Expenses around the world

By Jim Glab
November 12, 2014

What are the most expensive cities to visit on business?London?Paris?Zurich?Two consulting firms (one American, one Swiss) studied this question and came up with the same answer: Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Moscow. The U.S. firm, Runzheimer International, calculated that business travelers in 1997 could expect to spend $474 a day in Hong Kong (of course, prices have dropped since the handover), $440 in Tokyo, and $392 in Moscow for a single room in a business-class hotel and three meals in decent restaurants.

Uncle Sam isn't as generous as the private sector in what he allows his workers to spend-- he suggests they use "moderately priced" establishments-- so the State Department and the General Services Administration issue lists of per diems, or maximum allowable daily travel expenses, for federal employees in hundreds of locales in the United States and abroad.

The highest per diem on the federal list is for an unlikely winter visit to the town of Punta del Este, Uruguay, where a government traveler is permitted to rack up a bill as high as $391 a day for a hotel, meals, and incidentals. Hong Kong only rates $344, barely more than the $334 spending cap in Tbilisi, Georgia. Government workers will kindly keep it under $294 in Luanda, Angola.

By the feds' reckoning, you can expect to pay more for a day in Prague ($232) than in Paris ($230), and more in St. Petersburg ($319) than in London ($285). Compared to Kuwait City ($337), Geneva ($237) seems like a bargain.

Domestic business travel is a bargain. While government per diems in major European and Asian cities run between $200 and $300, not one U.S. city rates an expense level of $200 a day. To peruse the complete listings of U.S. government per diem allowances for foreign destinations, go to www.state.gov/www/perdiems/index.html. You'll find a link there to the domestic list.