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Five easy ways to save money when you’re working abroad

Do your homework before you go.

That’s the blunt advice from one British government minister to anyone thinking of moving overseas to work.

"Our consular staff across the world have dealt with a high number of expats requiring assistance for financial issues — whether as a result of a house purchase gone wrong, having inadequate funds to pay for medical bills or experiencing some other misfortune that has resulted in financial hardship," the minister said.

Wherever you’re from, and wherever you’re moving to, the minister’s words of caution act as valuable advice. The best way to ensure your move to expat life goes as smoothly as possible in financial terms is to plan ahead.

Here are some key issues to consider:

  1. Do your research before you buy or rent

    Finding somewhere to live in a new country is not an easy task. You may be tempted to settle on the first place you see, just to get the decision-making out of the way. But this could be a costly mistake; if you don’t know the area, how will you know if you’re getting a good deal?

    Research the city or town you’ll be working in —  our Destination Guides are a great starting point — and ask yourself these questions:

    • Is property cheaper in the inner city or the surrounding areas? You often find that it’s cheaper to rent or buy the further out you get from a city centre. You’ll need to account for travel costs if you live away from your workplace.
    • Can your colleagues help? Expats and locals working at your company will know which estate agents to contact, and which to avoid. They can also share insights about the cost of living to help you budget.
    • Is there an area with an existing expat community? Many larger towns and cities have certain suburbs or districts that are already popular with expats. You may find someone looking for a housemate or an expat landlord willing to give you a good deal.

    If you’re still not sure where to live, find a short-term rental property. This will give you time to get to know the area before committing to a long-term contract or buying.

  2. Get good financial advice

    Investing in financial advice may seem like an unnecessary expense, but it can save you money in the long-term. Making an accountant or advisor responsible for your financial affairs means you could avoid costly fines.

    You may need to tell the tax authorities about your move. Americans earning over a certain amount are required to pay tax on income they earn living abroad. If you’re not upfront with the tax office, or you don’t file your taxes on time, you may be fined.

    It’s a good idea to research banking options before you move. If you plan to work abroad long term, it may be best to set up an account in your local currency. This means you won’t be losing money in exchange fees. If you have any bank accounts you don’t need at home, consider closing them so you know you won’t incur any charges.

    Savings and pensions sometimes have residency requirements. If you plan to retire abroad or you plan to keep your investment bonds, take the time to read the small print. It may be that you can simply move to a different scheme, or that restrictions are placed on your account. Either way, it’s better to know before you move, than have a nasty shock later down the line.

  3. Talk to other expats

    Expats already living and working in the country where you’re moving are an excellent resource. They already know how to budget in a foreign country!

    If you move to an area that doesn’t already have an expat community, there are plenty of online message boards you can turn to. Ask for the best ways to save money, such as where to buy groceries, or the best bars for cheap drinks. You’ll have the bonus of making some new friends.

  4. Remind yourself that you’re not on holiday

    Don’t fall into the trap of treating your move like a holiday. When you’re abroad, routine tasks aren’t quite as simple as they are at home. You don’t really know your way around the supermarket, and the public transport system is in a foreign language.

    If you’re on holiday, it’s fine to make do. If you’re living abroad, it’s a different story. You’ll find your costs soon start to add up if you eat out and take taxis every day.

    Think about your life at home. Did you used to eat out every night? Did you get a taxi everywhere? The ways you used to manage these sorts of expenses still applies now you live abroad. So, try not to think like a tourist; think like a local instead.

  5. Avoid unexpected medical bills

    You may feel as though you’re healthy and ready for anything, but it can be hard to predict when illness or injury will strike. If you don’t have private health insurance, you may end up with a hefty bill to pay. Health care costs vary greatly from country to country, and there can also be significant variations in the cost of commonplace procedures within the same country or city. IPMI reduces or removes many health care costs associated with day-to-day outpatient treatment, to long-term condition management.

Some countries require you to have private medical insurance as part of their visa requirements. Your employer may arrange this alongside your work visa, but it’s important to know the details. If they only offer a basic package, you may want to upgrade your policy to cover more eventualities or include any dependants travelling with you. We can help if you’re looking for international private medical insurance cover, start exploring your options here.

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