For me, Draka is always home. What about IRL?
July 30, 2008 4:20 PM   Subscribe

Cost of living website for international cities, plus side question of "How do I find a place there? Is there a website for future expatriates to help with the transitions?

MrFutureDamnJezebel is getting transferred within the next 4-6 months to one of several cities. New York. Houston. Paris Milan. London. Some other place that I'll have to ask him about. As far as I know of, he should get a choice on where to move to, with his salary to be adjusted for that city. We'll live in corporate housing for the first few months but after that, we'll like OWN/RENT property wherever we go. Me being a native Dallasite and never actually living outside of the metroplex, I have no clue as to how the cost of living is elsewhere. I can guess with Houston. But New York? Milan? Come on. I can't figure that crap out.

1) Is there a website that can show you a cost of living comparison between where I live (place A) and where I think we're moving to (place b)? Must be international, obviously. Or if there's a strictly European site, and a strictly US site, I can work with that.

2) I need either a website or a guru to help answer the following questions and more ignorant ones:

How does one prepare for a move to __(place outside of US)__?
How do I find a place to live?
Do they have supermarkets and walmarts and tanning salons and high speed internet and malls etc etc etc?
Will my favorite websites like TigerDirect and Barnes and Noble and etc deliver there?
What do I do about my (obviously English) book addiction??
Do they have Honey Nut Cheerios and 1% milk?
Will I get ripped off because I'm an "ignorant" american?
What do I do about the car I just bought?
What about my cat and my dogs - will they be quarantined forever before they can come?
What about my furniture, will it just be cheaper to sell everything and buy new stuff there?
Isn't it really expensive to live in these places?
Can I still play WoW on my US server without switching to a UK one??

Sorry for the conglomerate of questions. Just very anxious. I don't deal with lack of details very well. So if this comes off as ignorant, it's probably because I kinda am in this realm.
posted by damnjezebel to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
There are sites that will do a US cost of living comparison but the only international data I have ever found is expensive and is sold directly to HR people and not to the general public. has a simple tool for US comparisons:

To answer all your other questions, you just go there. I know it's all very anxiety provoking but for things like Cheerios there's no substitute for direct investigation.

Note that you cannot find all this data for several places and then pick one to move to. You generally pick a place to move to and then slowly gather all this data. Otherwise there is too much data to make a decision with. People who move internationally for work generally try to negotiate enough salary to ensure a decent standard of living and then some to compensate for the risks of being outside the US, like lack of ability to contribute to a 401K, to hedge currency risk or to hedge local inflation risk. On the plus side, you generally live like an American whenever you are which is usually better than the average local.

Having just moved I will say that you will never have all the answers. You make up your mind to go and then you deal with things as they come up.

Good luck!
posted by GuyZero at 4:55 PM on July 30, 2008

There's no way to answer all these questions for you, but I can tell you that you should look at this as an opportunity to experience another country and its people and culture, not a protective shell for you to replicate your US existence outside the US. Most major cities outside the US have the amenities you are accustomed to in some form, but no, nowhere is like the US except the US. Whether or not you choose to look at that as a good thing and a fantastic opportunity or just an inconvenience to your established lifestyle is up to you.
posted by loiseau at 5:01 PM on July 30, 2008

Whether or not you choose to look at that as a good thing and a fantastic opportunity or just an inconvenience to your established lifestyle is up to you.

This is a very good point. If not eating Honey Nut Cheerios is going to really upset you (and I don't know if it will - but certainly I know people who like their routines) then moving to Milan will not be for you. You say you have never lived anywhere else but have you traveled much? If not maybe get a book on culture shock to help understand the process you'll go through if/when you end up actually moving. For a company-sponsored move, these issues will last much longer and affect you a lot more than financial issues.
posted by GuyZero at 5:13 PM on July 30, 2008

How does one prepare for a move to __(place outside of US)__?

Read everything you can. Check out books meant for tourists, books on history, and anything that passes for humour.

In whatever way possible, read the local papers and periodicals.

Check the CIA World Factbook on the nation for basic details considered vital by our government. Read anything else you can get your hands on. Read the wikipedia entries associated and any other websites you can find discussion the place and/or its people.

There are likely movies from/about whatever place you are going. Rent/buy them. They will give you an idea of what the place looks like, at the very minimum.

Use online resources like Livejournal & Craigslist to find people in Dallas from the place you are going and see if they will answer questions for you, provide information on resources that could help you, or give you a basic overview of what it's like. Maybe they'll even give you people to look up when you get there.

Googling for restaurants, churches, neighbourhoods, stores, and other places where you might find a concentration of people from the place you are going is also a good tactic, as you can visit those places and accomplish some of the same ends as above.

Essentially, research the heck out of whatever places look most likely. If you guys get to choose the place, make a list before you start your research on what's most important to you for preserving harmony in your marriage and making it possible to pursue your own goals aside from those he has for work.

Good luck - and don't forget to have fun :)
posted by batmonkey at 5:52 PM on July 30, 2008

There are companies that put together information packages for transferees that have exactly the stuff you're looking for. If your husband hasn't asked his HR if they use a service like this, he REALLY should.

For day-to-day living anecdotes, you might want to have a look through Tales from a Small Planet. (Registration is required, but it's free.) It's written by and for US Foreign Service personnel, but the perspectives (i.e., expatriate American) might be quite useful to you.
posted by gnomeloaf at 6:04 PM on July 30, 2008

That's like a dozen questions. The answer boils down to, you'll find anything you can find in Dallas, and so much more, but certain stuff you won't find (your favorite peanut butter brand, certain bbq sauces, Dr Pepper in Italy -- in London you can find it -- etc).

and yes, strangely enough Europeans do have tanning salons, supermarkets, refrigerators, aspirin, running water. you won't have to pee in an outhouse, don't worry. oh, Europe also has FedEx and stuff.

Pets are OK in continental Europe, I think the UK quarantines. But you'll find americans everywhere you go, they'll explain that stuff to you. have fun, you'll either love it or hate it.
posted by matteo at 7:32 PM on July 30, 2008

As for WoW, trying to play on a US server from London was horrific. I had a latency in the low thousands.

Kinda like the day AQ opened on my server; everything was a slide show.

Also, 1% milk in Dallas <> 1% in London. Maybe there is a different definition of what the 1% is and what the other 99% is?
posted by CurlyMan at 8:26 PM on July 30, 2008

Definitely get out of the United States. I left in 1997 and now I rarely go back if I can avoid it. Nothing political, I just prefer the European lifestyle and, perhaps most of all, living in a foreign culture.

I'd suggest out of all these destinations you take a good look (i.e., get some professional advise) regarding taxes. You'll still have to file US returns and returns in the country you'll be residing in.

While receiving corporate housing sounds nice, you seriously better look into the taxes on that as they've changed the rules and not in a manner than benefits American ex-pats receiving such a benefit in kind. And yes, housing, those flights home, lots of other such "stuff" is fully taxable as income. So watch it.

Have they mentioned tax equalization? This is a policy that many multinationals offer which effectively insures that even if you move to a country of higher taxation than the United States, you'll only be taxed at the US rate. Good thing to inquire about, as most European nations have taxes that are both more aggressive and higher than the US system, meaning the highest rates are much higher and you hit them at a lower level of income.

"...we'll like OWN/RENT property wherever we go..."

Careful there. I've owned property outside the United States in six countries, currently own a flat in London and we keep a second flat in Amsterdam, and again - not to bang on a drum here - the tax treatment of owning property abroad is both complex and the reporting burden and complexity not to be underestimated. The IRS has special rules for ownership outside the United States, especially so when it comes time to sell as they'll track currency changes. It is possible to realise a loss in local currency terms, but actually end up owing money to the IRS because the US Dollar strengthened. Yes, even though you may have bought / sold in pound sterling, you could owe the IRS on your losing transaction.

How does one prepare for a move to __(place outside of US)__?

Most multinationals will move you. They will have people to work through this process with you, pack you goods, get the necessary visas, work permits, etc. And move your property. If they wanted me to work outside the US but were refusing to pay to move my belongings or help me to relocate, I wouldn't go. After all you are doing the company a BIG favour by relocating abroad.

How do I find a place to live?

Again, you'll have corporate housing so I would expect them to help find you folks a place. Alternatively, most multinationals that have corporate housing will cut a deal, should you like their compound so much you'd like to stay. I usually don't, and everytime got my ass out to mingle with the people ASAP. But if you like it you probably could approach them to stay there.

Do they have supermarkets and walmarts and tanning salons and high speed internet and malls etc etc etc?

Don't know about wallmarts but I've seen everything else all over Europe, Africa and The Middle East.

Will my favorite websites like TigerDirect and Barnes and Noble and etc deliver there?

Shipping to Europe would be prohibitive. Anything you can purchase from them you can get locally.

What do I do about my (obviously English) book addiction??

I don't foresee much of a problem here. I spent several years working in Africa, and no problem finding English language books there. Same for The Middle East. You'll be able to get English books anywhere. The complete, current New York Times best sellers list? Probably not. One or two books from it? Probably.

Do they have Honey Nut Cheerios and 1% milk?

Depends where you end up, but probably. If it tastes good or is good for you, folks will want it. People are largely the same all over the world.

Will I get ripped off because I'm an "ignorant" american?

Only the first few times, then you'll no longer be an ignorant American. Don't worry about it. We all left America the same way - ignorant about our the country we moved to.

What do I do about the car I just bought?

Shipping to Europe (or pretty much anywhere else) will be surface, and cost several thousand dollars. Then you'll have to get it registered locally, which may involve (expensive) drive train modifications. If you can't negotiate it into the relocation package (i.e., your employer pays) then I'd suggest leave it behind and purchase locally. Unless sentimentality is worth TBD money to you.

What about my cat and my dogs - will they be quarantined forever before they can come?

If you'd like to move about as much as your question implies, you'll find the animals a liability. There are pet passports in Europe, but I hear lots of complaints about using them.

What about my furniture, will it just be cheaper to sell everything and buy new stuff there?

Yes. Even if your firm pays for moving personal goods, you should move just clothing, books, media (CDs, DVDs), etc. The reason is smaller amounts are air shipped. When I left the United States my stuff flew a few days before, and after customs BS was available about five days after I arrived. By contrast, I had some stuff (art) surface shipped from the US to England in 2002, and it took about six weeks, door to door.

Isn't it really expensive to live in these places?

You can live cheaply anywhere. Mrs Mutant and I track a careful budget, and it currently costs us about thirty six pounds a day to live. That's everything. Flats in London and Amsterdam, food, internet, entertainment. two mobiles, two kats. Living cheaply is a choise that few people care to make. Its not a function of where you live, as you could go to Bombay and spend far more than thirty six pounds a day to live (I spent December 2005 in The Taj in Bombay, and the suite alone cost me about $250 / night).

And don't underestimate the complexity of taxes. If you approach the problem properly, you can pay much, much less tax overall than you would back in The United States. Even though I live in England, I'm only paying about 15% overall - far, far less than I would back in America. But it took a lot of planning and careful structuring of assets / attention paid to time spent in / out of Europe to achieve this goal. I've seen lots of Americans show up here and leave - sometimes very quickly!! - as they didn't pay attention to taxes, and all of sudden their take home is much, much lower than anticipated, even taking into account Cost of Living Adjustments.

Hope this helped! If you've got any followups don't hesitate to ask inthread or email for more privacy.
posted by Mutant at 2:52 AM on July 31, 2008

Big cities the world over are very similar. If you've managed in one you can manage in another, minus a few cultural discrepancies. Any difference in products will most likely be for the better. Feel free to experiment. It's not hard to find groups of English speakers or American expats but is generally more fun to get outside your sphere of comfort.

A good source of info can be found at university web sites that have semester long study abroad programs in those cities. They generally prepare a survival guide for students which helps them to adapt to that city. While written for students, the majority of information in these guides is transferrable to any expat. Do a Google search for "study abroad paris" for example.
posted by JJ86 at 5:54 AM on July 31, 2008

Mutant knows of what he speaks. All of these questions are natural to ask, but the answers don't matter if you don't embrace the idea of living abroad and enjoying different cultures. Travel broadens the mind and living abroad is the best way to do this.

A decent company will move you, pack up your stuff and take care of relocation, temporary housing etc. If they don't, ask for it (it may be they don't move many people and are simply inexperienced).

Mrs arcticseal and I have been living as expatriates for the past 8 years and love it. Moved about 3 times and have just moved to the US from Europe, which for us is partly foreign and mostly similar to home (Mrs arcticseal is Canadian, I'm a Brit).

Only you can determine if you are ready for the move. For some people, they thrive, others arrive and bolt home the earliest they can, never to be seen again. Only you can decide if it works for you.

My most recent job was as a Personnel Manager, responsible for 44 nationalities in 5 countries, and transferring people in and out regularly, so I've seen my fair share of moves. Feel free to MeFi mail me if you have questions and I can try to help.

Of your list:

Houston - loving it here after 3 months, our Dallas native realtor said he's never going back. People are very friendly.
New York - Never lived there, but what's not to like?
Paris - Loved living there, met my wife there :o)
Milan - Worked there, never lived, great city. Italians are wonderful people.
London - Worked, never lived. Prefer Paris and Milan.
posted by arcticseal at 7:42 AM on July 31, 2008

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