How to budget for living abroad
Before you move, shed unwanted gifts and ill-conceived purchases; you do not want to be carting them across the world and paying for the privilege. (Getty Images)
Dreaming of an overseas move can be so exciting that it is often hard to focus on the dreary matter of money – but a few smart decisions and some simple planning could save you thousands.
Before you go
Before you do anything, think about how much it is going to cost to disentangle yourself from your current financial obligations. Do you need to exit a mobile phone or cable TV contract, cancel direct debits, wriggle out of a gym membership or defer a magazine subscription? Add up those costs and set them aside in the “never-seeing-that-money-again” column of your budget.
Next, take a long, hard look at your belongings. Now is the perfect opportunity to shed unwanted gifts and ill-conceived purchases; you do not want to be carting them across the world and paying for the privilege. Shipping the contents of an average two- or three-bedroom home from the London, England, to Toronto, Canada, will cost in the order of £4,500 – so taking less will have a very tangible impact on your budget. Also remember that moving costs will depend on whether you choose sea freight, air freight or ground transportation. A useful resource to find and compare movers worldwide is Intlmovers.
While you are in clear-out mode, consider some key facts about your new abode. What is the weather like there? Do you really need your winter woollies? Similarly, what is the electrical system of your new country and will it support your existing appliances? If you know the actual house you are moving into, get a copy of the floor plan – with dimensions – so you can see which pieces of your furniture will or will not fit.
How much is a cup of coffee or a beer in your new country? Find the answer to that question at global price comparison site wopri.com, and you will have a decent gauge to start building the needed day-to-day budget.
Your first big challenge will be getting a visa. Even if you are being sponsored by a company or an individual, you could be liable for the cost of an immigration lawyer. These can be expensive; in the US, expect to pay upwards of $5,000 in attorney’s fees for visa processing, and the cost of the visa itself usually ranges from $200 to $400.
The next priority is to get your finances in order. You will need a bank account in your new country and you will probably want to hang onto your existing one, too. But you might find it difficult to set up a new account until you have suitable personal identification in your new destination (such as a job or rental contract or social security number in the US), so make sure you have a decent credit card with zero foreign transaction fees to get you through the first few weeks. Alternatively, speak to your current bank about setting up an international account. Most of the big banks offer these, and they allow you to access your money wherever and whenever you need it.
A little more complicated is the issue of transferring money to your new home. The more money involved, the greater the issue, since money transfers are subject to the vagaries of currency fluctuation. Forget about foreign exchange bureaus unless you are talking about small change – the exchange rates are poor. Your bank will likely give you a better rate, but beware transfer costs and commission fees. If you are transferring anything over £5,000, look for a deal that exempts you from fees.
Small amounts of money can be transferred via PayPal, which does not require a minimum transfer amount, although transactions do incur a charge, currently set at 3.9%. For transferring money to or from the UK, Moneysupermarket.com lists the best transfer companies and deals. Also be aware that there may be a “receiving fee” from your new financial institution.
For serious money, your concern will be less with transfer fees and more with exchange rates. In this case, it makes sense to use a foreign exchange broker or understand the detail yourself by using a comparison site such as FX Compared.