Surveying survey season…is Tokyo the most expensive city? Or Oslo? Or even Luanda?

The Angolan capital of Luanda.  The World's most expensive city?  Photograph: <a href=

The Angolan capital of Luanda. The World's most expensive city? Photograph: Yan Boechat / Some rights reserved

Yesterday I wrote a blog post over at the Guardian about a new survey that shows London slipping downwards in the ‘world’s most expensive cities’ stakes.  It got quite a response (and somewhat predictably, turned into a London vs. the rest battle).

But this survey isn’t an isolated incident.  It’s part of a season. Each year, analysts across the globe crunch numbers and poll like maniacs, jostling for survey superiority. So I thought I’d survey the surveys.

The subject of the Guardian blog was the Mercer survey that announced Tokyo, a perennial chart-topper, as the world’s most expensive city, knocking Moscow off it’s budget-bludgeoning perch. The study measured the comparative cost of over 200 items in 143 cities.  London dropped 13 places to 16th. Conversely, New Zealand is offering brilliant value at the moment, with Aukland and Wellington coming in cheaper than Dacca, Nairobi and Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. Apparently.

ECA International, another bunch of number-crunchers, think differently. Their June survey, which calculated visiting costs across the globe, found Luanda in Angola to be the world’s dearest, closely followed by four Japanese cities and Copenhagen. Of the fifty cities surveyed, they found Barcelona to be the cheapest.

Confused? Well there’s more. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Cost of Living survey found Tokyo top in March, with Paris in third, and Bucharest bottom. Their most recent Big mac Index, which works out the relative cost of a burger across the globe (and is the poll which I feel holds most weight), found Norway the biggest rip-off and Malaysia the biggest bargain amonst the countries surveyed.

Burgers aside, the Economist also rated Vancouver at the most “liveable” city two months ago. Not to be outdone, arbiters of mod con cool Monocle Magazine (a magazine created by Tyler Brûlé, former owner of Wallpaper) this month awarded their ‘most liveable city’ award to Zurich.

What have we learnt?  There are a lot of surveys out there.  Perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into them.  But while we’re not reading too much into them, let’s argue about it.

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One response to “Surveying survey season…is Tokyo the most expensive city? Or Oslo? Or even Luanda?

  1. I think they all survey fr a different audience – some are for expats, so they weigh along the price of a central expat rental apartment (often much more than ‘normal’ housing for locals), eating at hotel restaurants etc. Still, gives a good general idea.
    Some people only need the bare essentials and just glance at http://www.pintprice.com to determine their next destination.

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