Champagne goblets in Monaco. Yacht side views of dolphins and sharks in Cabo. Helicopter jaunts over the Alps. Nope, nin, nil. This is not that sort of list. Granted the usual suspects that appear on lists of costliest cities in which to live are the ones that sprinkle luxury throughout the selling points of their brochures. But imagine you’ve been plunked down in a third world country and want to live the life to which you are accustomed in the developed world…Get the picture? Your tab will set you back further than a frivolous night in Cannes with a Black Card and a willful desire to spend, spend, spend. So here is our list of 5, culled from the Economist Intelligence Unit’s top 25.
5) Libreville, Gabon
Our 5th entry is ranked highly as an extreme hardship place to live for expatriates, which means most expatriates who accept work contracts here usually negotiate a hardship living wage into their salary. One would wonder why though for a country that exports wood, mineral resources, and has oil revenues to account for 65% of the budget. All the simple day to day living amenities are costly however. Furnished accommodation in the better districts of town can start at $1600 a month with utilities averaging around $400. Cold medicine can run $17. The country’s developed a bit of a reputation for eye-popping price gouging. And most expatriates tend to shrug it off because the country is rich in oil exports. However, all the potential that lies in wait in agriculture languishes, leaving locals who cannot avail themselves of the oil industry in the lurch. An average westerner will spend $100 a day here. Someone of more luxurious means can push $500.
If we get down to brass tacks here are the tallies in raw numbers. The Central African Franc (CFA) is the currency for Gabon and 5 other African nations. One US Dollar currently equals 477 CFA. But given that most locals’ living wage is dramatically reduced in contrast to that of westerners, here’s what your US Dollars will buy:
Monthly Rent for a Modest Apartment $1,576
1lb of Boneless Chicken Breast $5.46
A Dozen Eggs $3.21
Cappuccino in Expatriate part of town $6
1 liter of gas $1.18
Laundry Detergent $17
Cold Medicine $17
4) Brazzaville, Congo
When the US State Department says to generally avoid going out at night here, one should take an awfully careful look at the place in question. Congo has a population of 4.3 million, teeming with exotic wildlife, and constantly skating the edge of peace and devastation. The capital, Brazzaville, sits precariously on the border of its war torn neighbor Democratic Republic of the Congo. And that’s where it gets tricky. In 2002 a peace accord was reached with the Ninja rebels. Since that time, elections have been subject to scrutiny from UN observers. The map itself of the general landscape can be divided into puzzle pieced zones of stability and instability. Much like South Sudan, to live a life to which one is accustomed in the western world, a vast sum is necessary. While on the surface prices are reasonable, the tally adds up. Monthly rent in a reasonable flat in the city centre can run around $1000 for a one bedroom pad and $2000 for a three bedroom pad. Meals for 2 at a mid-range restaurant will fetch $23. Milk runs about $3.50 and a cappuccino at the local cafe sits at $3. All reasonable right? Wrong. The average salary here after taxes is $403.67. Now about that bachelor pad in the city centre you were thinking about…
Recent studies have shown that the cost of living in Brazzaville is 8% more expensive than living in Bordeaux where clearly the quality of life is much higher. Like Gabon, Congo uses the CFA. Thinking about splurging? Here’s what your US Dollars will buy in Brazzaville on a CFA scale:
Average Monthly Disposable Salary After Taxes $403
Mortgage Interest Rate in Yearly Percentages 30%
Monthly Rent for A One Bedroom Flat in the City $1000
Monthly Rent for a 3 Bedroom Flat in the City $2077
A Dozen Eggs $3.72
1 kg of Boneless Chicken Breasts $4.12
Bottled Water $1.58
3) Juba, South Sudan
Number 3 actually appears as number 4 on the complete list of 25 costliest cities. But for our purposes it is number 3 in the most unlikely of places in which to live and shell out a fortune. Before South Sudan separated from its brother Sudan and became an independent nation, it was long the site of a devastating genocide. Sudan’s leader Omar el Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes. And the past few years which have seen a massive migration of Sudanese people fleeing to the south for refuge has been brought to the attention of the western world by human rights advocates and celebrities alike. George Clooney was one of the very first to call a spade a spade, drawing attention to the rampant genocide killing scores of men, women and children without so much of a peep from the western world. And for all that, the newly christened South Sudan is teeming with possibilities in mineral and natural resources. Thus, it is yet again the target of rebels and revolutionaries who would love to commandeer the rich oil resources to be found there. Cost of living: through the roof if you hope to live very much like you do in the developed world. Some things you’ll need for your trip: security, transportation, means of communication to the outside world, sustenance. Getting them depends on how much you are willing to spend.
The South Sudanese Pound (SDG) is the means of currency here and one US Dollar equals 5.68 SDG. What will your dollars net you at the market? Here’s a list of going prices:
Credit Cards like Visa and Mastercard aren’t widely integrated yet. Cash is king. Currency exchanges at banks charge 20% to convert your money. Black markets charge 5 SDG per $100.
Moest Hotel $180 – 200
One Bedroom Apartment Monthly Rent $5000
Rented Room in Shared Accommodation $1200 – 2500
A Dozen Eggs $12
Meal for 2 in a modest restaurant $50
2) Luanda, Angola
Who? What? Where? Perhaps you’ve heard of Luanda. No? This city has held real estate at the top of the list of the top 25 costliest cities in the world for a few years running now. No, the quality of life is nothing like its list neighbors Singapore, Zurich or Paris for that matter. In fact everything about Angola screams third world reality. The country won its independence from Portugal in 1975 and up until 2002 has been fighting a civil war ever since. What followed in the footsteps of independence has been a sad implosion of sorts. Once a booming exporter of fine coffee and cotton, Angola now must import 80% of its consumable goods. Whereas the land was once rich with agricultural goods western nations salivate over, those same rich goods are now being shipped in. Expatriates who come here to work for various telecom, oil and IT enterprises find their salaries augmented to soften the blow of the cost of living here. Rent can average $5000 a month for a modest flat. A meal out for two at a restaurant can hover around $200 without the gastronomical fireworks included. Families average around $2000 a month on grocery expenditures. However the simpler pleasures in life tend to run cheap: a bottle of beer for 60 cents, cigarettes for $1.50, and a litre of diesel for $2.
According to the Angola 2013 Crime and Safety Report, ” Luanda maintains the reputation as a haven for crimes such as armed robberies, assaults, carjackings. However, reliable statistical crime data is unavailable in Angola. ”
The currency here is the Angolan Kwanza (AOA) and one US Dollar equals 97.72 AOA. Here’s how your dollars explode at work in Luanda:
Monthly Rent for a 2 Bedroom Luxury Apartment $7000 (compared to $4300 in NYC)
Average Pair of Jeans $200
Bottled Water (Safe Drinking Water Is Limited) $1.12
Basic Monthly Utilities $100
1) Caracas, Venezuela
Number one on this list appears for all the obvious reasons. Self-absorbed despot at the reins of government? Check. Inflation up a two-decade high of 54%? Check. Incessant riot and revolution in the streets? Check. Devalued currency? Check, check and pass the check. Venezuela has long been in the crosshairs of the US government for some time now. As one of the countries infamously known for violent repression of press freedoms and human rights, Venezuela has been a thorn in the side of the US. Before President Maduro succeeded the late Hugo Chavez, the country was already in a downward spiral. Simple items such as milk and toilet paper are practically nonexistent on the shelves of the local grocery store. And when they are, the price explodes well beyond the budget of the local working class. And should you need to run to the pharmacy to get a handle on that nagging cough or that stinging backache, you’ll be hard pressed to 1) weather the long line of customers waiting throughout the course of a weekday (you either wait in line or you go to work) 2) find the medication you need in stock 3) be able to afford said medication. The only way to circumvent these sorts of obstacles is princely living. Money is king, even in a land where the current president thinks he in fact is that supposed king.
The Venezuelan Bolivar (VEF) is the national currency and one US Dollar equals 6.28 VEF. With the Venezuelan economy in freefall and the currency living a near death experience, here’s what your US dollars and cents will buy you:
Monthly Rent In A Luxury Apartment $4,284
Chicken Breasts (1kg) $15.76
A Dozen Eggs $5.86
Meal For Two in Modest Restaurant $76.77
Bottled Water $2.49
A Pair of Average Blue Jeans $173.83
Average Monthly Disposable Salary After Taxes $581.81