BUSINESSMEN SAY MOSCOW IS THE WORLD'S COSTLIEST CITY

BUSINESSMEN SAY MOSCOW IS THE WORLD'S COSTLIEST CITY

This is no longer a cheap city to live in. Dollars and other hard currencies are essential. You can get very little for rubles nowadays, no matter how you obtain them.

In fact, Moscow may have surpassed Tokyo as the world's most expensive city.Legions of foreign business executives here complain that they now pay steep prices but still don't get value for their money. And, in the end, they pay more and more here to have approximately the same comfortable lifestyle they would elsewhere.

Foreign business executives cite such items as hotel costs, apartment rents and the fact that to get things done, handsome gifts and tips in advance are mandatory.

Dozens of businessmen recently interviewed say it takes about 10 times longer to do things here than in most Western capitals. And considering the old adage that "time is money," most executives have to figure this into their calculations of the cost of doing business in the Soviet Union.

But that's not all: Many foreigners must import not only certain kinds of foods but also automobiles and other essential items that are difficult to obtain locally.

And it is taken for granted that Moscow-based foreigners need to take frequent vacations in the West to "maintain a mental equilibrium."

Not long ago, a survey by the Union Bank of Switzerland put Tokyo at the top of its list of the world's costliest cities, followed by Oslo, Norway; Helsinki, Finland; and Geneva.

My list of most expensive cities, compiled with the advice of foreign businessmen here, looks like this:

1. Moscow

2. Tokyo

3. Helsinki

4. Geneva

5. Paris

6. Frankfurt, West Germany

7. London

8. Stockholm, Sweden

9. Washington, D.C.

10. New York

In my view, it's the hidden expenses that can floor you here. Example: When my computer burned out due to a sudden unexplained backup of 220 volts into the wrong port, I had to fly to Finland with said computer to get it fixed. It took only an hour for repairs, but there was that round-trip fare to Finland, plus hotel expenses.

True, you can still buy a loaf of very good bread here for about 25 kopecks, which translates into a penny or two at the real (black market) value of the lowly ruble.

But except for this and the half-penny ride on Moscow's push-and-shove trams and buses, there are few bargains left.

Which makes many foreign businessmen categorical about the very high cost of living here.

"Moscow is the most expensive city in the world in terms of the services you get," said Greg Oztemel, formerly chief representative in Moscow for U.S.-based Satra Corp. and now director of the company's London office.

"In terms of rent, Moscow is far more expensive than Stockholm," said Christer Casell, Moscow representative of Sweden's PK Banken. He insisted that hotels cost 60 percent more here than in the Swedish capital.

"If you pay $200 a night for a hotel in Stockholm, you will get a well- appointed luxury room. In Moscow, however, you can pay that much at the Intourist Hotel, where the TV set is normally not working and where you get only four Soviet channels," he added.

"Moscow is absolutely a very expensive city," according to Paul Richardson, deputy general director of a U.S.-Soviet joint venture located on the city's famed Gorky Street. He said a great many things in Moscow cost one- and-a-half to two times more than in the United States. Prices here, he said, equal those in London.

Some "townhouse-equivalent" apartments will be built outside Moscow for foreigners and will be priced at $45,000 a year, Mr. Richardson said. Most Moscow flats for foreigners now go for around $2,000 a month.

Still, foreign businessmen say that personal services in Moscow are reasonable. This includes fees for maids, secretaries and chauffeurs.