Mercer has released their 2014 quality of life rankings and Auckland is third in them once again.

Top 5 Cities

1. Vienna, Austria

2. Zurich, Switzerland

3. Auckland, New Zealand

4. Munich, Germany

5. Vancouver, Canada

Vienna is the city with the world’s best quality of living, according to the Mercer 2014 Quality of Living rankings, in which European cities dominate. Zurich and Auckland follow in second and third place, respectively. Munich is in fourth place, followed by Vancouver, which is also the highest-ranking city in North America. Ranking 25 globally, Singapore is the highest-ranking Asian city, whereas Dubai (73) ranks first across Middle East and Africa. The city of Pointe-à-Pitre (69), Guadeloupe, takes the top spot for Central and South America.

Mercer conducts its Quality of Living survey annually to help multinational companies and other employers compensate employees fairly when placing them on international assignments. Two common incentives include a quality-of-living allowance and a mobility premium. A quality-of-living or “hardship” allowance compensates for a decrease in the quality of living between home and host locations, whereas a mobility premium simply compensates for the inconvenience of being uprooted and having to work in another country. Mercer’s Quality of Living reports provide valuable information and hardship premium recommendations for over 460 cities throughout the world, the ranking covers 223 of these cities.

“Political instability, high crime levels, and elevated air pollution are a few factors that can be detrimental to the daily lives of expatriate employees their families and local residents. To ensure that compensation packages reflect the local environment appropriately, employers need a clear picture of the quality of living in the cities where they operate,” said Slagin Parakatil, Senior Researcher at Mercer.

Mr Parakatil added: “In a world economy that is becoming more globalised, cities beyond the traditional financial and business centres are working to improve their quality of living so they can attract more foreign companies. This year’s survey recognises so-called ‘second tier’ or ‘emerging’ cites and points to a few examples from around the world These cities have been investing massively in their infrastructure and attracting foreign direct investments by providing incentives such as tax, housing, or entry facilities. Emerging cities will become major players that traditional financial centres and capital cities will have to compete with.”


Vienna is the highest-ranking city globally. In Europe, it is followed by Zurich (2), Munich (4), Düsseldorf (6), and Frankfurt (7). “European cities enjoy a high overall quality of living compared to those in other regions. Healthcare, infrastructure, and recreational facilities are generally of a very high standard. Political stability and relatively low crime levels enable expatriates to feel safe and secure in most locations. The region has seen few changes in living standards over the last year,” said Mr Parakatil.

Ranking 191 overall, Tbilisi, Georgia, is the lowest-ranking city in Europe. It continues to improve in its quality of living, mainly due to a growing availability of consumer goods, improving internal stability, and developing infrastructure. Other cities on the lower end of Europe’s ranking include: Minsk (189), Belarus; Yerevan (180), Armenia; Tirana (179), Albania; and St Petersburg (168), Russia. Ranking 107, Wroclaw, Poland, is an emerging European city. Since Poland’s accession to the European Union, Wroclaw has witnessed tangible economic growth, partly due to its talent pool, improved infrastructure, and foreign and internal direct investments. The EU named Wroclaw as a European Capital of Culture for 2016.


Canadian cities dominate North America’s top-five list. Ranking fifth globally, Vancouver tops the regional list, followed by Ottawa (14), Toronto (15), Montreal (23), and San Francisco (27). The region’s lowest-ranking city is Mexico City (122), preceded by four US cities: Detroit (70), St. Louis (67), Houston (66), and Miami (65). Mr Parakatil commented: “On the whole, North American cities offer a high quality of living and are attractive working destinations for companies and their expatriates. A wide range of consumer goods are available, and infrastructures, including recreational provisions, are excellent.”

In Central and South America, the quality of living varies substantially. Pointe-à-Pitre (69), Guadeloupe, is the region’s highest-ranked city, followed by San Juan (72), Montevideo (77), Buenos Aires (81), and Santiago (93). Manaus (125), Brazil, has been identified as an example of an emerging city in this region due to its major industrial centre which has seen the creation of the “Free Economic Zone of Manaus,” an area with administrative autonomy giving Manaus a competitive advantage over other cities in the region. This zone has attracted talent from other cities and regions, with several multinational companies already settled in the area and more expected to arrive in the near future.

“Several cities in Central and South America are still attractive to expatriates due to their relatively stable political environments, improving infrastructure, and pleasant climate,” said Mr Parakatil. “But many locations remain challenging due to natural disasters, such as hurricanes often hitting the region, as well as local economic inequality and high crime rates. Companies placing their workers on expatriate assignments in these locations must ensure that hardship allowances reflect the lower levels of quality of living.”

Asia Pacific

Singapore (25) has the highest quality of living in Asia, followed by four Japanese cities: Tokyo (43), Kobe (47), Yokohama (49), and Osaka (57). Dushanbe (209), Tajikistan, is the lowest-ranking city in the region. Mr Parakatil commented: “Asia has a bigger range of quality-of-living standard amongst its cities than any other region. For many cities, such as those in South Korea, the quality of living is continually improving. But for others, such as some in China, issues like pervasive poor air pollution are eroding their quality of living.”

With their considerable growth in the last decade, many second-tier Asian cities are starting to emerge as important places of business for multinational companies. Examples include Cheonan (98), South Korea, which is strategically located in an area where several technology companies have operations. Over the past decades, Pune (139), India has developed into an education hub and home to IT, other high-tech industries, and automobile manufacturing. The city of Xian (141), China has also witnessed some major developments, such as the establishment of an “Economic and Technological Development Zone” to attract foreign investments. The city is also host to various financial services, consulting, and computer services.

Elsewhere, New Zealand and Australian cities rank high on the list for quality of living, with Auckland and Sydney ranking 3 and 10, respectively.

Middle East and Africa

With a global rank of 73, Dubai is the highest-ranked city in the Middle East and Africa region. It is followed by Abu Dhabi (78), UAE; Port Louis (82), Mauritius; and Durban (85) and Cape Town (90), South Africa. Durban has been identified as an example of an emerging city in this region, due to the growth of its manufacturing industries and the increasing importance of the shipping port. Generally, though, this region dominates the lower end of the quality of living ranking, with five out of the bottom six cities; Baghdad (223) has the lowest overall ranking.

“The Middle East and especially Africa remain one of the most challenging regions for multinational organisations and expatriates. Regional instability and disruptive political events, including civil unrest, lack of infrastructure and natural disasters such as flooding, keep the quality of living from improving in many of its cities. However, some cities that might not have been very attractive to foreign companies are making efforts to attract them,” said Mr Parakatil.

That’s a good result for Auckland although no change from previous years. The next highest Australasian city was Sydney at 10 followed by Wellington at 12. It’s also important to remember what these rankings are actually designed for which is to help large companies work out how much of a premium to pay employees they send to work in foreign countries i.e. you would have to pay someone a lot more to go and work in one of the bottom 5 countries than you would to work in one of the top 5. The bottom 5 is:

219. Sana’a, Yemen Arab Republic

220. N’Djamena, Chad

221. Port-Au-Prince, Haiti

222. Bangui, Central African Republic

223. Baghdad, Iraq

The rankings are done by scoring cities across 39 different criteria across 10 different categories. They are:

  • 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, etc)
  • 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, etc)
  • Consumer goods (availability of food/daily consumption items, cars, etc)
  • Housing (rental housing, household appliances, furniture, maintenance services)
  • Natural environment (climate, record of natural disasters)

You have to buy the full report at US$499 to see all of the rankings but in the past it has been noted that while Auckland ranks 3rd overall, the one area we fell way behind on wass infrastructure for which we ranked 43rd. I don’t know if that ranking has changed at all but I suspect not that much (it will probably be a few years before the current tranche of transport projects are completed before that happens).

Also I note that Mercer have provided the top and bottom 5 cities for each region. For North America one in the bottom 5 is one that a few commenters have been bringing up recently saying that we should emulate. That city is of course Houston which ranks at 66th overall.

The Sun rising over the CBD

Photo is credited to Craig

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  1. Poor lonely tower; needs a few friends to balance that skyline….

    If we are looking for models for Auckland Canadian ones have it all over those south of the border, and the one on the Pacific seaboard is surely the most likely place to start. Of course the Mercer metric isn’t the only measure, but still, quite confirming.

  2. Have a look online at Vienna’s metro. Incredible! Five lines for 1.8 million people. And competitively priced compared to our public transport. Where did we go right with transport? Sadly – nowhere!

    1. With the CFN and some cycling infrastructure we’ed never off the top of that or any other list. Seriously, Auckland is so easy to fix; it’s that close. Those aren’t mega projects, completely within reach and stageable, and boom; we’ll discover that resource lurking in our existing rail and road network.

    2. Vienna’s PT is probably the best one in whole continental Europe. In peak hour the subway-trains run in 2 to 3 minute intervals, then there is the large (second largest after Melbourne) a tram network and the busses. The Busses in Vienna make not much longer journeys than 5 kilometers in one direction as more is not competitive with the two other modes, they typically start at the subway stations. But to be fair its not about only 1.8 Million people there. When you would draw a border like supercity Aukland, Vienna would have around 3 million with all the bordering cities. However there is then the commuter rail system (S-Bahn) which runs at least in 10-20 minutes intervals to the suburbs of the metropolitan area,. In total all modes carry a bit over 900 millionen trips a year, but that is without the suburban rail which add another 100 million roughly and commuter bus services where i could not get any figures. After not that successful at the Winter Olympics and thinking of our most recent bank scandal at least the Mercer Study is a reason to be proud of my home country 😉

      1. Yeah – Vienna and Zurich both have very good PT – they both have excellent motorway systems as well – especially when you consider the weather (cold in winter – hot in summer).

        1. True Phil, the difference is i think the Motorways are mostly used by the commuters from the suburbs outside of the city borders. I have heaps of friends still living in Vienna itself they do not even own a car (car ownership and that is including fleet cars is only about 300 for 1000 people). Most of them use now Carsharing, Where they also have a really advanced system with GPS location of the car. So you look up in your phone where is the next one, and you do not have to bring it back, you just leave it somewhere within the city’s borders. Thus they de-clogged the motorways for the through traffic and the outside commuters.

          1. Those poor people Martin – they must be miserable not being able to drive everywhere and having to live without a quarter acre section. And having to spend all their money on travel and fun rather than transport and housing. Terrible.

  3. OMG – where is Copenhagen???

    Could it be that this blog is wrong and Auckland does not have to become the south pacific Danes? Clearly cycle lanes do not define how liveable a city is.

    1. In 2012, Copenhagen was 9th on the Mercer list, and last year it was 1st on the Monocle list. So it’s doing just a bit better than Houston.

  4. I like how the media always trumpet this as the “best” cities in the world. When you see the motivation for the rankings, you realise that they’re actually a competition for the “least worst” cities (at least in terms of the things that they feel matter to an expat worker) – not necessarily the same thing.

    I get the feeling too that there is a Western (and English-speaking) bias from those who do the rankings (in Mercer we are talking about a US company after all); hence Auckland ranks fairly well, because at least if you get posted there their habits/culture/etc don’t seem too foreign and they don’t speak a funny language…

    1. “Best city in the world” is something that can never be anything but subjective. Check what they measure, and base whether you agree on whether you care about the same things.

  5. People often interpret these surveys as fact, when in reality this is the purpose of such surveys:

    “Mercer conducts its Quality of Living survey annually to help multinational companies and other employers compensate employees fairly when placing them on international assignments.”

    Not only that, but GlenK is dead right about the bias evident towards any country that doesn’t fall into the anglosphere or have some form of shared “western” culture. To be honest, I’d not like to live in many of the cities in the top list. Zurich is dull with a capital D and Vancouver is just not my kind of place (for example).

        1. Well what Mercer does not really look at, is affordability of the features they test for a city. E.g. if you have really good and expensive private schools and are there enough international ones around, you score high. Otherwise Zurich or even worse Munich could never make it on that list, because living there is even more expensive than in AKL. And what is also quite important is the high weighting in the mercer study for political stability freedom and safety. And there AKL obviously leads ranks.

          1. A multinational sending an employee to another country on a posting will typically pick up the tab for housing education etc. The Mercer survey also (for obvious reasons) misses perhaps the most important parameter; availability of employment. The survey is aimed at visitors who will spend a few years in the country and then leave. It isn’t aimed at the natives so to get too hung up on the results is a mistake.

      1. Plenty of cities out there that are safe, secure, tidy and non-threatening that are not dull in the slightest, but they barely make it on this list because they’re not western.

          1. Okay Mr Pedant. What I meant was that they barely merit a mention given their position in the list. Anyway, as you pointed out, it’s not intended for natives.

    1. That is a bit fishy, you would think Detroit would be right down the list near Baghdad!
      You would need to pay me a lot of money to move to Detroit, not so much for Miami!

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