Unexpected Expat Expenses

Deciding to become an expat is a difficult decision. There’s being away from family and friends, adjusting to a new culture, and the biggest consideration is probably cost. Even if you’re on an expat package, there are expenses of living abroad that you probably haven’t fully realized or considered. While not all costs are big or decision breaking, they add up, and if you’re down a salary, they might make a bigger difference.


New Hobbies – Especially if all of a sudden a full-time working partner isn’t working and ‘finding’ themselves. I have a lot more time to pursue new interests which is great, but new interests cost money. Sewing lessons, fabric, a sewing machine, horseback riding lessons, horseback riding gear, fitness memberships, language courses, golf lessons, Scotch tasting club, running club, camping gear…. New hobbies tend to require at least some initial cost to get the things necessary to do them…and ongoing costs if you’re taking lessons.


Travel Costs – One major perk that most expats consider is the ability to travel more. The ability comes from more time off and even more so, being in closer proximity to desirable places to travel around the world. And you should definitely take advantage of traveling- I mean, why else be an expat?! But with more travel, even if flying to Spain is cheaper from the UK than Chicago, it still costs money. We would try and go abroad once a year before, and now we’re traveling to several countries a year. That’s a lot more money that’s needed to be used for travel. Even if you are the thriftiest of travels, you’re likely still increasing the amoung of money needed in your travel bank.


Pet/Child Care – All that traveling and who watches Stella?  If we’re traveling around Scotland we bring Stella dog as often as we can.  But most times, when traveling to other countries we can’t bring her. When we lived in Chicago we had our families an hour away- there was absolutely NEVER a time when I had to pay for someone to watch Stella. Now we’re paying (a ton) to give Stella the best care possible while we’re galavanting around the world (we probably pay more than the average person because Stella is not a kennel dog.) Of course she’s worth it, but it’s a budget line item I never thought of before.


Customs and Shipping – Sending cards is a nice way to keep in touch from overseas. But I seriously spend between £1-£3 per card. Holy cow. It does kind of add up.  And if you want to ship anything home- get ready for a big price tag.   And while it gets easier and easier to order things from American companies online, there are some huge (sometimes hidden) customs costs. Remember my post about paying the postman?  If there’s things from America that you can’t live without, it’s time to find a mule coming over.


Clothing for Climate – It depends on where you’ve moving, but you might need a vastly different wardrobe or supplies for your new expat life. It cost a lot of money to get ready for life in Scotland: Waterproof tops and pants, base layers, hiking boots, head torches, etc. In our situation this was all much cheaper to buy in the US.


Licenses & Taxes – Different countries require different taxes and fees for different things. Expenses that have cropped up in the UK:

  • TV license £145 (if you watch any kind of TV, you have to pay for this every year)
  • MOT test £54.85 (for your car, happens every 3 years)
  • UK drivers license (a total of) £134 (and that’s not including driving lessons which you’ll need at least a couple)
  • Council Tax (this is not included in your rent and is up to several thousand pounds!)
  • Money down – since you probably don’t have credit in your new country, you’ll be required to front a lot of cash. You want a car- you’ll most likely have to use cash. Want to set up cable and internet? Without credit you might have to put down cash that will be reimbursed to you in a few months. Overall, you’ll need a lot more of the green stuff.


Trips Home & Extra Luggage – You are going to want to go home. In addition to your fun travel exploring the world, don’t forget to budget in the expense of flying home. Maybe it’s not in your plans, but for me, I won’t miss Christmas at home for anything. But then other things come up, best friends have weddings, siblings have babies, a relative is sick. These things happen and you’re going to want to get home for them- it’s important to think about that in your budget. And then when you do come home…people want presents, and when you return to your expat life, you tend to bring presents and things you can’t live without (oh don’t mind my suitcase full of coffee creamer and marshmallow peeps). Those extra baggage fees add up…quick!


These are just some expenses I’ve come across living in the UK. Are there other expenses in other countries you’ve lived in that you didn’t anticipate?


  1. Claire

    If I am sent a personal package from the US, will I have to “pay the postman”? Would I be able to just pack a suitcase full of stuff and get it through customs, or is it easier to have, say, my mother mail me a package of my favorite American stuff? Which is most likely to make it through without cost/problems?

    1. Lauren (Post author)

      Having someone bring stuff in a suitcase is definitely the easiest and cheapest way and you can bring in whatever you want…going either way and I have never declared anything. If your mom mails you american stuff you will have to pay customs on it…and it’s surprisingly expensive to have someone from the states mail even a small box. Last time my mom came I just paid the $80 for an extra suitcase and when she brought it back empty she just flattened her original duffle bag and packed it so we didn’t pay the extra luggage fee going back. We learned that after she mailed me a fitbit (had gotten a new one for free) and with the cost of her postage and then the cost of my customs…I almost paid the same amount of buying a new one in the UK.

  2. Jennie

    Hi Lauren,

    I can’t remember how I stumbled across your blog, but I really enjoy reading about how you’re acclimatising to life in Scotland. Thought I’d stop lurking, and I know this is totally going to sound like an ad, but have you tried an app like the Save the Children’s ‘send a snap’ one? It’s £1.50 per card to the US and while it’s just a postcard, so you’re limited to the amount you can write, you can send your own pictures on the other side so it’s really unique – plus you’re giving to a great charity. Might be worth a look?

    1. Lauren (Post author)

      I haven’t heard of this- it’s a neat idea. I’ll definitely check it out— I love how charities are coming up with ways to help donate that are easy and beneficial for everyone.

  3. Diane

    That TV tax is just nuts. They have one in France too and it just baffles me. Everyone has a TV, go tax something else! Hahha


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