A worldwide cost of living survey of 131 major cities has found that big South Asian cities of Dhaka, Delhi, Karachi and Mumbai are among the ten least expensive in the world. In other words, foreign visitors, expatriate businessmen and overseas investors can live better for less in South Asia, particularly in Karachi which is the cheapest on the list, just one rank below Mumbai, India.
The survey conducted by Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) compared more than 400 individual prices across 160 products, including food, clothing, transport, rents and private schools.
India and Pakistan’s cheap labor and land costs are making the area “attractive to those bargain-hungry visitors or investors willing to brave some of the security risks that accompany such low prices,” the survey said, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.
The Swiss city of Zurich remained the world’s most expensive, Tokyo was the runner up, with Singapore now listed as the world’s 9th most expensive city. Singapore was listed as the 6th most expensive last year, but remarkably was ranked 97th in 2001.
Here's how EIU describes the world cost of living survey methodology:
"More than 50,000 individual prices are collected in each survey, conducted each March and September and published in June and December. EIU researchers survey a range of stores: supermarkets, midpriced stores and higher priced specialty outlets. Prices reflect costs for more than 160 items in each city. These are not recommended retail prices or manufacturers’ costs; they are what the paying customer is charged. Prices gathered are then converted into a central currency (US dollars) using a prevailing exchange rate and weighted in order to achieve comparative indices. The cost-of-living index uses an identical set of weights that is internationally based and not geared toward the spending pattern of any specific nationality. Items are individually weighted across a range of categories and a comparative index is product using the relative difference by weighted item."
The cheapest cities on the EIU list are dominated by Asian and Middle Eastern cities. The latter of these is due, in part, to the use of price controls and the pegging of currencies to the US dollar. The former seems to have a more structural basis, with cheap labor and land costs making India and Pakistan incredibly attractive to those bargain hungry visitors or investors.
Currently, there are over 300 foreign multinational companies, including American and European companies, with operations in Pakistan. And more are coming every year in spite of ongoing security concerns and current economic slowdown. Almost all big international brand name American and European companies operate in Pakistan.
Here's an excerpt from a US government website on America's commercial presence in Karachi, Pakistan:
"U.S. firms have a strong presence in Pakistan. More than 70 wholly-owned U.S. subsidiaries are registered with the American Business Council (ABC) and American Business Forum (ABF) in Pakistan. There are also hundreds of local firms representing U.S. firms in the market. Leading U.S. businesses in Pakistan include Citibank, Pepsi-Cola, Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, NCR, Teradata, Pfizer, Abbot, Eli Lilly, Wyeth, DuPont, Oracle, Microsoft, Cisco, Intel, Chevron, 3M, IBM, Apple, Monsanto, McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Dominoes Pizza, and Caterpillar.
Despite security challenges and common emerging market concerns about intellectual property rights (IPR) protection, contract enforcement, and governance issues, the Pakistan market offers many attractive trade and investment opportunities in a broad range of sectors: among others, energy (power generation); transportation (aerospace and railways); information and communications technology; architecture, construction, and engineering; health; environmental technology; agricultural technology; safety and security; franchising; and services."
Jon Copestake, the editor of the EIU cost survey report, explained that these cheap cities “have been cheap for a long time.” “Even though local inflation is high, it’s coming from a very low base, so it’s only a slight rise in the cost-of-living index,” he said.