These are the world’s most expensive cities for contractors

Most expensive cities for contractors

31st January 2020

As the global economy becomes increasingly interconnected – more and more international contractors are trying their hand abroad. With the overwhelming amount of choice available to contingent workers – deciding on a destination can be a difficult task.

In order to provide more information on the topic, this week we’ve decided to cover the Mercer 2019 Cost of Living Survey, which lists the world’s most expensive cities for contractors. The survey, which ranked over 500 cities on the cost of housing, transportation, food, clothing, and entertainment, includes a number of contracting hotspots. Here’s what you need to know:

The most expensive cities for contractors: Top 10

Hong Kong

Topping the list for the second year running, the priciest destination for contractors was Hong Kong. Despite recent protests that have rocked the region over the past few months, it’s a contracting hotspot, with employers keen to secure the skills of professionals across a range of specialisms such as sales, information technology, engineering, marketing and finance.


Tokyo, otherwise known as ‘The Electric Town’, came a close second. The city is on an extended drive to attract foreign talent due to an ageing population and a low birth-rate, leading Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to introduce legislation aimed at attracting half a million foreign workers by 2025. While it may be pricey, Tokyo has also been named as the safest destination for contractors in the world.


In third place was Singapore. With a reputation as one of the strongest economies in the world, the country was ranked as the second most pro-business regime in 2019. It’s a hugely attractive destination for contractors, with high demand for workers in sectors such as Fintech, AI, machine learning, data science, UI/UX and digital transformation.


Fourth placed on the list and also the fourth largest economy in Asia, this destination is fast becoming a hotspot for contractors worldwide. Famous for its rise from one of the poorest countries in the world to a high-income country in just a few generations, South Korea remains one of the fastest growing nations in the world. Home to Samsung, LG, and Hyundai, Seoul is pouring money into AI, making it a location of choice for tech and IT contractors.


Rounding out the top five of the most expensive cities for contractors is Zurich. The city, a leading global financial centre, is home to several financial institutions and banking companies, along with many of Switzerland’s research and development centres. Talent shortages in the region are opening up a lot of spaces for foreign workers, with a 2018 survey from the Adecco Group finding considerable skills shortages in technical, financial, and medical professions.


Shanghai is the largest and most cosmopolitan city in China, and its glamour has long been a draw for foreigners from all over the world. It’s a global financial hub – and features many openings for contingent workers. Research from Hays found that businesses are having difficulty recruiting candidates in sales, marketing, research & development, engineering, accountancy and finance, operations and IT roles.


Seventh place on the list is Ashgabat. Known for white marble buildings and grandiose national monuments, Ashgabat holds the record for the highest density of marble buildings, at over 500. Ashgabat’s meteoric rise in the rankings is largely attributable to the economic problems of the Turkmenistan government.


China’s sprawling capital is unsurprisingly a top draw for contractors. The city has history stretching back three millennia, along with amazingly fast internet, cutting-edge technology such as facial recognition software and significant investment in artificial intelligence.

New York

The big apple needs no introduction, and with over one million businesses in the city, contractors are sure to be spoilt for choice when trying their hand in the destination. However, the glitz and glamour comes at a price – with cost of living in New York a whopping 120% higher than the US national average.


Tenth place on the list of most expensive cities for contractors is Shenzhen. Dubbed the ‘Silicon Valley of Hardware’, the city has transformed from a small fishing village in South-Eastern China to a booming technological metropolis. Home to giants such as Tencent, Huawei, and BGI, the city is a magnet for start-ups, producing a bevy of unicorns – including drone maker DJI and UBTech Robotics.

Compliance is key

While these cities may cost a pretty penny – the list includes some of the most attractive destinations for contractors worldwide. For those trying their hand abroad, compliance is key. Global tax systems are getting more complex, and the slightest error could land workers in trouble. By employing experts in international tax and compliance, you can take this burden off your shoulders.

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