Expatriates and locals alike are complaining about the rapid increase in the cost of living
Yangon should remain an attractive work place for expatriates, if their employers base the relocation decision on ECA International’s cost of living survey.
The survey, released yesterday, showed that Yangon is the 44th cheapest city in Asia Pacific and 204th in the world.
It is the first time that Myanmar’s largest commercial city was covered in the ECA’s survey, which found Venezuela’s Caracas as the most expensive city for an expat to relocate to.
ECA International calculates the cost of living for expats in almost 400 cities. Caracas was the priciest city to live in for an expat this year.
The survey does not include living costs, such as accommodation, utilities and school fees. These are significant expenses, but ECA argues these are usually compensated for separately in expat packages. Instead, the survey covers a wide variety of consumer goods such as groceries, drinks, tobacco, clothing and eating out.
To Marita Schimpl, head of marketing research at Myanmar Survey Research, accommodation has to be taken into account as “It is the biggest spending block”.
In her opinion, on a scale from 1 to 10, the quality of living in Yangon scores four. Aside from very poor healthcare service, few activities are available for expats.
“There is not much to do – swimming pools are either very expensive or dirty, hardly any places to relax, no good cinemas, hardly any cultural life and selection of goods and groceries you can buy is rather a two (in comparison with Bangkok). The issue is that you hardly get value for the money you spend – be it in most restaurants, be it for expensive imported groceries and most importantly rent,” she said.
Still, she admitted a deep fondness for Yangon, saying Street 19 in particular was a unique and lively place for socialising.
Compared with other 62 locations in the Asia Pacific, Yangon is slightly less expensive than Bangkok (ranked 38th). Even without the inclusion of accomodation, Yangon is now considered a more expensive city to live in than Chiang Mai (ranked 45th), Phnom Penh (46), New Delhi (47), Hanoi (48), Mumbai (49), and Ho Chi Minh City (51).
In the Mercer International’s Cost of Living Index, information as of March 2012 showed that Yangon was a more expensive place to live in than Paris and Rome. That calculation basket included rental accommodation costs with New York rates as the base.
Yangon was ranked 35th on the list, compared to 70th in the previous year. Comparatively, the rankings of Paris and Rome in the two years were 37/27 and 42/55, respectively.
Myanmar’s economic reopening has led to an influx of foreigners, many of them working for companies operating or planning to set up shops or factories in the country.
Local Yangon residents have complained about the skyrocketing cost of living. At streetside shops, cheap noodles are still there to be found, at Ks 600 (about 60 cents). Hundreds of metres away, an air-conditioned restaurant which caters to affluent and foreign clients offers a dish of noodles at Ks 2,000 (about US$2) or higher. But expats are more worried about the skyrocketing rents, aside from the availability of units in liveable neighbourhood, as well as healthcare services, and schools for their children.
Accommodation is indeed the biggest headache for both expats and locals. A two-bedroom apartment in a run-down downtown building can cost US$1,000 a month.
Finding a suitable apartment is tough. Tenants have to sign a long-term contract for at least a year, though in exchange they get accommodation that has been converted to suit expat taste. In Yangon, this mostly takes the form of two-room apartments with specially adapted switchboards to cope with more electrical appliances.
“As there is an influx of foreigners to Myanmar this year, the leasing of houses, condominiums and apartments is very active,” said Yi Mar Swe from the Myanma Aungmyay Estate Business.
According to her company, the monthly rent for housings varies between Ks 200,000 to 300,000 ($200-$300) for an apartment; Ks 2.5-30 million ($2,500-$3,000) for a condo; and Ks 4-5 million ($4,000-$5,000) for a house.
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