How to work out the cost of living in a new city

Do you earn enough to live in the city you are moving to? I take a look at simple ways that you can try to work out a budget for your next overseas destination.

A young couple looking over their bills and paperwork
Will your monthly costs be more of less than your current ones? You don’t have to leave it all to guess work

What a tricky subject budgets are. As a writer of overseas living articles, the question of budgets is the most difficult one to answer.

“How much will my utilities be per month in Barcelona? How much will I spend on food in a month in Geneva? How much will transport costs be in Paris? Oh, and how long is that piece of string you’re holding?!”

To be honest, the only way to get a true picture of monthly budgets is to ask people who live in the location you’re interested in to share their cost-of-living figures. It’s quite an eye-opener how many people don’t know their budget details, they just pay and know that things balance out at the end of each month. But now and then I meet a real gem of a person who has all their expenses on a spread sheet… manna from heaven!

If you’re not lucky enough to find that organised and informed person, or indeed anyone who wants to share their living costs (some people just don’t want to because it is quite personal information), then you’ll need to do some digging yourself.

Here’s what I suggest you do to estimate your cost of living

Draw up a table with the main, big-ticket budget items such as: rent, mortgage; property taxes; transport; utilities (water, gas, electricity); telephone/internet; household help; entertainment (highly variable); groceries; health insurance; school fees; flights back home…

Next go online and find as many costs as you can. For example, in many countries you can see online how much internet/phone packages are. You can go to an online supermarket and do a fake shop of your usual purchases. You can find out how much movie and theatre tickets are, and most international schools have their fees published online…you get the picture.

A calculator, euro banknotes and post-it notes with monthly costs written on them
Try to cover as many of the basics as possible…get everyone involved so that you don’t miss anything critical

Where you have gaps, start asking other expats in forums and discussion groups like Angloinfo’s own ‘Discussions’. (Find your region here and then navigate to ‘Discussions’). I find it’s best to ask one question at a time, if not the answers become confused.

Another interesting and useful resource is Numbeo, “a database of user-contributed data about cities and countries” covering just about everything from pollution to cost of living. However, if you use Numbeo check when the last entry was made for the city you are interested in and how many contributors there are. Some places are not very active, so the data might be out of date or skewed by a user’s experience.

Even if you don’t get all the box filled on your table, at least you’ll have a feel for the budget that you’ll need to support or surpass the quality of living you are used to.