Common Expat Mistakes
There’s always something to do when you’re moving abroad. Before you leave, while you’re travelling, and when you arrive. The list of things to remember seems endless!
In the midst of all the excitement of moving, and then settling into your new surroundings, important details can be overlooked. Don’t get caught out by making these common Expat mistakes.
Not enough research
It can’t be stressed enough: when it comes to moving abroad, you can never do enough research. As well as knowing the basic information, like local currency, language and the capital city, there are other cultural aspects that will impact your daily life:
Economy and job market
Health care quality
You’d be surprised how little bits of extra information can help you adjust to Expat life. For example, France has a 1910 law still in place which forbids couples from leaning out of trains to kiss, in order to prevent delayed departures. Which also proves that the romanticised view of a country is not quite the same as living there!
Once you’ve made the big move, there will still be bills to pay and food to buy. So it’s a smart move to set up a budget for each month’s spending, at least until you are fully settled into a routine.
Firstly, always make sure you have enough for bills and food; these are the absolute essentials. You can save money on leisure activities, like theatre and concerts, by booking in advance (restrict yourself to a couple of leisure activities a month so as not to go overboard with spending). Also, try to go without a haircut or a new pair of shoes until it’s absolutely necessary to avoid needless spending.
After the first few months, you will have a better idea of where to go for the best deals, and what shops sell the best quality products.
If you’re planning on moving abroad permanently, you won’t be entitled to normal treatment under the NHS. Your European Health Card is also unlikely to be valid. So you need to make it a priority to get good quality health insurance.
Remember that most countries don’t have a national healthcare organisation like the NHS. America is the prime example, where treatments without health insurance quickly become expensive. You can look at the NHS country guide for healthcare information in countries with the European Economic Area. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office also has a broader list of countries and information for Expats.
It’s very easy to get confused over tax rules: eligibility, calculating interest; there’s a lot involved! The important things to bear in mind are:
If you are still a UK resident, you might be liable for personal tax. This might include Income Tax and Capital Gains Tax on worldwide income.
If you are no longer a UK resident, you’re still likely to be taxed on any income from a UK source.
However, tax rules can vary depending on your new country’s tax agreements with the UK, and whether or not your new country is in the EEA. When in doubt, seek professional advice, so you can be sure that your finances are all in order.
Technically, there is no such thing as an Expat will, but it’s very important that you make a valid will in your new country. Inheritance laws differ from country to country. For example, in France, if a couple have a child each from another marriage, their children can only inherit their birth parent’s half of the property left to them. In contrast, in Saudi Arabia, women are severely restricted in what they can inherit, and can often need permission to inherit from a male relative.
It’s a sombre subject, but if you don’t leave a legally binding will, your estate and assets are subject to the laws of the state you live in; these are generally called the rules of intestacy. A person who dies without a valid will is known as an intestate person. Dying intestate means that the state can make all the decisions regarding your assets and, for the most part, the UK government cannot prevent this.
Most countries offer the opportunity to create a will using an online service. Whilst it’s cheaper than hiring a solicitor, the witness rules are not always followed when using an online service, which runs the risk of invalidating the will. Spending money on a solicitor could save months of legal battles over a misprint or oversight.
Not enough pre-visits
It’s likely that the country you want to move to is one that you’ve visited before, perhaps on holiday or whilst on business.
However, don’t be fooled by the country’s way of entertaining tourists. If you’re on holiday, you’re in a hotel or rented holiday accommodation that isn’t your responsibility to run; there are no bills to pay or maintenance costs to keep appliances running. Likewise, sightseeing isn’t the same thing as actually living in your destination day in and day out.
Make a point of regularly visiting your chosen country before you make the final move. Try and stay for long periods, and use self-catering accommodation so that you can begin to get a feel for what it will be like to permanently live there.
Overspending in the first month
This is a common mistake and it’s understandable. When you first arrive in your new country, it can be exciting and you want to get out there to discover new places and do new things. Or it can feel daunting, and you’d rather stay indoors and gather familiar home decorations, food, and visit your home country sooner than expected. Both of these situations involve spending more money than is wise.
For one reason or another, Expats can often overspend in the first month or so after moving, which will lead to financial difficulties in the future. Big cities like Tokyo and Rome are very costly to live in, so you need to be careful about how much you’re spending, and what you’re spending it on.
Set out a clear financial plan that you can realistically stick to. Little things like going markets for food can be cheaper than pre-cooked supermarket meals. Have an emergency fund on standby, but only use it in emergencies!
Remember that you’ve got all the time in the world to explore your new country, so hold off diving into new plans.
Not quite ready
This is a hard one to admit, but there’s no shame in being not quite ready to make the big leap. There can be a number of reasons why you find yourself getting cold feet:
Moving for the wrong reasons
Settling for a second best situation
Not enough time to fully plan
If you’re not completely sure if you want to move, then wait. You will always have the option of moving, so only take it when you feel completely sure.
Sticking only with Expat friends
There are plenty of Expat communities you can join, whether using online forums or meeting up with the Expats in your new country. But is that really the way to become a true local? If you only meet people from your old country or only people who speak English, you’ll find it more difficult to fit into your new country. The social culture, the language, and general way of life are all things that are best learnt by getting out of your comfort zone.
Try a few things to help:
Order coffee in a café
Take public transport
Go to the cinema
Join a group or club
You can still meet up with Expat friends for support, but part of the joy of being an Expat is experiencing and becoming part of a new culture.
A backup plan
This doesn’t mean that you’re going to fail to move abroad! But occasionally issues came come up that couldn’t be planned for. Go for your dreams, but have a backup plan to hand just in case you need to rethink your situation. This can include putting aside an emergency fund, or considering a change of job, or region.
Keep a calm head; just because you’re abroad, that doesn’t mean there isn’t support available. Ask for help if you need advice on finances or legal matters, and stay in regular contact with friends and family back home if you’re in need of emotional support.
It’s easy to miss a detail or forget to book something when it comes to moving abroad. The process of emigrating is long and has its fair share of stress. But there are ways of avoiding common pitfalls. If you can follow these tips, you’re well on your way to a great Expat life in your chosen country.