The mysterious city of Ashgabat has been named the world's most expensive city to live in for expats, ahead of Hong Kong, Tokyo and Geneva, according to a new global ranking.
Ashgabat is the capital of Turkmenistan, regarded to be the most secretive and isolated country in Central Asia, and where strict and confusing visa requirements means very few people visit it.
It topped this year's list in the Mercer Cost of Living Survey, which ranks 209 global cities based on comparative costs for things like housing and household bills, transport, food and entertainment.
A financial crisis in Turkmenistan, which has triggered hyperinflation and food shortages, is largely behind the escalating rise in living costs in the capital, Mercer said.
Ashgabat came ahead of Hong Kong, which was previously in the top spot, as well as major Asian commercial hubs like Tokyo, Shanghai, Singapore and Beijing.
The Lebanese capital Beirut came in third spot after skyrocketing up from 45th spot last year. Mercer attributed its rise to an economic depression in Lebanon that has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and last year's deadly explosion in Beirut that killed 207 people and caused close to $20 million in property damage.
At 70, Auckland may be far down the table compared to the Turkmenistan capital. However, it is fast catching up. The supercity skyrocketed 33 places in a year up from 103 in 2020.
The only Kiwi city on the list, Auckland followed a general trend from cities across the ditch in Australia, many of which made it into the top 100 list for the first time:
Sydney came in 31st spot, up from 66 last year; Melbourne was in 59th spot, up from 99; Perth in 66th spot, up from 104; Canberra was in 75th spot, up from 118; Brisbane was in 81st spot, up from 126; and Adelaide was in 88th spot, up from joint 126 with Brisbane last year.
By comparison, New York City was ranked at 14, London at 18, San Francisco at 25, Paris at 33.
While analysts said this move was mostly to do with the appreciation of the Australian Dollar, the pandemic's economic effects are hard to ignore.
Auckland recently topped the Economist Intelligence Unit's Global Liveability Index as "the world's most liveable city" comparing 140 urban centres.
Overall, the switch towards remote working, and limits on business travel, may be why business hubs like Hong Kong and Singapore have slumped in the rankings, Vince Cordova from Mercer told CNN.
"As the types of international assignments change, this is creating changes in the demand for certain goods and services and different consumer profiles," he said.
Ashgabat rose one spot to become the most expensive city in 2021.
Turkmenistan is almost wholly dependent on natural gas exports and has struggled to recover from the global energy price slump in 2014 that battered the local currency and plunged many citizens into poverty, AFP reports.
Even before the pandemic, Turkmenistan was also one of the world's least visited countries by tourists and professionals.
While tourism had been officially welcomed by Turkmenistan before the pandemic, foreign visitors have complained about difficult bureaucratic processes.
Previously, all international visitors required visas and visits longer than five days require a state-endorsed tour and official guides. Just 105,000 tourists visited in 2015, according to government figures.
The former Soviet nation was largely shut off from the rest of the world until the 2006 death of its eccentric dictator Saparmurat Niyazov.
Although little-known, the country is rich with culture and history. The two ancient cities of Konye-Urgench and Merv were impressive stops along the Silk Road and have been UNESCO World Heritage-listed.
But of the 200,000 tourists that visit Konye-Urgench each ordinary year, only 3000 are foreign visitors.
The world's most livable cities 2021
1. Auckland, New Zealand
2. Osaka, Japan
3. Adelaide, Australia
4. Wellington, New Zealand
4. Tokyo, Japan
6. Perth, Australia
7. Zurich, Switzerland
8. Geneva, Switzerland
8. Melbourne, Australia
10. Brisbane, Australia
The world's least livable cities 2021
1. Damascus, Syria
2. Lagos, Nigeria
3. Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
4. Dhaka, Bangladesh
5. Algiers, Algeria
6. Tripoli, Libya
7. Karachi, Pakistan
8. Harare, Zimbabwe
9. Douala, Cameroon
10. Caracas, Venezuela