16 Tips to Plan for the Cost of Moving Abroad
Successful You Must Carefully
By Volker Poelzl
Resources updated 9/7/2023 by Transitions Abroad
Shipping your possessions overseas is the most obvious cost in a major move, but there are many other considerations.
We have written extensively about the financial aspects of moving abroad, such as the cost of living, banking, housing, etc. Here, we would like to focus on an essential but often overlooked financial issue: the actual cost of moving to another country and the many unexpected expenditures associated with such a move. Below, we have listed likely expenses for those planning a move overseas.
1) The Scouting Trip
Most people who have chosen an overseas destination have already traveled there at least once. But if you have yet to experience time in your country of interest, you may want to go on a fact-finding trip to find out if you like the feel of what will be your new home. Two to three weeks is generally enough time to get a basic idea of the country, but take as much time as possible before the big move. Still, no matter if you drive to Mexico or fly to Thailand, you will have to spend at least a couple thousand dollars to travel around the country to get a deep sense of the place.
2) Passport and Visa Fees
Passport and visa fees can add up quickly. A U.S. passport costs $165 for adults and $135 for children 16 and younger. Depending on the type of visa needed to stay in your host country, your application fee could cost several hundred dollars. In addition, you may have to provide translated and authenticated documents, a health certificate, and a copy of your police record from your home state, which adds to your expenses before you even leave the country and make your move.
3) Language Learning
If few people in your chosen host country speak English, consider taking a language course 6-12 months before departure. A self-study course can cost between $20-$300+, depending on the type of course (web subscriptions such as Babbel, a book, or other media). A language course at a school can cost anywhere from $50 to $300+ a month, or more, depending on the number of classes and the number of students in each class (one-on-one courses are often available or even cheaper language exchange arrangements, which you can find through classifieds). Of course, there are apps for your tablet, smartphone, and other devices that you may find helpful as you take a daily commute or while you travel abroad. Meetup groups where you practice the host language via total immersion are often the best way to prepare.
4) Expenses at Home While You Are Gone
Even after leaving your home country you will most likely have expenses at home that you must manage. You may have a bank account with a monthly fee or a credit card account that needs to be paid, or you have a storage unit for your belongings and vehicle with monthly charges. Suppose you move overseas for part of the year. In that case, you may have to hire someone to look after your property or occasionally check on your storage unit. There may be bills that need to be paid, such as insurance policies, or you might have a mail-forwarding service with a monthly fee.
5) Shipping Your Belongings
When I moved to Brazil for a year, I shipped about 100 pounds of books to Brazil by surface mail with the U.S. Postal Service. My books took a few months to arrive, but the shipping was cheap. Unfortunately, the M-bag option the USPS offers today, limited to 66 pounds max, is by airmail only, which is quite costly. Besides renting a shipping container (or part of one) to ship your belongings, your only other option is to ship your items as freight on an airline or as excess baggage, which is quite expensive.
6) Travel Books for To Prepare for Your Move Abroad
If you are moving overseas, research the web for articles, guides, and books that provide helpful information about your destination. I would spend about $100 on five or six books about your chosen destination and do your research on the web via forums and social media. Since books are often quickly outdated regarding the cost of living, research on the web and information acquired via social media and expatriate website forums can be very useful. Crowdsourced websites such as Numbeo.com can be a valuable guide for the cost of traveling and living abroad.
7) Medical Expenses Before You Go
No matter where you decide to move, updating all standard vaccinations (such as Tetanus) and getting additional vaccinations recommended for your host country is a good idea. You may also want a medical checkup and get a prescription or over-the-counter drugs to take with you. In addition, getting travel health insurance is wise, as not all countries offer cheap health care, and you never know if an emergency may occur anywhere.
8) Transportation Costs
Living in North America, you can drive as far south as Panama (only recommended for adventurous spirits). Still, flying is your only option for all other expatriate destinations. Expect to spend up to a thousand dollars to get to South America and Europe and more to get to Asia or the Pacific. Transportation to, from, and within a country is a key consideration in any move.
9) Taking Pets
If you want to take your pet with you, you will most likely have to undergo a lengthy and costly quarantine process. You will need a health certificate for your pet from your local vet to get the required vaccinations. You might have to pay for your pet to be quarantined in your host country for up to several weeks or months. Generally, it is relatively easy to take a dog or cat. Still, taking a bird across borders is complicated due to the concern about the spread of Avian influenza and the like. Of course, more exotic animals are a whole other matter.
10) Customs Duties and Import Regulations
Each country has different customs regulations for tourists and long-term residents. You can usually import household goods and even a vehicle without paying import duties if you have a residency permit. However, consider moving many of your belongings overseas before establishing residency in your host country. In that case, you will most likely be charged import duties, which can be quite high. Make sure you find out the details before you start shipping your belongings.
11) Accommodations After Your Arrival
Unless you have already bought a house/condo/apartment or have made previous rental agreements, you will probably spend the first few weeks or months at your new destination in a hotel. Such lodging is often more expensive than short- or long-term renting or owning a place, especially since you won’t be able to prepare your meals in most cases. Airbnb and other options are often the best in this scenario since you will likely want more space and amenities.
12) Local Registration Fees
After arriving at their destination, most foreigners must often register with the local immigration office or federal police. Sometimes, fingerprints and passport photographs are required, and some countries will issue you a national I.D. card. If you are importing a vehicle, you must have an import permit and register the car with the local authorities. In most cases, you must also get a local driver’s license within a few months after your arrival. Fees for these registrations and I.D. cards vary drastically from country to country, and you should find out beforehand to avoid unpleasant surprises.
13) New Household Items
Unless you are a diplomat who has your belongings shipped overseas by the government, or unless you work for a multinational company that will ship all your household items free of charge, you will likely leave most of your household items behind. This means you may have to buy a new refrigerator, stove, furniture, T.V., etc., once you settle in your host country, depending on whether your chosen accommodations are furnished. Find out what items you can easily and cheaply purchase overseas and what you would rather bring.
14) Home Visits
If you still own property at home or have family and friends, you may want to come home occasionally. This is probably one of the reasons why Mexico is a popular destination for U.S. expatriates: It is close to home and cheap to return home. There is a vast difference between spending a few hundred dollars for each home visit and a few thousand dollars. Choose a close expat destination if regular home visits are essential to you.
15) Health Insurance
I previously covered Health Insurance Options Abroad, but I would like to talk more about cost. The cheapest option is to join the national health coverage in your host country, which is possible if you have permanent residency (as a foreign employee, retiree, investor, etc.). Otherwise, you can either get a long-term travelers’ health insurance policy or keep it at home if it includes international coverage. As a general rule, the higher the deductible (out-of-pocket expense), the lower the cost of the coverage will be, and vice versa. Suppose the price of comprehensive travel health insurance is too high, and you are in good health. In that case, you should consider a basic emergency health plan covering only hospitalization. This can help you keep costs down, especially if you get travelers’ health insurance for an extended period. Check out your health insurance options carefully.
16) Financial Matters
Using your U.S. credit cards abroad will incur an additional percentage for overseas transactions, anywhere from 1.5-3%. A few credit cards waive foreign transaction fees and you can check them out. Using a U.S. credit card overseas is only practical for short stays. If using a check or debit card, inquire at your home bank how much the charges will be for ATM withdrawals or purchases overseas. Keep abreast of exchange rate fluctuations to avoid unpleasant surprises. If the dollar weakens, take out more money each time you withdraw funds from your U.S. dollar account. In all cases, being aware of all options relating to money matters is a big part of moving abroad successfully.
Utlimately, the personal and financial rewards of your experience abroad will very likely outweigh the economic costs, and the cost of living in many countries compensates for the expense of moving abroad.
Volker Poelzl is a Living Abroad Contributing Editor for TransitionsAbroad.com. He has traveled in over 40 countries worldwide and has lived in ten of them for study, research and work.