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The most expensive place for expats? You'll never guess

Not Tokyo. Not London. Think south, and left.

Caracas building view 2013 12 16Enlarge
Caracas city blues. (Leo Ramirez/AFP/Getty Images)

CARACAS, Venezuela — If you’re scouting for a new job or to open offices abroad, this is one city you may want to avoid.

Venezuela’s capital Caracas has been named the world’s most expensive city for expat staff — beating even notorious salary sucks like Tokyo.

That’s a first for the cost of living index put out by ECA, a 42-year-old consulting firm that aims to help businesses operate efficiently abroad. Last year, ECA ranked Japan’s capital No. 1, and Venezuela’s seventh.

Caracas’ leap may come as a shock. This South American country is not exactly well-off, even if it is sitting on the world’s largest proven oil reserves.

But it would likely take more than a new ranking to spook the locals. They’ve been dealing with shortages of basic goods and they’ve watched consumer prices rocket more than 50 percent over last year. ECA says some costs soared even higher.

World rankings can be funny things, and are best taken with a grain of salt. But ECA’s is not the first index to put Venezuela above the rest. The Economist’s Big Mac Index, a lighthearted gauge of what the UK newsweekly calls “burgernomics,” billed Venezuela with the priciest McDonald’s mega burger at the beginning of this year. (By summer, Norway had edged ahead.)

So, GlobalPost had a look for ourselves. And yes, it’s bad.

Here’s a list of some random items, with their prices in US dollars (at the official exchange rate of 6.3 bolivares to the dollar). That’s followed with some analysis about how Venezuela got into this mess and how it intends to get out.

iPhones on the Mercado Libre website (like eBay): $8,000 to $12,000

(Screenshot of

Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom, in Spanish: $83

(Girish Gupta/GlobalPost)

Cereal for $100

(Girish Gupta/GlobalPost)

Scrambled egg, beans, some arepas (a ground maize flatbread very popular in Venezuela), and a Snickers bar cost $32

(Girish Gupta/GlobalPost)

Cheese pastry and brownie for $21

(Girish Gupta/GlobalPost)

Takeout chicken and vegetable noodles, bottle of water: $32

(Girish Gupta/GlobalPost)

Gym membership for a month at a nice hotel: $320

(Girish Gupta/GlobalPost)