egypt). The beer is also the most expensive in the world.

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Exp cities Geneva
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3. Geneva, Switzerland

A hub of global finance and international diplomacy, the Swiss city of Geneva is among the priciest places in the world for goods, services, housing, and food. However, its wage levels are the second highest in the world, meaning it’s a good place to work, but an expensive one to visit.

2. Zurich, Switzerland

Zurich is the most expensive city in Europe. USB puts living costs for a three-person family in excess of 3,500 dollars per month. Like Geneva, the city enjoys high wages to match its high prices – inhabitants earn an average of around 36 dollars per hour, the highest rate in the world.

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1. New York City, U.S.

New York would be the world’s third most expensive city without considering property costs, but thanks to its soaring rents, it takes the crown. The monthly rent for an apartment in the Big Apple costs 200 dollars more than in London, but unlike in the U.K. capital, wages in the Big Apple tend to be high (as they rank fourth globally). It takes an average of less than three days to earn what it costs to buy an iPhone in the city.

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