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Australian and New Zealand cities are more attractive than ever for expatriates



An increase in comparative affordability means major cities in both Australia and New Zealand are becoming even more attractive locations for international businesses to send expatriates. 

Mercer’s 2019 Cost of Living Survey finds that while some cities in the Asia Pacific region are climbing the ranks, with eight of the world’s 10 most expensive cities located in Asia, New Zealand and Australian cities are bucking that regional trend. 


While Hong Kong has the dubious distinction of coming in at number one for the second consecutive year; Sydney - still the most expensive city in Australia and New Zealand - has dropped from 29 to 50 in global ranking in the past 12 months.


The falling trend holds true for Auckland (89) and Wellington (114), dropping eight and 13 places respectively. Melbourne comes in at 79th place from 58th in 2018. 


Workforce mobility is an integral strategy for the multinational organisation as it supports career development, global competitiveness, new skillsets, experience diversification and re-allocation of resources. The benefits of expatriate deployment, however,are always considered against its significant and increasing cost. 


Organisations rely on robust data to help them make the right mobility investment decisions. Mercer’s widely recognised Cost of Living survey is one of the world’s most comprehensive.  It is specifically designed to help multinational companies and governments determine compensation allowances for their expatriate employees. New York City, which came in at 9thplace from 13thin 2018, is the base city for all comparisons and currency movements are measured against the US dollar. 


Several factors determine the ranking, including currency fluctuations, cost of inflation for goods and services and volatility in accommodation prices. 


The exchange rate is a key factor when calculating expatriate packages and its effect is clearly illustrated by this year’s New Zealand and Australian city rankings. The loss of local currency values against the greenback means that while the actual cost of living in the New Zealand and Australian cities has not fallen, the cities’ global rankings have fallen. 


We’re seeing Australian cities fall in Cost of Living ranking due in large part to the Australian dollar losing more than nine per cent to the US dollar in the past year. Australia’s low price movement and the rise of other main cities in the ranking are also influential.


New Zealand cities were affected to a lesser extent with the local currency losing 6.5 per cent to the US dollar in the same period. 


Becoming more affordable as an expatriate destination is fantastic news as our local workforces will benefit from a potential influx of richer and more diversified talent. 


On the other hand, we might stem some brain-drain from our shores as it has become more expensive for Australian and New Zealand-based businesses to send employees to many major international markets. 



Numbers are my thing and some of these numbers could take your breath away


This year’s Cost of Living ranking includes 209 cities across five continents and measures the comparative cost of more than 200 items in each location, including housing, transportation, food, clothing, household goods and entertainment. 


  • Real estate has a huge influence on the cost of living. Want to wake up in a three-bedroom 200sqm apartment in Hong Kong for a year? It will cost you an eye watering AUD $246,184/NZD $256.735. Furnishings are extra.
  • Fancy some toast for breakfast? A loaf of white sliced bread in Sydney will set you back AUD $4.93, in comparison to AUD $18.56 in Luanda.
  • A litre of milk is four times more expensive in Beijing (NZD $6.50/AUD $6.23) than in Sau Paulo (NZD $1.56/AUD $1.50).

  • Drinks after work to celebrate Friday? Of the world’s major cities, the cost of beer (Heineken) in Sydney is the most expensive at NZD $4.48/AUD $4.30, in comparison to NZD $3.10/AUD $2.98 in New York and just NZD $1.35/AUD $1.30 in Johannesburg.


* The figures for Mercer’s cost of living and rental accommodation cost comparisons are derived from a survey conducted in March 2019. Exchange rates from that time and Mercer’s international basket of goods and services from its Cost of Living Survey have been used as base measurements. 

1 USD = 1.39986 AUD
1 USD = 1.46307 NZD



Chi Tran
Senior HR Consulting Professional
Chi Tran
Senior HR Consulting Professional

Chi Tran is a Senior HR Consulting Professional with expertise in compensation, benefits, metrics and analytics with +15 years experience.
Chi currently leads Mercer's Survey Data and Analytics business, a team of 27 people who are passionate about delivering meaningful and actionable data, analytics and insights to our remuneration & benefits survey, mobility and information consulting clients in Australia & New Zealand.
Mercer's Survey Data and Analytics business provides general market and industry-specific remuneration & benefits data, workforce metrics, analytical & insights services, industry networks/forums and consulting services to industry sectors including Construction, Education, Financial Services, FMCG, High Tech, Life Sciences, Logistics, Mining, Oil & Gas, Professional Services & Utilities.

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