Singapore is the world’s most expensive city, but that dubious accolade is just an average of a wide range of prices. If you drill down to individual product categories, the picture shifts dramatically. For example: if you like your cigarettes, you are worse off in New York City – as shown on this graph. In the Big Apple, a pack of twenty branded cigarettes costs a whopping $14.25. That is about 50% more expensive than in Singapore. And almost four times as much as in Seoul – the cheapest of the world’s ten most expensive cities, if only for smokers.
To lifelong residents and occasional visitors alike, New York can feel like the priciest place on the planet. But according to a recent survey by The Economist, Singapore is the world’s most expensive city for the fourth year running. New York only comes in at ninth place, ex aequo with Copenhagen. Filling out the Top Ten are Hong Kong in second and Zürich in third place, followed by Tokyo, Osaka, Seoul, Geneva and Paris.
But the overall ranking is misleading: it masks price differences for specific product categories. Singapore might be the priciest city in total, if you like your bread and wine, Seoul could eventually cost you a lot more – as shown by these graphs.
These compare the cost of four basic commodities in the ten most expensive cities in the world. Those four commodities are: a loaf of bread (1 pound), a bottle of table wine, a pack of cigarettes (20, branded), and a gallon of petrol (unleaded). The graph also plots the price evolution for each of these products in all cities: ten years ago, five years ago, last year and now. The cities are ranked from low to high, left to right.
Not only do the prices for these commodities sometimes show a surprising degree of variation between cities, the evolution over time can be a bit unexpected too: you would think prices rise along a fairly predictable pattern, but you would be wrong. Some prices spike and drop again, or even decline flat-out.
Let’s start with the most basic commodity: bread. Singapore actually is the cheapest of the Top Ten cities: here (and in Copenhagen), a standard 1 lb. loaf of bread will set you back only $1.61. That is less than one-third of the price for a loaf in Seoul, which will take a $6.72 bite out of your budget. At $3.61, a New York bread is roughly halfway between both extremes.
Ten years ago, Seoul already was the most expensive place for bread out of the ten cities listed here, but at $2.65, that Korean loaf was almost two thirds cheaper than it is now. Remarkably, bread prices spiked five years ago in Copenhagen, Hong Kong, Osaka, Zürich, Geneva, Tokyo and Paris. A trend this widespread reflects a global phenomenon – possibly a bad harvest, pushing up the price of grain. Bread prices in the aforementioned cities have all gone down considerably, in Paris by more than anywhere else: from $4.58 in 2012 to $3.09 now.
Moving to Geneva for the wine prices is probably a bit extreme, but if you indulge regularly, your hobby will cost you a lot less in the Swiss city than in the other nine metropolises. Especially, again, Seoul. In the South Korean capital, you will be charged $26.54 for a standard-issue bottle. In Geneva, it’s only $8.2.
In both places, prices have remained relatively stable compared to ten years ago, but the cost of wine has shot up in some of the other cities, notably New York, where a Chateau du Plonk now costs $14.74, versus only $9.93 a decade previously – a price increase of almost 50%. Drinkers in Zürich are a lot worse off than ten years ago, when a bottle cost $9.63, versus $14.17 now. But they are a lot better off than five years ago when that same bottle would have cost a whopping $21.24.
Petroleum is one of the rare commodities for which prices on the world market have gone down and persistently stayed down over the last years, as reflected by the graph showing petrol prices in the Top Ten most expensive cities. Those prices all peaked five years ago, and are now all considerably lower. The biggest drop was in Paris, where petrol cost $10.45 in 2012, almost double of its current price, at $5.49.
But even today’s low price in Paris is a lot higher than the top price in NYC five years ago, when a gallon of petrol cost $4.24. It now stands at $2.31, even lower than it was ten years ago, at $2.54. The most expensive place to gas up today? Hong Kong, at $6.55.
The air quality in big cities is generally bad for your health, but cigarettes are even worse. High prices in principle reflect taxes designed to have a dissuading effect on smokers. Here, New York is ahead of all the other cities: a standard pack of smokes costs $14.25, more than double the price of ten years ago ($6.67). Almost as if to compensate for the high price of wine and bread, cigarettes are extra cheap in Seoul. Here, they cost only $4.01 a pack, three and a half times less than in NYC (but even here relatively more expensive than ten years ago, when that pack cost you $2.61 in Seoul). Cigarette prices in Zürich and Geneva are exact mirror images of each other, reflecting the impact of Swiss national tax rules. The same applies to petrol, for that matter – but not to bread, which is slightly cheaper in Zürich, and wine, which is a lot cheaper in Geneva.
So, forget the overall ranking for Most Expensive Cities in the world, and tailor your residence to your habits, unhealthy and otherwise: if you’re a smoker, move to Seoul. If you’re a drinker, live in Geneva. If you like cheap petrol, go live in New York. And if you value your bread, Singapore is the place for you.
expensive cities Article by HowMuch