LONDON (Reuters) - The cost of living the Australian dream has surged with Sydney and Melbourne among the five most expensive cities in the world, outstripping most European and U.S. locations, according to an annual survey released on Monday.
Asia and Australasia account for 11 of the world's top 20 most expensive cities, with eight from Europe and one from South America, the Economist Intelligence Unit's (EIU) worldwide cost of living index found. No North American cities featured in the top 20.
This compared to a decade ago when there were six Asian cities, 10 European cities and four U.S. cities in the top 20 of the list that calculates living costs in 131 cities in 93 countries and is used by companies for costings when relocating staff.
But while Asia and Australasia is home to 11 of the 20 most expensive cities, the region is also home to six of the 10 cheapest.
Mumbai and Karachi were the joint cheapest locations in the survey followed by New Delhi, the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu and Algerian capital of Algiers.
Rounding out the bottom 10 were Bucharest in Romania, Colombo in Sri Lanka, Panama City, Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, and Iranian capital Tehran.
Referring to India and its forecasts for growth, the EIU said: "Income inequality means that household spending levels are low on a per capita basis, which has kept prices down, especially by Western standards."
In the 2013 survey, Tokyo reclaimed the title as the world's most expensive city. Currency swings pushed Zurich into the No.1 position last year but government exchange rate controls have driven the Swiss city back to No.7 in the list.
Osaka in Japan was ranked the second most expensive.
Jon Copestake, editor of the EIU Worldwide Cost of Living Index, said one of the most notable changes was the rising costs in Australia, with Sydney third in the list and Melbourne fifth. Sandwiched between them was Oslo in Norway.
"Ten years ago there were no Australian cities in the top 50 most expensive cities and I have not seen this sort of climb with any other cities," Copestake told Reuters.
"But economic growth has supported inflation and the strength of the Australian dollar against other currencies besides the U.S. dollar has driven up costs. Visitors will certainly feel the difference and people living there will have noticed prices have crept up."
RISING ASIA COSTS
The survey is based on costs of over 160 items ranging from food and clothing, to domestic help, transport and utilities.
Copestake said the return of Tokyo to top of the list came as no great surprise as the Japanese capital had steep real estate costs and rents, as well as high wages fuelling prices.
Since 1992 Tokyo has been the top-ranking city in every year bar six when Zurich, Paris and Oslo claimed the No.1 spot.
Also featured in the 2013 top 10 were Singapore, Zurich, Paris, the Venezuelan capital of Caracas and Geneva.
Copestake said fears over economic austerity and the stability of the euro had pushed the index of euro zone cities down in the past year while the inclusion of Caracas was due to artificially high exchange rate controls.
Although no North American cities feature in the top 20, the EIU said the cost of living in New York had risen relative to other places in the United States. It shares 27th position as the most expensive U.S. city with Los Angeles.
The Canadian city of Vancouver remains the most expensive location in North America, ranked 21st in the index.
(Editing by Pravin Char)