When it comes to preparing financially for expat life I hardly did a thing — no comparative living expense exercise, no travel budget. I gave no consideration to cost of healthcare or daycare or rent or buying a TV, never mind a car. There was no thought to taxes or saving money. I did the bare minimum, which meant I took care of the necessary paperwork, and little else. My husband and I took his salary at face value without putting it in a larger context of real life in the new location. Looking back, I wish I had spent some time thinking about what our new financial situation would mean in actual terms, and how it would impact our quality of life.
Because I didn’t have a clue about the financial impact on everyday life, the first few years overseas were pretty bumpy. I learned quickly that even everyday comforts would be a stretch for us. Calling family overseas was not a given, and when it did happen it was with a kitchen timer next to me, counting down the 10 minutes I had given myself. For many months we could not afford to get health insurance and I had to delay going to community college because we simply couldn’t afford it.
My husband was making good money as a contractor but being a contractor meant we had to pay for everything out of pocket — I had no idea that this was the case. The area where we lived was expensive and whatever money we had covered the basics, but not much more. It took us a year to save up for a TV, and two before we could even think of getting a car. I could live with that, reading books instead of watching TV is perfectly ok, and a bike sufficed in getting me where I needed to be most of the time. But still, it would have been good to know what we were getting ourselves into.
Other considerations that, in hindsight, should have been part of a responsible calculation, include long term savings, as well as having a short term cushion for emergencies. We had none of this and so had to make difficult decisions with regards to travel back home, fixing the car (once we got one), and getting health insurance.
A more benign aspect of money awareness (or lack thereof) during those first years was how long it took me to get used to feeling like I knew what things cost. For years, I would translate prices to my home currency. For years I would think “this is so much cheaper/more expensive than at home”. It wasn’t necessarily a problem but it did create a sense of uncertainty.
I don’t have any tips for how to go about familiarizing yourself with your new financial situation. Every move and every individual is different. However, I would encourage actively learning as much as possible before leaving, and taking advantage of any resources offered. Below are links to expat specific financial articles.
By: Felicia Shermis
Get Rich Slowly: Best tips for managing money as an expat
Creveling & Creveling: How exchange rates affect your expat currency decisions
Creveling & Creveling: Overcome mental roadblocks and get started saving