Frequently Asked Questions
- How do you find the prices?
- Some of the prices are wrong. Will you fix them?
- How do you know that the prices entered are correct?
- Do prices listed include tax?
- Why do you have multiple exchange rates available for some currencies (for example Argentine Pesos)?
- Can you add my city to your index?
- It doesn't make sense to ask for the price of XYZ in my country. Will you change it to ZYX?
- Why don't you add cities' average salaries too? Some cities seem cheap until you consider their average salaries.
- How come the percentage can be so different depending on which city you name first? Example: living in Berlin is 44% cheaper than in London, but living in London is 78% more expensive than in Berlin. Should the percentage not be the same in both cases?
- Why don't you have education costs included in the comparisons?
- And what about health care costs?
- Do you have a printable form I can take with me when I am out as a reminder to collect prices?
1. How do you find the prices?
Short answer: I don't. You do.
Expatistan is a collaborative effort. Prices are added and improved by users of the website, just like you. Think of it as a Wikipedia for prices. At the moment, there are around 2,544,000 prices entered by 287,000 users in 2,296 different cities.Go back to the index of questions
2. Some of the prices are wrong. Will you fix them?
Well, you can fix them yourself. And entering the correct prices online is probably easier, faster and less boring than having to type and send an email with a long list of prices in it.Go back to the index of questions
3. How do you know that the prices entered are correct?
By relying on the power of big numbers and collective wisdom. If you ask one person what the price of beer in New York is, he may be wrong — he may even be wrong by a long shot. But if you ask 150 people, and you average their answers (in a clever way), then there's a very good chance that the answer will be pretty accurate.
Anyway, whenever there is not enough data for a city, or if the application suspects that the data is incorrect in any way, there will be a warning on the page prominently alerting you to that.Go back to the index of questions
4. Do prices listed include tax?
The prices in our database include taxes paid at purchase time (VAT, Sales Tax, etc). We request our contributors to enter the prices just as they would be paid at the counter, includes any taxes, levies or fees.
Currently we do not take into account other kinds of taxes, such as income taxes, property taxes, etc.Go back to the index of questions
5. Why do you have multiple exchange rates available for some currencies (for example Argentine Pesos)?
Some currencies have artificial and unrealistic official exchange rates, often including strict control over access to foreign currencies. In these cases, a parallel street exchange rate develops, and most of the population try to get access to foreign currency at this parallel street rate.
For currencies with these limitations (for example the Argentine Peso, the Venezuelan Bolivar, or the Iranian Rial) we allow you to choose the exchange rate that makes more sense in your case, the parallel street rate or the official one. By letting you use the exchange rate that you will have access to, we hope to better represent the real cost of living for your situation.
6. Can you add my city to your index?
Probably, but you will have to ask.
I started by adding the 850 largest cities in the world to minimize the price entry dispersion. (I had to make the cut somewhere.) The smaller the city, the more likely that only a small number of people would enter prices for it, and thus the less likely that the index would be able to generate an accurate score.
Of course, there are exceptions. Some smaller cities are very popular with expats, or otherwise worth inclusion on the list. Zürich, for example, has a population of only 350,000, but since it is an important city for international business, it has quite a large expat community.
If you think your city is similar, please let me know about it (using the contact form at the bottom of the page). I will usually add it to the database.Go back to the index of questions
7. It doesn't make sense to ask for the price of XYZ in my country. Will you change it to ZYX?
I know this is a problem. Some items are unavailable or so uncommon in certain cities and countries that entering prices for them is impossible or illogical. I have done my best to create a list of items that are as close to universally available as any in the world — but that's not easy, and the list isn't perfect. For example, I know that diesel is not the most common type of fuel in the U.S., but it is in most other parts of the world. So asking for fuel prices in diesel is the most accurate way to represent gas prices in the majority of cities on the index. It may be easier to ask for the price of gas in U.S. cities and of diesel in Europe and Asia. But to generate the most accurate comparisons, I need to compare apples to apples, and so the items on the list must be the same everywhere.
In some cases, though, entering the price of an equivalent item may be OK. For example, I've been told that there's not such a thing as 'local cheese' in the U.S. In that case, it is fine to enter the price of the most commonly available cheese there. Another example is in Australia, where beer is not sold in supermarkets. In the case of Australian cities, then, entering the price of beer in local bottle shops is fine — in fact, it's preferable, since it's the only thing to do.Go back to the index of questions
8. Why don't you add cities' average salaries too? Some cities seem cheap until you consider their average salaries.
Reason 1: The purpose of Expatistan's cost-of-living index is not to find the cheapest city to live in. Rather, one of its main purposes is to allow users to know, while considering a move to a different city, how much money they will need there. Many expats become expats when offered transfers by their companies or a new job in a new company. They will have to figure out new salaries with their current or future employers, and the average salary in their home-to-be is not nearly as relevant to their future life (or salary negotiations) as the cost of living in that city. Expatistan is a tool that can be used to "translate" a known salary, in a city with a known cost of living, into the salary that will allow a similar standard of living in a new city, with costs as yet unknown. The same idea applies for people moving or thinking of moving without a contract from an employer. Someone with savings, or with prospects to freelance, in a new city will need to know how much it will cost to live there, but not how much other people in that city earn. These two types of people are not Expatistan's only users (far from it), but they are probably the users who will find the index most immediately helpful.
Reason 2: To a person in a given field, average salary across all residents of a city (or the median salary, or any other statistical measurement) is not helpful to her understanding of her own salary, or the salary she would need to live in that city. An average salary that takes all of a city's jobs into account is not helpful to one person with one profession, whether she is a manager, a pilot, a freelancer, a part-time teacher, a babysitter, a programmer, an architect, or anything else. But Expatistan is about specific cities, not about specific professions, so this is information my index can't help with. But luckily...
Reason 3: There are many other web pages that are devoted only to recording average salaries in cities, by industry, by level of experience, and more. Expatistan's index is focused on prices, and only on prices. By focusing only on one thing, I have a better chance of getting it right.Go back to the index of questions
9. How come the percentage can be so different depending on which city you name first.
For example: living in Berlin is 44% cheaper than in London, but living in London is 78% more expensive than in Berlin.
Should the percentage not be the same in both cases?
The percentages are not the same because it depends from the point of view of the city being compared. It is not the same to say that Berlin is X% cheaper than London than to say that London is X% more expensive than Berlin.
Consider this example:
Let's say that living in London costs 100 units (I use units to make an example, it could be any amount in any currency).
Then if Berlin is 44% less expensive than London, cost of living in Berlin would be 56 units, because 100 - 44% = 56.
At the same time, London (100 units) is 78% more expensive than Berlin (56 units). London is 44 units more expensive than Berlin. And 44 units is actually 78% of 56 units (with rounding). Then we have that 56 + 78% = 100.
In other words, a 44 unit difference is only 44% from the point of view of 100 units, but it is 78% from the point of view of 56 units. Depending on where you are starting, the same absolute amount looks like a different relative amount.Go back to the index of questions
10. Why don't you have education costs included in the comparisons?
The main reason is that it is very complicated to factor education costs for expats in a neutral and comparable way.
In many parts of the world public (or heavily subsidised) high-quality and bilingual education is the norm, and expats make use of the free public school system. In other parts, private or semi-private education of very different standards and prices are the most usual choice for expats. Yet in other parts of the world both free public education and private education co-exist as common choices for expat families, especially in English speaking countries.
This variability makes it very difficult to get a comparable standard price for education across cities and countries.
We chose not to include in our crowdsourced dataset categories with these problems, like educationand health care, rather than making a poor comparison that would be misleading. In the meantime, we are always thinking of ways on how to include these categories in our comparisons.Go back to the index of questions
11. And what about health care costs?
Just as it happens with education costs, it is extremely complicated to get a meaningful and comparable price for health care that works across all the cities and countries of the World.
The price, access level, and quality of health care available to expats change significantly from country to country, and even from city to city.
In some some places health care is provided by the government and financed via employer contributiones, or employee contributions, or direct taxes, or a mix of these. In some other places you will need to purchase insurance that can be paid as a % of your salary, as a fixed cost, as a premium + variable, etc. Yet in other places it depends on your kind of employment, your demographic group, family circumstances, whether you are self employed, or employed by a small firm, or by a large firm, etc.
To add more complications, in some places a basic level of health care will be provided for free, but extra procedures or better quality care can be purchased, again in a multitude of different ways.
This variability makes it very difficult to get a comparable standard price for health care across cities, countries and expats.
We chose not to include in our crowdsourced dataset categories with these problems, like health care and education, rather than making a poor comparison that would be misleading. In the meantime, we are always thinking of ways on how to include these categories in our comparisons.Go back to the index of questions
12. Do you have a printable form I can take with me when I am out as a reminder to collect prices?
Yes. You can find it on this page.Go back to the index of questions