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5 Budgeting tips for expats

5 Budgeting tips for expats

When you are about to move to another country, to live as an expat, it’s easy to think only about the logistics of actually moving. However, once you have arrived you will need to start living your new life, and unfortunately, that still means paying for things!

Becoming an expat can involve a lot of expenses, so it’s a good idea to give yourself a budget to live on, at least until you have properly established yourself and settled in.

Here are five tips for saving money as an expat:

1: Use Public Transport

Instead of using a car, which costs money to use, park, and maintain, take advantage of the public transport available to you:

  • Bus
  • Train
  • Taxi
  • Boat
  • Walk

Most countries have some sort of public transport system, although of course how much you can use it depends on where you are living and where you need to get to.

Either way, while it can be daunting, getting to grips with the local public transport can save you money (in some cases, a lot of money) and it’s also a great way to get to know the locals and begin integrating with the culture of your new home.

To save even more money, look into the availability of:

  • Weekly passes
  • Monthly passes
  • Young persons’ discounts
  • Senior citizen discounts
  • Group discounts
  • Advance booking discounts

In some countries you may even be able to haggle or barter!

2: Eat At Home

When you first arrive in your new country it can feel a lot like a holiday, and as such you might fall into the trap of eating out all the time. But that’s expensive and not a good long-term option.

So instead, force yourself to find the local markets and supermarkets and cook for yourself, just like you would at home.

  • Buy raw ingredients instead of pre-cooked meals.
  • Use all the edible parts of your ingredients.
  • Cook meals in bulk to last you a few days.
  • Buy a bag of coffee or tea instead of drinking it in cafes.
  • Eat plenty of pulses like beans and lentils. Counting as one of your five a day, they are low in fat but high in fibre – and they’re cheap!
  • Explore the markets, supermarkets and corner shops to see which are cheapest and most practical.

3: Explore The Local Cuisine

One of the best things about living in another country is the opportunity to eat exotic (to your taste buds) cuisine and try new things. But eating the local foods is also a great way to save money because, unsurprisingly, it is also cheaper.

There will undoubtedly be some foods from back home that you just can’t live without. But learning to enjoy mostly local foods is a must both for your cultural education and your bank balance.

For example:

In certain parts of Asia, breakfast cereals are hard to find and, unless you are living in a city, you may not even be able to get a loaf of bread to toast. However, breakfast curries are truly delicious and a fraction the cost.

4: Reduce Your Bills

Just like you would at home, you should work hard to reduce your bills in your new country. When you first arrive you are likely to end up overpaying for things like:

  • Phone contracts
  • Rent on your apartment/house
  • Transport costs

But you should aim, as soon as possible to reduce these costs by shopping around for better alternatives. If possible, you can even start your research before you leave home.

For example:

  • Purchase a local sim card
  • Use Skype for calling home
  • Search local magazines and newspapers for affordable accommodation
  • Get to grips with local transport or even invest in a second-hand bike

5: Save In Advance

Unless you really need to move to your new country three days after you decide to go, you should use the time before you leave to save up some extra cash. In preparation for your adventure, avoid going out for meals or any unnecessary costs.

The excitement should be enough to keep your mind occupied, anyway!

It is a good idea to keep an emergency fund for the times when you need it most. There will always be things that go wrong, or months when unexpected expenses crop up.

On the flip side, prioritising your spending is crucial because the emergency fund should only be for, well, emergencies. If you keep dipping into your emergency fund, it just becomes a bank account that never gets filled back up!

If you need to, make a list of things that justify using the emergency fund:

  • Unforeseen hospital costs
  • Higher bills than usual
  • Important household repairs e.g. broken door lock or water damage
  • Desktop/laptop maintenance if you work from home


Living on a budget is hard enough at home, but when living in a foreign country it can be extra difficult. But sticking to a budget can also be very rewarding, not only does it save you money, but it forces you to really embrace the culture and country that you are living in.

Pretty soon, your new location will actually start to feel like home, and with the added security of having those savings, you will gradually be able to start splashing out a little more!


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