Simanaitis Says

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LIKE MANY, I am curious about lists of extremes, the most this, the least that. And, being as I am something of a city dweller (as opposed to living rurally), I was attracted to an article in The Economist containing cost-of-living data for cities around the world.


Singapore, above, tops The Economist list as the world’s most expensive city; Karachi, Pakistan, below, ties with Bangalore, India, as the least costly. These and other images from The Economist, March 2, 2015.


The list was compiled by The Economist Intelligence Unit, corporate kin to The Economist news magazine. Also, in researching matters a bit more, I encountered the Numbeo website and its crowd-sourced analyses of the same topic. There’s interesting contrast here, assessment by authority versus knowledge of the crowd. What follows are tidbits from both.


Cost-of-living Index for 2014, per the Economist Intelligence Unit.

To calculate its Cost-of-living Index, the EIU compares more than 400 prices of 160 products and services. Its survey gathers data from 133 cities in 97 countries.

Singapore tops the list, in part because of high taxes in this city-state. The number of private cars, for instance, is controlled by duties of 1.5 times the car’s value. What’s more, prospective buyers must bid for a 10-year Certificate of Entitlement, the cost of which can again exceed the car’s price tag.


Oslo, Norway, is less costly than Paris, but still third on the EIU list.

Oslo, Norway, is third on the EIU list, less costly than Paris, more so than Zurich. As with Singapore, social engineering through taxation plays a role in Oslo’s living costs: Compared with New York City, for example, alcoholic beverages cost 30 percent more in Oslo; tobacco products, 46 percent more. (The Big Apple, in 22nd place, is the most expensive of North American cities.)

The world’s most expensive cities include another Swiss locale, Geneva (7th on the EIU list); two Australian cities, Sydney (5th) and Melbourne (6th); Copenhagen, Denmark (8th); with Seoul, Korea, and Hong Kong tying for 9th.

Caracas, Venezuela, exhibits the biggest drop in the EIU list, among the top 10 most costly in 2009 to the bottom five in 2014. The EIU traces this to a change in the survey’s use of exchange rate data.

Other cities at the bottom of the list include Bangalore, India, and Karachi, Pakistan, tying for 132nd; and Mumbai, India, tying Caracas’s 130th.

The EIU’s Worldwide Cost of Living Report 2015, featuring data analyses beyond these news teasers, can be purchased for $995. Ouch.

By contrast, Numbeo’s crowd-sourced data are free for the asking, with more than 1.3 million bits of data collected and ranking among the world’s top 10,000 websites (August 2014 data). Like other crowd-sourcing, Numbeo depends on information offered by its website users.


Numbeo was founded by Mladen Adamovic in 2009 and is operated by Numbeo doo, a company registered in Serbia. Originally focused on price comparisons, in 2011 Numbeo started assessing data on other quality-of-life measures such as health care, pollution, crime and traffic.

One of the Numbeo options offers cost-of-living comparisons of any two selected cities in a huge data base. To assess its results versus those of the EIU report, I selected New York City and Singapore (actually Singapore East Coast, which I chose randomly from Numbeo’s 13 different Singapore areas).

Based on its crowd-sourced data, Numbeo reported $6689.95 in NYC would provide the same standard of living as $9400.00 in Singapore’s East Coast. Normalizing NYC to the EIU’s value of 100, this would give Singapore East Coast an EIU-equivalent Index of 141. By contrast, an estimated value for Singapore overall, from EIU’s graphical summary shown above, is around 129.

Numbeo expands on its comparisons with extensive breakouts of Restaurants, Markets, Transportation, Monthly Utilities, Sports and Leisure, Clothing and Shoes, Apartment Rents and Prices, and Salaries and Financing. For instance, quenching thirst with an imported brew? It’s $10.50 in Singapore East Coast versus $9.58 in NYC. By contrast, a $7 McDonald’s meal in Singapore East Coast runs $10.95 in NYC. Equivalent Internet for a month? $38.75 in Singapore East Coast; $72.81 in NYC.

I did a bit more searching and learned that Singapore East Coast is a relatively well-heeled neighborhood of this city-state. For example, Jurong, another favorite of Singapore ex-pats, has a lower cost of living somewhat closer to NYC’s.

Exploring these comparisons, I eventually encountered a Numbeo pitch for membership. It’s free, however, so I’m still $995 ahead of the EIU’s treasure trove. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2015


  1. simanaitissays
    March 12, 2015

    Mea culpa. The news today (Thursday, March 12, 2015) mentioned the Indian city of Bangalore. In assembling this item on the world’s most and least costly cities, I commited alliterative error in placing this city in the country of Bangladesh. I have now corrected this (and include myself, at least temporarily, among least accurate geographers.)

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