Last year, The Travelling Boomer published a post on the world’s most expensive places, based on a survey by the Numbeo website, which collects sample prices from its users for the things people use in their daily lives. The topic was very popular, and since Numbeo recently came out with its 2016 survey, I thought it was worth seeing how the world has changed in one year.
The 2015 post was especially popular with residents of Bermuda, whose capital, Hamilton, stunned everyone by coming in as the world’s most expensive city (the reasons are eloquently explained in the comments to that post). And while this year’s survey focuses on entire countries rather than cities, Bermudians can rest easy: their nation still wears the crown as the priciest place on the planet.
The Numbeo survey is divided into a number of categories, starting with the consumer price index (CPI), which represents the general cost of everyday purchases, including groceries, restaurants, transportation and utilities, but not rent or mortgage payments.
Other categories include a rent index, a groceries index, a restaurants index, and consumer prices plus rent. All the prices are indexed against prices in New York: a value of 120 means prices are 20 percent higher than in the Big Apple, while a value of 80 means they’re 20 percent cheaper.
The survey is a great resource for those searching for a place to retire, or to buy a winter retreat. But it can also be a good guide for travellers: restaurant prices are a key factor when you’re visiting a country, and while prices in the tourist zones are often artificially high, you’re likely to spend at least some money in local shops, or use the public transit.
Here’s a look at the countries that will set you back the most – and the least – whether you’re moving in or just passing through.
This is one of the priciest parts of the world, and once again Switzerland tops the list, with a cost of living 23 percent more expensive than New York, and restaurant prices 19 percent higher. After that, the next three finishers are Nordic countries, with Norway, Iceland and Denmark all ranking high – although all three have a CPI of less than 100. Watch out for the restaurant prices in Norway, though: they’re a hefty 110. And I’ve seen $35 club sandwiches in Copenhagen.
Luxembourg (pictured here), cradle of the European Union and home to many EU bureaucrats, is a close fourth, followed by the United Kingdom and Ireland, both with a CPI around 80. Some surprises, though: Sweden, often thought of as an expensive country, scores only a 75, and Germany, with Europe’s biggest economy, is a bargain, at 65. According to Numbeo’s contributors, German restaurant prices are 40 percent cheaper than in New York.
If you’re looking for value, though, try Spain, with a CPI of 56, and Portugal, at an ultra-slim 49. But the real bargains are in Central and Eastern Europe. For example, the Czech Republic comes in at only 41, with a restaurant index of just 28 (I can attest to the cheap eats: read this post). For rock-bottom prices, try places like Albania and Serbia, with CPI ratings around 33. Novak Djokovic comes from Serbia – how bad could it be?
Not surprisingly, Bermuda rules the roost on this side of the world, with consumer prices a staggering 33 percent higher than New York. For travellers, the thing that stands out is a restaurant index of 121 — though hotels are unlikely to be cheap, either.
A bit surprisingly, the Bahamas come in second, with a CPI of 107, fuelled largely by the high price of food. Oddly, however, restaurant prices are still 20 percent lower than in New York, so don’t put off your visit. And it’s interesting that the United States, with the world’s biggest economy, comes in third, with a CPI of 74.08 – 26 per cent less than the cost of living in its most famous city, seen here. The U.S. is followed by its own offshore territory, Puerto Rico.
Canada comes in fourth, with an overall CPI of 64 and restaurant prices 40 percent cheaper than in New York. Last year Fort McMurray, in Alberta’s oil country, ranked high on the world list. But plunging oil prices and the diving Canadian dollar have made all of Canada a better value for visitors.
After Canada, Argentina and Venezuela come right behind. Costa Rica is ninth, followed by Jamaica (under-ranked, from my memory), and Panama at number 13. The real bargains? Brazil, with a CPI of 38, and one of my favourite countries, Mexico, with a CPI of 35 and restaurant prices at a measly 28. Have another enchilada …
For the second year running, Singapore wins the title as most expensive place in Asia; however, its CPI is only 83, significantly down from last year (this may be an anomaly). Its restaurant prices score a surprisingly modest 53.
The Middle East is included in this category, so Kuwait comes in a close second, just edging out Hong Kong and Japan, all around 81. Japan, once one of the priciest places on earth, now has some startlingly low scores: its housing costs rate a measly 29 (hard to believe), and its restaurant prices come in at 47. If you’ve wanted to visit, now may be the time.
Saudi Arabia scores a modest 47, just below the still-cheap China. Thailand is an even cheaper 40; Thai restaurant prices score a 20, a lip-smacking bargain. But I’d give the best-value prize to two of my favourite countries: Malaysia and Indonesia, both hovering around 37, with restaurant costs below 20. Hot weather, beautiful countryside, exotic cultures and cheap, tasty food – what’s not to like?
This is the bargain basement of the world, when it comes to the cost of living. However, anyone who has gone on an African safari can attest that they’re anything but cheap; even admission to a national park can run close to $100 a day.
That said, it is possible to live pretty cheaply in Africa. The top country is Ghana, with a CPI rating of 53 and restaurant costs at 51. Zimbabwe comes in second, at 54, with Tanzania third, at 49. Egypt comes in at a low, low 36, though many travellers are wary of going there these days. And South Africa, a favourite destination of many wildlife lovers, has an amazingly cheap CPI rating of 34. But don’t expect to get those prices on your nature trek …
So that’s a trip around the world of day-to-day expenses. I hope it helps you plan your next trip, or your retirement in a sunny offshore haven. If you want to delve further into the details of the Numbeo survey, you can find it here. It’s not perfect, for sure — I’ve spotted some numbers that look out of whack. But when it comes to world prices, it’s a pretty good road map.