20 Of The Most Expensive Cities In The World

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
Our travel recommendations are based on our personal experiences and research, written by locals and travel experts with deep familiarity with the destination. When you book a hotel or tour that we link to, we may earn a commission.

The cost of living is going up all over, but in these 20 cities it is downright hard to get by if you aren’t a millionaire.

Using data curated from Numbeo, we’re taking you on a trip around the world to 20 of the most expensive tourist destinations and exploring how locals spend their hard-earned money. We’ve put together several maps and graphs to show you who’s paying the most, where it’s going, and what consumer goods cost locally.

Take a look at how much it costs to live in these 20 beautiful cities:

As you can see, most of the most expensive cities are in Europe and the U.S., but there were a couple surprises here. We had no idea that the median resident in Singapore is paying a whopping $3,210 per month!

Also surprising is that Dubai isn’t higher on the list. Sure, $3,051 is a lot to cough up every month, but for a city that’s known for being the playground for the Middle East’s richest and most powerful VIPs, are we silly to have expected more?

Where does the money go?

Here we see the breakdown of the cost for a similar lifestyle in each city, and there is clearly a lot of variance.

In San Francisco, an unbelievable 72.7 percent is going toward rent! Luckily for ‘frisco residents, the high cost of real estate is somewhat offset by other areas: only 8.3 percent of their monthly ‘budgets’ go toward restaurants and 1.7 percent toward recreation.

Geneva, Switzerland is at the other extreme – living in the city center, you would be putting just over half of your monthly income toward rent. That’s a lot less, but you’ll pay for it in other ways, like when you want to eat out at restaurants (15.4%) or spend money on other recreation activities (4.4%). Genevans also spend more than any other country we considered here on eating in; because food is more expensive at the grocery store in Geneva, dining at home accounts for 15.9 percent of the monthly spend.

What do local goods cost?

What surprised us most was the variance in costs between the same goods in different cities.

High-speed internet access would cost you less than $30 in Hong Kong, but you’d be paying over $140 in Hamilton, Bermuda! Meanwhile, a movie ticket in Bermuda is $12, just over Hong Kong’s $11.60, but in Geneva the same ticket costs almost $20.

Everyone’s biggest expense varies a lot too.

Rent in Hong Kong and London is at the expensive-but-reasonable mark that we’ve come to expect for major cities: just over $2,000 for a one-bedroom apartment in the city center. Move to New York, Hamilton, or San Francisco and that jumps up to just under or even over $3,000. Surprisingly, rent in Geneva came out to $1,699, just over half of San Francisco’s $3,354.

Luckily, almost anywhere you go, the cost of a beer hovers around $6, so if you’re left reeling after spending all that money, you can take the edge off with a pint. Hamilton is the exception; at $9 a beer, you’ll need a few more to forget about the damage to your wallet.

Numbeo’s data relies on crowdsourced submissions, which means that it isn’t a scientific study, but that it gives a good overall snapshot of the cost of living in each place.

The cost of living should also be thought of in terms of earning power in each location. In London, for example, the median worker might struggle a bit with the cost of living, but that same worker might be completely underwater had he or she grown up in Dubai.

The Economist’s Big Mac Index is a great tool for understanding this discrepancy, called “purchasing power parity.” Incidentally, Switzerland tops that list.

About the methodology

This graphic was created with data compiled from Numbeo.com on December 16, 2016.

Cost-of-living figures were calculated by using a baseline, single-person household living in a 1-bedroom apartment near the city center, using public transportation.

The exact scenario used can be accessed here for New York City estimates.

20 Of The Most Expensive Cities In The World: