Everyone wants to know if Singapore is "expensive." And of course, the answer depends. First of all, we've spent 10 days there. So we really don't know. What we do know is that food at a hawker stand is not expensive. Energy, in general, is. We thought public transit was on par with Boston or New York, but Western imports can be steep.

To try to get an idea, I looked up a few cost of living indexes. Most of these indexes are based on cost of living expressed in U.S. dollars, so they are basically indicators of how expensive it is to live in a foreign city like an American and make a salary of U.S. dollars. If the dollar weakens against the local currency of a city, the city becomes more expensive and moves up the index, even if prices expressed in local currency remain the same or go down.

But... this is what we have to go on. So here are the numbers:

Mercer Human Resources Consulting's most recent survey was released in July 2008, and Singapore ranks 13. The most expensive U.S. city, New York City, is 22. Boston is 99. Mercer's cost of living index surveys 253 cities across six continents and measures the relative cost of over 200 items in each place, including housing, transport, food, clothing, household goods and entertainment. The survey only measures goods and services that are of "international quality".

The March 2008 Swiss Bank UBS survey measures the cost of a weighted shopping basket geared to Western European consumer habits containing 122 goods and services including rent.
They put Singapore at 38 and New York at 5 followed by Chicago (18), LA (21), and Miami (33).

The research for ECA International’s 2008 survey was conducted in March 2008 and is based on a basket of goods and services most commonly purchased by western expatriates. On this index, Singapore ranks 114, but ECA's survey does NOT include items such as accommodation, utility costs, school fees or motoring costs. Manhattan alone (not all of New York City) sits at 83.

So Singapore is fairly expensive for someone living there with U.S. funds, but we are going to work with a Singaporean institution, so that doesn't really apply to us. I think it's a lot like learning a foreign language. They say you've mastered it when you think in the other language instead of constantly translating in your head. Right now, we convert every Singaporean price into U.S. dollars. Eventually, we'll think in Singaporean dollars.

The real measure of "expensive" is a personal one. Will we be able to live better in Singapore than we do here? Or will we be scrimping and saving for the things we need? We won't know that until we get there.