Instagram makes moving abroad look so easy and carefree. Just close your eyes, leap, and your life will instantly become more glamorous and interesting. You will be untethered from worldly cares, free to find yourself among the bustling crowds of an Asian market or surfing on a golden coast…
Well, except for the taxes you still have to pay. And the visa you need to secure. Don’t forget about your prescriptions, and how that pesky exchange rate will affect your savings!
The age of expensive phone cards may be over, but even if you’re hopping to the kind of country where you can buy lunch for a buck, there are still a lot of unexpected costs to moving abroad.
So before you decide to seek your destiny on another shore (or just over the border), consider these 11 potential costs and savings, and whether you’re financially prepared to follow your wanderlust.
Cost: The Visa
Visa prices vary widely, from $0 in USA-friendly Panama, to $60 for Germany, $200 for a long-term visa in Thailand, and up to $3,920 for an entrepreneur visa in New Zealand (or $298 for an bargain essential skills visa).
Before you get there, you should have enough in the bank for a deposit on a rental, plus one or two month’s rent. And you’ll likely need more for your stay at an AirBnB or long-term hotel while you apartment hunt.
Saving or Cost: Cost of Living
Moving to Thailand is often put forth as a way to save money, and for good reason. With a cost of living index of 116 in Bangkok, you can get a furnished studio for $382 a month. Meanwhile, Wellington in New Zealand is at 226, which is 13 points higher than Philadelphia.
There, a furnished studio will cost you $1,400 in rent. Panama and Germany fall in between at 149 and 159, respectively. Knowing this number beforehand will give you a sense of how quickly your money will go when you arrive.
Saving or Cost: Exchange Rate
For a two-week trip, currency fluctuations might not seem like a big deal. But when you transfer thousands of dollars over to pay your rental deposit, movement on the Thai baht or the Euro against the dollar can make a huge difference in whether you come out seriously ahead or behind.
Saving or Cost: Getting a Job
Ideally, you can put in for a transfer with your current company so they pay for your moving costs, work visa, and, more importantly, you have a job waiting for you when you arrive. Even better if they pay you close to an American salary while you live in a country with a low cost of living! That’s the best-case scenario, though. If you show up without a job in place, you might find yourself going months or even years without a salary, depending on work visa requirements and/or the number of jobs available to foreigners who don’t speak the native language. How long can you go without working? (See cost of living, above.)
Do you have a partner to support you while you deal with the bureaucratic maze? Is there a work-from-home option you can take with your current job as a stopgap measure? How will not working for this long affect your retirement savings and earning potential in the long term? When you land a job, will you be able to earn the same amount as you do now, or will you take a pay cut?
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Saving and Cost: Private Health Insurance and Medical Care
One thing you can be almost sure of is that your medical costs will drop when you leave the U.S. But you’ll need to research your options: how much out-of-pocket medical expenses and prescriptions are where you are moving, whether you can keep your current coverage if you move, whether and how you can qualify for the state-run medical plan once you get there, or how much traveler’s health insurance will cost. You might need to budget for some last medical appointments, prescription refills, and checkups before you go, including vaccines. And keep in mind that if you move to certain places where healthcare is not up to par, you might have to travel back home for certain medical procedures.
If you are an American citizen living abroad, you will be required to file with the IRS and report your assets held in foreign banks – one of the drawbacks of being born in America. That holds even if you’re only earning your living in Euros and you’ve already paid taxes to the German government. There are exclusions if you earn less than a certain amount (around $10,000 to $16,000 depending on your filing status) but the takeaway here is do your research and make sure you set aside some of your earnings for the IRS in April.
Cost: Getting There and Coming Back for Visits
Obviously, you need to factor in travel costs to get there. But don’t underestimate the power of your family to guilt trip you into flying home for the holidays. It would be wise to build the cost of at least one roundtrip ticket per year into your budget.
Cost or Saving: Education
Depending on where you are going, you might find yourself having to pay high fees to get your kid into a decent private school. Or it could be the opposite, where you now no longer have to worry about paying tens of thousands a year for a college education.
Cost and Saving: Financial Advice
Your finances when you’re in a foreign country can be a confusing mess. The tax questions are inscrutable, managing investments can be a chore, buying real estate adds yet another layer of complexity, and how do you decide how much money to move over to your new, local bank account? Plus, if you’re planning on retiring to a different country, that adds in questions of living off your retirement and social security.
Oh, and estate planning. If you don’t get that squared away, you’ll leave your heirs with months of stress while they sort it out. Hiring a financial professional that specializes in expat finances may seem to be yet another cost of moving, but in truth, you should look at it as an investment. You’ll save time by not tearing your hair out, and avoid some expensive financial pitfalls.
Cost and saving: The scouting trip
Think all that was costly? How about doing it twice! If you have the leeway to choose which country you want to move to, take a scouting trip and live there for a week, a month, or the summer. See how easy it is to meet other people, get a job, find housing, simply communicate, and build a life for yourself. This is another upfront cost that will save you money in the long run!
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