Anvilcloud commented that people from the USA and Canada think of Europe as an expensive place to live. I've heard this kind of comment before from North Americans; indeed in the past year when the US dollar has lost a lot in value against world currencies, I know of some American families who've had to return to the USA or who have struggled greatly to make their US income stretch to live here.
On the other hand, we found it very expensive to live in the USA when we spent two years there, back in 1992. Again the exchange rate was relevant: at the time, the pound sterling was only worth about $1.50 and our income was in sterling. But we know of other Brits who consider America an expensive place to live.
Meanwhile I fairly often get asked what the cost of living is here, so I thought I'd explore the subject a little for future reference. 'Expensive' is a relative term, and if you're living on another country's currency, the exchange rate is crucial. A small change in the rate can increase - or decrease - your income drastically. We tend to track on oanda although it doesn't give the exact rates that we can find in the banks. But it shows the trends.
According to Oanda, the Cyprus pound is currently equivalent to:
American dollars - $2.12
Canadian dollars - $2.61
British pounds - £1.21
Euros - €1.75
- but these vary. Anyone seriously wishing to research this will need to check their own currency, and the current rate.
So, to the cost of living. All values given in Cyprus pounds, which use the same symbol as UK pounds sterling, but which are divided into 100 Cyprus cents rather than pence.
Renting in Larnaka is pretty inexpensive, in my view. For about £100 per month it's possible to find a reasonable two-bedroom flat (apartment). Rent for a three- or four-bedroom bungalow or house is usually in the region of about £300 or a bit more, depending on condition and neighbourhood. We actually pay a bit less than that for our 4-bedroom bungalow in a nice district, but that's because it's not in very good condition on the outside, and we do inside maintenance ourselves.
Of course it's possible to find luxury homes with swimming pools at far higher rents, and in other cities on the island costs do tend to be a bit higher for similar properties.
Buying a small flat in Larnaka starts at about £50,000; houses start about £100,000. But that's even more variable, depending on where you go and who you know. It's possible to buy land and have a house built for rather less than this, since labour costs tend to be low. Several of our friends have done that.
Rental does not usually include any utilities. Our electricity bill is typically about £60 - £120 bi-monthly, depending on the season. In the summer we run a lot of fans overnight, and an air-conditioner by day. But the sun is sufficient for solar heating of all our hot water. In the winter we run some electric heaters, and also have to use an electric water heater. So the bills are lowest in the spring and autumn.
Our water bill is usually about £10 per quarter. I think this is remarkably low - water is metered, and even in the summer when I'm thoroughly watering the garden once a week (and it's a huge garden) the bill only goes up by a few pounds.
There's no piped gas; instead we buy gas barrels for our gas cooker. We get ours delivered, and pay about £20 every two to three months. Some people buy them at the supermarkets, and save a little by doing so; however so many people get back injuries as a result, we decided to pay a bit more and have them delivered.
The phone bill is very low, but then we dont use the phone much. The standing charge is about £6 per month, our call charges are usually in the region of £3. However our entire phone bill per month is about £40-£45 because we're on broadband internet and subscribe through the phone company - so that includes our broadband charges and ISP subscription. Before we had broadband, our phone bill was higher from all the dial-up charges!
Mobile phone charges are very inexpensive. Contracts (for those resident on the island) are £1 per month, or £2 per month, depending which sort you want. Actual call charges are not much more than landline charges, text messages are 1c each, and the contract includes 30 free texts per month. Alternatively the pay-as-you-go Cyprus-only cards start at £5, and - for instance - Tim finds one lasts him at least six months.
Insurance is pretty cheap too, but obviously depends what you want to insure, and what excess - if any - you're prepared to have. The medical insurance we've taken out costs just over £400 per year for the four of us, but that only covers hospital stays. It's about what we paid per month in the USA!! However emergency care is free for everyone here, as is some treatment at hospitals, and an ordinary visit to any kind of doctor is typically about £10 - £15.
As for groceries - typically we pay about £75 per week. I don't think that's too bad for a family of four including two teenage boys, plus four cats. It would be possible to spend less, but we do buy some ready-made imported things such as breakfast cereals, Marmite, veggie sausages etc. In the summer we buy even more pre-prepared foods - such as frozen pies, or ready-made spaghetti sauce - as it's far too hot to do much cooking. But oddly, the grocery bill doesn't seem to go up much as a result.
So that covers the basic cost of living here. Household appliances and furniture vary enormously in price. For very rough figures, check online at Dalco, a discount store not far from where we live, although by shopping around we've found most things slightly cheaper at other places. People who've just arrived can always check the Larnaka Thrift Store, which has lots of stock in good condition, mostly at excellent prices.
Clothes too vary a great deal in cost, with significant sales in January and July. It's possible to spend vast amounts on brand-name clothes from boutiques, or very little in markets, supermarkets or other discount stores. We recently bought adult-size plain tee-shirts for £2 each, bermuda-length shorts for about £7 each, and jeans for about £5 each.
Cost of labour is one of the things that still surprises us, as it's very low. A plumber spent about an hour here, including changing a small part, and charged us £5. Our washing machine went wrong, and the engineer came out the same day, changed part of the spinning mechanism, and charged us £7. A good haircut lasting nearly an hour is £4. A one-on-one music lesson for an hour is at most £7.50.
However when one gets to books, CDs and DVDs, prices become higher. I suppose this reflects the general trend that it's easy to live here cheaply, but luxury goods are expensive. Unfortunately we consider books a necessity in our family! The thrift store does have some books at 50c each, but the stock doesn't change very fast and we've bought all the ones we want to read. The only library is 90% Greek with very little of interest in English. There are some bookshops with a fair selection of English books, but they charge full list price in Cyprus pounds - which is currently 20% more than the UK price. DVDs tend to start about £12.99.
So we buy almost all books and DVDs online, usually from Play.com which offers free postage anywhere in Europe, and prices mostly about40% less than list price.
Petrol (gasoline) has just gone up to about 50c per litre, which is probably high compared to the USA, but still low compared with the UK. However we only spend about £10 per month on petrol typically, because distances are so small and most places within Larnaka are within walking distance. Repairs on the car vary, but we've discovered an excellent mechanic who seems to charge little more than the cost of the parts, and does a great job.
Then there are true luxury goods - hi-fi equipment, digital cameras and so on. Those are definitely expensive here, and again we tend to buy in the UK on the rare occasions we want something like this. US prices tend to be better still, but shipping rates are high from the USA to Europe.
Oh, and eating out - important to visitors and those from the USA, less so to residents. We eat out ourselves about twice a year, plus sometimes with guests. It's quite possible to get a good meal on the sea-front, including soft drinks and dessert, for about £6-7 per person. At nicer restaurants we'd expect the cost to be about £10-£15 per person. Again this is less than the UK, but more than the USA; however we recently learned that in the USA a tip of 20% is expected, since many waiters and waitresses don't get a salary! If this is true, that would put the price up considerably. In the UK, a tip of 10% (or perhaps a little more) is generally expected when service is good; in Cyprus tips are optional, and not expected at all at the cheaper restaurants.
So... is it expensive to live here? It depends what you want to do. If you want a luxurious home, designer clothes, top-of-the range technology, and pre-processed food (or restaurants) then yes, it probably is. On the other hand, if you're going to live like a local with mostly seasonal food that you cook yourself, in an ordinary home with basic equipment, it's easy to manage quite happily on a figure that - even given the exchange rate - would probably count as below the poverty line in the USA.