Monday, 17 May 2010

Expat Life in Sri Lanka, Colombo

I recently visited the wonderful island of Sri Lanka, and found a country full of surprises.

Sri Lanka is situated just south of India, in the Indian Ocean. Once known as the Dominium of Ceylon and often referred to as the tea country, tea plantations abundantly thrive across the island, with spice gardens, banana and coconut palms growing randomly to create a jungle of natural resources.

People, animals and transport seem to co-exist side by side with no animosity towards each other. Dogs wonder aimlessly across or bask in the sun at the side of roads, cows and goats roam around everywhere, even on the beaches (which I found rather amusing) and people are everywhere, whether walking, cycling, using a tuc-tuc, motorbike with 5 astride, in a taxi, bus, car or truck, each takes up a space of the not too wide road. But co-exist they do, there is no anger at being stuck behind a truck, merely a short hooting of the horn to say I am here and would like to pass, politeness abounds and the expression and sounds are all of friendliness, within a country that sorely needs help at redeveloping itself since the tsunami. People are poor and yet happiness is everywhere?. Not just for the child on the hip or the person at their side, but for expats and tourists as well.

Tourists fluctuate towards the resorts and some chance the areas slightly outside of these areas, to experience a quieter less harassed holiday. Small pockets of expats can be found, dotted all over the country. When you bump into these people and chat about life on the island, there is not much to complain about. Yes, sometimes the water gets turned off or the electricity, yes the internet is not as fast as they would like it to be. Isn?t that how most people feel in developed countries anyway: The faster it gets the faster we want it. In this little piece of paradise, expats are not too concerned that it takes a little longer to do things here, the people are prepared to wait, not too hasty to move forward too quickly. There was a lot of talk and concern about the elections and safety within the country and there are still road blockades and police / army personnel with guns wandering around keeping peace if necessary. However, with 70% of the population being Buddhists, the lifestyle is peaceful and life simplistic.

From an expat perspective, I could not fault the lifestyle. As said above, yes there are definite things missing, things are slower, it takes a good 4 ? 6 hours to get from Colombo to Galle and similarly to anywhere about 200km?s apart. I cannot say that the roads are particularly in good condition, but in the 10 days that I visited, I did not see one accident. Hardships could include the lack of being able to get from one part of the island to another quickly, the lack of fast internet connection, perhaps the human waste / refuse, which allows for the influx of flies, the dirt which is left to lie around and lastly the lack of funds to rebuild the country to what it was before the Tsunami.

Having said that, I have to look at all the good things that you find there, the beauty of the natural resources, how the nationals and expats are trying to rebuild the country, the beaches, game parks and mountains. This is truly a beautiful part of the world.

Expat Cost of living summary

The currency in Sri Lanka is the Sri Lankan Rupee LKR
The Exchange rate as at 15 January 2010 was $1 = 114.217 Rupees

I am going to break the Cost of living down according to some of the Xpatualtor basket items :

Alcohol and Tobacco : Alcohol at Bar, Beer, Cigarettes, Locally Produced Spirit, Whiskey, Wine
Cigarettes (20s)- $3.14 – $9
Domestic Beer(500ml)- $2.50
Imported Beer (330ml)- $5.80
Wine at a bar- $6 a glass
Wine at a shop- $15 (750ml bottle)
Hotels tend to increase the prices of alcohol as it is the one way that they can make a profit. There are many small hotels and restaurants which create a competitive edge to where you can stay.

Clothing : Business Suits, Casual Clothing, Children?s Clothing and footwear, Coats and hats, Evening Wear, Shoe Repairs, Underwear
Casual Long Sleeved Shirt (Men)- $12
Casual Long Sleeved Trousers (Men)- $20
Shorts (Men)- $11
T-Shirt (Men)- $6
Casual Blouse (Women)- $7
Casual Skirt (Women)- $12
Children?s Jeans (Boys)- $5
Children?s Jeans (Girls)- $3.50
Children?s Shirt(Boys)- $5
Children?s Shirt(Girls)- $4
Clothes are extremely cheap, in Colombo a person can get most of the name branded clothing at fairly reasonable prices in Factory shops.

Communication : Home Telephone Rental and Call Charges, Internet Connection and service provider fees, Mobile / Cellular Phone Contract and Calls
Monthly phone rental- $4.36
Phone call rate- $0.05 for a local call
Internet line connection fee- $104 (buy all equipment with installation)
Internet service provider fee- $17 (1 geg free thereafter)
Monthly mobile contract fee- $2.18 (for the year)
Mobile / cellular call rate- 90% of phones are prepaid,
Mobile Phone 100 Minutes Call- $38
- $0.012 – $0.05 sms peak times
Due to so many of the nationals working overseas to send money home, the communication costs are extremely low and there are often special deals or no cost is involved in the actual call.

Education : Cr?che / Pre-School Fees, High School / College Fees, Primary School Fees, Tertiary Study Fees
Annual Creche fee- $4.36 per month
Annual Primary school fee- $260 – $436 per month
Annual High School fee- $260 – $436 per month
Annual 1st Year Tertiary / University fee – $260 – $436 per month dependent on which private school they go to)
Private schooling is the most expensive on the island for expat children to attend, however the rates in comparison to other countries are reasonable. Expats that I came across spoke highly of the education system in the country and were happy with the private education that their children were receiving.

Furniture and Appliances : DVD Player, Fridge Freezer, Iron, Kettle, Toaster, microwave, Light Bulbs, Television, Vacuum Cleaner, Washing Machine
DVD Player- $87
Fridge / Freezer- $489 (LG / Whirlpool ? 4 year guarantee)
Iron- $12 cheap – $35 top of the range
Kettle- $20 cheap – $37 top of the range
Microwave- $191
TV 21 inch- $244 (2 year guarantee)
Washing Machine LG- $570
Discounts can be negotiated with stores on all items

Groceries bought in a grocery store : Baby Consumables, Baked Goods, Baking, Canned Foods, Cheese, Cleaning Products, Dairy, Fresh Fruits, Fresh Vegetables, Fruit Juices, Frozen, Meat, Oil & Vinegars, Pet Food, Pre-Prepared Meals, Sauces, Seafood, Snacks, Soft Drinks, Spices & Herbs
Powdered baby formula (400g)- $7
Plain biscuits (100g)- $0.20
Loaf white bread (200g) – $0.70
Cake Flour (1kg)- $2.80
Baked Beans (415g)- $1.92
Tuna (185g)- $2.75
Cheese : Cheddar (250g)- $6.63
Crisps : Pringles (139g)- $2.50
Autowash clothing powder (750g)- $1.57
Dishwash liquid (500g)- $0.87
Clothing Softener (2l)- $5.40
Breakfast Cereal (250g)- $2.45
Butter (227g)- $2.18
Milk (1l)- $1.40
Eggs (12)- $1.80
Orange Juice (1l)- $2.80
Frozen Mixed Vegetables (1kg)- $6.20
Cooking oil (1l)- $3.22
Olive oil (500ml)- $8.28
Can of coke (355ml)- $1.00
Local Fizzy Soft Drink (1l)- $1.30
Local Natural Mineral Water (5l)- $1.08
Tea Bags (200g)- $1.85
Instant Coffee (100g)- $6.75
Local Ground Coffee (200g)- $3.66
Salt (400g) – $0.26
Pepper (400g) – $0.35
Prices were obtained from local grocery stores, there are no big department stores to shop in.

Healthcare : General Practitioner Consultation rates, Hospital Private Ward Daily, Rate, Non-Prescription Medicine, Private Medical Insurance / Medical Aid Contributions
GP Private rate visit with meds- $3.50
Hospital Private ward rates- $28 per day
Dentistry ? Tooth extraction- $4.35
Most expats use Bupa or the Sri Lankan Equivalent

Household : House / Flat Mortgage, House / Flat Rental, Household Electricity Consumption, Household Gas / Fuel Consumption, Household Water Consumption, Local Property Rates / Taxes / Levies
Rent 2 bed Apartment City Centre- $700
Rent 2 bed Apartment outside of City Centre- $600
Electricity, Gas, Water, Garbage per – $80 – $90 per month for an average
household, this is expensive when taking household
air conditioning into account
Gas / Fuel ? 12 ? kg bottle- $14
Local property Rates- 8 ? 10% of value of property
Expats cannot buy a property directly, this has to be done via a Lawyer who owns the property. Mortgage for locals is 4/5%. This is where most expats find the costs creep in, running the air conditioners is extremely expensive as well as the cost of water.

Miscellaneous : Domestic Help, Dry Cleaning, Linen, Office Supplies, Newspapers and Magazines, Postage Stamps
Domestic Rates ? full time per person – $80 average
1 Black inkjet printer cartridge- $14
1 Color inkjet printer cartridge- $21
500 sheets printer paper- $5.23
Local Daily Newspaper- $0.17
International Daily Newspaper- $0.45
International Magazine- $20
International Airmail Stamps- $0.22
Domestic Stamps – $0.12
Domestic help is cheap and most employees either live on the property or close by. Office supplies are reasonable, with CD?s and DVD?s freely available on the street where most locals buy them.

Personal Care : Cosmetics, Haircare, Moisturiser / Sun Block, Nappies, Pain Relief Tablets, Toilet Paper, Toothpaste, Soap / Shampoo / Conditioner
Body lotion (400ml) Vaseline Intensive car- $4.53
Toilet paper 1 ply per roll- $0.50
Toothpaste (200g)- $1.92
Shampoo (200ml) – $2.40
Some of the items that can be purchased can be expensive, like creams, sunblocks and cosmetic creams. Name brand products are the most expensive.

Recreation and Culture : Books, Camera Film, Cinema Ticket, DVD and CD?s, Sports goods, Theatre Ticket
Books paper back- $10
Cinema ticket- $0.50
DVD / CD Imported- $2
Cricket ticket- $0.50 to $8
Theatre Ticket ? only in Colombo- $30
Hard cover books are expensive in the country, but paper back books are of a similar cost to the US and UK. Cinema tickets are cheap due to the availability of cheap DVD replicas which can be bought on street corners. International cricket tickets are also kept cheap for the local population.

Restaurants / Meals out / Hotels : Business Dinner, Dinner at Restaurant (non fast food), Hotel Rates, Take Away Drinks & Snacks (fast Food)
Business Dinner excl Alcohol- $22 per person
Dinner / lunch at local restaurant- $8 per person
Mc Donalds Big Mac- $4.10
Hotel Rates 3*- $8 – $50 pppn
Hotel Rates 4*- $80 – $120 pppn
Hotel Rates 5*- $140 pppn upwards
Take away – Can of coke x 1- $0.70
Medium pizza- $3.50
Hamburger- $2.00
Coffee ? pot x 3 cups- $1.40
As in most countries how much you pay for a meal is dependent on where you go, the local restaurants have great local meals, as well as international flavours, we found a fabulous vegetarian restaurant in Galle, well worth a visit and all prices were fairly cheap. Some restaurants do take advantage of the tourist population and serve sub standard meals. However, most restaurants were good with their portions and meal plans.

Transport : Hire Purchase / Lease of Vehicle, Petrol / Diesel, Public Transport, Service Maintenance, Tyres, Vehicle Insurance, Vehicle Purchase
Hire / Lease car ? Sedan Toyota Corolla- $37.14 per day for 1 week
Hire / Lease car ? Toyota RAV4- $46.71 per day for 1 week
Petrol unleaded per litre- $1.23
Diesel per litre- $0.64
Bus Ticket (one way)- $1.00
Taxi Ride ? per km- $0.50
Tuc Tuc ? 10 km ride- $6.00
Train Ticket 2nd class- $1.57
If you are visiting I would suggest you use the local taxis and tuc-tucs, driving can be a head-ache and unpleasant experience if you are not used to the local norms. However, speeds do not go over 80km on the bigger roads and overall a safe place to drive.

The above details are some of the items that form the basis of cost of living indexes for basket groups, these costs are then used with their indexes and exchange rates to calculate the cost of living in different locations.
Steven is Chief Instigator at a website that provides cost of living index information and calculates what you need to earn to compensate for cost of living, hardship, and exchange rate differences.