World's Cheapest Cities for Expensive Living 2011

  1. Where to Live Well for Less
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    Where to Live Well for Less

    Have you ever thought about chucking it all and moving to a place where the greenback goes farther? Though many of us do, the spots we used to consider cheap—the Bahamas in the 1970s, Paris in the '60s—aren't so inexpensive now. Don't worry. There are still plenty of places where the slightly well-heeled can live comfortably without giving up an arm and a leg. International consulting firm Mercer conducts an annual global tally of which countries cost the most for expatriate workers, providing a pretty good cost yardstick. Mercer measures the prices for what an average American might require overseas to lead a relatively decent life—no gold-plated Rolls-Royces or rooftop helipads, just decent food, an apartment, a cup of coffee, and so forth.

    While expatriate assignments generally cost companies a lot, living well in some places is far less expensive than in major U.S. cities. These include certain locations in Africa, South America, South Asia, and some former Soviet republics. In its 2011 Worldwide Cost of Living Survey, Mercer collected price data from 214 cities on more than 200 items, including housing, transportation, food, clothing, household goods, and entertainment, but not the cost of such items as health care and education. Be warned that not all winning locations are family-friendly. The Libyan capital of Tripoli is one of the least-expensive places to live, with a quality of life that entails significant risk from military rockets. Many of the cheapest cities are in developing countries, but not all of those are low-cost: The world's most-expensive city for expatriates is Luanda, Angola, followed by Tokyo and N'Djamena, Chad, according to Mercer's 2011 ranking. On the other hand, inexpensive living doesn't always require a foreign posting: North Carolina's Winston-Salem ranks No. 18 among cheap cities.

    Click here to see the world's 25 cheapest cities that can meet standards for expatriate needs.
  2. No. 25 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Tripoli, Libya
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    No. 25 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Tripoli, Libya

    Monthly rent, unfurnished 2-br luxury apartment: $1,614.76
    Lunch for one at a nice restaurant: $34.31*
    One liter of gas, unleaded 95 octane: $0.20*
    Beer, local brand: N/A*
    Cup of coffee, including service: $3.53*

    As Libya's capital and largest city, Tripoli serves as a major commerce and manufacturing center. However, due to violence and security threats following the uprising against Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, many residents, including U.S. citizens and other aliens, have fled the city. The U.S. Embassy in Tripoli suspended operations on Feb. 25 and NATO began conducting air strikes against Libya's military in March.

    *For Tripoli, only accommodation prices were collected for the March 2011 survey; additional pricing data have been drawn from the September 2010 survey

    Price data on all slides: Mercer 2011 Worldwide Cost of Living Survey
  3. No. 24 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Tbilisi, Georgia
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    No. 24 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Tbilisi, Georgia

    Monthly rent, unfurnished 2-br luxury apartment: $1,000
    Lunch for one at a nice restaurant: $39.41
    One liter of gas, unleaded 95 octane: $1.21
    Beer, local brand: $0.73
    Cup of coffee, including service: $3.94

    Tbilisi, Georgia's capital and largest city, is home to 50 percent of the county's businesses, according to the city. The international corporate presence includes PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte, and Pepsico (PEP), via the bottler JSC Iberia Refreshments. Major industries include construction, real estate, finance, transportation, communications, and tourism. Income in Georgia remains low: Average monthly household income was GEL651.2 (about $390) in 2010, according to the National Statistics Office of Georgia.
  4. No. 23 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina
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    No. 23 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina

    Monthly rent, unfurnished 2-br luxury apartment: $907
    Lunch for one at a nice restaurant: $33.14
    One liter of gas, unleaded 95 octane: $1.57
    Beer, local brand: $0.87
    Cup of coffee, including service: $1.60

    The capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina continues to undergo reconstruction and development following years of war in the region. Despite Sarajevo's trading, manufacturing, construction, transportation, tourism, and finance industries, the unemployment rate remains high, according to the city. Beverages, tobacco products, chemicals, electronics, metal-processing, wood, and textiles are among the city's major industries.
  5. No. 22 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Minsk, Belarus
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    No. 22 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Minsk, Belarus

    Monthly rent, unfurnished 2-br luxury apartment: $1,200
    Lunch for one at a nice restaurant: $36.48
    One liter of gas, unleaded 95 octane: $1.07
    Beer, local brand: $0.61
    Cup of coffee, including service: $1.99

    Minsk, capital of Belarus and headquarters of the Commonwealth of Independent States (a regional interstate association), is Belarus's political, economic, scientific, and cultural center. It accounts for 20 percent of the country's industrial output and has operations in the motor, tractor, machinery and tool, metalworking, instrument and electronics manufacturing, and other light-industrial sectors, according to a government website. The average monthly salary in Minsk was BYR2 million (roughly $400) in March, the National Statistical Committee of the Republic of Belarus estimates.
  6. No. 21 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Chennai, India
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    No. 21 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Chennai, India

    Monthly rent, unfurnished 2-br luxury apartment: $1,422.19
    Lunch for one at a nice restaurant: $26.80
    One liter of gas, unleaded 95 octane: $1.39
    Beer, local brand: $0.85
    Cup of coffee, including service: $2.63

    Chennai, India's auto-manufacturing center and an industrial base for the computer, technology, hardware manufacturing, and health-care industries, continues to enjoy robust economic activity. Chennai port handled 1.52 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in the 2010-11 fiscal year, a 25 percent jump over the previous year, according to Indian Ports Authority data.
  7. No. 20 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Gaborone, Botswana
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    No. 20 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Gaborone, Botswana

    Monthly rent, unfurnished 2-br luxury apartment: $591.15
    Lunch for one at a nice restaurant: $29.63
    One liter of gas, unleaded 95 octane: $0.98
    Beer, local brand: $1.13
    Cup of coffee, including service: $1.92

    Gabarone, a city in the southeast corner of Botswana, is the country's center of government and commerce. It is the headquarters of Debswana, a large diamond-mining and -production partnership between the Botswana government and De Beers. An increase in diamond demand is expected to help the national economy expand by 10 percent to 12 percent this year, said Linah Mohohlo, governor of the country's central bank, in March.
  8. No. 19 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Quito, Ecuador
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    No. 19 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Quito, Ecuador

    Monthly rent, unfurnished 2-br luxury apartment: $1,000
    Lunch for one at a nice restaurant: $42.50
    One liter of gas, unleaded 95 octane: $0.55
    Beer, local brand: $0.69
    Cup of coffee, including service: $3.66

    Ecuador's capital, in the north-central part of the country, is one of the biggest contributors to the nation's economy. Major petroleum pipelines run through the city, which also produces textiles, leather goods, pharmaceuticals, and light consumer goods. Ecuador is highly dependent on oil exports, so the nation's economy grew at a fast pace in the January-to-March period, expanding 6.98 percent year-on-year as higher oil prices enabled increased government spending, consumer demand, and job creation, reported Bloomberg News.
  9. No. 18 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Winston-Salem, N.C.
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    No. 18 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Winston-Salem, N.C.

    Monthly rent, unfurnished 2-br luxury apartment: $500
    Lunch for one at a nice restaurant: $40
    One liter of gas, unleaded 95 octane: $0.81
    Beer, local brand: $0.93
    Cup of coffee, including service: $3.50

    This city of 230,000 people is the least-expensive U.S. city in Mercer's survey. Winston-Salem, home to Reynolds American (RAI)—the holding company of cigarette maker R.J. Reynolds Tobacco—as well as Wake Forest University, Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, Novant Health, and Hanesbrands (HBI), has a median household income of $41,979 and a poverty rate of 13.5 percent, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
  10. No. 17 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Windhoek, Namibia
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    No. 17 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Windhoek, Namibia

    Monthly rent, unfurnished 2-br luxury apartment: $625.30
    Lunch for one at a nice restaurant: $22.23
    One liter of gas, unleaded 95 octane: $1.13
    Beer, local brand: $0.92
    Cup of coffee, including service: $1.84

    Namibia's capital, Windhoek, is home to government offices, state enterprises, and many other businesses. Mining is a major contributor to the country's economy, and several mining companies are based in Windhoek, as well as industry groups such as the Chamber of Mines of Namibia, which represents miners of diamonds, uranium oxide, special high-grade zinc, and acid-grade fluorspar, as well as producers of gold bullion, blister copper, lead-and-zinc concentrate, and salt.
  11. No. 16 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: San Salvador, El Salvador
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    No. 16 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: San Salvador, El Salvador

    Monthly rent, unfurnished 2-br luxury apartment: $1,000
    Lunch for one at a nice restaurant: $27.50
    One liter of gas, unleaded 95 octane: $1.06
    Beer, local brand: $1
    Cup of coffee, including service: $2.50

    Like other capitals in this list, San Salvador is a center of government and business. The city is home to many communications and media companies, as well as banks and financial firms. Income in El Salvador remains low and the country's per capita gross domestic product was about $7,200 in 2010, according to the CIA World Factbook.
  12. No. 15 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Tirana, Albania
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    No. 15 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Tirana, Albania

    Monthly rent, unfurnished 2-br luxury apartment: $977.36
    Lunch for one at a nice restaurant: $29.32
    One liter of gas, unleaded 95 octane: $1.57
    Beer, local brand: $0.93
    Cup of coffee, including service: $1.37

    Tirana, Albania's capital, grew quickly in recent decades to about 620,000 people because of migration from rural areas. It is expected to add a further 400,000 by 2020, according to a report by the city government. So far, Tirana has been unable to keep up with its population. According to the organization TransConflict.com, the city's inadequate roads and other infrastructure have created transportation problems and pollution.
  13. No. 14 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Skopje, Macedonia
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    No. 14 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Skopje, Macedonia

    Monthly rent, unfurnished 2-br luxury apartment: $929.85
    Lunch for one at a nice restaurant: $29.22
    One liter of gas, unleaded 95 octane: $1.74
    Beer, local brand: $0.69
    Cup of coffee, including service: $2.21

    The national government and parliament are based in Skopje, Macedonia's capital. There are two Technological-Industrial Development Zones, which offer incentives for development, just outside the city, according to the country's Agency for Foreign Investments and Export Promotion. Macedonia has suffered from decreased foreign direct investment, lowered credit, and a large trade deficit in the downturn, according to the CIA World Factbook. The national unemployment rate has stayed above 30 percent for several years.
  14. No. 13 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Kampala, Uganda
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    No. 13 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Kampala, Uganda

    Monthly rent, unfurnished 2-br luxury apartment: $1,600
    Lunch for one at a nice restaurant: $21
    One liter of gas, unleaded 95 octane: $1.49
    Beer, local brand: $0.75
    Cup of coffee, including service: $3.20

    Kampala is Uganda's capital and the hub of the country's economic, political, and administrative activities. This city of 2.3 million people generates a large proportion of Uganda's GDP, according to the City Council of Kampala, though it suffers from poor organization, management, and inadequate financial and human-resource capacities.
  15. No. 12 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Kolkata, India
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    No. 12 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Kolkata, India

    Monthly rent, unfurnished 2-br luxury apartment: $1,094
    Lunch for one at a nice restaurant: $22.97
    One liter of gas, unleaded 95 octane: $1.36
    Beer, local brand: $0.57
    Cup of coffee, including service: $2.95

    A business hub in east India, Kolkata houses a major port, printing and publishing businesses, and serves as a regional hub for recreation and entertainment, according to britannica.com. Still, the area remains poor and many residents dwell in slums, according to a report by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme.
  16. No. 11 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Asunción, Paraguay
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    No. 11 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Asunción, Paraguay

    Monthly rent, unfurnished 2-br luxury apartment: $762.30
    Lunch for one at a nice restaurant: $32.67
    One liter of gas, unleaded 95 octane: $1.44
    Beer, local brand: $0.76
    Cup of coffee, including service: $2.18

    Asunción, Paraguay's capital, is a principal distribution center and has processing facilities for cotton, sugar cane, corn, tobacco, fruit, and cattle products, according to britannica.com. Textiles, vegetable oils, footwear, flour, small river craft, and tobacco products are produced in the city.
  17. No. 10 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Nouakchott, Mauritania
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    No. 10 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Nouakchott, Mauritania

    Monthly rent, unfurnished 2-br luxury apartment: $529.91
    Lunch for one at a nice restaurant: $31.79
    One liter of gas, unleaded 95 octane: $1.26
    Beer, local brand: N/A
    Cup of coffee, including service: $3.18

    Home to a wharf and a Chinese-built deepwater port, Mauritania's capital is a major center for imports, including wheat, cement, flour, sugar, and general equipment, according to the World Food Programme Logistics Division. Oil was discovered offshore, near Nouakchott, drawing large numbers of young workers from around Mauritania and neighboring countries in hopes of finding work in the petroleum sector. Many of the anticipated jobs never materialized, according to a report by the U.S. Commercial Service.
  18. No. 9 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Ashkhabad, Turkmenistan
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    No. 9 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Ashkhabad, Turkmenistan

    Monthly rent, unfurnished 2-br luxury apartment: $500
    Lunch for one at a nice restaurant: $52.63
    One liter of gas, unleaded 95 octane: $0.22
    Beer, local brand: N/A
    Cup of coffee, including service: $4.56

    Turkmenistan's capital, Ashkhabad, primarily serves as a government center. According to the U.S. Embassy in Turkmenistan, the oil-and-gas, agricultural, and construction sectors have been the most promising areas for foreign investment in Turkmenistan, but tight state control of the economy, slow economic reform, and restrictive visa rules have made the country unattractive to foreign investors.
  19. No. 8 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Tunis, Tunisia
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    No. 8 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Tunis, Tunisia

    Monthly rent, unfurnished 2-br luxury apartment: $458.84
    Lunch for one at a nice restaurant: $26.47
    One liter of gas, unleaded 95 octane: $1.05
    Beer, local brand: $1.07
    Cup of coffee, including service: $2.47

    Tunisia's capital and largest city, Tunis is the country's economic and political center. The Tunis region is home to 381 industrial companies in such sectors as textiles and clothing, leather and footwear, and electronics, which provide about 41,000 jobs, according to the country's Foreign Investment Promotion Agency. While Tunis's economy suffered from political and social unrest this year, "long-term perspectives for the Tunisian economy look good," according to a first-quarter report by Jones Lang LaSalle.
  20. No. 7 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Tegucigalpa, Honduras
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    No. 7 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Tegucigalpa, Honduras

    Monthly rent, unfurnished 2-br luxury apartment: $582.32
    Lunch for one at a nice restaurant: $26.47
    One liter of gas, unleaded 95 octane: $1.09
    Beer, local brand: $1.22
    Cup of coffee, including service: $1.69

    Originally developed as a mining center, Tegucigalpa now serves as Honduras' capital. The rapidly growing city suffers from poverty, inadequate infrastructure, and limited availability of financial resources for infrastructure investments, according to a report by the Woodrow Wilson School of Public & International Affairs.
  21. No. 6 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Islamabad, Pakistan
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    No. 6 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Islamabad, Pakistan

    Monthly rent, unfurnished 2-br luxury apartment: $800
    Lunch for one at a nice restaurant: $19.33
    One liter of gas, unleaded 95 octane: $0.94
    Beer, local brand: N/A
    Cup of coffee, including service: $2.93

    Islamabad is the second-cheapest Pakistani city on Mercer's ranking. (See which city is No. 1.) As the country's capital and fastest-growing urban area, Islamabad is home to many state-owned companies, the Islamabad Stock Exchange, and a growing IT sector. Security is an ongoing concern in the city, which experiences frequent demonstrations, according to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad.
  22. No. 5 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
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    No. 5 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

    Monthly rent, unfurnished 2-br luxury apartment: $700
    Lunch for one at a nice restaurant: $27.41
    One liter of gas, unleaded 95 octane: $0.78
    Beer, local brand: $0.74
    Cup of coffee, including service: $5.27

    Kyrgyzstan's capital, Bishkek is home to two free economic zones, which offer government incentives for investment. The capital area accounted for 33 percent of foreign direct investment into the country during the first nine months of 2010, according to the U.S. State Dept.
  23. No. 4 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
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    No. 4 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

    Monthly rent, unfurnished 2-br luxury apartment: N/A
    Lunch for one at a nice restaurant: $23.04
    One liter of gas, unleaded 95 octane: $0.99
    Beer, local brand: $1.26
    Cup of coffee, including service: $1.98

    Located in the heart of Ethiopia, this capital of more than 3 million people produces food, beverages, processed tobacco, plastics, chemical products, textiles, and shoes, according to the Columbia Encyclopedia. It is Ethiopia's main export center for coffee—its chief export crop—along with tobacco, grains, and hides.
  24. No. 3 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: La Paz, Bolivia
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    No. 3 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: La Paz, Bolivia

    Monthly rent, unfurnished 2-br luxury apartment: $650
    Lunch for one at a nice restaurant: $17.66
    One liter of gas, unleaded 95 octane: $0.68
    Beer, local brand: $1
    Cup of coffee, including service: $2.50
    The world's highest national capital, at 11,800 feet above sea level, La Paz is Bolivia's center for commerce, finance, and industry. Government is a major employer and prime industrial activities include food processing and the production of such light manufactured items as textiles, leather products, and other consumer goods, according to howstuffworks.com.
  25. No. 2 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Managua, Nicaragua
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    No. 2 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Managua, Nicaragua

    Monthly rent, unfurnished 2-br luxury apartment: $800
    Lunch for one at a nice restaurant: $18.18
    One liter of gas, unleaded 95 octane: $1.23
    Beer, local brand: $0.78
    Cup of coffee, including service: $1.69

    Managua is the capital city and economic center of Nicaragua, the second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, according to the U.S. State Dept. The city, which contains such multinational companies as Wal-Mart (WMT) and Parmalat, suffers problems with poverty and crime.
  26. No. 1 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Karachi, Pakistan
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    No. 1 Cheapest City for Expensive Living: Karachi, Pakistan

    Monthly rent, unfurnished 2-br luxury apartment: $292.90
    Lunch for one at a nice restaurant: $18.75
    One liter of gas, unleaded 95 octane: $0.94
    Beer, local brand: N/A
    Cup of coffee, including service: $2.70

    Situated on the coast of the Arabian Sea, Karachi is Pakistan's financial center, main port, and largest city. Once again, it is the cheapest city in the world for expats. Karachi generates about 65 percent of Pakistan's total national revenue with industries that include cement, food processing, shipbuilding, steel, textiles, chemicals, refined oil, shoes, and machines, according to the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry.