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Cost of Living: Sydney vs Montreal vs Cusco

by Globetrooper Todd | 17 Responses
Cost of Living - Sydney vs Montreal vs Cusco

What does the cost of living in various cities have to do with your next two-week vacation? Well, nothing really. This post is for those of you with a dream. A dream that involves long-term travel OR anything that requires your undivided attention (and no income).

By living in cheaper cities, savings can go much further. So rather than deferring your dreams until retirement, why not reduce your living costs and chase them now?

This year we’ve lived in Sydney, Montreal and Cusco. So I want to give you a small taste of how living costs vary between these cities. Maybe it’s enough to write that book, launch that foundation, or travel the world untethered.

Accommodation

Sydney

For a 1 bedroom furnished apartment, close to the city (Lavender Bay), we paid about US$450 per week on a 12 month contract. You could get something a little cheaper in other parts of the city, but it gets more expensive for shorter periods. I imagine a traveller would pay at least US$400 per week for a furnished apartment near the city, if only renting for a couple of months. Keep in mind this often doesn’t include utilities and it rarely includes free WiFi.

Quick stats: 1 bedroom, furnished, close to city = US$400 per week

Sydney Accommodation

Our cute sunroom overlooking a park in Sydney

Montreal

For a 1 bedroom furnished apartment, close to the city (Le Plateau-Mont-Royal, which is comparable to Lavender Bay in Sydney), we paid about US$800 per month. Divide that by 30 and multiply by 7 and that’s US$186 per week. That included electricity, furnishings and WiFi. We were repeatedly told that in peak season (oddly not summer - apparently there’s greater supply in summer because students go home), we’d have to pay more. So let’s take that to US$200 per week. However, remember that this includes WiFi and utilities, unlike our Sydney apartment.

Quick stats: 1 bedroom, furnished, close to city, utilities, WiFi = US$200 per week

Cusco

There’s clearly a big jump (or fall, depending on your outlook) from Sydney/Montreal to Cusco. The other two are large developed cities, whereas Cusco (3,000m+ above sea level) is a relatively remote city in a developing country, albeit made a little more expensive by tourism.

For a 2 bedroom furnished apartment, close to the city (2 blocks from the Plaza De Armas), with all utilities, including WiFi, we paid US$450 for the month. Divide that by 30 and multiply by 7 and we have US$105 per week. However, we don’t speak Spanish (yet) and strongly believe there are much better deals out there if you know a little Spanish. We know you can get a place for US$200-300 per month. Nonetheless, let’s be conservative and round it to US$100.

Quick stats: 2 bedroom, furnished, close to city, utilities, WiFi = US$100 per week

Eating Out

Sydney

In Sydney, I love that tips are NOT the norm. When you see a price, well, that’s the price. No extra taxes, no additional services charges, nothing. So even though eating out in Sydney looks expensive on the surface, it’s really not that bad considering prices are all inclusive.

With that said, at a top Sydney restaurant, you’ll pay about US$130-250 per person for dinner. For a good restaurant, you’ll pay about US$30-50 per person for dinner. And at a good sandwich shop, you’ll pay about US$10-15 each for lunch.

Quick stats: Top dinner = US$130-250 each, good dinner = US$30-50 each, lunch = US$10-15 each

Montreal Dining

Lauren and I, about to devour a yummy meal in Montreal

Montreal

Like Sydney, Montreal has great food. Montrealers believe they have some of the best food in the world, but in our experience, it was about on par with Sydney. Tips are expected in Montreal, usually about 15%, so eating out is more expensive than it first seems.

However, the top restaurants don’t reach anywhere near the prices of Sydney, more like US$80-130 per person. A good restaurant for dinner is about US$30-50 per person, whereas lunch is about US$10-15. Those prices include tips and taxes (together as much as 35% extra – so don’t let Montreal prices fool you).

Quick stats: Top dinner = US$80-130 each, good dinner = US$30-50 each, good lunch = US$10-15 each

Cusco

Let’s not kid ourselves here, the average level of food in Sydney and Montreal is much better than Cusco. However, 1) the average level of food in Cusco is a lot cheaper, and 2) you can find food of equal quality, but you have to look in the more expensive restaurants.

With that said, excellent food in Cusco is still a fraction of the cost compared to Sydney/Montreal. Top restaurants set you back US$25-40 per person for dinner. What do you get for US$25? In my opinion, a dinner that would cost $130-200 in Sydney. How do we know? Because we’ve done it and I must say, great food tastes even better when it’s cheaper.

Quick stats: Top dinner = US$25-40 each, good dinner = US$7-10 each, lunch = US$3-7 each

Cusco Dining

Cusco Dining - less than US$20 per person = Lots of Tapas (Alpaca, Beef, Lamb, Salad, etc.), 8-hour cooked Osobuco, and a bottle of Peru's best Wine, which was excellent.

Groceries, Etc.

I find it’s too difficult to compare groceries and sundries due to variations in quality. For example, a Gillette razor for men is roughly the same price across all three cities, but while Gillette is the standard in Sydney, there are much cheaper (and lower quality) razors in Cusco.

Staples (bread, milk, tea, etc.) are certainly a lot cheaper in Cusco, but again, sometimes it’s due to quality and sometimes due to cheaper labour. Overall, living in Cusco is much cheaper, but you tend to sacrifice some quality.

Total Living Expenses

I’d say total living costs in Montreal are about 70% of those in Sydney (although accommodation is half as much, other expenses are on par or only a little cheaper). Total living expenses in Cusco are about a quarter of Sydney ‘s and a third of Montreal’s. In Montreal you certainly notice the difference, but in Cusco it goes to a whole new level.

What Does This Mean?

Not much for short-term travellers because they typically fit a lot of activities into a short period. The cost of those activities tends to negate other savings. Of course it all helps, but that’s not what this post is about.

So what is it about? It’s about dreams. Especially dreams that don’t include working a regular job. If you have any sort of location-independent dream (becoming an artist, writing a book, starting a business, launching a foundation, etc.), the lower cost of living abroad can make your dream a reality.

Maybe you don’t have to wait until you retire or win the lottery, maybe you can chase your dream by saving a little money and making it last longer in a much cheaper city like Cusco. Or you could just wait 30-40 years until you retire, if you prefer.

Posted in Australia, Canada, Peru | October 14th, 2010

17 Responses to Cost of Living: Sydney vs Montreal vs Cusco

  1. I spent a lot of time in Montreal in the 1980′s and 90′s. I used to fly in and out several times a month. Montreal is much cheaper than my home city Halifax. I’m planning to move from Korea to Chiang Mai next fall. I love the city and the cost of living is totally reasonable. It’s not unheard of to rent a three bedroom house for less than 300.00 a month.

    • I wonder why Montreal is cheaper compared to so many other Canadian cities. Chiang Mai is certainly on our radars as we head towards the Eastern hemisphere. Hope the move goes well for you and maybe we’ll bump into each other. Not sure when “next fall” is, but I suspect we’ll be in that neck of the woods around late 2011.

  2. Excellent, really useful post, I live in Cusco, ex South African and my wife grew up in Cusco.

    • Thanks Michael. I can see why you’ve stayed here. Seems to be a nice, laid back, easy place to live. We’ll be sad to leave in a couple of days; heading to Bolivia.

  3. Your maths is a little bit out… you have about a 1% error margin in your methods. You should multiply by 12, divide by 52 to convert monthly to weekly :)

    Montreal is a fantastic city to live in, however you better be sure you have a boyfriend/girlfriend for winter as it would be pretty miserable to spend alone!

    • Hey Ian. We ended up having a ball there. Spent lots of time with Felipe (thanks again for putting us in touch) and lived in the Plateau for about 3 months. For a place that has a reputation for being cold, we couldn’t believe what great weather we had for the entire 3 months. They even had a heat wave for a few weeks (everyone freaked out, but it didn’t get over 40 C). I know it’s blasphemous to say, but I think I like Montreal more than Sydney (granted it hardly dropped below 20 C while we were there).

  4. OH MY GOD – great post… only now I’m slamming my head on my desk even more thinking about how much money I’m basically LOSING by living in Sydney. Get me out!

    This is really good stuff :)

    • Actually, you don’t realy lose much money, cause in Australia, you gain more money per hour compared to Montreal. I live in montreal and you salary is about 9,50$ per HOUR, and in Sydney its about 12,50$-15,00$ per HOUR. Even if it seem to cost ALOT, it doesnt cause the Minimum wage can be around 570$/week. You gain more, but it cost more. And in Montreal, you dont gain much, but its relatively cheaper . And the quality is most of the time acceptable.

      • I agree. I’m from Sydney and I live in Toronto now and I think the cost of living in both cities are comparable – some things are cheaper here in Toronto (eg. gas/petrol) but in Sydney car insurance is cheaper, so it actually levels out nicely.

        Having said that though, my wage here in Toronto is PITIFUL compared to what I made in Sydney, so while Sydney can be expensive with some things (housing!), the better income certainly offsets these differences.

        Any comments on European cities and their cost of living compared to Sydney? Possibly looking to move there next for a year or 2…

    • Totally agree, also Sydney is not a very cultural place and unless you’re into outdoor activities, the beach and sport, it does become quite boring after a while.
      It is remote, very expensive and (it is getting worse every year) and despite people being lovely, this is NOT a progressive country. Some aspects of human rights and freedom of speech are quite questionable, if you want to learn more check the human rights watch website.
      I work as an senior designer for a major tv channel and at $85K/yr + super annuation, I certainly don’t feel rich!
      I share a house with another two people and my weekly rent is $275 + elec, ADSL, etc. It is average/cheap for a good area of Sydney. My bedroom is not large but the house is very nice.
      The weather in Sydney is also very unpredictable, it can get very rainy, flash floods are a common occurrences, it gets very wet and the past summer was quite cool.
      The traffic is awful and public transports worse, I ended up selling my car to buy a motorbike.
      On the bright side if the lack of culture, stimulation and proximity to other countries don’t bother you then it’s a great (expensive again) city.
      I do not expect everyone to agree but that was my grain of salt and personal opinion.

  5. All that food looks amazing. Bet the wine wasn’t bad either.

  6. Either Sydney, Montreal, or Cusco you’ll have to spend more money for the wine and foods that you will eat. But I’d like to stay on Sydney :)

    They have a lots of enjoyment in their places and their foods are good and they have the best wine. Try to go their and stay for just 2 – 3 days and your money will be vanish :D

  7. Great post, thanks for sharing all this information. I’m with you – why live in an expensive city waiting for retirement or until you win the lotto when you can move to a cheaper one, maintain a similar standard of living (if not better) while working less. We’ve spent the last year travelling SEAsia in search of somewhere we’d rather call home than Australia. Penang has really stood out for us – similar cost of living to Cusco from what I can see in your post, with food being cheaper. Chiang Mai is also wonderful and we’re keen to head back there for a few months soon. Later in the year we hope to head to South America so we’ll be keeping Cusco on our lists now thanks to your information!

    • Hi Tracy. A lot of people say Cusco is too touristy to stay for even two days, but we found it a very easy and enjoyable place to live. I imagine parts of Thailand are the same, which is why we’re also considering moving there for a few months later this year. All the best with your travels :)

      • We’ve found that sometimes touristy places are the most liveable ones, provided their not too touristy. Touristy usually means other expats, access to familiar brands of food, etc! Will be keeping an eye out for where you end up in Thailand. Malaysia, places like Penang, are also worth considering.

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