Hidden Cost of being an Expat

Thanks to technology expats like myself are not longer subject to cray long distance phone call prices just to keep in touch with our families. We have the benefit of skype, facetime, email and many other communication apps which are free or at the most $5 a month (what I pay skype for unlimited calls to US a month). We can text, snapchat and facebook message our friends and family at home when we miss them.

If we are so inclined we can send snail mail – which I am all about. My mom and I joke that the two of us are keeping the US post office in business. I love sending and receiving actual mail, despite the cost. In the US a stamp for a postcard costs $.35 and its good for the entire country. For international mail – postcard or a standard card or letter, its $1.15 for a forever international stamp. Not a fortune but it adds up.

Here in the UK, sending a postcard back to the US costs £1 – $1.30. Not bad, just a bit more than the US. Sending a standard birthday card or letter to the US from the UK costs a whopping £4.65! As you can imagine sending mail back to the US is very expensive. Luckily my mom is happy for me to mail her a lot of mail and she then mails it from the US saving me a lot of cash!

When our friends and family send us things its really awesome – its easy to feel left out and forgotten when we’re out of sight, out of mind. Getting cards, pictures and small packages makes us feel very special. Unfortunately there is a nasty downside to receiving mail. Due to strict customs and VAT policies – royal mail reserve the right to charge us for anything that is shipped to us from another country. I recently received 2 tanks tops valued at $15 each from a swap I did with Reddit. It cost me £13/$16 to get them out of customs. In other words I had to pay for 1/2 of the declared value of the package in order to get it.

Filing taxes is never a fun experience, but when you’re an american expat its even more painful. We have to file taxes in 2 countries – the UK and the US. Unfortunately turbotax isn’t an option for such complicated filing so most families spend upwards of $600 to have a professional international accountant file their taxes. Due to the high tax brackets here it’s unlikely we would owe the US taxes on top of what we pay here in the UK, but it also means we are very unlikely to get any sort of US tax return.

Another very expensive part of being an expat is visiting home. I’m sure most people would love us to come home every 3-4 months to visit and catch up, but most expats find a yearly trip back is all their budget can handle. For example I was tracking flights to come back in September for 2.5 weeks and this was the breakdown

  • £600+ flight
  • £50 gas to and from the airport
  • £50 extra suitcase on the way home
  • £300 for airbnbs when I couldn’t stay with friends or family
  • £500 car rental as my mom is driving my old car at the moment
  • £150 gas for rental car
  • £400 eating out money – when you visit everyone wants to go out to dinner with you
  • £200 miscellaneous expenses

Total:  £2250 = $2932

That doesn’t even cover the price of buying clothes and goods in the US we can’t get here. Simply put visiting is a massive financial undertaking. Regardless Steve and I are doing our very best to make a trip home at the end of 2017/early 2018. We are very blessed my parents have offered to help us with a car, a place to stay and some cash towards the flights but it’s still the most expensive trip we will take this year by far.

I dont write this post to make anyone feel bad for us nor am I asking for financial support. I simply want to open people’s eyes to the costs that they may not consider when it comes to friends and family living overseas.

Fellow expats – have I missed anything? Any other hidden/forgotten costs I’s left off? Let me know in the comments



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