Expenses Expats Don't Consider When Moving Abroad
Thinking about moving abroad? It’s a romantic idea that has appealed to Americans for generations.
You might be interested in a change, the romantic atmosphere of an older country or a lower cost of living. However, there are expenses related to living abroad that aren’t immediately apparent until you’ve actually done it.
Don’t be alarmed: Living abroad is a wonderful and meaningful experience and if you’re interested, you should pursue it. However, you should be fully aware of all the costs involved.
If you’re living abroad and working remotely for an American company there’s no two ways about it: You’re going to have to pay to change your money from dollars to whatever the currency is where you’re living.
You’re going to lose money coming and going this way. You’ll pay when you spend, you’ll pay when you earn and you’ll pay when you send. It’s drips and drabs and it adds up quickly.
The best way to minimize this? Take out money in big chunks and make as few transfers as you possibly can. Because every time money moves, you pay. And speaking of money moving...
Bank Transfer Fees
You’re not just going to pay to convert dollars to Euros, rubles and yen. You’re also going to pay to move your money from one place to another.
This is typically a flat fee, sometimes with a percentage of what you’re sending tacked on. You pay $35-$50 every time you send money, sometimes more if it’s large amounts. So you need to only send money when you absolutely have to.
The best thing to let your funds build up in an American bank account, then send what you need to live on for the month once. Don’t forget that this will take a couple of days to process.
Getting a Good Lawyer
We don’t mean to imply that you’re going to break the law. However, immigration law is complex and varies from one country to another.
It’s always good to have a lawyer’s phone number in your phone for the occasion that you need one. But you might not even be able to move abroad without establishing a relationship with a lawyer in your host country.
Some due diligence on your part will help, but for the most part, it’s best to have a lawyer who can go to bat for you.
Fortunately, immigration lawyers tend to not be prohibitively expensive and one is about as good as the next unless you stumble on one who is particularly incompetent. Immigration law is, for the most part, just a matter of filling out forms and ticking boxes.
They’ve done this 1,000 times before and there’s probably nothing at all remarkable, unique or special about your particular case.
Getting ready to send all your stuff overseas? Get ready to pay import duties on it.
This is less of a concern if you’re making a shortish trip with a defined beginning and end. But if you’re planning on picking up and making another country your home for good, you might want to bring your car, furniture and pets along with you.
And those might come with import taxes and duties. You might try to skate by and hope that your particular shipping container doesn’t get opened, but that’s no way to begin your relationship with your new home. Look into import taxes and duties and get a ballpark idea of what you can expect to pay.
Shipping your stuff overseas is expensive, sure. But you’re going to be really surprised at just how much international shipping adds up when you live overseas.
The simple things that you’re used to being able to buy through the mail with little or no shipping cost will give you a serious case of sticker shock when you order them while living abroad.
Then there’s the small matter of care packages. You’ve become accustomed to certain things. You love them a lot more than you think. In fact, you barely notice that they’re there until they’re taken away. To some degree, you’re going to learn to live without them.
However, at least every once in awhile you’re going to break down and just about break down and beg someone to send you a care package from overseas. Don’t be surprised when a couple of things thrown in a box cost three figures to ship your way.
Health and Car Insurance
Car insurance is relatively cheap in the United States compared to Europe and other countries overseas.
And while you might be expecting to be covered by a country’s “free” (actually taxpayer funded) health care system, think again. You’re going to need your own health insurance.
Most international visas specifically stipulate that you are not entitled to any public services. Likewise, your landlord might insist that you carry your own renter’s insurance.
Road tax in Europe in particular is not cheap. You have to pay on a quarterly basis what you might pay on an annual basis in the United States.
Think you’re just going to not pay and take your chances? Think again. Proof of payment goes right on your windshield and checkpoints to make sure that your car is taxed, insured and inspected are not uncommon in the least.
Failure to pay tax comes with big fines and you might even lose your license. Cars are known to be towed away and impounded right off the street for not having the proper paperwork.
Water and Trash
It’s almost unnecessary when American landlords list that they pay water and trash. This isn’t necessarily the case when you move abroad.
Many international landlords mean “all utilities paid by the tenant” when they say it. You’re going to get a water bill and you’re going to get a garbage bill. If you don’t pay them, your water is going to get cut off and you’re not going to get your garbage taken away.
Even a couple days or weeks of that is going to be a big problem, so be prepared to budget for monthly or quarterly payments for these utilities.
Of course, if you’re permanently moving overseas you’re taking your furry family members along with you.
But that’s going to cost a lot more than you probably think. International pet relocation is a complicated process and without every last "t" crossed and "i" dotted, your four-legged friends might be sitting in quarantine.
That means you’ll want to pay for a pet relocation service. Those services cost several thousands of dollars depending on where you plan to relocate. Going it alone is possible, but not advisable
Housing tax is just for the owner of the home, right? Not in the United Kingdom and some other places.
You will pay a housing tax (euphemistically called a “council tax” in the UK and other things other places), not the landlord. That can sometimes run hundreds of dollars on a monthly basis.
The Brits don’t like it and neither does anyone else, but it’s just a fact of life of living there.
In some cases, you might be able to easily transfer your American driver’s license over with little in the way of fees and costs.
However, if you’re moving to the UK, Ireland or another country where they insist on driving on the wrong side of the road, you’re going to have to get a new license again like you’re 16 years old.
That means taking classes, suffering through having a learner’s permit and having your driving restricted. This will, of course, also impact what you pay for car insurance.
Emergency Exit Fund
No matter where you go, it’s good to have a quick way to get out. This is particularly true if you’re moving somewhere not known for stable governance and peaceful transfer of power.
It’s worth noting that, comparatively speaking, it’s a minor miracle that the United States is able to transfer power from one person or party to another with relatively little incident.
This simply isn’t the case in much of the world, where you might go from welcome guest to persona non grata faster than you can say “contested recount.”
Energy costs in the United States are comparatively cheap. Internationally, your electric bill might be over a hundred dollars a month for the same consumption and services you’re used to stateside.
That’s a significant portion of your monthly budget and one that you need to be ready to afford if you move overseas.
Living abroad can be an experience you will remember for the rest of your life. But you want to remember it for the right reasons — not because you ran out of money. Do your homework and find out how much you really need to live abroad.