Money is tricky enough to manage when you’re travelling long term, but what about when you move abroad? How do you get access to all those savings you worked so hard for to another country and what do you need to know about managing your money as an expat?
As someone who has moved to 5 different countries (some more than once!) and had to open bank accounts and transfer money to different countries all around the world, I think I can provide a bit of an insight. You can have a long to do list after moving abroad, but don’t let the money part of it stress you out!
Here’s my top tips for expats needing to manage money abroad.
Set up a local bank account
One of the first things you should do when you get to your new home abroad is set up a bank account. You may need to secure an address first, but as soon as you do that make sure you tick this off your list! Having a local bank account is essential when you’re looking for an expat job (because we all like to get paid!) and it can help you to have something sent to your address to use for signing up for utilities and other things.
Don’t Close Your Bank Account At Home
Even if you think you’ll be living abroad for the long term, try not to close your bank account at home. Of course you may need to eventually if you are charged a lot of fees, but if you can manage to keep it open it’s definitely useful. You’ll be able to use it to pay any bills you may still have at home, or have money locally when you go home for a visit rather than being hit with expensive exchange fees by using an overseas card.
Use Online Banking for both accounts
Definitely try and have online banking set up for your bank account at home and abroad. It’s so useful to be able to pay bills in either country online without having to call the bank. It also helps to have all the info accessible online so you can keep track of money moving in and out, and for your account at home, make sure you’re not charged outrageous fees or no fraud occurs. Once someone somehow got ahold of the credit card details of a card I hadn’t used in month, and I managed to pick it up because I checked the online account every few months!
Transfer money abroad using a transfer service
As an expat you’ll be based in a country for a lot longer than someone travelling, so it makes sense to transfer a bunch of your savings over from your home account to your new account to make them accessible. But how do you transfer money abroad safely? I like to use services like Transferwise, or compare them with other online money transfer services. You should look out for how much commission they will take and if the exchange rate they’re using is good. It can also depend on how much money you want to transfer, as usually the more you transfer the better deal you can get.
But is a money transfer service like Transferwise safe? Yes! If it’s a big name in the market like that then you can rest assured. Check out reviews and transfer comparison websites for ratings. You should see a lot of information about the company online and be able to see how people have used it.
Have an emergency card or cash stash
When you’re an expat you’re living away from a lot of your family and friends. Unfortunately things can go wrong at home, or even when you first move abroad. You should always have a backup way to access your money, whether that’s a separate credit card you only use for emergencies, or a small amount of cash somewhere in your room. You may need to book an emergency flight home, in which case the former would be best, or you may just need to access a little cash until you sort out whatever the problem is. When I first moved to Canada my credit card ended up being cancelled that was going to be my main source of money (I had a special deal where I could load the card and without the money, more like a debit card but with no fees). Luckily I had another debit card with me, that although ripped me for fees, worked until I got the other account sorted.
Know the conversion rates
Speaking of fees, make sure you keep up to date on conversion fees. This may not be so important if you are living abroad for a long time and earning and spending in the local currency, but if you need to pay any bills at home or if you want to transfer money then it’s good to keep on top of it. I use the XE currency converter app to help me on the go. It also helps when you first arrive in your new home to know what the rate is so you can make sure you’re not paying more than you would think! If you do start earning in the local currency though then it does pay to judge things by local standards. It sucks if every time you go to the supermarket you’re thinking about how expensive the milk or bread is! (Although if it’s cheaper than you’re winning).
Know about your taxes
Some people (thankfully not me!) need to pay taxes in their country of citizenship even if they live abroad. If that’s you then make sure you get on top of it and find out what you need to do well in advance!
Another thing to consider is if you’re living and working in a country for only part of their tax year. I have managed to get back taxes several times from countries when I was leaving because I hadn’t worked enough of the tax year to have paid as much tax as I did. And sometimes it was a LOT of money (hello Australia!). Usually the government won’t tell you this though so you need to investigate yourself and find out if you’re eligible for a tax refund.
Along the same sort of lines, if you or your employer have paid anything towards a pension or superannuation fund then you may be eligible to get some or all of this back, depending on certain circumstances. For example, if you work in Australia and you leave at the end of your visa, and you’re not eligible to retire there (e.g. you don’t have Australian or New Zealand citizenship) then you can get back what your employer paid into your superannuation fund. This can work out to be a LOT of money because it is usually 9-17% of your yearly salary.
If you’re moving overseas and building an expat life for yourself there’s a lot to think about, and it can be rather daunting to think about all the things you need to do to make your home abroad feel like home. Just take each thing step by step, and enjoy yourself!
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