Thursday, 3 December 2015

Making the most of your expat finances: five things to know before you go

The decision to move abroad is one which brings with it many considerations and opportunities for everyone involved; whether you’re flying solo or taking your family and partner along for the ride. There’s no doubt that it’ll be an adventure, but it’s also likely to mean some important changes for the way that you run your life, especially when it comes to your personal finances.

In the 2015 Expat Explorer survey, over 22,000 expats globally who shared their views on almost every aspect of life abroad. And a great number noted the intricacies of managing their money while living abroad, underlining the fact that a new life in a new country can often mean a new set of challenges when it comes to money.

Among this group, nearly three quarters (74%) agree that they find their finances more complex than they did at home. Some of the most common challenges experienced by these expats include dealing with multiple currencies (37%), navigating a more complicated tax situation (27%) and moving money between countries (22%).

Given these challenges, how could you approach your finances? And, above all, what do you need to know before you make the move?

To help answer these questions, and support you in getting the most from your experience abroad, we’ve put together a list of important things to know about your expat finances – sparked from tips shared by real-life expats on our Hints & Tips page.

Whether you’re about to leave or you’ve just arrived, here are five important things to consider when it comes to managing your money as an expat:

1. Plan ahead
Expat in United Arab Emirates

As this expat notes, it is hard to overestimate the importance of preparation and planning before you move, especially when it comes to completing the right paperwork at the right time. Before you go, remember to consider for any unforeseen eventualities, such as an accident, legal trouble or unexpected repairs, as well as any arrangements that need to be made in the country you are leaving behind.

Are there any running costs at home that still need covering after you have left? Which companies and authorities should you inform of your move? Is there someone who you can trust to give copies of important documents for safekeeping? Who can inform you of anything important that may require you to take action? Make sure you remember to update these people if your contact details in your new home change, as they so often do.

2. Balance your new income and your new outgoings

Expat in Bahrain

Monitoring your income and expenses may seem like an obvious rule of adult life, no matter where you are. But it can be something that’s easily overlooked when we’re busy and under pressure – so take the time to think about this in your new home and be mindful of the things which might differ from what you’re used to.

For instance, living in a hot or tropical country will probably drive up your electricity bill due to a need for air conditioning or fans. Similarly you may find yourself driving a car significantly more depending on the availability of public transport and your new day-to-day routine. So fuel costs and regular maintenance would need to be considered. A high gross salary can also diminish when tax payments are factored in. But high rent may be offset by lower utility costs.

Think about the future and how you might want to spend your money. Will it be a case of investing it as savings, supporting your current lifestyle or a combination of both? Setting your expectations from the outset and doing your research will make it much easier to gauge how your new income and outgoings stack up against your finances at home.

It’s often worth contacting locals or other expats to get a realistic assessment of what running costs you should expect. If you’re moving abroad with your employer they should be well-placed to help you with this too. Based on this information, you can then make a solid financial plan to help you to find the right balance between your standard of living and savings goals.

3. Move money swiftly

Expat in Canada

Depending on how long-term your move will be, maintaining accounts and investments in your country of origin may be important. Also, if you still have family and friends “back home” you might need to make occasional payments to them. When you’re considering which banking arrangement is right for you, look at what is going on at home and think ahead. Will you only be making the occasional transfer or do you expect to be moving larger amounts like mortgage payments and school fees between borders on a fairly regular basis? Seek guidance on any restrictions regarding frequency and the sum of outgoing and incoming payments in all countries that you will be making payments to and from. Ask a financial expert with experience in expatriate finances about which setup will be best suited to your needs – especially if you’re planning to travel and move fairly frequently.

4. Familiarise yourself with the regulations and requirements

Expat in Italy

Even if you have lived in a country for many years, speak the language fluently and know your way around, tax regulations and requirements can be confusing. This feeling can be exacerbated in a new country, especially as you may well be required to submit a tax return both in your “home” and new countries. But understanding where and how your earnings need to be reported, which taxes to expect and how to manage their impact on your finances, is crucial to wealth management. This should play a vital role in your financial planning before you move and in negotiations regarding your expat package. So seek information about your new country’s taxation system as early as possible in order to be well prepared for your negotiations.

5. Plan your saving and investments – in multiple currencies

Expat in Turkey

Earning in a different currency than you are saving or investing in could make financial planning complex. It can be hard to predict how currency fluctuations might affect your savings, especially when it comes to things like pensions. Again, a trusted adviser may be able to assist you in deciding which currency is likely to give you the best return on investment and the most security.

Small elements of your living costs can compound to make a significant dent in your budget and potential savings; so speak to your employer and don’t be afraid to negotiate when it comes to your expat package and salary.

You may also want to explore with your employer the option to receive your salary in the currency that makes things easier for you, e.g. your “home” currency, rather than the local currency. Or it could be a case of having the flexibility to access your money in several currencies. Your savings and investments may also be impacted by a weaker or stronger currency or exchange rate in your new home, so it’s worth checking back with your financial planner regularly and staying as informed as possible when it comes to the local rates.

What’s your top tip for managing your finances as an expat? Share your views with others using our Hints & Tips tool.

All rankings, figures and quotes are from HSBC's Expat Explorer survey.   The Expat Explorer survey, now in its eighth year, is the world's largest independent global expat survey. Commissioned by HSBC Expat and conducted by a third party research company YouGov, 21,950 expats based in over 100 countries were questioned between March and May 2015. In order to be included, each country had to reach a minimum sample size of 100 expat respondents.

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