Tracking the price of gas has practically become a national hobby. Americans may be complaining about rising gas costs, but we're actually paying less than many other countries. Out of 155 countries surveyed by the Associates for International Research (AIRINC) between March 17 and April 1, 2008, U.S. gas prices were the 44th cheapest -- but that still means there are 43 countries where gas costs even less.
Where Gas is Cheapest
Cost Per Gallon
Source: AIRINC: Prices in USD
According to the study and CNN Money, Venezuelans pay just 12 cents per gallon -- the cheapest in the world. Next on the list are Iran, Saudi Arabia and Libya, where you'll pay 40 cents, 45 cents and 50 cents per gallon, respectively.
But why is gas so cheap for them when we're paying upwards of $4 a gallon? CNN Money says it has to do with government policy, noting: "Gasoline costs roughly the same to make no matter where in the world it's produced, according to John Felmy, chief economist for the American Petroleum Institute. The difference in retail costs, he said, is that some governments subsidize gas while others tax it heavily."
For example, gas is "absurdly cheap" in many countries that produce oil. CNN Money reasons, "The governments there forego the money from selling that oil on the open market -- instead using the money to make their people happy and encourage their nations' development."
Venezuela is able to offer it citizens the cheapest fuel in the world through heavy subsidies -- but at a price. BusinessWeek reports: "State oil company Petróleos de Venezuela is footing an $11 billion a year bill for underwriting and subsidizing the fuel. That's nearly double its 2007 net income of $6.27 billion. The cost of that subsidy, along with money it pays to underwrite government social programs, has forced Petróleos de Venezuela to borrow billions on international markets to cover investments."
But just because gas is cheap doesn't mean people are driving around in Hummers. In Iran, where gas costs 40 cents per gallon, the most popular car for decades was the inexpensive and durable Paykan sedan. According to the Guardian, the car made up over 70 percent of Iran's cars in 2001. However, BBC News reports the manufacturer discontinued the 38-year-old car in 2005 because it is considered an environmental hazard.
Where Gas is Most Expensive
Cost Per Gallon
$27 to $50
|Source: AIRINC. Prices in USD|
as of 4/1/08
|*Sources for Gaza Strip gas price reports:|
The News Tribune, Christian Science Monitor
On the other end of the spectrum are countries that pay much more for gas than we do. In fact, more than 100 countries surveyed by AIRINC have higher gas prices than the United States.
People living in Eritrea pay a whopping $9.58 per gallon for their gasoline. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), this East African nation's fragile economy and relatively new independence from Ethiopia has compromised fuel costs.
Another expensive place to fill up is Norway, where citizens pay $8.73 per gallon. But it's not a supply/demand issue or a fledgling economy that keeps their fuel costs so high. The AFP reports Norway is the world's fifth-largest oil exporter, but prices are high because of government taxes. AFP says the taxes are "part of a government strategy to fight climate change by pushing Norwegians to leave their car at home." According to a 2005 International Herald Tribune article, Norwegians must also pay high taxes for their vehicles, especially if they're brand-new or use all-terrain tires.
In the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Monaco, gas averaged $8.35 a gallon at the time of the study. The EIA reports that by the end of June, gas costs were nearly $10 a gallon. According to CNN Money, these countries' governments use the lofty tax on fuel to offset the cost of higher education and health care.
Europeans have adapted considerably to the high cost of fuel. The New York Times reports, "Highways are filled with fuel-efficient Smart cars and Minis, most cities have highly developed public transportation systems, and green-minded policies have spawned everything from special bicycle lanes to downtown congestion charges."
But that doesn't make it easier for those who gas up the most. TIME magazine reports that fishermen, truck drivers and farmers in the Iberian Peninsula and the U.K. have staged protests against crippling fuel costs. TIME adds, "Europe's dizzying fuel costs would be even worse if it weren't for the considerable appreciation for the euro and the British pound against the dollar over the past year" -- which has partially offset the escalating price in dollar-traded oil.
Gas prices in the Gaza Strip were not included in the AIRINC's study, but The News Tribune reports "regular gas prices soar to about $27 a gallon on the black market" -- the equivalent of two weeks' wages for many local drivers. The Christian Science Monitor says the high prices are the result of a year-long blockade and shortage of resources. It reports, "Palestinians have faced highs of $50 per gallon" in the past, and many people in Gaza have converted their gas-engine vehicles to run on 34 standard lead-acid car batteries.
A Universal Concern
It's difficult to truly cross-measure which countries fare the worse with the price of fuel. CNN Money says the AIRINC numbers "don't take into account different salaries in different countries, or the different exchange rates" and notes, "Because oil is priced in dollars rising oil prices aren't as hard on people paying with currencies which are stronger than the dollar."
Many say the real solution to every nation's struggle with gas is less dependence on it. Perhaps French Secretary of State Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet says it best when she tells TIME, "We don't need one-shot measures...but rather to free ourselves from oil."
To learn about ways to decrease your own dependence on oil and gasoline, check out the U.S News Green Car Center. Or, find a fuel-efficient vehicle for yourself with our rankings of affordable small cars.