How Honest Is Your Town?

I want the truth, you Punk.

Where we live is a very important decision in our lives.  For those in high cost-of-living areas, it can motivate their FIRE-seeking journey and for others already in low cost-of-living areas, it makes their FIRE real or well within reach.  The world is full of interesting places with a wide variety of living costs. The earth awaits is a great tool for those wanting to get a sense of what kind of life your retirement income will support in different locations in the world.

Every town has a ‘pulse’ that you can truly feel only when you live there.   This pulse can be cultural, social, religious or all of the above.  One interesting dimension of this pulse is what I call the honesty test.  I can see what you are thinking, how can TFR paint an entire town on some inherent individual character like honesty?  Yet, there is an experiment that allows you to feel the honesty ‘pulse’ of the cities in the world. Even the researchers who did this experiment don’t claim it to be a scientific study, but it does give an interesting feel about one important aspect of everyday values that you may encounter in different parts of the world.   

The Wallet Experiment

One of the painful experiences you can encounter while traveling is losing your wallet or purse.  Readers’ Digest did an interesting experiment of ‘accidentally’ dropping a wallet in a dozen random public places in a city.  The wallet had $50 or its equivalent in local currency, along with identifying information, phone number and address of the owner.   The test is to see how many of these wallets are returned back by the strangers who find them.   

The test was randomly done in several major cities around the world, covering ‘very rich’ to ‘very poor’ countries. The results will surprise you, as they did even the researchers.  

The results in the chart below are color-coded from green (where at least 9 out of 12 ‘lost’ wallets were returned), brown (where 5-8 wallets of the 12 were returned) and purple, where only 4 or fewer wallets were returned.

Some interesting findings are:

  • Lisbon, Portugal may be a relatively lower cost place to spend your retirement years, but it came dead last in the honesty test where only one wallet out of 12 was returned to the rightful owner.

Lisbon. Beautiful city, but don’t lose your wallet here! (img credit:

  • Helsinki, Finland is an extremely cold place but people seem to be very warm and the most honest among all cities where the test was done.  An amazing 11 out of 12 lost wallets were returned here!

    Helsinki. Safe place to lose your wallet. (img credit: Aegean Airlines)

  • New York city didn’t fare as bad as you might expect.  A not-so-bad 8 out of 12 wallets were returned.  
  • The worst faring locations are in Eastern Europe and of course, the capitals of Spain and Portugal.  Interesting cluster there.
  • An over-populated, resource-starved, poverty-filled city like Mumbai, India with barely $2500 in per capita income, turned out to be lot more honest in this test than cities that have far higher average income and superior infrastructure.  An impressive 9 out of 12 wallets were returned in Mumbai.
  • Zurich in Switzerland, often considered the richest country in the world (per capita GDP over $84,000), couldn’t resist pocketing a wallet with just $50 in it.    Just 4 out of 12 wallets were returned in Zurich.
  • My Brazilian friend often jokes there is no gravity in Rio.  When you throw your wallet up in the air in this colorful Latin American city, it apparently doesn’t come down!  That’s only partly true as the results show. With 4 out of 12 wallets returned, Rio de Janeiro turned out to be relatively more honest than many cities of Europe, and is even tied with Zurich.

Looks can be deceiving indeed!

A slum in Mumbai (img credit: Honesty is not correlated with wealth.

Zurich. All that glitters may not be so honest (img credit: Switzerland Tourism)









How honest is your town?  What are your views on this experiment?  How much does this factor influence your retirement location decision? Please share your views below.  

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5 comments on “How Honest Is Your Town?”

  1. By earlyretirementnow

    Awesome study, thanks for the link! Who knew that some of the richer countries can be so dishonest? But then again, if Zurich is one of the capitals of stashing money from illicit activities, it’s not such a big surprise anymore. Crime rates are a huge concern in picking a retirement location and we have to rely on official data. But this study is a nice supplement – not so much about crime but about the risk of being ripped off.

    • By TFR

      Hey J$, I prefer to learn from others. I love my wallet with $50 far too much to do this experiment 🙂

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