The cost of beer and a cup of coffee in Cape Town vs Joburg vs Durban

Mercer has published the results of its 2019 Cost of Living survey, ranking cities around the world by the overall cost of living for expats on assignment abroad.

In a rapidly changing world, mobility programs have become a core component of multinational organisations’ global talent strategy, Mercer said.

The group noted that a number of factors – including currency fluctuations, cost of inflation for goods and services, and volatility in accommodation prices – contribute to the overall cost of expatriate packages for employees on international assignments.

“In a skill-focused economy driven by digital disruption and the need for a globally connected workforce, deploying expatriate employees is an increasingly important aspect of a competitive business strategy for global companies,” said Ilya Bonic, president of Mercer’s career business.

“There are numerous personal and organisational advantages for sending employees overseas, including career development, global experience, new skillsets, and re-allocation of resources. By offering fair and competitive compensation packages, organisations can facilitate moves that drive business results.”

The report looked at the following factors that contributed to the cost of living in different countries around the globe for expats, including: clothing, food, alcohol and tobacco, housing, entertainment and transportation.

Global ranking

Mercer’s 2019 Cost of Living Survey finds that eight out of the top 10 of the world’s most expensive cities for expatriates are Asian cities, resulting from high costs for expatriate consumer goods and a dynamic housing market.

Tokyo (2), Singapore (3) and Seoul (4) top the list, while the costliest city in the world for the second consecutive year is Hong Kong (1). Other cities appearing in the top 10 are Zurich (5), Shanghai (6), Ashgabat (7), Beijing (8), New York City (9), and Shenzhen (10).

The world’s least expensive cities for expatriates are Tunis (209), Tashkent (208), and Karachi (207).

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.

Governments and major companies use data from this survey to protect the purchasing power of their employees when transferred abroad; rental accommodation costs data is used to assess local expatriate housing allowances. The choice of cities surveyed is based on demand for data.

# City Country
1 Hong Kong Hong Kong
2 Tokyo Japan
3 Singapore Singapore
4 Seoul South Korea
5 Zurich Switzerland
6 Shanghai China
7 Ashgabat Turkmenistan
8 Beijing China
9 New York United States
10 Shenzhen China
180 Cape Town South Africa
185 Johannesburg South Africa

African and South African findings

According to the report, N’Djamena, Chad takes the lead as the highest-ranking city in Africa, at 11th. It is down from eighth in 2018. Victoria, Seychelles, off East Africa, is ranked 14th, from 21st in 2018.

Kinshasa, Dem. Rep. of Congo (22) climbed fifteen places. Libreville, Gabon (24) is followed by Lagos, Nigeria (25), which moved up seventeen places. Despite dropping about 20 places, Luanda, Angola (26) still remains in fifth place.

As compared to last year’s report, some African countries like Conakry in Guinea and Nairobi, Kenya have gone up from 106th to 88th and from 123rd to 97th respectively, Mercer noted.

Douala in Cameroon and Maputo in Mozambique have seen a noticeable increase in exchange rates. Whereas the opposite has been recorded for Brazzaville, Congo (39). Other costly African cities include are Dakar (72) and Abuja (85).

In South Africa, Cape Town ranks 180th – down from 170th in 2018 – while Johannesburg falls to 185th cheapest city in the country, from 177th before.

An in-depth look at cost of living changes over the last five years in South Africa’s three major cities showed how the price of beer, coffee, milk and water vary (in dollars).

Beer (0.33 liter of an international brand beer)

All three South African cities saw an increase in beer prices over the last five year. This is due, in part, to a 12% tax on beer enacted in 2019.

Coffee A cup of an espresso coffee at a popular and fashionable cafe, including service)

Milk (one liter of pasteurized whole milk, 2.5% or more fat content)

One liter of non-sparkling mineral water

The price of one liter of non-sparkling water fell in all three cities, the sharpest decline in Johannesburg, where a liter of water is now 55% less than in 2014.


South Africa vs the rest

Read: More South Africans are living on the coast and travelling into Johannesburg to work

Latest news

Partner Content

Show comments

Follow us


The cost of beer and a cup of coffee in Cape Town vs Joburg vs Durban