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Beijing more expensive than Hong Kong

Beijing has for the first time become more expensive than Hong Kong for foreigners as a result of surging inflation on the mainland and appreciation of the yuan, a survey showed on Thursday.


Rising costs pushed Beijing up to 31st place from 101st a year ago and Shanghai to 35th place from 106th, according to the survey by London-based ECA International, which advises companies globally on international assignments.


China's consumer price index, the main gauge of inflation, was 6.7 percent for the first 10 months, after it fell to 4 percent in October from 7.1 percent in January.


The Chinese currency has risen 20 percent against the US dollar since 2005, when the government de-pegged it from the greenback to link it with a basket of foreign currencies. But its rising trend has stalled recently as it continued to fall on Thursday for the fifth straight day, trading at 6.8837 per US dollar in the over-the-counter market.


Hong Kong fell in the rankings to 97th spot in the latest survey, which compares a basket of 125 consumer goods and services commonly purchased by expatriates in more than 370 locations worldwide.


Volatile exchange rates stemming from the global financial crisis also mean London and Seoul are no longer among the top 10 most expensive locations for expatriates.


Meanwhile, Japanese cities have returned to upper end of the league table.


London is now ranked 72nd in the global listing of expat locations while Seoul takes 90th place following their currencies' sharp depreciation in the past year.


Angola's capital Luanda remains the costliest place for foreigners. That is mainly because certain items and brands typically required by expatriates are not readily available and therefore very expensive.


Moscow has replaced Oslo as Europe's most costly location while a strong yen has made Tokyo the second-most expensive city in the world, up from 13th position a year ago.


A 48 percent depreciation in the South Korean won means goods and services in Seoul - which a year ago were 5 percent more expensive than in Tokyo - are now 40 percent cheaper than prices in the Japanese capital, ECA said.


Such sharp currency swings create a challenge for companies remunerating expat packages, most of which are based on an expat's home currency, says ECA.


"Companies which split pay between the employee's home and host countries will be much better equipped to ride out the current currency volatility," said Lee Quane, Asia general manager of ECA International.


The survey does not cover the cost of accommodation, school fees or car purchases, which ECA says are usually compensated for separately in expatriate packages.


Manhattan shot up to 20th place - tying with Paris - from 54th a year ago as a rebounding US dollar made American locations, and locations with currencies tied to the dollar such as Hong Kong, much more expensive.


"In the past two months, goods and services in Hong Kong have swung from being 10 percent cheaper than in London to being almost 10 percent more expensive," said Quane.


The cost of living in Taipei and Singapore has also increased, helped by rising inflation.


While a handful of African cities featured in the top 20, Africa is also home to the cheapest location for foreigners, Maseru in Lesotho.


The latest survey was conducted in September but November exchange rates were used in the calculations.


(China Daily December 5, 2008)