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Valuing Quality of Life When Negotiating Your Relocation Package – Can Money Buy Happiness?
It can be exciting to receive the news that you have been offered a job abroad. In most cases, you are singled out for your outstanding contribution and you are given an excellent opportunity to advance in your career. Your family can be excited too. Living in another country, experiencing a different culture and seeing things you only know from pictures is a great opportunity for many people. Still, there are bound to be concerns.
When you uproot your daily lives and head across oceans, time zones, and cultures, the adjustment can leave you disoriented and perhaps a little disillusioned. Knowing as much as possible about what to expect in your new home will go a long way. Among the many questions you will have to answer, one of the most important is how much will everything cost?
Cost of living calculators
Comparing many everyday essentials such as a tube of toothpaste, milk, dinner out, the price of a movie or a rental car can be quite simple. There are some surprises though. In some expat destinations, certain goods and services can cost significantly more than you might expect. Taxes on things like gas, cigarettes, alcohol, and imported goods can be in place to fund government programs like health care, public transportation systems, and communications infrastructure.
For some, the word “difficulty” conjures up images of polar explorers or early settlers heading west in their covered wagons. In the world of corporate relocation, “hardship” covers a range of factors such as the availability of certain goods and services, political and social freedoms, language barriers, health care, pollution and infrastructure. Although not as dramatic as surviving in the frozen tundra, hardship factors can play a significant role in your overseas experience.
Corporate relocation packages typically attempt to provide an incentive to relocate to less desirable destinations by offering a hardship premium. Hardship can mean different things to different people and depending on what you consider a hardship, the premium your company offers you may be a nice perk or woefully short of compensating for the stress and unhappiness you will experience during your assignment.
Researching the factors you are likely to find difficult will make you better prepared to weigh the offer and address your quality of life needs before you accept.
Asia Pacific – Comparison of moving to two popular destinations
Using the Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) calculator we can compare moving from New York to two of the most popular destinations in Asia Pacific. The obtained report allows you to accurately project the required salary for the new location.
For these two case studies, we used an employee earning $100,000, married with one child, who moved from New York to Shanghai or Sydney.
Case Study #1: New York to Shanghai
With an expat community estimated at 220,000, Shanghai, China’s largest city, is a top destination for foreign workers. The booming economy has provided tremendous opportunities for companies around the world to participate in the rapid economic rise and modernization of this nation of more than 1.3 billion people.
Total Cost of Living Index +1.89% (+$1890.00)
The cost of living in Shanghai is therefore only slightly higher than NYC.
Things like taxi fares are significantly cheaper in Shanghai than in New York. The 25-mile ride from Pudong International Airport to downtown Shanghai will cost you just under $30, while the shorter 25-mile ride from JFK to Manhattan will set you back $45. If you choose the bus or subway, a one-way fare in Shanghai will cost about 45 cents, compared to $2.50 in New York.
Restaurants Meals out and hotels -14.50%
Eating out is also a great bargain, and if you’re a big foodie who enjoys variety then Shanghai might be the place for you. If you visit your favorite local noodle houses, you can pay less than $2 for a meal.
Education can be a big expense as language barriers often make it impossible to attend public school. Although many expats recommend public school for the first few years for the opportunity to gain Mandarin fluency and a unique cultural experience, the vast majority of expat children in Shanghai attend international schools. International tuition fees range from $12,000 to more than $30,000 per year.
Hardship Premium +20% (+$20,000.00)
Cultural and language differences can be a challenge for many people moving to Shanghai. Mandarin is considered one of the most difficult languages in the world to master due to its tonal nature. Each word has multiple meanings depending on the combination of tones.
Air pollution and food safety issues are also frequently cited as concerns by many expats. Restrictive government regulations in areas such as the media can also create difficulties for some people.
Case Study #2: New York to Sydney
Hardship Premium 0%
With a relaxed lifestyle, warm weather and one of the highest living standards in the world, Sydney is a favorite destination for many expats. With more than half of Australia’s largest companies based in Sydney, there is no shortage of opportunity.
Total Cost of Living Index +18.12% (+18,120.00 USD)
Although it seems to have everything going for it, Sydney also regularly ranks as one of the most expensive places to live.
In Australia, the cost of mobile phone and internet service can come as a shock to an American who is used to paying just $70 a month for unlimited nationwide calling, texting and wireless internet. Australian wireless plans typically have monthly data caps of 5-15 gigabytes with some of the highest per gigabyte overage costs of any developed country. Depending on your typical phone or internet usage, you could be paying several hundred dollars more per month.
Alcohol and tobacco +34.5%
Recreation and culture +29.17%
Restaurants Meals and hotels +25.00%
Due to its size, remote location and relatively small population (about the same number of people live on the entire continent of Australia as in Shanghai), Australia has some of the highest consumer goods and grocery prices of any developed country. In addition to the high cost of shipping imported goods, the government imposes tariffs to encourage local industries such as banana growers and car manufacturers. The flip side of the high cost of maintaining these domestic industries is that Australia remained relatively unaffected during the 2008 global economic crisis.
Apples and oranges
When looking at a possible posting abroad it is important to understand that everyone is different and what may seem like heaven on earth to one person may be intolerable to another. Access to detailed information, such as the SPPP report, will help you negotiate a well-structured benefits package for your move. Knowing what things you value most for your quality of life and what to expect when you get there will also go a long way in relieving stress.
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