The hidden costs of living abroad

The hidden costs of living abroad

27th February, 2013

If you’re moving overseas and starting to calculate how your finances might stack up, it can be tricky to predict where some of the costs will come from. I have heard a few stories of left-field costs from expats recently, which is why I decided it would be useful to look at some of the unexpected costs that can take a large chunk out of your budget and, unless you are aware of them up front, make your expat life more of a financial challenge than it needs to be!


Visiting before you move

It may seem obvious but if you haven’t visited the country you intend to move to, how do you know whether you’ll like it? Salt away some cash and make plans to spend as much time as your holiday allowance will allow there to confirm you’re doing the right thing. It can be very expensive to extricate yourself from a situation you’re not happy with after the fact.

The legal side of life

One neglected area of expat life can often be knowledge of the local law. You are probably familiar with the law in your home country, so much so that you can avoid getting into trouble without having to think consciously about it. But things might be very different in your new country of residence. Check first and make sure you’re aware of anything that might be perfectly okay at home but is a serious no-no in your new nation.  You don’t want to fall foul of any unnecessary fines.

Passports and visas

Passport and visa fees can soon stack up. A USA passport, for example, costs around a hundred dollars and, depending where you’re going, a visa can cost a great deal more. You might also need to provide a suite of translated and verified documents to prove your identity and so on, which can also cost a lot of money especially when lawyers get involved.  If you’re moving with your job, these costs will likely be picked up by your employer, but it’s worth checking first.

Local Registration

Once you’ve arrived you usually need to register with the local immigration office or state police. You might need to provide fingerprints and you’ll almost certainly need to hand over passport photos. You might or might not be given a national identity card. If you want to take your car you will probably need an import permit. And you’ll probably have to purchase a local driving license. Fees vary wildly, so be prepared in advance.

Licenses and deposits

You might need to apply for a license to do things in your new country that you can do automatically in your country of origin. Do you need any kind of permit or license to work or otherwise interact? If so, find out exactly how much it is likely to cost and make sure you include it in your budget.

Customs duty and import tax

As a general rule, once you have a residency permit you can bring your belongings with you. If you bring your stuff over before you’ve officially established residency, you will probably have to pay import duty, which can cost a lot of money. Research first, ship second!

Renting and buying property

If you’re planning to rent or buy a home in your new country, take time to investigate the property market there and make yourself familiar with the charges you’ll have to pay and any legal or financial documentation you’ll need to have specially drafted. If you can find an estate or rental agent who speaks your language, you’ll be in a much better position.

Learning the lingo

Some people learn best by reading and studying alone, in which case online language courses can be reasonably cheap. But if your personal learning style means you won’t pick it up properly unless you attend classes, you need to factor the cost into your expenses before you leave.

Your finances

Can you use your credit cards in your new home country or will it cost you a fortune to do so? It’s often only practical for short stays, with extra charged in the long run for the privilege. If you’re moving for the long-term you may well need local bank accounts, and credit cards.  Your current bank might have a recommendation with a partner in your new country.  If not, do some research on the main banks to find out how to open new accounts and importantly, how long they will take to set up. It is possible to set up new bank accounts before you arrive but this varies from country to country.

Medical expenses

What kind of national healthcare services, if any, does your new home country offer to people like you? Never, ever assume you will always be okay. Buy a good international health insurance policy in advance and make sure you read it carefully, making yourself familiar with what’s covered and what isn’t so you’re prepared for any eventuality. And make sure you know in advance exactly what to do in an emergency, particularly emergency telephone numbers like 999 or 911 equivalents.


How much will it cost to take your pet with you? And what will it cost if they become ill in your new country? Can you buy pet insurance to cover every eventuality? If not, will you be able to pay veterinary fees in your new country if you need to? Preparation can save you all manner of heartbreak and financial difficulties.

Consult our detailed expat country guides

Why not download our free eBook, The New Expat, which covers medical considerations, family matters, accommodation issues, financial arrangements and plenty more to make your expat life easier? We also produce handy Country Guides each month, packed with country-specific information to help you make the most of your new home. Recent releases include Tanzania and Lithuania.

Do you have any tips?

Have you ever fallen foul of unexpected expenses as an expat? Please feel free to leave a comment below or connect with us on @now_health on Twitter or on the Now Health Facebook page so we can spread the word and save other people from making the same mistakes.

Image source:  jannoon028

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Alison Massey

Group Marketing Director

Now Health International

Alison Massey is a 15-year digital marketing veteran, who has spent the last seven years using social media to help expats and soon to be expats find out what to expect from a life overseas. An expat living in Hong Kong herself, Alison is the Group Marketing Director of Now Health, the award-winning international health insurance provider.

Contact Alison Massey

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