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

 

The Expat Tag

expat-tag

I feel like I haven’t done much expat related blogging so I decided to do 10 questions Seychelles Mama posted to her blog!

1. Where were you born, where did you grow up and where do you currently live?

I was born in Greenwich CT USA. I grew up in Atlanta GA, Surrey UK, Brussels BELGIUM & back in Atlanta. My dad worked for a big american company in their international division so I moved around a bit as a kid. I spent 7 years living in europe as an expat with my family.

2. What made you leave your home country?

Steve took a job with a company who had an office in Reading. It was a big career move for him so we relocated here.

3. What type of reactions do you get when you meet new people and tell them where you are from?

Without fail they ask “why would you move to Reading?!” haha! It’s not that Reading isn’t a nice enough place, but most brits see the US like americans see the UK – with rose colored glasses. They can’t believe we gave up sunny, warm Georgia for England with gray skies and dark winters.

4. What was the easiest/hardest part in adjusting to your new country?

I think the easiest part of moving to the UK is the language. Having lived in Belgium I know how hard it is living somewhere you dont speak the language. I can remember trying to grocery shop with my mom when I was little and how hard it was- thankfully she speaks french fluently.

The hardest thing to adjust to here has been transportation/ lack of independence. In our first year we didn’t have a car so we were stuck using public transport or renting a car. Thankfully we bought our first car about a year ago but since it was a stick shift so I couldn’t drive it. Now that we have an automatic my US license isn’t valid so I have to take expensive lessons in order to be able to drive.

It’s been really hard going from being super independent- with my own car and schedule to now relying on public transport or Steve to take me places. I really miss being able to do things on my own – it often feels like I’m a highschool kid again and my parents are dropping me off and picking me up from the movies.

5. Images, words, or sounds that sum up the expat experience you’ve had so far?

boxes-freecycle-579be7d45f9b589aa98a6bd0

We’ve moved house 3 times in 2.5 years

140888Image1

We’ve had a lot of visa issues with Steve changing jobs since we arrived

01094608072012tumblr_m4nprkx3fq1r8xcfqo1_1280_large

We’ve found the local expat community to be quite cliquey and its hard to make friends with

Accessible-Europe

We’ve done a lot of traveling – 8 countries in 2.5 years

6. Your favorite food or drink item in your new country?

I have grown to love tea and traditional english sponge cake with jam and cream. Yum! I haven’t ventured into the world of making my own – I’m sticking with my US baking, but thankfully I can buy a yummy cake from Tesco for £2.50!

7. What is the one thing you said “yes” to in your new city that you wouldn’t say “yes” to back home?

Walking places. In the US we got in our car for everything – from going to the store to getting brunch. In fairness we lived in a suburban neighborhood so we couldn’t really walk places – but I feel like even if we could have we wouldn’t have. Here we walk into town for nights out, I walk home from work and during lunch I walk into town to run errands.

8. Are there any cultural norms/phrases in your new country which you can not stand?

  • Flat pancakes – they’re not pancakes they’re crepes but the brits won’t call them that
  • Splitting the bill equally. When a big group goes out to dinner and some people order bottles of wine, appetizers and a main but I order just a main and a drink, I dont want to have to split the bill equally because I spent much less. Drives me mad!
  • The lack of decent customer service. I find so often I have to fight with a store if I have an issue with their product or service. It almost seems like they make it so hard so you just won’t bother returning something or making a fuss.
  • 10 minute doctor’s appointments. I like to get to know my GP before they put their hands all over me but here its like an assembly line – 10 and you’re done no matter if you haven’t discussed everything.

9. What do you most enjoy doing in your new country?

Both Steve and I have really enjoyed the pub culture here. The ease of meeting up with friends for a drink is nice – we get out of the house but we dont have to go far since our local is just a few doors down.

The ability to travel internationally is definitely a plus here, along with the 30 days of holiday we both get, which allows us to take actual vacations and long weekend trips as opposed to squeezing everything into a few days like we did at home.

10. Do you think you will ever move home for good?

Never say never, but for the foreseeable future I dont see us moving back to the US. We sold everything before moving so going back would mean starting all over from scratch. Something we’ve done here – its very difficult, expensive and time consuming.