You’re all set to make the big move. To escape the winter, to take that cool new foreign job, or just to loaf around in the countryside and gorge yourself on wine and cheese.
You’ve found your ideal destination, and you’re ready to take the next step.
So what sort of costs should you expect?
I’ll tell you about the most significant ones today, and share a few that tend to catch first time expats off guard.
Shipping Your Things
When my wife and I moved to Malta, one of our biggest expense was probably shipping.
In our case, we only shipped my library of books, and personal items like clothing and camping gear. This cost us around $3,000 CAD.
You should expect those cost to multiply considerably if you’re shipping the entire contents of your house.
But before you take that drastic step, ask yourself, “Do I really need all that stuff?”
If you’re only planning a few years abroad, or if you’re not sure how long you’ll stay, then you’re better off renting a furnished house or flat.
You can store your furniture for when you come back. Or sell it all to help fund your move.
Air tickets can be a significant expense, depending on how many family members are traveling with you.
You’ll also need to factor in the cost of “scouting trips”, if you go to your new country in advance to check it out, or to look for an apartment or house before you move.
And of course those costs will go up if you’re flying business or first class rather than coach.
Buying a Car
Buying a car was our biggest expense when we moved to the Mediterranean.
If you’re moving to a major city like Tokyo, or just about any city in Europe, then public transportation will be your best bet. The networks are great, and they’re more convenient than parking. You’ll only need to rent cars when you want to take a weekend outside town.
But the transport system in Malta is a disaster, and a car is a necessity. Unfortunately, used cars are also very expensive here, thanks to very high import taxes.
The largest percentage of “lightly used” cars are imported from Japan. They’re typically driven for a year or two before being traded and put on a ship. The cars are well maintained, but you do have to search carefully so you don’t end up with cigarette burns in the seats, or a car that smells like an ashtray.
We ended up paying nearly $10K for a Mitsubishi with low mileage. It’s been an incredibly reliable, maintenance-free car. But it would have cost half that price in Japan or Canada.
Rental Deposit—Or the Cost of a House
Will you rent a furnished flat? An empty apartment that you furnish yourself? Or will you buy a house?
Buying a property is a pretty bold move, especially if you’re not sure what to expect in your new expat home. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen who sold their family home on retirement, and flew down to Malta or the Costa Brava in Spain with dreams of finally getting their place in the sun.
Many of those people quickly became disillusioned—perhaps because they felt so trapped?—and ended up going right back where they came from a couple years later.
I prefer to rent instead. I like renting fully furnished houses or flats because I can move right in, and I can leave at the end of the contract if it doesn’t suit me.
If you’re renting, you’ll need to add the rental deposit into your escape budget.
In most cases, you’re expected to pay one month’s rent as a damage deposit. But in Canada I was asked for both first and last month’s rent on the spot. And in Malta, one overly optimistic scammer asked me for a €2,000 deposit, but, “It’s yours, and you can get it back at the end.” Not coincidentally, that apartment wasn’t even finished yet, and she looked like she needed the money to complete the job.
When renting abroad, don’t take any wooden nickels. And don’t put money down that you can’t afford to lose.
If you’re moving from one European country to another, you’ll likely be covered by the EU’s reciprocal health care agreements because you paid into the national insurance plan in your previous country.
But if you’re moving from North America like we did, or if you’re moving to a country in most other parts of the world, you’ll need to fork out cash for private health insurance.
In Malta, we had to show proof of insurance when applying for a resident’s permit. There are a couple choices of agency here, and ours ran around €900 per year for two people. Expect it to creep up year by year, even if you never claim anything.
That covers most of the largest expenses you’ll have to plan for when plotting your move abroad.
But there are also some smaller costs that can really add up. And they’re things most people tend to overlook…
If you have children, will they be able to attend the local education system for free—and will you even want them to?
You might find the public school system inadequate compared to the education your children were receiving in your home country. Or you might disagree with the religious, political, or other principles upon which it is founded.
If that fits your situation, you’d better research the cost of tuition for private schools in your new expat home. And be sure to include incidentals like school uniforms, textbooks, contributions to sports teams, and more.
Keep in mind that things which might normally be included in your home country aren’t always covered by schools abroad.
Depending on where you’re headed, you might have to pay import duties on the personal possessions you ship from home.
The European Union allows you to send one shipment of personal and household stuff duty free when you move from abroad. But we still had to put down a deposit of €229 in Malta, which could be collected the following year.
New Household Items
Even if you’re renting a fully furnished house or apartment, you’ll still need to buy some items to suit your lifestyle or taste.
The furniture in your new place might be a hideously ugly collection of someone’s castaways, or it might be hideously uncomfortable.
Your rental house might have enough plates to host a banquet for 80 people—if you think I’m joking, I’ll show you photos—but there might not be a serviceable wine glass among them.
Or you might be a passionate cook, and the often second-hand items in a rental house’s kitchen could make you weep at first sight, even if you aren’t cutting onions.
We had to buy proper cocktail and wine glasses when we moved to the island, some assorted kitchenware, and a proper desk and chair for my office.
I can also count on one hand the number of houses I’ve seen in Malta that actually have a bookshelf. This is a country where no one reads. And so we’ve had to purchase 7 large bookcases over the years—none of them easy to find.
I’ve also had to order all my books from abroad. That’s a large cost when you read about 100 books per year, most of which are not available on e-readers.
Storage Back Home
Have you got stuff you don’t want to ship, but you don’t have a grandmother or parent to store them with?
You might need to rent a storage space in your city of origin, especially if you’re planning to go back there some day. Make sure you factor this cost into your yearly expenses. And plot it out for the number of years you’re thinking of staying abroad.
In the end, you might find that it’s cheaper to just sell everything you can, and ship everything you can’t bear to part with. That’s one thing I wish I’d done when I had the chance.
So there you have it.
Moving abroad can come with some hidden costs. But with a little research—and this checklist—you’ll avoid being caught off guard.
Have YOU moved abroad for a short or long stay? Did you run into any big expenses that I haven’t listed here? Please share them with us in the comments below.