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Gap with Singapore widens as Hong Kong falls on global liveability index

Hong Kong remains Asia’s sixth most liveable location, but has fallen to 33rd place in the global ranking, further widening the gap between Singapore, which is ranked No1 globally as well as in Asia. This was one of the findings of the latest Location Ratings for expatriate living conditions published by ECA International, the world's leading provider of knowledge, information and technology for the management and assignment of employees around the world.

Updated annually, ECA's Location Ratings system objectively evaluates a host of factors to form an assessment of the overall quality of living in over 450 locations worldwide. The system helps companies establish appropriate allowances to compensate employees for the adjustment required when going on international assignment. Factors assessed include climate; availability of health services; housing and utilities; isolation; access to a social network and leisure facilities; infrastructure; personal safety; political tensions and air quality.

Although Hong Kong is still ranked highly as a place for Asian expats to live in ECA’s survey - one of the first independent studies since the umbrella movement swept Hong Kong – globally, the city’s attractiveness has dropped 16 places, from 17th to 33rd position.

Hong Kong scores well in a range of factors including infrastructure, education and healthcare facilities, and availability of goods and services. However, air quality remains a lot poorer there than many other parts of the region. In addition, Hong Kong’s socio-political score worsened this year as a result of the unprecedented unrest there in recent months and the restrictions placed on movement.

- Lee Quane, Regional Director – Asia, ECA International

While Hong Kong has fallen down the ranking, its arch regional rival, Singapore, has secured top spot for the 16th year running.

“The fact that Singapore comes out top time and time again does make it a very attractive proposition for companies looking to set up in the region, particularly when conditions in Hong Kong have deteriorated a little,” said Quane. “Nevertheless, it is important to put this into perspective. Overall the SAR does still remain one of the easier places in the world for an outsider to adjust to living and working in.”

Singapore tops the ranking for Asian assignees followed by Sydney and Adelaide

Good air quality, solid infrastructure, decent medical facilities, low crime and low health risks have contributed to Singapore maintaining its position at the top of the global ranking for quality of living for Asian assignees.

However, the impact of some of the factors assessed, such as distance from home and differences in culture, language and climate, will vary according to where someone comes from.

“Where an employee is going from and to can affect the level of adaptation required on the part of the assignee for some of the factors we measure. For this reason, our analysis takes into account both the home and destination countries. So, while Singapore ranks at the top for Asians, it ranks 96th globally for someone coming from Western Europe. For European expatriates, Bern and Copenhagen are the most liveable locations. While, someone expatriating from North America will find it easiest to adapt to living and working in Toronto followed by Dublin.”

Asia highlights

In Mainland China, Shanghai, ranked 110th globally, is China's most liveable city followed by Beijing (122). Scores have remained steady across most Chinese locations but Chongqing and Shenzhen saw the most improvement over the year.

“Chinese locations have risen in our ranking in recent years as a number of the factors we measure, particularly housing, goods and services, recreation, healthcare, have improved,” continued Quane. “However, this has been tempered by problems associated with the country’s rapid growth including pollution, infrastructure, corruption and food safety.”

In India, Bangalore, ranked 171st globally scores most favourably followed by Mumbai and Chennai. New Delhi (204) is the least liveable. Along with Beijing, Delhi has the worst score for air quality not just in Asia but globally.

In Thailand the declaration of martial law has led to a worsening in socio political scores for locations there. Bangkok and Chang Mai are both in 112th spot– down from last year’s 108th 

Malaysian locations have also fallen slightly in the global ranking. Kuala Lumpur is in 118th position, down from 115th.

The Pakistani cities of Islamabad (261) and Karachi (269) have the region’s worst scores for personal security and social-political tensions. They are the hardest locations surveyed in Asia for expatriates to adapt to living and working in.

Yangon, ranked 220th globally, scores the most poorly in the region for healthcare facilities followed by Laos, Cambodia, Ulaanbaatar and Dhaka.

Global overview

Denmark's capital, Copenhagen (7th globally), is the European city that offers the best quality of living for Asian assignees followed by the Swiss city of Bern (11th). The Albanian city of Tirana (189th) has seen the biggest improvement this survey largely due to a significant upgrade in its education score.

In North America, Vancouver (24th) is the most liveable location followed by San Francisco (40). While in Latin America, the Uruguayan capital, Montevideo, (121) scores more favourably for Asian assignees, followed by Chile's Santiago (126).

Sydney and Adelaide are the best scoring locations in Australia (both in 2nd position globally) followed by Brisbane (5th). Wellington, also in 5th place is the most liveable New Zealand location surveyed.

Dubai (109th globally) is the location in the Middle East which requires the least adjustment for Asian assignees overall.

For Asian assignees going to Africa, Port Louis, Mauritius, (118) affords the best quality of living followed by Cape Town (133).

Kiev saw the largest deterioration in its score following the unrest there over the past year. It fell from 167th place in the ranking to 193rd.

Significant deterioration in scores was also seen in Freetown (Sierra Leone), Monrovia (Liberia), Tripoli (Libya), Sana’a (Yemen) and Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso).

Globally, the hardest locations to adapt to living and working in are the Afghan locations of Lashkar Gah and Kandahar.

New allowance calculation system for expatriates in remote and exceptional locations

ECA has also launched a Remote Allowance Calculator to help companies rationalise the calculation of special allowances for staff working in remote and exceptionally challenging locations. It was developed in collaboration with ECA clients to provide a system for calculating location allowances for sites such as mines, plantations, military bases, oil and gas facilities, disaster zones and environments like the jungle, the desert or the Arctic.

“The term ‘remote’ in the context of mobility means a lot more than simple distance from home. It is often used for places where facilities are limited – for example where accommodation is in tents or dormitories, where flights out are infrequent, leisure facilities non-existent and medical care basic. That might include sites in a desert, a jungle or offshore, or expeditions,” said Quane.

“Standard location allowance calculation methodologies for expatriates aren’t designed to reflect these unique locations and circumstances, so we built a calculator that can. It helps companies sending staff into such places to establish consistent and fair location allowances by assessing the particular facilities on their sites or missions,” he added.

Remote Location Allowances can now be bought from ECA either through a subscription to the calculator or one at a time by contacting ECA.

Ranking of Asian locations
Asia Rank 2015 Location Asia Rank 2014 Global Rank 2015
1 Singapore 1 1
2 Osaka 2 4
3 Nagoya 3 7
4 Tokyo 4 11
4 Yokohama 4 11
6 Hong Kong 6 33
7 Taipei 7 65
8 Busan 8 76
9 Macau 9 86
10 Seoul 10 93
11 Kaohsiung 11 101
12 Ulsan 12 103
13 Shanghai 15 110
14 Bangkok 13 112
14 Chiang Mai 13 112
16 George Town 17 118
16 Kuala Lumpur 16 118
18 Beijing 19 122
19 Suzhou 18 124
20 Johor Bahru 21 126
21 Xiamen 23 130
21 Nanjing 22 130
23 Bandar Seri Begawan 19 132
24 Guangzhou 24 133
25 Qingdao 24 139
26 Dalian 26 140
27 Shenzhen 27 143
28 Chongqing 30 150
28 Chengdu 28 150
30 Tianjin 29 152
31 Wuhan 31 155
32 Hanoi 31 159
32 Ho Chi Minh City 31 159
34 Bangalore 34 171
34 Vientiane 36 171
36 Xi'an 35 173
37 Metro-Manila 38 178
38 Mumbai 38 182
38 Chennai 37 182
38 Colombo 40 182
41 Pune 44 194
42 Phnom Penh 43 197
43 Hyderabad 41 201
43 Ulaanbaatar 42 201
45 Kolkata 46 203
46 New Delhi 45 204
47 Jakarta 47 208
48 Surabaya 48 217
49 Yangon 49 220
50 Kathmandu 50 230
51 Dhaka 51 247
52 Pyongyang 52 254
53 Islamabad 53 261
54 Karachi 54 26
Top 20 most liveable locations globally for Asians
Global Rank 2015 Location Country
1 Singapore Singapore
2 Adelaide Australia
2 Sydney Australia
4 Osaka Japan
5 Brisbane Australia
5 Wellington New Zealand
7 Canberra Australia
7 Copenhagen Denmark
7 Nagoya Japan
10 Perth Australia
11 Bern Switzerland
11 Melbourne Australia
11 Tokyo Japan
11 Yokohama Japan
15 Auckland New Zealand
15 Dublin Irish Republic
15 Luxembourg City Luxembourg
15 The Hague Netherlands
19 Antwerp Belgium
19 Eindhoven Netherlands
19 Geneva Switzerland
19 Gothenburg Sweden
19 Stavanger Norway

About ECA's Location Ratings

• Standard allowance calculations:

Updated annually, ECA International's Location Ratings System measures the quality of expatriate living conditions in over 450 locations around the world to arrive at a fair and consistent assessment of the level of difficulty the expatriate will experience in adapting to a new location. Factors evaluated include climate; availability of health services; housing and utilities; isolation; access to a social network and leisure facilities; infrastructure; personal safety; political tensions and air quality.

ECA's Location Ratings are delivered through ECA's Location Allowance Calculator which offers a transparent and detailed system for calculating location allowances for expatriates relocating to a new country. The system recognises that where an employee is going from and to can affect the level of adaptation required on the part of the assignee for some of these factors. Users can select region-to-city allowances or city-to-city allowances, so that depending on a company's policy the system reflects the level of detail required.

• Remote allowance calculations:

In order to derive a supplementary allowance for exceptional locations ECA’s Remote Allowance Calculator allows for additional considerations to be taken into account on top of the standard calculation for the following factors: climate, accessibility, accommodation, recreation facilities, medical provision and family status.

To read more about factors influencing ECA's Location Ratings, download the free Location Ratings

About ECA International

Recognised since 1971 as a world authority in its field, ECA is a leader in the provision of knowledge, information and technology to inform, guide and support managers handling compensation and benefits for international workers moving around the world. ECA offers organisations of all sizes an unrivalled portfolio of data, calculation aids, salary management software, reports, guides, surveys and consultancy to help them structure and manage their international rewards programmes for long-term, short-term and permanent moves.

Follow ECA on twitter: @ECAintl

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