Personal Finances of an Expat – A 4-Part Series – Part 1

Newcastle Upon Tyne
Newcastle Upon Tyne

Part 1 – Budgeting for a Visa.

Have you ever thought of moving abroad to work and live for a few years? Is the idea of a great expat adventures something attractive to you? Have you ever told yourself, “Oh yes I would love that, but I’m too scared to do so financially?” If so, maybe my experience could inspire some of you to take the big leap! In this series of 4 articles, I’ll share with you different aspects to think about when planning to move abroad. Today, we will discuss the most important thing: the working visa. Then in the upcoming articles, we will discuss housing, transport, banking and shopping in general – so stay tuned if you don’t want to miss this “expat-focused series.”

Maybe I can tell you a little bit about my experience before getting into the heart of the subject. I left Canada in September 2015 to move to Newcastle Upon Tyne, in England’s North East region. I lived and worked there during the totality of my 2-year working visa. Then I moved in October 2017 to New Zealand, in Hamilton, in the Waikato Region, on the North Island. I lived there for almost 2 years. Both times, I didn’t have a work contract before going and I managed to live abroad for four years without breaking the bank so it can be done!

Making the decision to move abroad is never easy; you have to think about the positive and negative aspects of your future life and evaluate the risks. A good way to do so is to look up different websites on the country (government websites are always a good start!) and blogs discussing the expat lifestyle. In my case, it took me about a year before deciding to go through the formalities to get a working visa. Because these different steps can be long, stressful and pricey, it is important to be 100% sure of your decision.

Let’s dig into the subject and start talking about the first step – the working visa! Bear in mind that each country has different rules and that this article is based on my own experience. It is in no way to be considered as official advice, but more as a way of decrypting the process. If you’re looking for legal and official guidance, I advise you to contact the relevant immigration services.

Different visas are available depending on the country you are from, your age and your working skills. If you are starting from scratch and don’t have a prior job contract with a local employer, the first thing to do is to verify if your skill set and working experiences match their shortage occupation lists. In most cases, governments put up a list of occupations where international workers are needed to meet their market demands. In New Zealand, you can easily access their “Skill Shortage List Checker”, and in England it is called “Shortage Occupation List.” If you are lucky enough to have a skill set matching this list, you can start contacting potential employers and try to get sponsored by one of them before even moving to the country.

If you are not able to be sponsored, don’t despair! Other programs are also open to a “younger” audience (18-30 years old or 18-35 years old depending on the countries). If you are part of this age group, it is relatively easy to get a visa under their “Youth Mobility Scheme.” These programs usually have a duration of one to two years and are put in place to help the “younger generation” to have an international experience. You don’t need to have a prior job offer to access them and can only apply to the scheme once in your lifetime. In my case, I used this type of visa for my trip to England and New Zealand. Although easy enough to obtain, they have different requirements and fees, so make sure you fit them all before starting the process. For example, to get the UK Youth Mobility Visa, you have to demonstrate that you have at least £1,890 saved in your bank account – what they consider enough to survive on when you arrive. The visa fees (when this article was written) are £244 and you must pay for the healthcare – £300 per year (so £600 if your visa is for 2 years). You need to pay in the local currency, so keep an eye on the exchange rate. In 2015, when I left the exchange rate was £1 for 2 Canadian $… I don’t have to say that it burned a big hole in my savings, but it was all so worth it!

There are other options that I haven’t discussed here because they are not typical “working” visas, but you should have a look at them if you don’t match any of the previously discussed criteria: you can usually get a “family visa” if you are looking into joining a family member already living in the country or an “ancestry visa” if your descendants are from the country you want to move to. If you think looking into visas by yourself is too overwhelming, there are also a lot of agencies that offer their services in exchange for a fee to help guide you through the process. For example, in the UK, Select Visa Services offers to help you from start to finish for about £1000 (their agency fee). On top of the visa costs, you also have to think about the price of your plane ticket.

Hopefully you’ll start to have an idea of the initial costs and savings you need for the first step into your expat life. Have a think, be bold – living abroad can be challenging but is worth it! Thank you for reading this article and as mentioned, stay tuned for the next one in this series on expat housing.

Cynthia Côté