Expat choices lead to high costs, businesspeople say

Yangon has higher living costs for expats than Paris and Sydney, according to Mercer’s Cost of Living Survey 2015. But this is largely due to a major discrepancy between the living choices made by expats and locals, according to local businesspeople.

For expatriate living, Yangon is the 28th-most expensive city out of 207 cities surveyed around the world, based on the cost of food, housing, transportation and entertainment, according to the survey.

Last year it ranked 66th on the survey, and the city has climbed significantly in the past year. It now ranks ahead of not only Paris and Sydney, but also Abu Dhabi, Rome, Oslo and Washington, though is considered cheaper than Hong Kong, Singapore and New York.

However, Yangon businesspeople say that prices are not so expensive, and that the cost of living in Yangon is only high for expats due to the choices they often make.

“For housing, the living cost differs between foreigners and locals because of the location and style of the house. Most foreigners choose to rent condominiums or stand-alone houses, so the living cost is more than for apartments,” said real estate consultant U Aung Min. “The price of the rent does not differ for foreigners and locals,” he claimed.

Condominiums are apartment blocks with standard facilities including a swimming pool, gym, 24 hour security, power and water.

In addition, there is a big difference between housing rental prices in downtown and uptown Yangon, he said, adding that in some cases the price for a downtown house can be more than three times as much.

“If foreigners choose to rent a standalone house in busy downtown, the rental price will obviously be high. A house in the downtown area will cost at least K5 million to more than K10 million per month,” said U Aung Min.

Real estate agent Daw Thuzar May said, “Sometimes a fully furnished house is more expensive than an unfurnished house. For foreigners who are new to the city, it’s difficult to work out how to buy and move furniture, so they tend to choose a furnished house, regardless of the price. However, expats who have been here for a long time are more sensitive to the price and may choose an unfurnished house instead.”

“I think rental prices are lower this year than last year, and many new luxury housing projects are being built, so the rental price of houses and offices will continue to fall each year,” she said.

In Mercer’s Cost of Living Survey 2015, a fully furnished 900-square-foot house in downtown Yangon costs an average of K5,051,740 per month. An unfurnished house of the same size in uptown Yangon costs significantly less per month.

In terms of transport, most foreigners working in Yangon choose to rent a car rather than taking public transport. The rental price for foreigners is more expensive than for locals, as foreigners are not responsible for repairs, said U Soe Min Myo, owner of a car rental service. “Local customers carry out the repairs themselves. So the price for foreigners is a little higher, but this is only because of the difference in service. If a car rented by a foreigner is destroyed, we repair it with our own money,” he said. The price of renting a car is around $600 per month depending on the model. To rent a car with a driver, the price is around $1000 per month, he said. “I don’t think that Yangon is expensive for transportation. I don’t think the price of renting a car is too much, and we don’t have separate rates for foreigners and for local people,” he added.

According to the Mercer report, the average cost of lunch at a good restaurant is K21,194 and a fast-food meal such as a burger and chips costs K6,355. Expats told Mercer that the cost of eating out is higher than in Thailand, for example. However, restaurant owners disagree. “Some restaurants that only target foreigners are more expensive than some of Thailand’s restaurants. But these restaurants offer many other services including high-speed Wi-Fi, traditional Myanmar handmade items and opportunities to take photographs,” said a restaurant owner on Pansodan Road.

In addition, many of these eateries are in the downtown area, where land prices are very high.

Source: Myanmar Times

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