Earlier this year a rather questionable international index named Hamilton the forty-fifth most expensive city in the world, its costs comparable to London (39th) and ahead of Auckland (51st), Wellington (104th) and Christchurch (113th). Claiming to use “authoritative sources”, the Numbeo Index ranks 536 international cities based on the price of consumer goods such as shopping, transport and utility bills. In New Zealand, at least, most economists believe the results to miss the mark, bearing in mind Auckland’s $1 million average house price is double that of Hamilton’s and the average rents are $540 and $400 respectively.
The widely respected Economist Intelligent Unit recently named Singapore the world’s most expensive city for the fifth straight year, with nothing to separate Paris and Zurich in second place. Interestingly, Asia-Pacific and European cities dominate the top 10, with New York and Los Angeles slipping (or rising?) in the costly stakes to numbers 13 and 14, while Tokyo dropped seven places from last year to 11. As recently as 2013, Tokyo was the world’s most expensive city to live in. Paris has held its place in the top 10 for the last 15 years.
Singapore has long been Asia’s Silicon Valley. It hosts the eastern headquarters of an array of tech giants such as Google, and is considered a global hotspot for start-up companies. By 2020, it is estimated that one in 30 of its residents will be millionaires—a projected increase of 18% over its regional rival, Hong Kong, who placed fourth on the Economist’s most expensive city list—which is one of the dearest places on Earth to fill your pantry. Singapore is the most expensive place in the world to buy a car—those priced US$20,000 in the USA can cost up to US$90,000 in the island nation—while the average bottle of table wine is more than 30 bucks.
Oslo’s six-place rise sees it make the top 10 for the first time (Norway is the world’s priciest nation to go out for a pint), while Switzerland is the only country with two cities on the list (Zurich and Geneva). Staple goods in Seoul average a staggering 50% higher mark-up over those in New York, part of the reason why the South Korean capital came in sixth, while soaring housing costs in Sydney propelled it four places to tenth, with one survey showing houses in the Australian hub to be over 12 times the average income, placing it second only two Hong Kong in housing unaffordability around the world.
The report is based on the price of 160 products and services in each city such as food, clothing, household supplies, utility bills, transportation and private school fees, which amounts to a cost of living score rather than how much it costs tourists to visit—though likely there will also be a relationship between those two. Interestingly, and maybe pertinently, there isn’t so much overlap between the world’s most expensive cities and those with the best quality of life (according to world-leading HR consultancy firm, Mercer), with only Zurich and Geneva making the top 10 in both. Beyond that, none of the top 10 priciest cities are listed between tenth and twenty-first best places to live either, though Wellington places a highly respectable fifteenth in terms of life quality. And our dear Auckland? That places third.