Personal Finances of an Expat – A 4-Part Series Part 3

Exploring Wanaka, New Zealand

Part 3 – Budgeting for Transport.

In this second to last article of this 4-Part Series on personal finances of an expat, I will be discussing my experience using the different means of transport in England and New Zealand and the costs associated with them. If it’s your first time reading this series, you can also go back and explore my first two articles on visas and housing.

Once you have arrived in your new country, you will soon enough have to find the best means of transport for you depending on your budget and needs. How will you get to work? Are you aiming to travel around the country a lot? Where are you going to live – directly in town or in the countryside? Is your expat experience going to be short-term or are you planning to stay long term? These are all questions worth asking yourself if you want to make the best choice for you. One thing you don’t want is to end up wasting money because you went for a monthly tram pass that you end up only using once!

From my experience when I arrived in England, I didn’t have the money upfront to buy a car and decided it was best to rely on public transport. Luckily for me the public transport is excellent in the UK – it was really easy to get by and even to explore the country without owning a car. I lived in Newcastle Upon Tyne just outside the city center in an area called Heaton. The center was about 45 minutes away by foot or 10 minutes away by metro or bus. From the city center you could jump on a train and go as far away as the British National Rail Service permits (which means almost everywhere in the country). Their railway system is efficient as a lot of workers use it to commute daily and it saves you the hassle of being struck in traffic which can be very bad in certain areas.  As an example, I found a job in Durham, a smaller town south of Newcastle, and took the train every day back and forth. Durham is about 30-35 minutes from Newcastle City Center (without any traffic) and about 12 minutes on the train. The monthly railway pass is between £101 and £131 for the Newcastle-Durham journey. If I wanted a cheaper option, I could have decided to commute by bus but the 1h journey just wasn’t worth the £10-£15 monthly savings for me. As I have never used the train back in Canada, I thoroughly enjoyed the British experience of commuting by train!

On the other hand, New Zealand was a completely different experience transport-wise. If I didn’t feel the need to have a car in England, I definitely felt the need to have one in New Zealand. This is because the entire country is part of the “Ring of Fire” (the area in the Pacific Ocean where many earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur) so investing in a national railway system like England would be quite difficult and expensive. Saying this, you can still use the train and bus to travel around the country as they have a service linking major towns, but it is on a smaller scale than what I experienced in the UK. If you want to explore the country and get outside the major centers, you will have to buy a car. I highly recommend it as most of the hidden gems and outdoors activities are out in the countryside. I understood this quickly and bought a second-hand car from a dealership for about $NZ 6000 that I managed to sell after 2 years for $NZ 4000. Buying used cars is something very common in New Zealand and you will have the choice of multiple dealerships around the country. I used the car mainly for exploring at the weekends and doing errands as I was living just outside Hamilton and working in the city center. It took me about 40 minutes to walk to work and I decided I preferred walking than paying for the daily parking charge and having to deal with the traffic. Because it was used only occasionally, it cost me about $NZ 80 every second week for petrol.

When you move to a new country as an expat, it is usual to find work and settle into a new culture. Being aware of the different means of transport available is an important aspect of your global experience, because on top of working you also want the fun – to explore and experience what the country has to offer. I know for a fact that my Kiwi experience would have been a lot less enjoyable if I didn’t have a car. My advice would be to do your research, estimate your needs, see what you can afford before leaving and budget accordingly! The last article on this series will be on banking and shopping.

Cynthia Côté