A question I get a lot, particularly from German friends, is if living here in Karlsruhe is more expensive than The States. This is hard to answer, as the USA offers quite the range of living capacities (Germany, too). To make an honest comparison, I can only compare what I know, which are the cities of Houston, Austin, and Karlsruhe. My hypothetical life in Houston would involve me at an entry-level PR salary living in an apartment in central Houston, Texas.
From my experience, living in the US is cheaper than living in Germany.
Food: My grocery bills just ring up higher. Whether it’s the avocados and beef or the Coca-Cola and ice cream, it always seems to cost more. The discount groceries in Germany provide an outlet, but some things just cost more. Exceptions: onions, apples, juices.
Consumer Goods: In simple theories, clothes, electronics, toys, etc. are often priced the same as in the US, but in Euros. So, if a camera is $300, it will be €300, which is actually 30%+ more for expats.
Taxes: In Germany, when all is said and done at the end of a full work year, a solid 40 percent of my salary is gone. [German Tax Calculator] In the US, I would pay between 15-25 percent. However, my German taxes also ensure that I am health insured and it’s spectacular insurance. At the end of the year we also files taxes just as we would in the US but using a slightly different form than the 1040 or 1040A they use in the states.
Night Life: Going out in the US is just plain cheaper. There are always great drink specials and affordable cocktails. Germany, you are best sticking to beer and even that can cost you 2-5 €. Oh how I sometimes long for dollar beer nights and Texas Teas. However, in Germany, bars and clubs stay open past 2 a.m., which Texas law forbids.
Cell Phone: When you sign a 2 year contract in Germany, don’t expect a free or discounted smartphone as a part of the deal. The German cell phones run with the idea we had years ago in the US with free talk among users with the same carrier, etc. It’s just different and I feel like I don’t get the same bang for my buck with data plans and SMS packages. Yes, pay-as-you-go is cheap, but it’s cheap(er) in the US, too.
Rent: My rent is significantly cheaper living well-located in the city here, than living in “inside-the-loop” in Houston. In fact, I would pay $400+ more to live well located in Houston. However, my apartment is much-older, has no air-conditioning, no dryer, no elevator, old kitchen appliances, etc.
Alcohol: In stores (not out, as mentioned earlier), you can buy liquor and wine on the mega-cheap and often the wine’s are dang good, too.
Other Factors (that don’t quite apply to me):
Driving: Owning and driving an automobile is much cheaper in the US. There are more affordable vehicles, more affordable insurance, cheaper gas, easier to obtain a driver’s license, etc. If I stayed here forever, an automatic, precious new smart car would have to be in the books though. Although the public transport is spectacular and I love the freedom I feel on my bike, sometimes you just need a freaking car.
Expatistan, provides a crowd-sourced cost of living index where you can compare hundreds of cities worldwide. In this case, Expatistan agrees with me. Living in Karlsruhe is 28% more expensive than living in Houston, and it’s not even an expensive German city! Perform your own comparison here.
**These opinions are entirely my own and from my own experience living in the US and abroad. This is obviously a simple breakdown, but I live a simple life here as a single independent, so that’s what you get.**
What’s your experiences with prices and cost-of-living abroad? Did your Expatistan results surprise you?
UPDATE: I’ve learned a lot since doing this comparison and plan on doing an update soon. Meanwhile, I’ve detailed my cost of living in Karlsruhe, Germany. Costs will go up significantly when I move to Munich and I plan on providing a similar detail there, too.