United Kingdom Expat Forum - Cost of Living US vs UK

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afrizat
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From: United States
12/10/2006 22:11    
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I currently live in the San Francisco Bay Area, in CA.

I have been offered a job in the UK by my company, and I am trying to understand the cost of living there.

Our company will be based in Reading.

They have offered me so far a 20% bump in salary (imagine $120K vs $100K). Is that fair? Given my European Union origines, I will be considered a local resident when I get there.

Any help would be appreciated.

chicken813
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From: United Kingdom
12/11/2006 13:20    
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We have lived in the UK (moved from US) for 7 years - 6 of those as "expats" paid in US dollars with an additional Cost of Living Adjustment tied to a "market basket of goods" - and no, 20% will not cut it at all! If you're paid in US dollars, right now it takes basically $2 to buy one Pound - and the "numbers" in the prices are the same (if something costs one dollar in the US, it's one pound here)...so things are basically twice as much if you're converting dollars to pounds. Even with a monthly Cost of Living Allowance to help "compensate" - it still really didn't make up the difference, at least for us. Additionally, the UK is just more expensive than the rest of Europe. Is your company paying your housing? Do you have kids? If so are they footing the school fees? Rents are very high, especially around the London area because of so many expats, and private schools are very expensive too (we decided to stay in the UK as we are now "permanent residents" after my husband left his US company last year - and our daughter's school fees - that his company had paid up until then - were about $36,000 for her last year of high school). Do we love living here? YES! Is it expensive? Yes! Make sure you negotiate the very best deal possible - and WAY more than a 20% increase! You'll also want to consult an international account to look at the tax implications, as well as have your company pay for an international accounting firm to do your US and UK taxes - it's complicated. Hope that helps a bit.

FlyWriter
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From: United Kingdom
12/11/2006 20:06    
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Hi Afrizat,

I'm also from the Bay Area and I've been living near Reading for a year.

Bad news, check the dollar-to-pound exchange rate...20% more dollars in your pocket isn't even going to come close covering your increased cost of living in the UK. If you're earning dollars and spending pounds, you're getting pounded.

Rather than more salary, try asking your employer to pick up some of your expenses (housing, car, et. al.) as benefits. That might work out better for you, and them, in many ways.

I'm back in the Bay Area right now, so if you want to talk directly about UK costs, let me know at Alves911@aol.com

Cheers!

Nylon
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From: United States
12/11/2006 23:09    
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The UK in general and the South East area in particular (of which Reading is a part) are very expensive. We have offices in both the US & UK and are advisors to persons who make this move. We always advise our clients that compute what you needd for living expenses in $ and then allow that amount in £ for a comparable standard of living. Thus your employer is not being generous.

In addition, depending upon your circumstances, you could be paying the fuill UK income tax rate which is 40% on an income in excess of (approx) $70,000. Even in CA, the comparative rate would be about 30%.

Hope this helps. If you need to discuss matters, you e-mail me on C69Tax@AOL.Com.

pallega
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From: United Kingdom
12/12/2006 04:35    
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Are they paying you in GBP or USD?
If USD, what will you do if the exchange rate jumps to 3 dollars to buy a pound?
Will you be on an expat package or not?
Are you a US citizen as well?
What are they doing to help you regarding:
- Housing?
- Taxes?
- Moving?
- Transportation?

Do you have:
- Pets?
- Kids?
- Spouse?

Are you debt free in the US?

What does it cost you to "live" in the US?
What do you pay for today (e.g., holidays, nights out, nights in, gas, electricity, phones, broadband, property taxes)?
Do you own a home in SFO?
Will you keep it?
Who will make the payments?
Will you rent it?
Will you store your goods in the US or move them to the UK?

Do you expect your company to move you back?
Or, are you moving to the UK for good?

How bad do they want you to do this job?
What is the job?
Is the only value they've assigned to this role a COLA?

20%? Sounds like someone picked a number from a list on the floor and wants to see if you'll take it. Every relocation situation is unique. You need to take a look at your near-term, short-term and long-term needs and come back to negotiate. This is just a simple list of questions that you need to seriously consider before jumping on this offer.

Joebabe
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From: France
12/12/2006 05:14    
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You're lucky to be evaluating between one of the Top 10 most expensive places to live, and THE most expensive place on the planet. The shock will be muted.

Having moved to Paris from SF myself, I know a bit about the price of living there and here. Before leaving, Salary.com calculated that Paris would be about 70% the cost of living in SF, and I've found that to be pretty accurate. However, every time I travel to the UK I'm amazed how much everything costs, even simple everyday stuff like a cup of coffee or a train ticket, things you can't do without.

A 20% raise sounds a little low, but it's right in the ballpark. You should consider other figures, too, such as taxation & insurance which could be better or worse than your current situation, and medical and paid vacation (20+days) which should be significantly better than the average in SF. Expect your housing to be much much smaller, damp, and squeezed together with your neighbors.

As far as the commute, Reading is well served by trains from London and it's a transfer station on many lines coming from out in the counties, check out http://nationalrail.co.uk/ It's like San Mateo or Pleasant Hill to SF.

If I were you, I'd try to negotiate a little bit, mostly on help with housing. But even if they don't budge, I'd take it. It'll be a great experience, with little difficulties.

pallega
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From: United Kingdom
12/12/2006 18:04    
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A nice reply from Joenbabe and puts some things in perspective. If we've sounded harsh, apologies all around. If we were working in Reading, we'd consider someplace unique like Bath to live in and commute from. Takes the pain out of some of the costs and well fun as well. Not London, but not everything in England has to be about London.

pallega
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From: United Kingdom
12/12/2006 18:09    
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We make 57% more than if we lived in the US. This accounts for various non-taxable expenses (e.g., COLA & exchange rate differentials). Can't say that this is the norm, but it's one point of consideration. If you go for COLA and peg your US salary to a particular exchange rate it can work. In our original package this would have worked to about a 40% increase. Unfortunately, the US dollar has tanked since that time. Consequently, although the increase sounds high we are at parity from the time of our original move.

afrizat
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From: United States
12/13/2006 00:12    
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My contract will be in pounds, so the dollar exchange rate will not affect me.

My son is 2 years old, so no worries there either.

20% increase + 500 pound car allowance.

Again your frank opinion is appreciated.

Cheers,

afrizat
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From: United States
12/13/2006 00:20    
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BTW, thanks for takiing the time to help out.

afrizat
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From: United States
12/13/2006 00:27    
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Thanks for taking the time to work with me on this.

Here is a bit more of my situation:
-20% increase in salary
-500 pound car allowance
- contract negociated directly in pounds
- Wife + 2 year old moving with me
- Moving everything over, paid by company
-selling our house
- will stay at least 2 to 3 years, forever if we want
- both a US and european citizen (french).

the increase is more like 30%, I low balled it to see how people would react.

What are you thoughts now?

Thanks,

pallega
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From: United Kingdom
12/19/2006 19:24    
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65 thousand pounds? Hmmm...don't think much of it at the moment. You'll be paying UK tax rates. Not sure what you do, but have you priced your role against UK salaries. Certainly, many are low, but many aren't and you should know the market. Then again, if you wanted this move then you should take it and find a more reasonably paying position after you arrive.

We've been here for a few years and have discovered that the pound conversion to the same job is the same number, but with a different currency symbol in front of it. Would that have made a difference at the beginning of our negotiations? Yes. Does that make a difference today? Yes. And, we take full advantage of that reality today.

If you're a sanitation engineer, you've made out (well, some councils pay more). If you're an executive in a business, you look a bit like someone who has had their pants removed but hasn't noticed it yet.

Work out tax rates and equivalent pay grades for people in your position here, the amount of monies needed to make the transition in the economy, a look at the recent 3-6 months of posts on relocation packages and then come back and tell us if you think your deal beats what others are getting...

lostinspace
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From: France
12/21/2006 08:32    
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I just wanted to clarify one thing. It isn't because you are a citizen of the EU that you will be considered a local resident. I am an American citizen who got hired by a UK branch of my US company. I was a local hire with a UK contract. By virtue of my work permit and my local contract (and of course, actually moving to the UK), I was a local resident.

Be careful about moving everything over. Some things are worth moving and some things are not. Since generally things are more expensive over there, you do want to keep most things because the cost of replacing them would be a lot more expensive over there. If I were to do it all over again, I wouldn't have moved my furniture because they were just too big to get in the door. I still have my queen-sized bed that I moved over, but I never bought a frame for it and now I can't since it's not a standard size here (which means that I only by sheets in the US). Electronic clocks are worthless. My paper towel holder was worthless since the rolls are shorter here.

ok, I know I'm digressing.

uktx
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From: United States
1/2/2007 13:38    
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Hello! My husband has been offered a job in London. We are very confused about what to do. In the US he makes about 300k a year. The London offer is about 115pounds per year. They will pay for moving expenses and give us a 450pound per week for housing. This is what they are offering now after we declined their first offer of 80punds per year and 400 for housing per week. Even with the new offer and the housing allowance its still less than what he makes now and London is very expensive. We would have to sell our house or rent it out. We would sell our cars because we would like to live in Chelsea in London. we dont have any kids but we do have an English Bulldog. Which is another issue- moving a pet is quite difficul to move overseas. Also I would lose my salary in the US of about 50k per year. We really want the experience of living in London but we would like to have at least the same income as the US. Is that too much to ask? My husband earns what most people in his position make in the US...so it must be the same in London. We also dont understand Expat Taxes. He would be going over on an Expat package. Any advice would be very helpful!!!

uktx
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From: United States
1/2/2007 13:47    
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Hello! My husband has been offered a job in London. We are very confused about what to do. In the US he makes about 300k a year. The London offer is about 115pounds per year. They will pay for moving expenses and give us a 450pound per week for housing. This is what they are offering now after we declined their first offer of 80punds per year and 400 for housing per week. Even with the new offer and the housing allowance its still less than what he makes now and London is very expensive. We would have to sell our house or rent it out. We would sell our cars because we would like to live in Chelsea in London. we dont have any kids but we do have an English Bulldog. Which is another issue- moving a pet is quite difficul to move overseas. Also I would lose my salary in the US of about 50k per year. We really want the experience of living in London but we would like to have at least the same income as the US. Is that too much to ask? My husband earns what most people in his position make in the US...so it must be the same in London. We also dont understand Expat Taxes. He would be going over on an Expat package. Any advice would be very helpful!!!

pediwent
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From: United States
1/26/2007 09:02    
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It is very hard to believe that a $300k salary in the US will equate to a £115k salary in the UK. Usually, you convert the salary based on the exchange rate (so £150k) and then add a healthy amount on to it (like 50% or more). That would put your husband in the £225k+ range. Also, for a modest flat in Chelsea (a very expensive neighborhood), you're talking at least £600/week realistically. Maybe even more with the dog. A good site for rental hunting is primelocation.com, which aggregates the listings from many of the letting agents over here.

You hear others talk about the 2x more expensive factor, and I can validate that it's mostly true. Certainly true for eating out (I had Chinese takeout the other day that was £30 for two people). Groceries and clothes average about 50% more.

funkymonkey
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From: United Kingdom
2/4/2007 17:04    
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Hi tx.
I live in England but not London and worked around central London in the mid 1990's.
I think that the salary of £115.000 U.K pounds will be enough.It is only a very rough guide but if you were a U.K resident you would come away with around 70- 75£K after tax e.t.c at 40%
If your husbands company give you a housing allowance even if you paid a little towards it could still live well.
It's all about what your used to. Chelsea and Kensington are expensive and be prepared for a downsize in property size. You can get by easily in London without a car as it takes forever to get anywhere (just hire one for trips away).For 2 people you would be living very,very well on £120.00 at the supermarket.
Good luck with whatever you decide.

funkymonkey
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From: United Kingdom
2/4/2007 17:04    
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Hi tx.
I live in England but not London and worked around central London in the mid 1990's.
I think that the salary of £115.000 U.K pounds will be enough.It is only a very rough guide but if you were a U.K resident you would come away with around 70- 75£K after tax e.t.c at 40%
If your husbands company give you a housing allowance even if you paid a little towards it could still live well.
It's all about what your used to. Chelsea and Kensington are expensive and be prepared for a downsize in property size. You can get by easily in London without a car as it takes forever to get anywhere (just hire one for trips away).For 2 people you would be living very,very well on £120.00 at the supermarket.
Good luck with whatever you decide.

pallega
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From: United Kingdom
2/5/2007 06:25    
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Although the monies are fine, the offer was not. To exchange 300 USD for 115 GBP in an expat deal is not the norm and will result in less net income for these folks. Even though 115 is a good salary, it's a drop in this case.

Katnbuck
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From: United States
3/26/2007 10:37    
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My husband has just been offered a position in the UK, and the housing allowance is 650 pounds per week. I am unable to locate any information as to what this will provide in London; however, all the flats I've found online that appear to be livable are morel like a thousand pounds a week. Do you have any information that would help us evaluate the adequacy of this allowance?

pallega
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From: United Kingdom
3/26/2007 22:52    
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2817 pounds a month is a lot of money. If you can't find a place that matches your expectations, may we suggest that you reset your expectations. We pay about 65% less than the monies you are being allocated and have a very nice semi-detached in South London across from a beautiful park.

Where are you looking? If it's only South Kensington, you may be challenged. London is gigantic. It's amazingly packed as well. Houston is 636 square miles and London is 609 square miles. In the metro area of Houston there are 5.5 million people. London? 12-14 million people in the metro area (for those of you wondering, metro area includes the commuter areas such as the home counties). Greater London has 7.5 million people and City of Houston 2 million. There's much more diversity and a higher density of people and housing here. You're not going to find a 3,000 square foot home on a 1/4 acre in the centre of London for the kind of money you've been allocated. That said, start broadening your selection area.

In a recent post to another person we discussed flat hunting in TW9 (a beautiful area, btw). The reprint here is designed to share some of our insights and learnngs when we moved from a 3800 square foot home in the States to something closer in approximation to 1400 square feet (a complete guess on our part as square footage is only done at the time of a house sale and our house has had the same owners since the 1920s).

Okay, here's the reprint:

As far as flat hunting goes, double glazed windows are important. It keeps the cold out. Yes, things are older but that doesn't mean BAD here. Our 80 year old place is rock solid. In fact the walls are 2 feet thick of concrete in most of the house! Look for recent upgrades (flooring, for example), check on the condition/age of the boiler, ask the previous residents for their current utility bills (higher may mean that there's a lot of drafts and a lack of insulation that will increase heating costs), look at the age/condition of the cooker (stove/oven) as well. Don't expect washer/dryer/dishwasher as a god-given right. Also, be ready to downsize the fridge and freezer (and feel good about it). What we thought wouldn't be large enough to fit a days worth of food turns out to hold plenty of food for a week and reminded us of how much junk we used to leave in the fridge when we were in the states (old condiments, a case of beer, a case of pop) that you won't have room for here.

Speaking of room - storage! If there's one thing that may make or break your final housing selection, it's storage. Don't expect closets everywhere (you'll have to buy your own wardrobe), but look at all the nooks and crannies for storing things. Dog food, pram, jackets and wrapping paper under the stairs at our place. A small garage at the back of our garden is perfect for our bicycles, christmas tree and a few boxes of books and momentos (that we should probably toss, but haven't quite got around to it). Another built-in wardrobe on the 1st floor (that's 2nd floor in the US) finds some extra clothes and place to hold luggage and hats. But, that's us. You, too, must have lots of little items like that you'll have to store. So, keep an eye out for that sort of thing.

Killer snakes, squirrels in the attic, cockroaches, wasps, scorpions, termites? Things you won't have to worry about in England. All those irritating bugs you have in Georgia will be quickly forgotten here. You'll see a few spiders, but none of them killers, and none so dangerous to your domicile that you'll need pest control. There are rats, but you needn't worry - you'll most likely not be sharing their house (okay, now, someone share their killer English rat story please!).

As you would with any new place, consider what of your you have today will fit. The place will be considerably smaller to what you most likely have today. We used the move as an opportunity to downsize considerably. We sold and donated all of the extra "stuff" we'd collected over the years (extra sofas, a guest bedroom rarely used, a living and dining room rarely used but often dusted). We brought 1 sofa, 2 family room chairs, 1 coffee table, 1 bed, 2 end tables, 4 shelves, 2 desks, 2 office chairs, our clothes and books and pictures. We bought, on the other side of our move, new tv's, a new stereo, 1 bed, 4 wardrobes & 2 bicycles.

Think small. Now, half whatever you're thinking about. If you're incredibly wealthy, ignore our advice. Otherwise, be prepared for small. We looked around your TW9 area and found a 1550/month cottage within walking distance of Richmond centre with a small patio garden at the back. Two doubles and one single bedroom/study, bathroom with over bath shower. Sitting room, dining area, fully fitted kitchen with all appliances.

For a wee bit more, a Georgian townhouse at 2100/month has three double bedrooms, one family and one en suite bathroom, two reception rooms, a large kitchen/breakfast room leading to a wonderful secluded rear garden located in the centre of Richmond. The same as our place except for the extra bathroom (& twice as much money).

That leads to our last point - toilets. An extra toilet or ensuite (that's bath/shower/toilet) will definitely cost. It's a trade-off over location and other amenities sometimes. As you start getting towards the 3000 pounds per month you don't have to worry about this so much (for example, look at the Birchgrove House flats with 3 BDR, 3 ensuite baths, kitchen, reception room, balconies overlooking the Thames and minutes from Kew Gardens and the tube). At that point, however, you're in house renting territory and you'll find some amazing interiors inside some very "old" locations (see http://www.primelocation.com/uk-property-to-rent/details/id/FLnh999000332/). We like the fact that it's furnished as well, but it's 3 times more than what we pay today and we can do a lot of holidays with that extra money!

Again, it's all about trade-offs. But, don't worry so much about the age of the buildings. A little bit of hunting and you're sure to find the one that you'll like (even if it does have pub carpet in the front room because the landlord hadn't got round to extending the wood floors yet).

Lastly, get a relocation company to help you. A lot of the places you see online should give a sense of what's on offer, but what's on offer the days you are househunting will be different. Rather than you finding the estate agents and sorting out the visits, see if your company will spring for a relocation to help. They'll not only bring you round to a number of properties on offer but help you sort through the legal stuff, get the utilities transferred to your name, sort out the credit issues (remember, you have zero credit history in the UK) and help you get moved in. This isn't the US where you show up, write a cheque and sign a contract and get the keys in an hour. It can take 6 weeks or more and, in the meantime, you can still get gazumped (look up this word) at the last minute by someone offering a tad more than you and then you're stuck without a property just before your supposed move-in date. Relocation companies help sort out such issues and can alleviate such issues.

We hope that this helps you out. If you want our place, we'd love to have your 650 pounds per week. We've crammed 2 dogs and a baby into our place and wouldn't mind stretching out (so to speak). There's much more on offer here than you know.

Please share more information concerning your situation (dogs, kids, etc.) and your desires (penthouse, farm, etc.) so that the others here can help point you in a few directions.

Cheers!

pallega
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From: United Kingdom
3/26/2007 23:33    
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Also, Katnbuck, you may want to post this as it's own entry rather than a reply to one entitled "Cost of Living US vs UK". You may get better responses than just ours...

Liam1
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From: United States
3/29/2007 16:49    
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Guys,
I currently earn 130kUS after Tax in the US..and currently negotiating a salary for a job in London. The current offer is 110k GBP after tax, and I was wondering with this amount of money, what is the standard of life that I would look forward to?
I'm just worried that the life that I'm currently used to would be downsized severely due to the exchange rate.

ahooper
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From: United Kingdom
3/30/2007 09:31    
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Hi,

I will let one of the existng Ex-pats answer your question in detail, but on the face of it you are getting a 60% increase on a like for like basis, which should be close but maybe not quite enough.

Two important things to consider:
1. Where do you plan to live, your job is in London, but there is a big difference in the cost of living (rent) in London versus the suburbs.

2. How did your employer calculate the after tax pay? This is really important, you will have a UK tax liability and its likely that your tax bill will be higher than in the US, especially if you are not tax equalized, so what may appear to be 110k after tax may not be.

Happy to help further if you wish.

Andy Hooper
USA2Europe (andy@usa2europe.com)

pallega
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From: United Kingdom
3/31/2007 00:49    
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You should post this as its own entry and look through all the recent posts on various relocation package offerings. If you're single and debt free it doesn't sound so bad, but you should consider other tax issues (e.g., State tax, equalization options, social security vs. NIC contributions, etc.).

What's the rest of your package consist of? Rental assistance? COLA? Moving there and back? Home visits? New UK electronic gear to replace your US gear? Mobile phones? Etc, etc.?

Are you married, have pets or children?

All of these things are important considerations. Please post a new entry and we'd be glad to respond.

BostonDub
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From: none
4/8/2007 09:26    
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I am currently negotiating a relo from Boston to London and am contemplating the same problems. A 20% flat bump is not going to do it. There seem to be three gold standards for calculating a COLA. They are:

- Economist Intelligence Unit
- Economic Research Institute
- Mercer HR

The first two charge for access to their data, the Mercer study is available online, at least at a high level. Mercer indexes all of the worlds major cites based on basket of goods and services. The cost in NYC is given and index of 100 and all other cities are rated against this. In 06 Boston had an index of around 76 while London was 110. That works out to a multiplier of 1.44 (if I remember my math correctly). However I would also be looking for a hopusing and transport subsidy and of course the one off costs of actually moving. I also will be asking for tax equalization and tax filing advice.

pallega
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From: United Kingdom
4/9/2007 01:58    
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Please create a new posting under a new heading.

pkhebbar
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5/1/2008 11:59    
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I have the same problem. Could you please share info?

pallega
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From: United Kingdom
5/3/2008 14:50    
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You should post this as its own entry.

All times are ET.  


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