Leaving home and starting again somewhere new can be exciting and daunting in equal measure. It's an experience of a lifetime, and in order to enjoy it to its fullest you need to make sure you are on top of your financial situation from the get go. Following these five pieces of advice will add value and remove stress from your once in a life time experience.
1. Organise your banking ASAP
It doesn’t matter where you go, you will always need a bank. The best advice? Always get yourself a local bank as soon as you can. If you will be living there, you will be banking there. However, because you are and expat, you will be looking for a few extra services that locals may not be. Checking local expat forums for banking recommendations is always a great start, and is something that can be done before you even leave home. On top of this, always check for the following three things in your new bank:
- Their wiring fees
- Their customer service (is it in your language?)
- Their online banking options
These are all utterly essential to you, because if wiring money to or from your home bank every time is going to cost you £20, instead of the bank down the road that will cost you £10, you need to be aware of it. You need to know you can move your money around without losing half of it to fees. Additionally, you need to know you can get a hold of someone who speaks your language in an emergency. You may not need it all the time, but when something does go wrong with your bank you need to know that you can fix it as soon as possible without worrying about getting lost in translation.
Furthermore, searching for good Internet banking features are key because it is a great on-the-go tool, and minimises the interaction you need to have with actual people. It also means you have a lot more autonomy over your finances than with traditional banking. Some banks, like ING, are almost exclusively online (and there are many new exclusively online banks). This means that you don’t get charged account fees, amongst other things. This is always something to keep in mind.
Finally, always keep an account open at home. You never know when you will need it. Something might happen whilst you’re away and these back up finances will really help in a pinch. Alternatively, you might need to return home at a moment’s notice, and having access to a bank account as soon as you arrive is crucial.
2. Sort out your phone
Currently, data roaming between the EU member states is ‘free’. However, things can always change unexpectedly. Britain's shock exit from the EU, for example, could mean that this free data roaming is suddenly withdrawn in March 2019. Always be aware of the arrangements between your host and your home country.
In general you phone company will charge you a hefty sum for using your phone outside of your home country. We’re talking in the hundreds. So, the longer you hold onto your old phone, the more expensive it will be for you. Get a local number at a good rate as soon as possible. Make sure your cell phone is unlocked before you leave home so you can just pop your new SIM in no problem, and you can avoid the added cost of buying a new phone. Keep a back up pay-as-you-go SIM for your home country so you can use it when you go home on holiday without incurring fees, and just let your friends and family know the numbers for both.
3. Learn to eat local
You might roll your eyes at this and think ‘well of course. I’m not a cultural vandal. Immersing myself in a new culture is part of the joy of moving abroad’. That’s awesome, good for you, and it’s true! However, don’t underestimate the desire for a few home comforts after five or six months away.
There are some countries where it’s easy to enjoy the local cuisine (I’m thinking of South Korean mandu here), and that means you’ll reap the benefits of paying local cuisine prices. However, every now and then you’ll get an insatiable craving for peanut butter, lemon curd, or sausage and mash, and finding it is either impossible or it costs the same as two weeks' rent. Every once in a while is fine, but if you don’t learn to eat local on a daily basis, you will find all your money going on costly imports.
4. Be savvy with health insurance
Some countries have mutual agreements to cover each other’s citizens, and some don’t. If you’re a German national living in Spain you will have different health coverage rights than an American living in Spain, for example. Look up your situation in your destination country before you leave and get everything arranged ahead of time. Not only is it just the sensible thing to do, but it can also save you loads of money. If you get into an accident before you’re fully covered you could find yourself paying for emergency room fees, or even surgery, and that can run into the thousands. So always make sure you’re covered the second you poke your nose out of that airplane.
From a language perspective it can also be easier to handle this at home. Some of the medical language you will need to discuss is pretty obscure and complex, even between native speakers. Having to do it in country where you have, at best, only a rudimentary understanding of the language, you can really run the risk of not getting the coverage you need.
5. Once you’re there, stay put.
Once you move abroad it can be tempting to do one of two things. Either:
- Go straight home for a trip to make sure everyone’s still there because you miss them.
- Treat it like a holiday and start going on little mini breaks and weekend city jaunts.
Both are totally fine to do, but remember that this isn’t a study abroad trip, this isn’t backpacking; you are here to live. It’s your home. So, instead of spending money flying off to other places, instead try and stay put for six months at least and really get to know your home from the ground up.
Walk the streets, visit the bars and cafes, and try to learn the details of everyday life. Learn which are the expensive supermarkets and which are the cheap ones, or where do you go to buy a travel pass. Acquire enough language so that you can order yourself a coffee or a sandwich, and learn to stay away from costly tourist traps.
You also need to understand how far your new salary goes. Maybe you need to get used to new money, and you need to learn basic expenses like bread, milk, and petrol. Building a budget and a base of economic understanding like this takes time, and you need to physically be there in order to really learn it.
By learning your new area and finding a new daily routine you will save yourself money in the long run. Once you feel confident and comfortable in your new home then by all means save money for holidays and trips home. Trust me, by doing it this way round you will avoid costly air fares and other unnecessary costs at a time when you really need to be getting to grips with your new life. Nostalgia is a powerful thing; don’t let it pull too hard on your wallet.