Trade tensions and populist undercurrents continue to dominate the global economic climate. Combined with the spectre of monetary policy tightening and volatility looming over markets, international businesses are under more pressure than ever to get their overseas operations right. Mercer’s 21st annual Quality of Living survey shows that many cities around the world still offer attractive environments in which to do business, and the best understand that the quality of living is an essential component of a city’s attractiveness for businesses and mobile talent.
Globally, Vienna tops the ranking for the 10th year running, closely followed by Zurich (2). In joint third place are Auckland, Munich and Vancouver – the highest ranking city in North America for the last 10 years. Singapore (25), Montevideo (78) and Port Louis (83) retain their status as the highest ranking cities in Asia, South America and Africa respectively. Despite still featuring at the bottom of the quality of living list, Baghdad has witnessed significant improvements related to both safety and health services. Caracas, however, saw living standards drop following significant political and economic instability.
“Strong, on-the-ground capabilities are integral to the global operations of most international businesses and are in large part driven by the personal and professional wellbeing of the individuals that companies place in those locations,” said Ilya Bonic, Senior Partner and President of Mercer’s Career business. “Companies looking to expand overseas have a host of considerations when identifying where best to locate staff and new offices. The key is relevant, reliable data and standardised measurement, which are essential for employers to make critical decisions, from deciding where to establish offices to determining how to distribute, house and remunerate their global workforces.”
Mercer’s authoritative survey is one of the most comprehensive of its type in the world and is conducted annually to enable multinational companies and other organisations to compensate employees fairly when placing them on international assignments. In addition to valuable data on relative quality of living, Mercer’s survey provides assessment for more than 450 cities throughout the world; this ranking includes 231 of these cities.
This year, Mercer provides a separate ranking on personal safety, which analyses cities’ internal stability; crime levels; law enforcement; limitations on personal freedom; relationships with other countries and freedom of the press. Personal safety is the cornerstone of stability in any city, without which business and talent cannot thrive. This year, Western Europe dominates the rankings, with Luxembourg named as the safest city in the world, followed by Helsinki and the Swiss cities of Basel, Bern and Zurich in joint second. According to Mercer’s 2019 personal safety ranking, Damascus ranked bottom in 231st place and Bangui in the Central African Republic scored second lowest in 230th place.
“The security of the individual is informed by a wide range of factors and is constantly in flux, as the circumstances and conditions in cities and countries change year over year. These factors are crucial for multinationals to consider when sending employees abroad because they consider any concerns around the expat’s own safety and can have a significant impact on the cost of international compensation programmes,” said Slagin Parakatil, Principal at Mercer and Global Product Owner for its Quality of Living research. “In order to stay abreast of the quality of living across all the locations where staff are deployed, companies need accurate data and objective methods to help them determine the cost implications of changing living standards.”
European cities continue to have the highest quality of living in the world, with Vienna (1), Zurich (2) and Munich (3) not only ranking first, second and third in Europe, but also globally. As many as 13 of the world’s top 20 spots were taken by European cities The major European capitals of Berlin (13), Paris (39) and London (41) remained static in the rankings this year, while Madrid (46) rose three places and Rome (56) climbed one. Minsk (188), Tirana (175) and St. Petersburg (174) remained the lowest ranking cities in Europe this year, while Sarajevo (156) rose three places due to a fall in reported crime.
The safest city in Europe was Luxembourg (1), followed by Basel, Bern, Helsinki and Zurich in joint second. Moscow (200) and St. Petersburg (197) were Europe’s least safe cities this year. The biggest fallers in Western Europe between 2005 and 2019 were Brussels (47), due to recent terrorist attacks, and Athens (102), reflecting its slow recovery from economic and political upheaval following the global financial crisis.
In North America, Canadian cities continue to score highest with Vancouver (3) ranking highest for overall quality of living, as well as sharing the top spot with Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Calgary for safety. All US cities covered in the analysis fell in the rankings this year, with Washington DC (53) the biggest faller. The exception was New York (44), rising one place as crime rates in the city continue to fall. Detroit remains the US city with the lowest quality of living this year, with the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince (228) the lowest in all the Americas. Internal stability issues and public demonstrations in Nicaragua meant that Managua (180) fell seven places in the quality of living ranking this year, and ongoing cartel-related violence and high crime rates meant that Mexico, Monterrey (113) and Mexico City (129) also remained low.
In South America, Montevideo (78) again ranked the highest for quality of living, whilst continued instability saw Caracas (202) fall another nine places this year for quality of living and 48 places for safety to 222ndplace, making it the least safe city in the Americas. The quality of living remained broadly unchanged from last year in other key cities, including Buenos Aires (91), Santiago (93) and Rio de Janeiro (118).
Middle East and Africa
Dubai (74) continues to rank highest for quality of living across the Middle East, closely followed by Abu Dhabi (78); whereas Sana’a (229) and Baghdad (231) rank lowest in the region. The opening of new recreational facilities as part of Saudi Arabia’s 2030 Vision saw Riyadh (164) climb one place this year, and a decline in its crime rate and a lack of terrorist incidents over the last twelve months saw Istanbul (130) rise four places. The Middle East’s safest cities are Dubai (73) and Abu Dhabi (73). Damascus (231) is the least safe city, both in the Middle East and the world.
In Africa, Port Louis (83) was the city with the best quality of living and also its safest (59). It was closely followed for overall quality of living by the South African cities of Durban (88), Cape Town (95) and Johannesburg (96), though these cities still rank low for personal safety, and issues around water scarcity contributed to Cape Town falling one place this year. Conversely, Bangui (230) scored the lowest for the continent and also ranked lowest for personal safety (230). Gambia’s progress toward a democratic political system and improved international relations and human rights meant that Banjul (179) had the most improved quality of living in Africa, but also in the world, rising six places this year.
In Asia, Singapore (25) has the highest quality of living, followed by the five Japanese cities of Tokyo (49), Kobe (49), Yokohama (55), Osaka (58), and Nagoya (62), and then Hong Kong (71) and Seoul (77), which rose two places this year as political stability returned following the arrest of its president last year.
In South East Asia, other notable cities include Kuala Lumpur (85), Bangkok (133), Manila (137), and Jakarta (142); and in mainland China: Shanghai (103), Beijing (120), Guangzhou (122) and Shenzhen (132).
Of all the cities in East and South East Asia, Singapore (30) ranked the highest in Asia and Phnom Penh (199) the lowest, for personal safety. Safety continues to be an issue in the central Asian cities of Almaty (181), Tashkent (201), Ashgabat (206), Dushanbe (209) and Bishkek (211).
In Southern Asia, the Indian cities of New Delhi (162), Mumbai (154) and Bengaluru (149) remained unchanged from last year’s ranking for overall quality of living, with Colombo (138) topping the ranking. In 105th place, Chennai ranks as the region’s safest city, while Karachi (226) is the least safe.
New Zealand and Australia continue to rank highly in quality of living, with Auckland (3), Sydney (11), Wellington (15), and Melbourne (17) all remaining in the top 20. Australia’s major cities all rank within the top 50 for safety, with Auckland and Wellington topping the safety ranking for Oceania in joint 9th place.
Mercer produces worldwide quality of living rankings annually from its Worldwide Quality of Living Survey. Individual reports are produced for each city surveyed. Moreover, comparative Quality of Living indexes between a base city and host city are available, as are multiple-city comparisons. Details are available at www.mercer.com/qualityofliving.
The data was analysed between September and November 2018, and it will be updated regularly to account for changing circumstances. In particular, the assessments will be revised to reflect significant political, economic, and environmental developments. The list of rankings is provided to media for reference, and should not be published in full. The top 10 and bottom 10 cities in either list may be reproduced in a table.
The information and data obtained through the quality of living reports are for information purposes only and are intended for use by multinational organisations, government agencies, and municipalities. They are not designed or intended for use as the basis for foreign investment or tourism. In no event will Mercer be liable for any decision made or action taken in reliance of the results obtained through the use of, or the information or data contained in, the reports. While the reports have been prepared based upon sources, information, and systems believed to be reliable and accurate, they are provided on an “as-is” basis, and Mercer accepts no responsibility/liability for the validity/accuracy (or otherwise) of the resources/data used to compile the reports. Mercer and its affiliates make no representations or warranties with respect to the reports, and disclaim all express, implied and statutory warranties of any kind, including, representations and implied warranties of quality, accuracy, timeliness, completeness, merchantability, and fitness for a particular purpose.
Mercer also helps municipalities to assess factors that can improve their quality of living rankings. In a global environment, employers have many choices about where to deploy their mobile employees and set up new business. A city’s quality of living can be an important variable for employers to consider.
Leaders in many cities want to understand the specific factors that affect their residents’ quality of living and address those issues that lower a city’s overall quality of living ranking. Mercer advises municipalities by using a holistic approach that addresses the goals of progressing towards excellence and attracting both multinational companies and globally mobile talent by improving the elements that are measured in its Quality of Living survey.
Mercer Hardship Allowance Recommendations
Mercer evaluates local living conditions in more than 450 cities surveyed worldwide. Living conditions are analysed according to 39 factors, grouped in 10 categories:
- Political and social environment(political stability, crime, law enforcement, etc.).
- Economic environment(currency exchange regulations, banking services).
- Socio-cultural environment(media availability and censorship, limitations on personal freedom).
- Medical and health considerations(medical supplies and services, infectious diseases, sewage, waste disposal, air pollution).
- Schools and education(standards and availability of international schools).
- Public services and transportation (electricity, water, public transportation, traffic congestion, etc.).
- Recreation(restaurants, theatres, cinemas, sports and leisure).
- Consumer goods(availability of food/daily consumption items, cars).
- Housing(rental housing, household appliances, furniture, maintenance services).
- Natural environment(climate, record of natural disasters).
The scores attributed to each factor, which are weighted to reflect their importance to expatriates, permit objective city-to-city comparisons. The result is a Quality of Living index that compares relative differences between any two locations evaluated. For the indices to be used effectively, Mercer has created a grid that enables users to link the resulting index to a quality of living allowance amount by recommending a percentage value in relation to the index.
Mercer delivers advice and technology-driven solutions that help organisations meet the health, wealth and career needs of a changing workforce. Mercer’s more than 23,000 employees are based in 44 countries and the firm operates in over 130 countries. Mercer is a wholly owned subsidiary of Marsh & McLennan Companies (NYSE: MMC), the leading global professional services firm in the areas of risk, strategy and people. With nearly 65,000 colleagues and annual revenue over $14 billion, through its market-leading companies including Marsh, Guy Carpenter and Oliver Wyman, Marsh & McLennan helps clients navigate an increasingly dynamic and complex environment. For more information, visit www.mercer.com. Follow Mercer on Twitter @Mercer. In the UK, Mercer Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.