Expat Toolkit: Comparing the cost of living

Adam Vagley @goodmigrations

3 ways to compare cost of living

One of the most important things to consider when moving abroad is the cost of living in the destination country. If your company is relocating you then you’ll want this information so you can determine how much compensation you’ll need to live the lifestyle you want. Or if you’re retiring abroad you need to know what locations you can afford on a fixed income.

When I moved from New York (the most expensive city in the United States and ranked as the 47th most expensive city in the world according to the most recent Economist cost of living index) to Sydney, Australia (currently number seven on the Economist list) I used some online websites to determine the cost differences. They all suggested Sydney was similar to NYC. However, when I arrived for the first time I learned it definitely is not. Since then I’ve discovered several better tools you can use and thought I’d share them with the wider expat community.

Expatistan  http://www.expatistan.com
Expatistan is a crowdsourced database of prices around the world that lets you compare one city to another. The prices are entered for six categories of consumer items: Food, Housing, Clothes, Transportation, Personal Care, and Entertainment. You can expand each category to see more specific information, such as the costs of a beer in a local pub, laundry detergent, and a haircut. Expatistan shows that NYC is 6% cheaper than Sydney overall, and that roughly matches my experience. One area where Expatistan shows New York being more expensive is housing — and again this is accurate based on my personal experience in both cities.

Numbeo  http://www.numbeo.com
Numbeo is another crowdsourced cost of living website. It breaks down prices into more categories than Expatistan but they essentially compare the same items. It’s not quite as user-friendly as Expatistan since it provides you a generic cost of living index number initially, but if you scroll to the bottom of the page you can enter another city to compare. Numbeo says Sydney is almost 20% more expensive than New York.

Numbeo is unique in that beyond just cost of living you can also compare property prices, traffic, health care, crime rates, pollution, and overall quality of life. This will give you a more complete picture of the city and country you’re moving to.

The challenge with both Expatistan and Numbeo is that they compare cities. Both New York City and Sydney are enormous and one neighborhood can have vastly different attributes from another. Ideally, it’d be great to be able to compare by postal code or neighborhood.

Humuch  http://www.humuch.com
This website makes you login with Facebook or Google or sign up with your email in order to use, which I dislike. It does let you be more granular than Expatistan and Numbeo — for example, even though I live in Sydney I technically live in a suburb called Bondi. Humuch made it possible to look up the cost of living suburb by suburb. I liked the potential of this feature, but unfortunately they didn’t have any data for Bondi so it wasn’t much use. Their city comparisons weren’t as easy to use or informative as the other two sites. You can, however, ask for price information if you can’t find it on the site, so if you have a specific thing you want the price for this site may help.

Whichever site helps you the most, it’s important that you properly understand what life is going to cost so you can plan accordingly.
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Expat Toolkit: 3 websites to learn a new language

Adam Vagley @goodmigrations

Tools to help you learn a new language
I was lucky: I moved to a country where everyone speaks the same language I do. Granted, some of the slang in Australia is decidedly foreign to me. It was a huge relief walking off the plane for the first time and being able to communicate with people around me, to find out where services were, or where I could find a good restaurant.
Not everyone is so lucky though. Whenever I come across articles on expats adjusting to their new home country, time and again the ability to speak the native language seems to make or break the expat experience. While sitting down face-to-face with a native speaker may be the best way to learn, there are plenty of websites out there to help you learn a new language. In this post, I’ll review three website that will help you learn a new language.

Duolingo http://duolingo.com
Duolingo is a completely free language-learning service. Right now English-speakers can only learn Spanish, German, French, and Portguese. And Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese speakers can only learn English. I took it for a test drive, practicing Spanish (which I studied for five years but haven’t used in about ten so you can guess my skill level). It starts with the basics and builds from there — showing the word (and including an image if the word is a noun), asking you to pronounce the word, and asking you to write the word. From there you move on to basic sentences. It’s got some very cool voice recognition software to test your pronunciation. If you think you know your stuff you can skip ahead by passing a test at each level.

I found it to be intuitive to use and slightly addictive. It makes you want to keep going, which is definitely critical when learning a language. At each level you get a score. Eventually, you can try your hand at translating real text. You can ask questions to the community, look up vocabulary you’ve been taught in case you need to refresh your memory, and follow other site members — be they Facebook friends or just other people studying the same language. It broke everything down into bite-sized chunks that I found very accessible. It also sends you a daily reminder email, which is a great way to keep you on track.

Rosetta Stone Rosettastone.com 
Livemocha has a wide range of languages: in addition to the usual suspects like English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian, they offer everything from Hindi to Hebrew to Arabic to Urdu. Some languages only have a basic level course meant to teach you vocabulary and simple grammar. Others have advanced level courses meant to give you conversational fluency.

When you get started you can indicate whether you want to become proficient in the language or are just dabbling, whether you need to learn urgently or are have a more long term horizon, and whether you prefer learning through conversation or study alone. Livemocha offers lessons in different formats: video dialog, grammar lessons, vocabulary lessons, reading, and role play. You can also arrange for a personal tutor through the site.

You start off with 200 “tokens” which are spent on various lessons. You can also earn more tokens by helping others learn your native language. Otherwise you can purchase a month-by-month membership for $9.95 a month or an annual membership for $99.95 a year.

Brainscape http://www.brainscape.com
Brainscape is not just about learning languages — they have courses on test preparation, music theory, sports trivia, and technology, among other things. Among the available languages, they offer Chinese, English, French, French Creole, German, Latin, and Spanish. Spanish, as an example, has four products: a sentence builder, Spanish vocabulary, Spanish verbs, and Business Spanish for those who already know the basics. With the exception of the Business Spanish module, which is free, the others cost either $5.99 or $7.99.

Brainscape uses a flashcard model based on the research of how the brain actually learns. I tried out the Spanish language course. The flip card style of learning took a little getting used to, but I liked it once I got more comfortable with it. Your rate on a scale of 1-5 how well you knew a certain flashcard, and this determines how often Brainscape shows it to you. Brainscape lets you trial each lesson for free so you can check it out and decide for yourself.

Rocket Languages https://www.rocketlanguages.com/
An online and app-based language course designed to get you using your new language quickly and correctly. Through this program, you will learn to read, write, and speak the new language of your choosing. They have a free trial period so there is no risk. They also offer a discount code for serious students. 

One of these programs may suit you better than the others depending on your learning style. Perhaps you could combine the tools for optimal learning. I remember being able to read and write Spanish fairly well when I was in school, but having trouble keeping up when it was spoken. So maybe Duolingo would be a good way to refresh my skills before moving on to one-on-one tutored lessons with LiveMocha, for example, and polishing up my business Spanish with Brainscape. The cost of each is low enough that you could certainly utilize all three.
Happy learning! Adios 🙂

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Expat Toolkit: Ways to discover your new city

Adam Vagley @goodmigrations

4 websites that will help you discover your city- GoodMigrations
Moving to a new city, let alone a new country, can be extremely disorienting. New culture, new neighborhoods, new street names, new restaurants. Whenever I move somewhere new, I like to go for long runs exploring the area. It helps me get a feel for the different areas and mentally map where things are and how to get there. I find there’s nothing like occasionally getting lost to really learn your way around.

Besides walking around and getting lost, how do you get your bearings in a new place? How do you figure out what restaurants, museums, and activities are worth your time and money? Tips from friends and colleagues are great and there’s a lot to be said for exploration. There are also some really useful apps and websites out there to help you discover. Here’s the rundown on four of my favorites:

Lonely Planet apps – http://www.lonelyplanet.com/apps-and-ebooks
Lonely Planet has dozens of city specific guides on the App Store available for purchase. Technically, they’re travel apps, but expats can benefit from them as well. Like the guide books, the apps include substantial background information on the city, tips on getting around, and maps of public transportation routes. You can also look up a dizzying array of sights, shops, restaurants, activities, and entertainment and filter the results by neighborhood, cost, or just by what’s nearby. It also offers up day trip options so you can explore the city’s surrounds.

Yelp – http://www.yelp.com/
Even though I’ve argued that Yelp doesn’t do a very good job when it comes to international moving, it’s still a great resource when it comes to finding all sorts of other businesses, from doctors and electricians, to trainers and salons. I’d be hard pressed to find a city not listed on Yelp. While not fool proof, their filters do a relatively good job of keeping out spam reviews that plague so many review sites.

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/
Many of us are visual so whats a better way to see all a city or neighborhood has to offer than through pictures? Check out the Instagram app and search for the city or neighborhood that you plan to visit. You can find great food and fun activities that others are loving.

In this digital world, we are all uber-connected and have vast social and professional networks at the tip of our fingers. Why not take advantage of it. Use your social network on Facebook, Linkedin, Foursquare, and Twitter to ask for recommendations in a particular city. Your network will be able to tell you what the city is like and provide great suggestions on restaurants and activities. 

What other resources have you found useful in your new city? Post them in the comments so others can benefit.

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Expat Toolkit: 5 tools for making new friends

Adam Vagley @goodmigrations

Tools for making friendsMoving to a new country can be overwhelming. To help you hit the ground running, we’re starting a blog series called the “Expat Toolkit”. Each post will focus on an aspect of expat life and recommend a number of resources to help.

Our inaugural post touches on something high up the list for everyone: meeting new people and making friends. You’ll want to quickly build up a network of friends to help you settle in and minimize homesickness. Besides meeting people through work or “friends of friends”, here are 5 tools that will help you make friends.

1) InterNations internations.org
Internations is a social networking site for expats in over 300 countries. You have to request an invite but as long as you indicate you’re an expat, or hope to be one someday, they’ll let you in the club. The big plus is that they host monthly events in dozens of cities around the world, so instead of just connecting with people online, you can actually meet them in person. The events have a “no person stands alone” policy, so even if you don’t know anyone else it won’t take long to start chatting with people. I’ve been to events in Sydney and it really is a vibrant, diverse community.

2) Meetup meetup.com
Meetup is the online home for real life groups (Meetup, feel free to use this as your tagline). Whatever your interests, chances are you can find a group based on that interest in your new city. Groups have in-person “meetups” with varying frequency — some have very active calendars while others don’t. If you’re homesick, you can probably find an expat group from your home country. Here in Sydney there’s a big American expat group that always hosts events for all the American holidays (sports holidays included). And if you don’t find what you need, you can always start a group of your own.

3) LinkedIn Groups linkedin.com
Most LinkedIn groups are focused on certain professions or skills, but some are more socially- and culturally-oriented and are specific to regions and cities. For instance, there’s a Hong Kong Expats group, a Singapore Expats group, etc.  The group forums are great places to ask questions before your move.

4) Expat Forums
There are literally hundreds of expat forums and the members are generally helpful — after all, they’ve been through the same emotions and challenges you’re dealing with. Just google the term “expat forum” and your country name and you’ll find a bunch. There are also a few big ones that serve many countries: Expat Forum, Expat Blog, and Expat Exchange.

5) Alumni Associations
If you attended a university and are living in a big city, there may be an alumni association in town. The bigger the school, the better your odds are. You can contact your school’s alumni office to find out if one exists, and if there isn’t a group but there are alums in the area, perhaps they can help you start one.

Whether you use one or all of these tools, you’ll soon be singing, “Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy, but here’s my number….”. Only in this case, instead of resulting in teenage love, you’ll end up with new friends.

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