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According to this article, Singapore is now the most expensive city in the world

Can that be true?

I haven't been to Singapore for about 10 years but last time I was there, whilst it wasn't third world prices but it wasn't super expensive either.

Also, I have recently been to Paris and Hong Kong which are both in the top 10 and I would actually consider them quite cheap. Definitely been to many other cities that are more expensive.

In addition, I live in Sydney and petrol is definitely not $1.83/ltr and a $30 bottle of wine would be some fairly fancy stuff - you could easily get a decent bottle for under $15.

According to the article, the claim comes from the Economist (although the actual research is behind a paywall). Granted all I've got is really experience as a tourist, is there any truth to this article at all?

  • I'm not sure if there's any reason to be sceptical of this claim simply because of the paywall. FWIW, Singapore's rise in cost of living has happened since 2000 as more people flock to the city for its low taxes + high lifestyle. Here are a few articles that might be of interest: 1, 2, 3. – user7920 Mar 4 '15 at 13:24
  • A comment in the article said that the Economist's high estimate was due to the high cost of owning (i.e. of licensing) a car in Singapore. – ChrisW Mar 4 '15 at 13:45
  • Large components of city price indexes wouldn't be visible to tourists - e.g. housing prices have extremely high variations and make up a large part of living expenses. – Peteris Mar 4 '15 at 17:59
  • I think it's mainly due to housing prices. – gerrit Mar 4 '15 at 20:38
  • @gerrit note that housing is not part of the index. – drat Mar 5 '15 at 6:05
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tl;dr No, this is only true when restricted to expatriates

I think it is important to look at what exactly the report looks at. In the summary to the report, they state:

The Worldwide Cost of Living survey enables human resources line managers and expatriate executives to compare the cost of living in 140 cities in 93 countries and calculate fair compensation policies for relocating employees.

The survey gathers detailed information on the cost of more than 160 items-from food, toiletries and clothing to domestic help, transport and utility bills--in every city.

This says two things:

  1. The report is aimed at prices for relocating expatriates. The prices might be different for locals or permanent residents. In the case of Singapore for instance, a big part of the population lives in heavily subsidised public housing, which is not easily available for foreigners. Of course that is a very bad example, as the index of The Economist does not include housing.
  2. The index is based on a list of items purchased in every country. This again might be biased, as this assumes a very simplistic argument, that people will use the same goods everywhere on the world. In the case of Singapore for instance, driving is indeed very expensive, but public transport is widely available and used and not very expensive at all.

So while it is probably fair to say, that Singapore is the most expensive city in the world for expatriates buying items corresponding to the index, the report does not let us conclude that it is the most expensive city for the general population.

While cost of living is a difficult thing to define and measure, there are other efforts to compare it:

  • Numbeo has a crowd-sourced index of prices, which puts Singapore way beyond the most expensive country (Switzerland), by more than 30%, even considering accommodation.
  • The Big-Mac index (not to be taken too seriously though), equally issued by The Economist puts Singapore even lower.
  • Another collaborative project Expatistan puts Singapore on the 7th rank.

Also note that most comparisons neglect taxes, which are lower in Singapore (maximum 20%) than for instance in Norway (up to almost 50%).

Overall, it is safe to conclude that Singapore is indeed an expensive place to live but by most standards not the most expensive one.

  • The big-mac index is taken very seriously by economists, and people like relocation staff in larger corporations - it's no joke! – Fattie Jun 11 '18 at 13:30
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Is singapore the most expensive city in the world?

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit it is. On other surverys/studies, you may find different results. The Economist Intelligence Unit has an Worldwide Cost of Living ranking which is based on price data that are adjusted for recent exchange-rate movements.

In 2015, they have listed the top-ten locations surveyed: enter image description here

Bloomberg, BBC, news.com.au, and other news agencies got their news from a report.

The report (basically you can consider evidence) can be found HERE which can be bought for 995$ (over-expensive). The report contains:

  • Table ranking 131 cities around the world, based on their relative cost of living.
  • The table also includes each city's rank from last year, 5 years ago and 10 years ago.
  • Analysis of key trends and regional differences
  • Assessment of the impact of key trends such as currency swings, local inflation and the Eurozone crisis on the cost of living in cities around the world
  • Regional analysis comparing the key trends taking place in Europe, Asia, Latin America and North America
  • Assessment of sub-continental bargains and the ten least expensive cities in the ranking
  • Assessment of the key trends that will affect the cost of living in cities in the future

Update: I was able to download a free sample report from their website. You can see it here. You may read it and in case you're skeptical about any unreferenced claim there, you can ask about it.

Additional note: It is reported that in Singapore, the study found, a loaf of bread, a bottle of wine, and a pack of cigarettes will together cost the equivalent of $39.11. Can you relate to that, since you were in Singapore? This would cost in my country Lebanon, 5$ or 6$ only.

  • 5
    Given that the Economist's number are the subject of the question it doesn't make sense to just quote them in the answer. An answer should probably reply (to confirm or deny the number being questioned) using other numbers derived from some independent source. – ChrisW Mar 4 '15 at 13:47
  • Since Singapore imports 100% of its wine, around half that price is the wine. If you subtract the wine, a loaf of bread and a pack of cigarettes would probably be around $20. But then, that's only because cigarettes are very-very heavily taxed to discourage smoking (or if you're cynical, to profit from smoker's addiction) – slebetman Mar 5 '15 at 4:44
  • Regarding the whole "40 dollar bread" business, it's easy to find prices online: numbeo.com/cost-of-living/… – Fattie Jun 11 '18 at 13:25
  • You can very easily see actual SG supermarket prices of anything: fairprice.com.sg/ – Fattie Jun 11 '18 at 13:28
  • Note that for example, wine is incredibly, laughably, expensive in India (they have a huge tax on wine, so the cheapest table wine from overseas is ridiculously overpriced there). I believe this is the case in Singapore also. A package of wonder-bread is a dollar in SG (indeed, much less than in the USA), fairprice.com.sg/searchterm/bread. It's an example of how these comparisons are difficult to make. – Fattie Jun 11 '18 at 13:33

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