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Do you want to teach in one of the most expensive cities in the world?

I was just talking with an international school teacher friend of mine who is part of a teaching couple with 3 children.  They are looking for another job right now; their next international school.  I asked her where in the world that they would most like to move to.  She  told me that it would have to be in a city where the “living is cheap!”

I have actually lived in 2 of the cities currently on the list for 2010 of the most expensive cities in the world.  One of them is in the top half of the list and the other is in the lower half.  I’m not for sure that looking at this list is really helpful when deciding where to live internationally (if you get offered a job at an international school there, mind you).  It seems like the salary and/or benefits are typically raised in accordance to the high cost of living in the city, but not always I suppose.

Housing allowance: the main factor at play?

Some schools on the list (Canadian International School Singapore, Shanghai Community International School, Hong Kong International School, Seoul International School, etc…) offer generous housing allowances; when the school pays for all of your rent (and sometimes even the utilities).  However, I know other schools on the list (American School of Barcelona, Acs International Schools – Egham Campus, etc…) that don’t offer a housing allowance.  Not having to pay for rent (which is sometimes 1/3 of your take home pay) plays an important factor in how expensive the city is for you.  I was told by another friend who has worked at international schools for 4 years now that she plans to never pay for housing again!  I guess once you get that benefit, it is hard to go back to paying for your own rent!  There is always the money-saving option of having a roommate to help with high rent costs, but many teachers, as they get older, don’t want to consider that as an ideal option.

High-priced goods: paying 2-3 times what you would normally pay.

I know some teachers in the “most expensive cities in the world” sometimes think twice about paying 7 USD for a loaf of bread at a bakery geared towards the expat community.  Surely, that is expensive.  They would never do that if they lived in their home country.  I can’t even think of a place that would sell a loaf of bread for that price in the United States.  BUT, they actually have the money now in their budget to buy those types of things.  For sure the stores know the secret; which is that many of the expats living there don’t have to pay for their housing and have extra money to pay high prices for things that remind them of home/western-type stuff.  Especially when a new teacher first moves to a new city (when they don’t know exactly where to buy things yet and where the best prices are at different stores), there are always expats willing and able to pay high prices for western things.

There are always cheaper alternatives.

When you first move to a city, you don’t know where to get the good prices.  Once you find those places and ask your colleagues where to go, then for sure you might think the city is much less expensive than you had originally thought.  Especially if you are in a city that has a culture similar to the type of foods you like to eat.  For example, if you want to buy Cranberry juice in the United States, it is going to be relatively cheap.  However, cranberry juice is not a popular juice to drink in most other countries in the world, thus it is going to be much more expensive (if you are luckily to even find it).  Buying the local version of the products you like will for sure be a cheaper alternative.

Taxis and transportation.

If you live in one of the most expensive cities in the world, you will most likely also be paying a lot of money for taxis and other transportation.  It is especially true for cities on the list like London, Tokyo and Barcelona.  However, it is not necessary true for other cities on the list like Shanghai and Beijing.  Not being able to utilize taxis because of financial constraints can definitely play a factor in your decision to live in one of the most expensive cities in the world.

Final thoughts.

There are so many factors that come into play when you decide whether a city is going to be too expensive for you.  It is difficult to get a good idea of how that will effect your decision to move there before you are actually living there.  I interviewed with a school in Singapore and they were really adamant about getting me to realize beforehand how expensive it was to live there.  It was difficult for me to fully understand their concerns (after looking at their salary and benefits) without actually having experienced the high cost firsthand.  Luckily, International School Community is now here to help international educators.  We have specifically designed our school profile pages to include questions about everything related to money, benefits and the many facets of the cost of living.  With new comments being submitted every week, International School Community is certainly the website to find out important information about many international schools around the world!

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