Seoul Becomes More Affordable for U.S. Soldiers

Seoul still ranks among the world's most expensive cities in some respects, but in others prices appear to have dropped into the middle ground, a study suggests.

A cappuccino and pastry costs US$5.22 in a coffee shop in the U.S. but $6.90 in Seoul, $6.50 in Tokyo, $4.03 in Grafenwoehr, Germany, $5.95 in Mildenhall, the U.K., and $2.73 in Naples, Italy. Only the remote Japanese islands of Okinawa put even Seoul in the shade, with the caffe-cornetto costing a whopping $9.12 there.

The U.S. military regularly surveys prices of daily necessities and services in countries where its servicemen are stationed to maintain equal buying power with their stateside peers, topping up pay with allowances if it is not enough to maintain an equal quality of life due to high local prices.

The Cost of Living Allowance or COLA survey was carried in the latest issue of the military daily Stars and Stripes. It shows that while coffee is expensive in Seoul, a McDonald's Big Mac meal costs $4.38, making it cheaper than Naples ($9.94), the U.S. mainland ($5.68), Tokyo ($6.41), and Mildenhall ($6.28). A movie ticket is the most expensive in Tokyo at $19.56, compared to $6.73 in Seoul and $7.18 in the U.S.

Since early this year, U.S. servicemen in Korea have received less COLA due to the weak won currency. A U.S. soldier with three year's of service in Seoul got $51 in COLA this month, behind their counterparts in Tokyo, who got $298, Naples ($167), Mildenhall ($109), or Grafenwoehr ($101). COLA tots up to about $1.8 billion a year.

englishnews@chosun.com / Aug. 25, 2009 10:06 KST