Thursday, November 17, 2011

How to Calculate a Cost of Living Allowance - Part 3


The formula for calculating a cost of living allowance using the inputs discussed in part 2 are as follows:

(Net Spendable Salary X Cost of Living Index X Hardship Index X Exchange Rate) less (Net Spendable Salary X Exchange Rate) = COLA


Examples of COLA Calculations using our data


Example 1) An Australian employee with a net spendable salary of AUD$100,000 moving from Perth to London where healthcare and communication will be provided by the employer


($100,000.00 X 1.2806 X 1 X 0.4768) less ($100,000.00 X 0.4768) = COLA of £13,379.44 (GBP)


Based on all the above factors a person would require a Cost of Living Allowance of £13,379.44 (GBP), in addition to their current salary of 100,000.00 Australian Dollar (AUD) to compensate for relocating from Perth to London. This Cost of Living Allowance compensates for the overall cost of living difference of +28.06% and the relative difference in hardship of 0%.


Example 2) A British employee with a net spendable salary of £18,000 moving from London to Mumbai where the employer will provide housing and education


Note: Because the Cost of Living Index is negative it is not applied.


(£18,000.00 X 1 X 1.3 X 67.2852) less (£18,000.00 X67.2852) = COLA of 363,340.32 Indian Rupee


Based on all the above factors a person would require a Cost of Living Allowance of 363,340.32 (INR ), in addition to their current salary of £18,000.00 British Pound (GBP ) to compensate for relocating from London to Mumbai. This Cost of Living Allowance compensates for the overall cost of living difference of [-30.53%] and the relative difference in hardship of 30%.


COLA Payment

The COLA is paid as a salary supplement (i.e. as an additional allowance) net of tax in the host country. If the COLA is a taxable allowance in the host country it should be grossed up in order that the full amount of calculated COLA is paid net of tax given that the basis of the calculation is Net Spendable Salary. The COLA is often accompanied by other allowances and benefits such as flights home, relocation / settling in allowance, and furnishing allowance.

Exchange Rate Fluctuations

Significant changes in the exchange rate can make a considerable difference in the COLA calculation. In 2010-2011 some of the major global exchange rates changed by as much as 30-40%.

The cost of living index reflects the changes caused by inflation and exchange rates. In the short-term there may be disequilibrium between inflation and the exchange rate (the one pushes the other), however over time the cost of living index provides the most accurate view of the cost of living.


It is important to remind expatriates that when the cost of living difference is negative, and the negative value has not been applied, they have higher purchasing power in the host country than they would at home.


Where a negative cost of living index has not been applied (our recommended approach), and a change in the exchange rate indicates an upward adjustment in COLA may be required, it is recommended that the COLA should not be adjusted upward until the cost of living index becomes positive i.e. the cost of living reflects that there is a “real” increase in cost of living between home and host countries. This may mean that their would be no increase in the COLA as a result of exchange rate fluctuations for some considerable time. During this time the employee’s purchasing power decreases. But it is important to remember that until the cost of living difference becomes positive, the individual will still have a higher purchasing power than they do in their home country.


It is advisable to stipulate a currency protection rule, rather than reacting to every fluctuation in the exchange rate. For example the rule may state that COLA will be reviewed if exchange rates or local inflation move by more than +10% during a year. It is important to keep in mind that the prices of goods and services are unlikely to drop in local currency. This would only occur in a period of deflation (negative inflation). Therefore the currency protection rule would normally make provision for upward adjustments in COLA and not downward adjustments during an employee’s assignment. Downward adjustments to an existing COLA due to exchange rate fluctuations without a corresponding drop in the prices of local goods and services puts immense pressure on an employee’s host currency budget commitments and can lead to the employee experiencing financial difficulty.


Using an independent service provider provides an independent, objective basis for determining an employee’s COLA.


We recommend therefore that a COLA is calculated by applying the specific (customized) cost of living index to the net spendable salary at the beginning of the assignment and monitoring exchange rate fluctuations thereafter in addition to the annual salary review.