Buenos Aires, Santiago and Montevideo leading in quality of life in Latin America

Latin America’s business cities are expensive by international standards – but at the same time offer only medium quality of life.

by Alexander Busch, Latin America correspondent for Handelsblatt and Neue Zürcher Zeitung


Two recently published city rankings show how Latin American metropolises compare internationally.

The Liveability Index of the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) examines living conditions in 173 cities according to five categories: economic and political stability, health care, culture and environment, education and infrastructure.

The Global Wealth and Lifestyle Index of the Swiss private bank Julius Baer analyses the cost of a basket of goods and services for a very wealthy household in 25 cities worldwide.

Both studies apply completely different criteria in their analysis of living standards and costs in global metropolises. Nevertheless, interesting conclusions can be drawn – for example for companies that send employees to Latin America or people who want to work and live there temporarily.

Even the best Latin American metropolises are only in the global midfield in terms of quality of life. Buenos Aires, Santiago and Montevideo are leading the region. But this puts them far behind all the metropolises surveyed in Western Europe and North America, as well as the top group from Asia and Australia.

The quality of life in the three Latin American cities mentioned is comparable to that of Beijing or Shanghai, according to the EIU. São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are slightly behind with Panama at the internationally lower level of cities like Johannesburg or Bangkok.

Despite this position in the lower midfield, three Latin American cities are among the 25 most expensive metropolises worldwide for the first time. São Paulo ranks 9th (ahead of Miami) for the cost of living for wealthy families. Mexico City follows in 21st place (like Frankfurt) and Santiago/Chile ranks 25th.

After Asia, the most expensive cities for the rich worldwide are found in North and South America – ahead of the metropolises of Europe, the Middle East and Africa, according to Julius Baer.

On the one hand, luxury goods and services have become so expensive in the cities of Chile, Brazil and Mexico because of the strength of the local currencies. On the other hand, countries like Brazil tax imported goods, so many products that are not made in the country are expensive by international standards. Real estate or local services (such as laser treatments), however, can be significantly cheaper than in comparable cities around the world.

But the sometimes high cost of living and a moderate quality of life in Latin America do not lead to uniform results in a third ranking.

The ExPat platform InterNations surveys expatriates, emigrants and digital nomads about the most popular locations worldwide: Mexico City ranked above average in third place worldwide at the end of last year. But no other Latin American metropolis was among the 50 cities listed worldwide.

LADW Buenos Aires Skyline
© iStock | Grafissimo

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