Five tech solutions to make your international life easier

If you live abroad or frequently cross borders, staying on top of everything in your personal and working life can be challenging. But in today’s world, there are at least a host of innovative technologies that can help you to simplify things. 

Five tech solutions to make your international life easier
Virtual cards can be used to make contactless payments. Photo: Getty Images

What kinds of tech do you find help you the most with your international lifestyle? And which of the following would it make sense for you to try out in 2022? 

The Local, in partnership with Zadarma, a telecommunications company offering virtual phone numbers and other services, presents five essential tech solutions for international living. 

Learn more about Zadarma’s affordable virtual phone numbers – available in 100 countries worldwide

1. Virtual debit cards 

Carrying cash and bank cards with you at all times is less and less attractive – and particularly if you spend a lot of time away from your home country. Virtual cards aren’t cards at all in the physical sense – they exist only on your phone (phew, no plastic required!). Once you’ve signed up for a virtual card, you can simply store it in your banking or e-wallet app. 

They do still have a card number, an expiration date, and a security code, so they work just like a regular card (and you can also get virtual credit cards with spending limits).

They’re easy to use for online payments and may be linked to Apple or Google Pay to make in-store purchases where contactless payments are accepted. 

Losing a physical bank card can be a nightmare – especially if you have a language barrier to deal with. Lost your password for a virtual card? You’ll be able to recover or reset it within minutes, while you should also be able to lock the card from your phone at any time.

2. Language translation tools 

When we asked The Local’s readers in Germany and Sweden about the best tech solutions for international living, a huge number cited translation apps and tools. Whether you’re a complete newcomer or you’ve settled in and begun learning the language but need a translator for more complex tasks, these solutions can be a lifeline.

Scared to ask a passerby for directions? Terrified of another blank look from a puzzled official behind a counter? Just type in or say the word in English (or your native language) and get an instant stress-relieving translation. 

Kara Beller, originally from California but living in Hamburg since May 2020, summed up how many of you feel about translation apps: “I would be dead without them!”

While Google Translate is obviously the best-known service, it’s not without flaws and there are a wide range of options you could try. Are you looking for the top tool for just one language? Or do you live in a country (or lead a life) where you’re befuddled by several different languages? Many apps cover dozens of leading languages but searching for a specialist locally-invented tool could hold more value for some of you.

3. Virtual phone numbers 

While some futurologists have predicted the death of voice communication, people continue to talk to each other on the phone. If you live an international life, phone calls may be vital for staying in touch with family, dealing with admin tasks back home, or running a business. These are some of the reasons for setting up a virtual phone number (a number that’s not fixed to a specific device or phone line and can forward incoming calls to another phone or device).

Many international people find it helpful to keep a virtual phone number from back home – such as non-Europeans living in Europe who can face steep charges for long-distance calls that cannot be done via services like WhatsApp, such as those with a bank.

Nayane Smith, a Brazilian reader of The Local who lives in Sweden, says she began using a virtual phone number for better communication “with my family, as well as with the new contact network here”. 

With a virtual phone number from Zadarma, you pay as little as €1.60 per month to make the number yours and all incoming calls are free. Subscribers include small business owners wanting to expand their geographical presence, personal users and even an airline call centre. If you’re not ready to make a long-term commitment, you don’t need to worry as there’s no minimum contract term (three-month minimum to include SMS services).

Live in the UK? The re-introduction of European roaming charges by many UK mobile network providers offers one more reason to consider a virtual number – simply make and receive calls to or from Europe through a European virtual number to avoid roaming charges.

Find out more about Zadarma’s virtual phone numbers – more than 30,000 numbers are available in 100 countries globally

Virtual numbers can help you with your work and personal life. Photo: Getty Images

4. Digital health tech 

Video consultations with doctors have become increasingly accessible in many countries in recent years. The chance to speak with a medical expert in English (or perhaps another preferred language) and effectively face-to-face just by picking up your smartphone holds obvious appeal.

If you have a busy life and you’re not fluent in the local language, such services – some of which are also available at all hours – could really make things easier for you. That would have been true even pre-pandemic, but is clearly even more the case now as Covid-19 continues to affect our daily lives.

If you’re new to a country or planning a move, why not search for the best options whether through public or private healthcare services and work out exactly what you can expect (from advice to diagnoses to prescriptions and perhaps even policies on personal data)?

5. Cloud storage 

We’re well into the 2020s and you really don’t want to be burdened with bundles of printed documents or a slow, overloaded laptop or phone. Cloud storage continues to evolve and is favoured by many people who live abroad.

It’s a great option as a business tool, as well as for storing and organising the huge number of photos you take with your smartphone. But a cloud service also offers a single, secure location in which to save important personal documents you may need again in the not-too-distant future.

Need a photo of your passport or a copy of your birth certificate? Store them in the cloud, so you can access them whenever you’re online while freeing up space on your devices.

Want to make your international life easier? Discover Zadarma’s virtual phone numbers, available for a monthly fee of as little as €1.60. Ready to sign up? Register here

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Berlin v. San Francisco: Which is better for startups?

There's already quite a bit of an exchange between Silicon Valley and Berlin's so-called Silicon Allee, but which city is truly better for the startup scene? Graphic design marketplace 99designs shares with The Local how the two compare.

Berlin v. San Francisco: Which is better for startups?
Berlin: Thomas Wolf/Wikimedia. San Francisco: kropic/Depositphotos

Berlin is already gunning to become Europe’s startup hub in the wake of Brexit, with hopes that London will become less relevant.

SEE ALSO: London v. Berlin: Which is truly Europe's startup hub?

But will Berlin ever be able to compete in the same league as the San Francisco Bay Area’s tech scene?

Online design marketplace 99designs did some research on the subject to compare the two cities side-by-side. Here’s a look at how they match up.

Starting a startup

According to 99designs’ findings, Berlin seems to have slightly better benefits for entrepreneurs. It takes less than seven days to launch a business at the cost of €700, compared to San Francisco’s seven- to ten-day time frame at the cost of €788.

Source: 99designs
As far as taxes go, Berlin's rates are higher with sales tax at 19 percent compared to San Francisco's 10 percent, and the corporate income tax rate in Berlin at 15 percent versus San Francisco's 9 percent.
Living and working
But while Berlin's taxes might be higher, its cost of living is certainly much lower. Internet services are €23 monthly in the German capital, compared to twice that at €47 in San Francisco. Berlin's far superior public transport – which this San Franciscan turned Berliner can attest to – is also much more affordable, at roughly €63 per month compared to €79.
Going out and enjoying life outside of work is also much less expensive in Berlin – just €3.20 for a beer at a bar beats San Francisco's €5.40, while the money you'll save on a €2.50 cappuccino compared to a €3.90 in California could almost buy you a second one. Lunch in Berlin might set you back €8, but that's much less than San Francisco's €13.50 meal.
And we haven't even gotten to rent yet. You could rent four separate one-bedroom apartments in Berlin's city centre for €749 each per month before you'd reach the €2,936 necessary to afford just one in central San Francisco.
Perhaps that's why Mercer rated Berlin much higher in its 2017 quality of life rankings – 13th place for the German capital and 29th place for San Francisco.
Still, it's probably a good thing Berlin is so cheap since software engineers there make about half as much as what those in San Francisco do – €49,000 compared to €100,000 per year.
Source: 99designs
The people
The overal demographics of the startups scenes in both places are fairly similar. The average age of founders is 32 in Berlin and 31 in San Francisco. Both cities also have relatively few female entrepreneurs: 13 percent of Berlin founders are women while 16 percent of San Francisco founders are women.
They also have fairly similar rates of immigrants becoming business starters, with 43 percent of Berlin's startup launchers being non-German and 46 percent in San Francisco being non-American.
But Berlin also has a much more international focus: 42 percent of startup customers there are foreign, versus 30 percent in San Francisco.
Source: 99designs
99designs is an on-demand design marketplace for freelance designers and businesses of all sizes. To see the full infographic and research by 99designs, check it out here.