Packing up your life back home and moving abroad is one of the most exhilarating, life-changing decisions you can make. Friends and family might think you’re crazy; they might take bets that you’ll be home in a week or worry that you’ll never come home. But if you feel a calling to see what life is like on a different part of the globe, you should absolutely go for it! Nothing will change your life quite like jumping off the deep end and moving to a foreign country.
You may be ready to jump on the next plane to anywhere abroad, but before you do, there’s one thing you have to figure out: money. It may not be as exciting to think about as surfing the waves in Nicaragua or trekking Mount Kilimanjaro, but your finances are one of the most important things to consider before moving abroad. You don’t want to settle into your new home in a foreign country only to realize you don’t have enough to make it through your first week. No one wants to make that dreaded call home, begging mom and dad for a loan.
There are certain costs to consider when moving abroad, some you’ll be expecting and others might pop up out of nowhere. When my partner and I moved abroad to Bali, Indonesia last year, we definitely had some unexpected expenses come up. But through that experience we learned the ins and outs of how much it actually costs to move abroad. Here is our experience and advice for those looking to move abroad too!
Before You Leave
Choosing Your Destination
You may already have a dream destination in mind. Perhaps you see yourself walking along the edge of the River Seine in Paris or going to the theater every night at London’s West End. But guess what? Those cities are expensive! One of the reasons we chose to move abroad to Bali is that it’s cheap. You’ll have to set a realistic monthly budget for yourself and then do your research to find out what things actually cost when you live in that country. You may have your heart set on a certain city or country, but what if you could live abroad for a whole year instead of just a few months in a different part of the world?
You also have to consider what kind of lifestyle you want to live in your destination of choice. For us, we like to go out to eat, have drinks with friends and I love having my daily morning latte. We can’t afford to go out for food and drinks everyday when living in San Francisco. Living in a cheap country like Bali means we don’t have to pinch pennies by missing the luxuries that we love.
Obviously when you move abroad, some of your first expenses are going to be the up front travel costs just to get there. Your plane tickets, passport if it needs to be renewed and visa costs should be noted in your budget. For big purchases like overseas plane tickets, consider putting these on a credit card that rewards your spending with airline miles and hotel credit. You can get travel rewards as you travel!
Travel insurance is another added expense that you have to include. You may consider skipping insurance to save some money, but trust us, it’s worth the investment! We had a camera that broke in Bali and with travel insurance we were able to get almost all of our money back!
Round trip plane tickets from US to Bali: Approximately $1,000
One thing to note is that when you move abroad, your life doesn’t magically disappear back home. You’ll need to figure out what to do with your stuff and plan for any bills you’ll receive while you’re away. It’s also worth looking into whether you can pause any bills while you’re overseas. We were able to put a hold on our car insurance while we were abroad because the vehicle was in storage.
Costs While Abroad
Most likely your biggest cost while living abroad will be your housing. Just like at home, your destination will most likely have a variety of housing from budget to luxury. While in Bali, we found rooms from as little as $200/month to 3 bedroom villas costing $3,000+/month. As beautiful as the luxury villas are, we found that a simple guesthouse can often be almost as pretty, with a much smaller price tag.
We ended up renting a room in a guesthouse for $420/month, which included all utilities and Internet. With a large bedroom, outdoor shower, beautiful pool and central location, we were really happy with our choice! To find affordable housing, we recommend searching local Facebook groups. Airbnb can be good for short term, but is often not very affordable for long term rentals. It’s also much easier to find housing once you’ve landed.
Often popular expat cities will have local networks, or even bulletin boards with apartments listed. It can be scary to land in a new country and not have long term housing sorted yet, but unless you’re going to a super touristy destination in peak season, you’ll always find something!
Just like home, another major living cost abroad will be food. Shopping at local grocery stores is usually the best budget option, so making sure your housing has a kitchen is key. When you get to your new home, have a peek at the grocery store and some local restaurants to get an idea of how much food costs. It can be tempting to arrive and try all the local delicacies, but that’s one way to spend all your money in a flash. Having a weekly budget for food and drinks will give you an idea of whether you can splurge on a nice meal out, or scrimp and have a simple pasta at home.
Bali might be one of the only spots in the world where grocery shopping can be more expensive than going out to eat. Where we live in Canggu, there are so many affordable restaurants and cafes. You can find meals at a local warung (Indonesian restaurant) for as little at $1.50 USD, at a fancy Western restaurant where a meal is around $8 USD, and everything in between. We tend to go to the local warungs and midrange Western places mostly, with some occasional splurges of $30 dinners for two. Still much cheaper than back home!
Excursions and Activities
Of course you didn’t move abroad to just sit in your apartment all day. You want to go out and have fun! One of the best parts of living abroad is traveling around and experiencing the local sites. You’ll want to make sure to budget some fun and travel into your finances, so you can get the most out of your living abroad experience!
We love Bali because we can rent a motorbike for $50 for the month and just cruise around the island. We love hanging out in our neighborhood and on the weekends checking out the beautiful beaches and islands nearby.
No matter how meticulously you budget your trip, you’ll always run in to unexpected costs. Hopefully these costs can be kept to a minimum (especially if you’ve covered your butt with travel insurance!) In Bali, some of these miscellaneous expenses included buying a good helmet, instead of using the crappy rental helmet (safety first!). We also had to pay about $50 for a visa extension, as well as do a visa run to Kuala Lumpur in order to stay longer in Bali. Our visa run ended up costing us about $100/person for flights, transport to the airport and a few meals.
After tallying up all these costs you can see it’s still easy to chew through your budget when moving abroad, even when moving to a cheaper destination like Bali. Of course, depending on your lifestyle and destination of choice, the total may be a lot more or a lot less. But the general costs of travel, housing, food, excursions and unexpected expenses will most likely be the same. As long as you plan ahead and stick to a budget, your dream of living abroad can become a reality!