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

Visiting a beef, sheep and quinoa farm in Taihape, New Zealand
Visiting a beef, sheep and quinoa farm in Taihape, New Zealand

Part 4 – Banking and Shopping.

This is the fourth part of the personal finances of an expat series. You can also read about the previous entries on visas, housing and transport. In this last chapter, I would like to talk about banking or bank accounts and the different prices of shopping in England and New Zealand compared to what we are used to in Canada.

Once you have found a job, you will most likely need to open a local bank account. I found this process easy enough in both countries. In general, most banks are willing to open accounts for foreigners and if you can provide a job contract, it’s even easier. I would suggest having a look at different bank options and the plans they offer. However, you have to keep in mind that your first account will generally be fairly basic. You’ll have to work in the country for a few years and show that you have a good credit there before having access to a credit card or any other form of saving accounts. In England, I went with Lloyds Bank and I chose Westpac in New Zealand. I never had any problems with any of them and had a good service for my basic accounts.

With your job, you also might have access to retirement savings programs. If you do sign up for this, make sure you know what you are doing as some of the programs will give you access to the money only when you retire. If you don’t plan to live in the country long term, it’s sometimes easier to just opt out of these programs. I was offered one in England and I decided to opt out, as I knew, I would be there for only two years and would probably forget in 40 years that I have some money in England. In New Zealand, on the visa I was on, I didn’t have access to these programs.

Before finishing I also want to say a few words about shopping. The main spending you will have to do in this category is for food (I imagine!) When budgeting for food shopping, I noticed big differences in prices depending on the country you are in. I generally found the food prices in England extremely cheap compared to Canada or New Zealand. I generally was paying between £20-£25 for my entire shopping list for a week, for one person. I was amazed at how much I could get for that price. I even remember once buying items to make a big spaghetti sauce (on top of my usual list) that would keep for a few months in the freezer and thinking: “today it will definitely cost me more than usual.” At the checkout it only cost me about £26! Compared to this price, in Québec, I am usually paying between 60-65$ a week for the same number of items and I would be paying about $NZ 70-75 in New Zealand. Fruits and vegetables are particularly cheap in England and you have access to them all year long for the same price due to the proximity of the southern European countries’ production and distribution channels. In New Zealand, the fruits and vegetables were seasonal. Their price was fluctuating depending on the local production, imports and availability at the time. You just learn to cook and buy according to the season.

Although remember – when you first arrive and are yet to be paid in the local currency makes sure you are aware of the exchange rate and budget your shopping list accordingly as you will most likely have to pay with your savings from your home country.

In this 4-part series, I went through a few factors to take into consideration when you start your expat journey. Other expenses will happen over time and your situation might be different to mine, but I wanted to discuss my experience, so you have a good idea of the impact of a move abroad on your life and your budget. As you can see, this is not a decision you make on a whim. The expat life is a life of challenges, good and bad, but it can be extremely gratifying and fun if you are prepared to go with the flow. If I could leave you with this little tip of advice: always keep part of your budget for unforeseen events or purchases because it doesn’t always go to plan!

Cynthia Côté