Singapore is the Most Expensive City… if You’re an Expat

Harlow Harlow! Missed me?

Or… have I neglected this space so looooong that I’m talking to walls now. *Yoohoo, anyone?*

Anyway, I’ve been away and back and away and back and away and back! Yea, during this period I was away, I’d gone on a 12D trip to Korea, my 12th!! *screams!* I’d also celebrated a sweltering hot Christmas in Penang, and also took a family trip to Bangkok in January.

Work’s been busy, but generally, life’s good. Hope life’s treating you well too.

I’m back blogging coz I’ve about had enough of this ‘Singapore is the most expensive city‘ nonsense. It’s so annoying you know… coz it’s been going on for some years now, and the same nonsense pops up EVERY SINGLE YEAR.


You see, the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) releases all sorts of reports and rankings all the time. One of them happens to be this annual thingy whereby the EIU ranks the world’s most expensive cities to live in.


Yes, this survey has always been meant to be a relocation tool using New York City as a base of comparison. It is meant for HR peeps in MNCs to use as a gauge to work out their expat packages. So, obviously the items that they look at for an expat would be different from the stuff we consume as locals on a day-to-day basis. They look at a basket of some 160 items from food, toiletries and clothing to domestic help, transport and utility bills, across 133 cities.


There are a few notable things.

One, a car is a HUGE ticket item in Singapore coz of our COE system.
But in Singapore, you can rely on public transport to get around, you don’t really need a car, whereas it might not be the case in other cities with poorly planned public transport.

Two, the Singapore dollar has strengthened lots over the years and years.
Look at the par value of, say, Malaysian ringgit, Taiwanese NT, or even the Hong Kong dollar. Obviously we would show up more expensive coz of our strong dollar. I don’t see you complaining when you’re shopping across the Causeway or when you’re buying your branded bags in Europe.

Three, they say Singapore is the most expensive place to buy clothes.
Well, I just think they don’t know where to shop. And harlow, simi century liao? Heard of online shopping? Or go shop at BKK can….?


Whenever the EIU releases this ranking, the netizens in Singapore would go cray and start blaming the sun, the moon, the stars and yes, of course, the G for the escalating high costs of living. And every year, someone would diligently try very very hard to explain to the angry people why it isn’t so. I thought THIS ONE was one good and clear read.

And oh, here’s another good one. See? Told you it happens every year.


So now, the EIU has once again released the ranking and SINGAPORE IS STILL THE WORLD’S MOST EXPENSIVE CITY.

Yeap, for the third year in a row, our little red dot has retained the title of the world’s most expensive city for expatriates, despite experiencing its longest spell of declining consumer prices since the 1970s. We’re ahead of even Zurich, Hong Kong, Geneva and Paris, they say. In case you’re interested, London was sixth and New York seventh on the list.

Where are the cheapest cities to live in? Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, followed by Bangalore and Mumbai in India.

I repeat, or rather, let me repeat what Straits Times said,

The survey is designed to help human resource and finance managers calculate cost-of-living allowances and come up with compensation packages for expatriates and business travellers.


For this year, who are the defenders for Singapore? I thought this one by one Dr Patrick Liew was pretty good.


Still not convinced?

How about hearing it straight from the horse’s mouth? So, the Asia Business Report by BBC TV covered this news as a follow-up to the news. They invited Simon Baptist, the global chief economist at the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) Asia.

Baptist said that over the last 12 months, Singapore had enjoyed low inflation with many prices such as food and energy falling. He pointed out that the survey was actually on the cost of living for expats and clarified that lower prices are not always a good thing.

“One reason why Singapore is so expensive is because it’s very costly to own a car here, which of course, gives us uncrowded streets and easy commutes.”

Yea, I am so tired of the people misinterpreting the survey and people who only read headlines… so am blogging this with ALL the useful links I can find, embedding the video and heck, even giving you the transcript of what the EIU said.

Here’s the clip (from 0:20 onwards)



Why is Singapore getting to be the most expensive city in the world to live in?

Asia Business Report, BBC TV

Do you think the city you live in is expensive? If you are here in Singapore, you’re probably not surprised to learn that, once again, this island-state has been ranked the most expensive place to live in the world. In a survey by The Economist Intelligence Unit, Hongkong is running a close second. We’ll look at how other places are ranked in a moment but, first, here’s Leisha Chi:

LC: “Here I am in Singapore which has once again been ranked the world’s most expensive city. But it’s not its supermarkets like this one where the cost really hits you. To buy a loaf of bread, for example, it costs you about half of what it was in a city like New York.

Asia Business Report, BBC TV
Asia Business Report, BBC TV


And a basket of shopping like this one is actually cheaper than in many other Asian cities. In fact, this lot will cost you about 30 per cent more in Seoul, Hong Kong and Tokyo.

Asia Business Report, BBC TV
Asia Business Report, BBC TV


So what is it about Singapore that makes it the world’s priciest place? Well, this is the big one. A car is prohibitively expensive for most people. It’s not just the cost of the imported vehicle but the fee that you have to pay just for the privilege of owning it. But getting from A to B isn’t the only thing that costs a lot. Education, utility bills and even shopping for clothes can make Singapore a very expensive place to live.”

The gap between Singapore and the two places which took equal second place in the cost of living rankings, Hongkong and Zurich, have narrowed significantly. Earlier I spoke to Simon Baptist, who’s a global chief economist at the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) Asia.

Mr Baptist: “Singapore’s had very low inflation over the last 12 months and so many prices have actually fallen, price of food, the price of energy are down and another big driver of the difference with Hong Kong is that the Hong Kong dollar has been stronger than the Singapore one. So that’s made Singapore a little bit cheaper in relative terms.”

Q: “So we see the depreciation of the Singapore dollar against the US dollar and this has basically impacted the cost of living?”

Mr Baptist: “Yes, it certainly has. So now the gap between Hong Kong and Singapore that has narrowed significantly. Something I think is worth noting about the survey though is that it’s focused on the cost of living for expats and also that lower prices are not always a good thing.

One reason why Singapore is so expensive is because it’s very costly to own a car here which, of course, gives us uncrowded streets and easy commutes.

Asia Business Report, BBC TV
Asia Business Report, BBC TV


Q: “One of the most expensive in the world, but why are you only measuring it with the expat’s cost of living, why not everyone’s cost of living?”

Asia Business Report, BBC TV
Asia Business Report, BBC TV


Mr Baptist: “Well, everyone’s cost of living is measured by the consumer price indices that all the statistics agencies kind of produce on a monthly or quarterly basis.”

Asia Business Report, BBC TV
Asia Business Report, BBC TV


Mr Baptist: “Anyway this survey is designed really for multinationals to use to understand what is the cost of living for expats and business travellers.”

Asia Business Report, BBC TV
Asia Business Report, BBC TV


Q: “So we’re seeing a narrowing of the cost of living between Singapore and Hong Kong, but we’re also see some Chinese cities moving up the rankings, but I’m quite surprised that Dalian is included in this list?”

Mr Baptist: “Dalian is actually quite an important Chinese business centre. We’ve got about 10 Chinese cities in our list and, you’re right, they have all rocketed up this year. Despite the weakness of the RMB, relatively it’s still gone up and, of course, food prices are rising too.”

Q: “Briefly, let’s do away with expensive cities. I want to know about the cheapest places to live in. Does cheaper necessarily mean better?”

Mr Baptist: “Not necessarily. There are some reasons why things are cheaper that mean the quality of life can be a lot lower. The cheapest cities in the world tend to be in South Asia. Many of the bottom 10 are in India and Pakistan. So if your international firm is looking to minimise the cost of your expat packages, increasing headcount in Mumbai and New Delhi is a good idea.”


Updated 2016.03.16
Stumbled upon THIS and it’s a very good explainer article with details!
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