“Buy low, sell high” is a fundamental piece of investment advice, but foreign currencies are harder to assess than a lot of other investments. Economists judge a currency's value by choosing a set of goods and services, adding up their costs in the local currency, and pegging the price of the goods to a benchmark such as U.S. pricing and the U.S. dollar. The Economist gave that doctrine a whimsical spin in 1986 when it settled on a McDonald's Big Mac as its reference point, creating the so-called Big Mac Index as a way to compare currencies.
For travelers and expats, what's most interesting is the actual cost of fast food favorites when traveling abroad. We've taken the concept of the Big Mac Index and added a basic pizza from Domino's — cheese or a cheese-and-tomato “margherita” — and an 8-piece bucket of KFC to our comparison. In the United States, at the time of writing, the nationwide average cost of a Big Mac was $5.30, a large Domino's cheese pizza was $9.99, and an 8-piece bucket of KFC checked in at $14.99. See how those prices compare with what you can buy around the world.
- Big Mac: $4.66 ($0.64 less than U.S.)
- Domino's large pizza: $10.15 ($0.16 more than U.S.)
- KFC 10-piece bucket: $17.38 ($0.14/piece less than U.S.)
McDonald's Canada, Domino's Canada and KFC Canada are all similar to their U.S. counterparts, so don't expect poutine pizza. The exception is in French-speaking areas, where KFC becomes PFK, short for “Poulet Frite Kentucky.” The local price of a Big Mac on the July 2017 Big Mac Index was $5.97 Canadian dollars, but the exchange rate brought that down to the equivalent of $4.66. The other prices are also pretty close to those you'd find stateside, though it's worth noting that the comparable bucket in Canada includes two more pieces of chicken.
- Big Mac: $5.10 ($0.20 less than U.S.)
- Domino's large pizza: $11.12 ($2.13 more than U.S.)
- KFC 9-piece bucket: $10.31 ($4.68 less than U.S.)
A basic cheese pizza at Domino's Brazil is available in two different versions: the one you're used to, with melted mozzarella on it, and one covered in requeijão, a cheese that's similar to cream cheese. Either way, the local price is higher than the American price. If you're a chicken lover you'll like the menu at KFC Brazil, where a bucket costs less than at home and gives you one more piece of chicken as well. Most of the menu items are much the same as in the U.S., but you'll also find rice and black beans among the side dishes. When you're in Brazil, check out the hot spots where your money goes furthest.
- Big Mac: $4.11 ($1.29 less than U.S.)
- Domino's large pizza: $17.10 ($7.11 more than U.S.)
- KFC 10-piece bucket: $17.10 ($2.11 more than U.S.)
English fast food pricing shows why the Big Mac Index is a bit of a party trick rather than a serious research tool. While a Big Mac costs less than it does in the U.S., both Domino's and KFC are more expensive compared to their counterparts back home. To a hungry traveler, it doesn't really matter what that says about the value of the pound, though. The more important point is that a burger is a more affordable option when you're in London, though in the interest of fairness it's worth pointing out that your British bucket of KFC comes with fries and two extra pieces of chicken.
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- Big Mac: $4.43 ($0.87 less than U.S.)
- Domino's large pizza: $ 3.45 ($6.54 less than U.S.)
- KFC 8-piece Wicked Meal: $22.75 ($7.76 more than U.S.)
KFC New Zealand menus skip the buckets of plain chicken in favor of combos, so the notably higher price of an 8-piece bucket is somewhat offset by the addition of sides, a drink and a half-dozen Wicked Wings. The real stunner here is the cost of a large Domino's pizza, which comes in at $3.45 on the aptly named value menu. You read that right: You can get three large pizzas in New Zealand for a little more than the cost of one back in the U.S. For those looking to try a unique spin on a favorite, the New Zealand Domino's menu includes a pizza topped with ham, potato wedges and mayonnaise.
- Big Mac: $2.76 ($2.54 less than U.S.)
- Domino's large pizza: $6.07 ($3.92 less than U.S.)
- KFC 8-piece bucket: $8.13 ($6.86 less than U.S.)
If you've ever eaten Indian food, you won't be surprised that the menu at KFC India leans heavily toward hot and spicy breading, and offers rice as a side dish. Domino's outlets also make use of paneer, the Indian cheese that holds its shape instead melting when it's heated — although for visiting Americans, the inclusion of corn as a pizza topping might be the real puzzlement. Still, the cost of all three fast-food staples is relatively low compared to U.S. pricing.
- Big Mac: $2.26 ($3.04 less than U.S.)
- Domino's large pizza: $6.26 ($4.50 less than U.S.)
- KFC 9-piece bucket: $8.66 ($6.33 less than U.S.)
Menus at the major fast food chains in South Africa will seem disappointingly mundane if you go there expecting exotic items. You won't find a “McSpringbok” burger at McDonald's South Africa, and Domino's doesn't offer wildebeest sausage as a topping. Perhaps the oddest thing you'll encounter is the combination of chicken and mayonnaise on a pizza, which is probably exotic enough for most American palates. Prices are significantly lower than in the U.S., and South Africa is a great place to explore while the dollar is still strong.
The United Arab Emirates
- Big Mac: $3.81 ($1.49 less than U.S.)
- Domino's Large Pizza: $11.72 ($1.83 more than U.S.)
- KFC 9-piece Family Meal: $16.08 ($1.09 more than U.S.)
Menus in the United Arab Emirates hold a few minor surprises for visiting Westerners. The burger menu at McDonald's Dubai, for example, includes a Clubhouse burger with beef bacon and Swiss cheese, and the breakfast menu includes both chicken and halloumi cheese versions of the famous Egg McMuffin. There's also a McArabia Chicken sandwich on folded pita bread. A Big Mac is cheaper here than in the U.S., but Domino's and KFC prices are slightly higher.
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- Big Mac: $2.72 ($2.58 less than U.S.)
- Domino's large pizza: $8.03 ($1.96 less than U.S.)
- KFC 5-piece meal: $6.09 ($0.59 less/piece than U.S.)
When the capitalist world made its way into the former Eastern Bloc, fast food chains were right at the front of the line. You'll find prices at McDonald's Poland, Domino's Poland and KFC Poland low compared to those back home, which makes the country and its historically fascinating cities an even more appealing travel destination. If you want to try something out of the ordinary, try Domino's “Hypnotica” pizza: It's topped with mozzarella, pepperoni, bacon, beef and sauerkraut, finished with a spiral swirl of barbecue sauce.
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- Big Mac: $3.84 ($1.46 less than U.S.)
- Domino's large pizza: $11.07 ($1.08 more than U.S.)
- KFC 8-piece bucket: $12.65 ($2.34 less than U.S.)
If you're in Chile and looking for breakfast, forget about an Egg McMuffin: The menu in this South American country offers a burger, croissants or a marraqueta (a type of local bread) sandwich with your coffee. Otherwise, your fast food options from the three big chains are pretty standard here, though corn crops up again as a pizza topping at Domino's, and both McDonald's and KFC offer empanadas.
- Big Mac: $2.00 ($3.30 less than U.S.)
- Domino's large pizza: $8.46 ($1.53 less than U.S.)
- KFC 9-piece bucket: $9.40 ($5.59 less than U.S.)
McDonald's Malaysia boasts one of the cheapest Big Macs anywhere, at just $2.00 on the Big Mac Index. Domino's and KFC are cheaper here, too, but it's the localized menu options that make ordering fast food in Malaysia so much fun. McDonald's offers bubur ayam, a savory rice porridge, and a cup of corn kernels is one of your dessert options. Domino's offers a Seafood Delight pie as well as two prawn pizzas, three tuna pizzas and one Sambal Surf & Turf pie. Clearly, Malaysia is the place to be if you love seafood on pizza. And who doesn't?