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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?

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  • 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.

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  • 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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