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This isn't really a programmer-specific question, but I'm not sure of a more appropriate place, and I think the users of this site are best able to answer the question in the context of programmers.

Relocating to the US seems fairly common in the programming industry. I live in the UK, and maybe one day, I might do it too.

So, if that day comes - how would you go about comparing job offers? Benefits are fairly easy to compare, but given the differences in cost of living, how would you go about comparing salaries and the quality of living you'll have?

In a country where the cost of living is lower, you might be able to accept a lower salary (based on exchange rate) and still have the same quality of living. But what can you do to ensure this? In some cases, you may even take a "pay rise" in terms of exchange rate, but end up far worse off.

How can you compare job offers across different countries to get an idea of the salary you would need in order to not feel you've gone "backwards"?

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closed as off topic by Glenn Nelson, Mark Trapp Nov 25 '11 at 3:32

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Don't forget about the non-monetary aspects. Moving to a different country can be awkward if you don't enjoy the local culture. For me, I was miserable working in France, I didn't adjust well to the culture; but I really enjoy life in California. –  smithco Mar 5 '11 at 18:03
That's absolutely a factor, though probably one you'd consider before applying for jobs (and probably one much harder to compare logically, or with third party information). Assuming you're happy with the job, this question is specifically aimed at comparing the package offered by an employer to your current/another offer. –  Danny Tuppeny Mar 5 '11 at 18:24
I think that any programmer job outside Venezuela is better than I can get here in Venezuela for sure. –  Felix Guerrero Sep 12 '11 at 15:26

7 Answers 7

New offer ($$$) - Living cost in US city of your choice ($$) - Taxes (:'( ) = New Savings ($)

If New Savings($) > ( Old Savings (£) + Travel Costs to/fro UK ) Then You Move

Please have a good estimate of living cost in US + currency conversion checks between $/£

EDIT: Tax and travel costs should be available online. For living costs, no matter which site or agency you go through nothing beats talking to some friend or acquaintance who's lived in those parts of the US or somewhere close enough. I think you should also let the US HR team know that you need inputs for the living costs, and they should be able to help you out.

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Don't forget taxes in that equation. When I moved from Alberta to California, I ended up with a fairly expensive surprise with the steep taxation rates in California (about an extra 10% income tax and double sales tax). –  smithco Mar 5 '11 at 17:58
@smithco: +1, edited for taxes –  Fanatic23 Mar 5 '11 at 18:08
Question is - how do you get this info? How can we figure out roughly what it'll cost for an equivalent lifestyle? I can find a lot of info online comparing living costs within cities in the same country, but not across different countries. –  Danny Tuppeny Mar 5 '11 at 18:26
@Danny Tuppeny: It's really difficult. I was moving within my country (3000km) and it was difficult enough to figure on cost of living difference. Some immigration agencies and branche of government have cost of living prices for various cities within their country - It's still pretty weak info IIRC. –  Steve Evers Mar 5 '11 at 19:10

I think there are a lot of other issues I'd consider as well, especially if you are planning on going there for the long haul. Distance from family and friends. Do you like the culture? Do you think you will fit in? If you have -or plan to have kids, is it a good place to raise them? Are the public schools any good, and what are the countrys prospects for the future. Are your kids (or yourself) at danger of being drafted for some current or future war? What about longer term prospects for opportunities and costs? Do you like the climate?

I would be willing to take a substantial hit to take home pay if some of these other answers were much better.

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There are absolutely important factors, but they're ones that you really have to make alone. Once you've made the decision to relocate, it's good to know whether you'll be able to afford all the luxuries you had in your previous country too –  Danny Tuppeny Mar 6 '11 at 11:54
Also don't forget to take any differences in your contract of employment into account. US employees, for example, usually get significantly fewer holidays than UK staff. That isn't to say you can't negotiate for extra leave, but you need to do that before accepting the offer... –  Bill Michell Oct 13 '11 at 14:46

Don't do direct exchange. Just figure out your purchasing power.

Figure out how much you need for rent, food, entertainment, gas, cellphone, whatever per month in USA, calculate that in Salary. And then compare it to what you currently have now in England.

I think this is probably more appropriate. Figure out how much a happy meal cost I guess lol or an average meal and apartment in the US city you're thinking.

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The problem is where things aren't directly comparable across countries. For example, healthcare/health insurance in the states. It's hard to know what costs might exist in the other country that don't exist in your current country. How do you go about building a good list of these? –  Danny Tuppeny Mar 6 '11 at 11:52

The most common way is comparing through the Mercer - an HR consultancy, if I recall correctly - cost of living survey.

Some lists and consultancies have quantitative data to adjust salaries when employees are relocated from country to country. I don't know if there's some data available for free - but I don't believe it.

Exchange rate and country specific measures are usually not a good indicator. You should compare city by city. By exchange rate I earn the same as an average developer in Barcelona, Spain but I live in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Country specific data like purchase power parity would say I live better than a Spanish developer but if you look on the Mercer list I pay more to keep my standard of living than a Barcelona based developer would. Go figure.

You can find some qualitative data on Mercer site and on Wikipedia.

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Do your research very thoroughly. Look not just at exchange rates, but also at:

  1. Tax Rates (are you clear that you are not going to be taxed twice?)
  2. Pension (Can you bring it 'home' with you or do you have to wait?)
  3. Healthcare (is it for free or do you have to pay? Is the free good enough?)
  4. Utilities (Actual cost of water/electricity/gas)
  5. Transport (Will you need to drive to work? on the 'wrong' side of the road, when you dont have a license)
  6. Culture (In and out of work!)
  7. Language (will you understand enough to make friends? even if still a 'common' language?)
  8. Isolation (do you 'need' you friend/family near you?)


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The benchmark is not the salary, taxes, cost of living, benefits, etc. but the question: What does somebody with your education and experience usually earns in a similar environment (company size, location, branch, ...)? If you know this, you can judge an offer. How would you do this in your own country? Chances are high, that there are significant differences in Britain too.
Whether you feel you've gone backwards, depends on your motivation and your goals. Some people look for a less stressful job and accept a cut-back. Others don't mind being lonely in a foreign country for some years, if the salary is high enough and they can advance rapidly.
NWS is right with his answer and you should get as much information about these technical topics as you can, but the hard facts are not the only ones. The undertaking fails because of the soft facts: culture clash, unrealistic expectations, unwillingness to accept some common behavior because it is against your value system, etc. If you realize you are paid too less, you can easily renegotiate this. But you can't easily renegotiate the culture of your new company or neighborhood, the way you are treated as a foreigner, your feelings of isolation and loneliness, etc.
There are many books focusing on the personal aspects of relocating, especially to abroad, and how your feelings change by this. I highly recommend to read one. And: Do not think, that it is easier, because you know the language. It's not.

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I recently moved from the UK to Quebec and found this extremely hard to work out on my own.

But what I did was convert my salary back to £ to get a rough idea of how much I was being offered. But I also worked out how close I was to the average wage in the UK with my previous job, and then compared it to how I stacked up with the average wage in my new city with my new job.

Also a consideration for me was there are exponentially more opportunities in my industry in the target country, don't forget to factor that in.

But what eventually drew me in was the opportunity to work overseas and experience a different lifestyle, not every gets a chance to do it and I know personally I would kick myself if I didn't take it.

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