The 15 Most Expensive Cities in the World (Only 4 Are in the U.S.)

Explore the lavish lifestyles and soaring costs of living in the world's priciest cities.

female tourist walking outdoor with map
Updated May 28, 2024
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Forget postcards and souvenir magnets, the real cost of wanderlust is rising faster than ever.

Glittering skylines like New York's, Parisian cobblestone charm, and Hong Kong's buzzing energy come at a steep price.

So, before you book that one-way ticket to earn travel rewards, let's crack the code: are these 15 priciest urban playgrounds worth it?

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15. London, U.K.

Leonid Andronov/Adobe bridge of westminster london

England’s capital city is often featured on lists of the most expensive cities on earth. It took the 17th spot on Mercer’s rankings — likely due to the high cost of housing, goods, and utilities.

Yet tourists continue to flock to the city to bask in its history, lively nightlife, and incredible attractions — and, like NYC, London tends to draw in many international employees due to its industry and attractive work opportunities

14. Seoul, South Korea

Atakorn/Adobe korea seoul city bukchon hanok village

As the Korean entertainment industry continues to take the world by storm, Seoul has become a top destination for travelers and workers looking to relocate alike. It took the 16th spot on Mercer’s list of the most expensive cities for international workers.

While housing and accommodation costs tend to be on the pricier side in South Korea’s capital, things like food and public transportation can be quite affordable.

13. Honolulu, U.S.

SCStock/Adobe honolulu skyline besides waikiki beach

Hawaii’s capital city is stunning — making it a top destination for people looking to relocate and vacationers. Due to the strong demand, Honolulu took the 15th spot on Mercer’s list of the most expensive cities for international employees.

The demand from tourists leads to high prices for things like food and accommodations, and with a limited housing supply, the rental and real estate markets are quite competitive.

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12. Beijing, China

orpheus26/Adobe jianlou from zhengyang gate at night

Beijing surpassed Shanghai on the Forbes Billionaire List for third place. It also made Mercer’s list of the most expensive cities for international employees to live in (at number 13).

China’s capital city is a bucket list destination for many travelers (there’s plenty to do in the city, but the Great Wall alone draws many in). However, a high demand for real estate often makes accommodations quite pricey.

11. Shanghai, China

TTstudio/Adobe skyline of shanghai china at night

Shanghai regularly makes lists of the priciest places in the world — and in 2023, it landed at number 12 on Mercer’s list of the most expensive cities for international workers.

This may be partially because Shanghai is now home to some incredibly rich people. It took fourth place in Forbes’ 2023 list of cities with the most billionaires (New York has the most, and Hong Kong was number two).

10. San Francisco, U.S.

heyengel/Adobe golden gate bridge at sunset

Rounding out the top 10 — the third U.S. city on the list — was San Francisco. The notoriously expensive tech hub — with its stunning architecture and famed food and nightlife scenes — seems to have above-average prices on everything.

That includes housing, goods like food and clothing, education, medical expenses, and more. In 2022, the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment was a whopping $3,020 per month.

9. Copenhagen, Denmark

Scanrail/Adobe colorful houses in nyhavn copenhagen denmark

Copenhagen is known for its stunning architecture, delicious food, and top-notch quality of life. Still, a quick skim of popular travel blogs will tell you it’s also a costly place to visit (and live).

However, these same bloggers also opine that Copenhagen is worth the price. Everything is expensive — from accommodations to food to transportation — because taxes are high, and taxes are high because they’re put to use for the public.

8. Tel Aviv, Israel

rudi1976/Adobe tel aviv skyline besides beach

Israel’s Tel Aviv tied for eighth place with Denmark’s Copenhagen and was the only city in the Middle East to make the EIU’s top 10 list. Mercer also puts Tel Aviv as one of the most expensive cities in the world for international employees.

Each year, millions of international tourists flock to Israel and head to the stunning Mediterranean coastal city. However, the EIU’s surveys were completed before the October 2023 Israel-Palestine conflict broke out, which could affect future rankings.

7. Paris, France

Ekaterina Belov/Adobe skyline of paris with eiffel tower

If you ask someone (anyone) to name a few cities on their travel bucket list, odds are they're going to say Paris. The City of Lights is home to some of the world's most famous works of art, amazing food, and stunning streets lined with luxurious shops.

It's only natural that it would land in the EIU's top 10 most expensive list as well — and it was the only European destination not located in Switzerland to do so.

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6. Los Angeles, U.S.

blvdone/Adobe los angeles skyline besides busy highway

With the allure of near-ideal weather, Hollywood, and California cool, it’s not surprising that L.A. also landed in the top 10 of the EIU’s most expensive places to live list.

While tourists visit the area year-round, it’s also a hub for many people who work (or hope to work) in the booming American entertainment industry. Perhaps this is why the average home price in L.A. is nearly $1 million.

5. Hong Kong

leungchopan/Adobe ship sailing hong kong victoria harbor

Rounding out the top five on the EIU’s list was Hong Kong. Financial consulting firm Mercer also put Hong Kong as the most expensive city in the world for international employees.

The city-state has an incredible art scene, amazing street food, and a stunning skyline — and there has been some indication that rent prices aren’t rising as much as elsewhere. 

However, the cost of popular goods and services in Hong Kong remains high, according to data from ECA International.

4. Geneva, Switzerland

f11photo/Adobe night view of switzerland geneva city

Geneva tied NYC for the third spot in the EIU’s list. Like Zurich, its position could be tied to the strength of the country’s currency. From the stunning Lake Geneva to the lively streets in Old Town, there’s much to do and see in Geneva.

However, because most people in Switzerland don’t own their property, the rental market is highly competitive — so those looking to rent may be looking at premium prices.

3. New York City, U.S.

SeanPavonePhoto/Adobe new york city skyline at sunset

While it’s no longer number one on the EIU’s list of most expensive cities, New York City tied with Geneva, Switzerland for third place.

With its culture, massive job market, and general allure, it’s not surprising that people come to NYC from far and wide. However, pretty much everything in the city is expensive. In the summer of 2023, the average rent in Manhattan was a record-breaking $5,588 a month.

2. Singapore

Noppasinw/Adobe colorful park in singapore at sunset

The city-state of Singapore regularly tops lists of the most expensive places to live around the world. With stunning skyscrapers alongside beautiful green spaces, it’s clear why seasoned travelers would jump at the chance to visit.

However, a 2023 study by Julius Baer Group on the cost of living notes the city-state has expensive rent and home prices, school fees, car taxes, and general living expenses.

1. Zurich, Switzerland

SCStock/Adobe city center with fraumunster church zurich

In a 2023 list of the most expensive cities in the world, curated by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Switzerland’s Zurich tied for the number one spot with Singapore.

While there’s plenty to do and see in the historic city, the EIU attributed Zurich taking the number one spot to the strength of the Swiss Franc as well as how pricey groceries, home goods, and recreational activities have become.

Bottom line

Prostock-studio/Adobe male tourist exploring city holding map

While life in these iconic cities comes with a hefty price tag, their charm, vibrant culture, and potential to build wealth are undeniable. 

With careful planning and financial savvy, a working visa in one of these metropolises can be more than just a dream — it can be an adventure worth every penny.

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Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore

Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore is a seasoned freelance writer who also teaches writing courses at Rutgers University. She's based in Jersey City and enjoys travel, live music and, of course, spending quality time with her pup.