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Hong Kong has been crowned the most expensive location in Asia and in the world for expat accommodation for a fourth year in a row, even though the city's rental costs dropped considerably due to Covid-19, ECA International's latest survey revealed.

The average monthly rental price for an unfurnished, mid-market, three-bedroom apartment in areas commonly inhabited by international executives in Hong Kong was US$10,769 (HK$83,600), a drop of 5.95% compared to 2020.

“Hong Kong has seen a rare decrease in rental costs this year, as Covid-19 has lessened the demand for accommodation in the top-tier areas where expatriates would normally reside” said Lee Quane, regional director for Asia at ECA International.

“The pandemic has had a serious effect on international business in general, but more specifically has severely limited the number of overseas workers moving to Hong Kong. This, together with the ongoing impact of socio-political tensions on Hong Kong’s economy and an unemployment level at its highest rate in over 15 years, has resulted in a lower demand for high-end accommodation and therefore a drop in the average expatriate rent. However, Hong Kong is still by far the most expensive location in Asia for rental costs and still more expensive than New York, despite the gap closing slightly this year.”

Overall in APAC, locations reliant on international tourism such as Thailand and Vietnam have seen their rental markets hit especially hard during the pandemic, resulting in some major drops in the global rankings. Bangkok has fallen 19 places to 49th place, while Hanoi saw a similar drop of 12 places to 81st place.

Conversely, cities in Taiwan have moved up in the rankings, taking up the 29th spot globally this time, up from 49th place in the previous year.

Notably, Singapore fell one spot in the rankings to 26th position globally, as rents fell by an average of over 2%. The average monthly rent in Singapore is now US$4,210.

“Rent levels in Singapore are always notably stable and this year is no different, with only a slight dip in the rankings. However, this is a reversal of the increase in rental costs seen in 2019 and is likely the result of greater immigration restrictions for workers and other travellers to the city, thereby suppressing demand for all types of accommodation,” explained Quane.

Top ten monthly rent costs – Asia (USD)

#1 Hong Kong (US$10,769, 2020: US$11,318)
#2 Tokyo, Japan (US$9,317, 2020: US$9,207)
#3 Shanghai, China (US$5,222, 2020: US$5,363)
#4 Yokohama, Japan (US$5,168,  2020: US$5,090)
#5 Seoul, Korea Republic (US$5,107,  2020: US$4,931)
#6 Beijing, China (US$4,599,  2020: US$4,566)
#7 Osaka, Japan (US$4,278,  2020: US$4,254)
#8 Singapore (US$4,210,  2020: US$4,233)
#9 Taipei, Taiwan (US$4,101, 2020: US$3,656)
#10 Mumbai, India (US$3,980,  2020: US$4,403)

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On the global front, European rental markets remained relatively stable, with London the highest ranked European city in 4th position globally.

In a similar trend to many Asian locations, Australian cities saw big drops in the rankings. Sydney, the highest-placed Australian city in the rankings and only Australian location to feature in the global top 50, fell 10 places to 46th.

The Turkish city Istanbul saw one of the biggest falls this year and dropped 60 places to the 116th most expensive city in the world to rent in. Quane cited "the economic instability and declining local currency against the dollar" as the major reason of its fall. 

Top 10 most expensive cities to rent in the world

#1 Hong Kong (2020: #1)
#2 New York (2020: #2)
#3 Tokyo  (2020: #3)
#4 London (2020: #4)
#5 San Francisco (2020: #5)
#6 Port Moresby  (2020: #6)
#7 Miami  (2020: #8)
#8 Tel Aviv  (2020: #11)
#9 Shanghai  (2020: #7)
#10 Buenos Aires ( (2020: #9)

ECA International's survey compared rental costs in accommodation in areas typically inhabited by expatriate staff in over 360 locations worldwide. The rental prices were collected in September 2020.