One of the most eye-opening experiences for most expatriates is finding out that things they bought for cheap in their supposedly richer country are more expensive locally in the developing world. In some cases, the cost is twice as much. Travelers discover this the hard way too when they go to replace their broken digital camera or get a new pair of sneakers/trainers with a swoosh or three stripes on the side.
Since I have a little Mexican beach house in the Yucatan I’ve gotten a taste of this oddity before, but now that I’m living here it’s even more pronounced. So to give you an idea of how this can play out, here’s a table on what’s cheaper and not cheaper in Mexico in comparison to an average mid-sized city in the U.S.
If you look closely, you may spot a pattern there that applies to many other developing countries as well. Labor is cheap, construction is cheap, local food is cheap. When it comes to goods that can pass through multiple middlemen, however, things get more complicated—and more expensive. In the U.S. and Europe, factories hum at ISO-certified output levels, Six Sigma bots wring out every inefficiency, and cost controls are analyzed every step of the way. Every wasted action gets eradicated.
In countries that cringe at the mere thought of all that—part of the reason we find them attractive—there are lots of leaks in the system and lots of hands getting their percentage along the way. Hey, it keeps more people employed that way and as a result of the higher prices people don’t buy as much crap that they don’t need. Things get fixed too—I’ve passed two TV repair shops walking around town in Guanajuato. When’s the last time you saw one of those?
Maybe no better or worse in the end, but just remember that not everything is cheap in the cheapest places to travel.