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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 on par with NYC, but when I arrived on the ground 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 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. The one area where Expatistan shows New York being (much) more expensive is for housing — and again this is accurate based on my personal experience in both cities.
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.
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.
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, and it does make 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 idea because if you don’t stick with it you won’t learn.
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 while others also 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 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 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 did like it once I became comfortable with it. You rate on a scale of 1-5 how well you knew a certain flash card, 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.