Joburg cheapest city for expats

Johannesburg has beaten 142 countries in
a global cost of living survey, making it the
cheapest city in the world for expatriates.
(Image: Chris Kirchhoff, For more
photos, visit the image library.)

Nicky Rehbock

Johannesburg may be the economic powerhouse of South Africa, but living in the city can be dirt cheap, if you’re an expatriate.

This is according to the findings of a recent global survey, which has declared Johannesburg the most affordable city in the world for foreigners.

The Cost of Living survey, compiled in March 2009 by consulting and investment firm Mercer, covers 143 cities across six continents and measures the comparative cost of more than 200 items in each location, including housing, transport, food, clothing, household goods and entertainment.

It is the world’s most comprehensive living cost survey and has been set up to help multinational companies and governments work out compensation allowances for expat employees.

In the survey, New York is used as the base city and scores 100 points. All cities in the poll are then compared against the city, also known as The Big Apple.

Topping the charts as the most expensive city is Tokyo, with a score of 143.7 points. Johannesburg is nearly three times cheaper, with a score of 49.6.

To put this in perspective, compare the price of a hamburger in the two cities: in Johannesburg you can get one for as little as R20 (US$2.50), while in the Japanese capital you’re looking at the hefty price of R55 ($7) per burger.

Osaka was rated the second most expensive city – making Japan the only country with two cities in the top 10. Moscow was third, Geneva fourth and Hong Kong fifth.

In 2008 Asunción in Paraguay was rated as the cheapest destination and Moscow the most expensive.

Nathalie Constantin-Métral, senior researcher at Mercer, said currency fluctuations, including a stronger dollar, have affected this year’s global rankings.

“Many currencies, including the euro and British pound, have weakened considerably against a strong US dollar, causing a number of European cities to plummet in the rankings,” she said.

London dropped 13 places from last year to be the 16th most expensive city in the world, while Paris slipped one spot to 13th, according to Mercer.

Due to the strengthening dollar, all US cities became more expensive. Los Angeles gained 32 places to 23rd and Washington moved 41 places to 66th.

Most European cities became cheaper for expats. Warsaw experienced the most dramatic change, dropping from 35th to 113th place.

Expat life also became cheaper in Australia, New Zealand and India. Sydney has dropped from 15th to 66th and Mumbai has slipped from 48th to 66th place.

Chinese cities benefited as the yuan strengthened against most other currencies, said Mercer. Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou moved up to 12th, 22nd and 23rd respectively.

Joburg’s rating a boon for tourism

Johannesburg’s favourable rating has been welcomed by the local tourism industry.

“The news of the influential poll will come as excellent news to Joburg as it gears up for the 2010 Fifa World Cup,” said Tshwane Malope of the Johannesburg Tourism Company.

“The city has come a long way over the past decade and is growing a reputation as an events hotspot,” he added.

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