The UAE and other major Gulf cities have become more expensive for expatriates in 2019 as compared to last year, mainly due to increase in the value of their currencies, according to the latest cost of living report by ECA International.
Dubai and Abu Dhabi are the first and second most expensive cities in the GCC and are now both in the top 50 most expensive locations in the world for the first time ever. Both Dubai and Abu Dhabi saw their ranking jumping from 49th to 35th and 54th to 40th, respectively.
The UAE cities are followed by Doha, Manama, Muscat, Riyadh, Kuwait City and Jeddah in terms of most expensive cities for foreigners.
"Countries in the GCC rose an average of 18 places in the rankings thanks mainly to the strength of their currencies, most of which are pegged to the US dollar, making them more expensive for visitors from many other countries," says Steven Kilfedder, production manager at ECA International.
The UAE dirham, which is pegged to the US dollar, has gained against most of the currencies. According xe.com data, the UAE dirham lost nearly two per cent against the Indian rupee, 4.8 per cent versus Philippines' peso and 4.7 per cent versus Russian ruble in the past one year. But Emirati currency gained 11 per cent versus Pakistani rupee, nine per cent compared to Turkish lira, 1.3 per cent against Chinese yuan, 1.2 per cent versus Sri Lankan currency and 1 per cent against Bangladeshi taka.
A recently-released research by InterNations revealed that Abu Dhabi was ranked at the 15th position among 82 cities in the world for expats to live and work in, due to factors such as the ease of settling in, the quality of its urban living, and its financing and housing index. Dubai placed 34th on the cities list, while the UAE placed 40th on the list of 64 countries ranked for their attractiveness by expats.
Bilal Moti, managing partner of Windmills Valuation Services, says the cost of living index 2019 exhibits a common surging trend across the GCC and this is pre-dominantly attributable to higher dollar's exchange rate against international currencies.
"The other reason is the phenomenal urbanization and the infrastructural development that GCC countries have had over the last 25 years, which has impacted the living expenses here. Having said that, a no income tax environment, heavily dropped real estate prices and rentals, and the value for money the life offers in the GCC countries mitigate the reflection of the GCC ratings," Moti said.
According to ECA International, Middle Eastern locations, on average, have increased in the rankings by 11 places. Abu Dhabi has seen the biggest increase in the last five years, having increased a total of 126 places since 2014. The UAE capital was 166th in 2014.Muscat has increased the most in the last year, up 37 places to 97th most expensive place, entering the top 100 first the first time
Globally, Turkmenistan's capital Ashgabat remains the most expensive city in the world for expats for a second year running, mainly due to a combination of high inflation and a black market currency rate far weaker than the official exchange rate making purchases particularly expensive for expatriates in their home currency unless they can access the illegal black market exchange rate.
Tokyo stays second costliest city while followed by three Swiss cities - Zurich, Geneva and Basel - Hong Kong, Bern, Yokohama, Tel Aviv and Nagoya.
The surveys compare a basket of like-for-like consumer goods and services commonly purchased by assignees in over 480 locations worldwide. Certain living costs, such as accommodation rental, utilities, car purchases and school fees are usually covered by separate allowances.
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