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3 Big Money Mistakes I Made When Moving Abroad (& How To Avoid Them)

Here’s the thing about me: I am not impulsive. I like a plan. I like structure. I like details.

Here’s another thing about me: I like change. I don’t like routine. And I love to travel.

So now that you know a little about me, let me set the stage of the last six months of my life.

In June 2017, I decided to apply for a work visa for the UK. A bit of background: I did a year of study abroad in England during my undergrad and I fell in love. Never had I felt such a connection to a place before. It wasn’t just the tourist stops like Big Ben and the London Eye. It was the culture. It was the pubs. It was trains and the countryside and the freedom of being young and adventurous and finding a place in the world.

So when I came back after that year away, heartbroken and pining for my temporarily-adoptive country, I knew that one day, I would go back. Three years later, I had saved up enough money for the visa, the plane ticket, and maintenance funds to tide me over while I searched for a job. I quit my own job, hopped on a plane, and here I am, two months later.

Jobless.

I should say that I am extremely fortunate in my position. I am living with a friend who doesn’t charge me or the other housemates rent — instead, we split bills (about £150/$201.69 USD a month each), and alternate on who pays for heating (£30/$40.34 USD per top up, which we do whenever the machine tells us we’re almost out of hot water). We all chip in for food. I live in a cozy village only 20 minutes away from London by train, and I’m able to walk to most places if I need to get out of the house for a while. So all in all, my expenses are low, I am in a safe and secure place, and I live with awesome people.

I expected that finding a job would be the most difficult part of this whole affair, and I made sure to save almost double the required amount of maintenance funds before I even applied for the visa, just so that I could give myself as much of a cushion as possible. After all, the UK is not the cheapest country to live in, and I still have student loans and a credit card that I need to pay off monthly, both of which are attached to my Canadian bank account (while my bills here go through my UK account). Even though I planned ahead and made sure that I could afford this huge change in my life, there are a few mistakes I’ve made along the way that I wish I could go back and fix, just to save myself some time and money. Without further ado, here are three mistakes I made during my move to the UK:

1. Not Tying Up Loose Ends at Home

This one is actually not too bad, and it is probably the least troubling one on the list. Essentially, before I picked up from my home in Victoria, British Columbia, I had to change my address and settle any outstanding bills on all the things. For the most part, I did this. But in one case, I didn’t.

This would be with the CRA (Canadian Revenue Agency). Essentially, I got locked out of my online account and couldn’t change my address that way. I waited until I had settled in the UK and purchased a UK SIM card for my phone to make the call to get my account unlocked. This only took twenty minutes, thank goodness, and everything was easy to sort out. Nonetheless, I got hit with a hefty overseas charge on my phone bill, which will be automatically taken out of my account next month. I could have saved myself a headache and the cash just by being on top of this before I left, but unfortunately, I left it too late.

2. Not Reading Job Postings Closely Enough

This is a recent thorn in my side and one that I’ll be troubling over for a few weeks. After two months of job hunting, I finally got an interview for a library assistant position in a nearby town. The position is part-time, but the pay seemed good, and so that was fine with me.

It was only half-way through my interview that I realized that the pay was pro rata, which means, essentially, the job was posted with the full-time wage, and an indication that the part-time position would be calculated proportionately. So I would actually be paid less than half of the annual salary posted. Some quick math on my way to the bus afterward showed me that this would barely cover my living expenses — forget about transferring money to my Canadian account to pay off my credit card and student loan. I spent the evening sick with worry. If I was offered the job, should I take it, even though I could barely afford to live on it? Or turn it down, and hope that something better came along?

This is still a puzzle I’m pondering, and I guess I’ll find out in a few days what my answer is. But if I do indeed need or choose to carry on the job hunt, I’ll be keeping a closer eye on the salaries posted going forward.

3. Ignoring My Budget

That’s right — the evilest of sins, the most heinous of personal finance crimes.

Like I said, I put a lot into savings for my maintenance fund, and transferred myself $1,000 CAD ($790 USD) to start. This worked out to just under £600 — which I blew through in a matter of weeks. Before long, I was transferring myself another $1,000, and then another. Two months in, and I’m halfway through my emergency fund.

Now, obviously, I have bills and expenses, which takes out a sizeable chunk of that amount. But I also have constant hankerings for takeout and drinks, as well as having made a few small weekend trips that dipped into those savings. Furthermore, I have completely ignored my new budgeting app (sadly, Mint doesn’t work for GBP), and hardly ever remember to check it.

But the real problem might be that I am overly generous. The friend who lets me stay in his house rent-free was also job-hunting at the same time I was, but unlike me, did not have an emergency fund to float him for the time being. This meant that on days when we felt too lazy to cook and wanted a takeaway curry instead (how British of me, I know), or when we wanted to catch a film or take the bus into downtown, I paid our way. I don’t regret these things — he is, very generously, saving me hundreds of pounds by not charging me rent, and we both really hate job hunting, so morale can get low at times. But I also know that it’s been a huge drain on my financial resources and that me six months ago would have been horrified at the amount I’ve been spending.

*****

Of course, all this can easily be put back on track, and there are things I can do to make my situation easier on myself. After all, the whole reason I made this move was that I love this country, I love everything I can do here, and I’m looking forward to spending the next couple of years traveling, seeing my friends, and making memories. Holding myself accountable when it comes to my finances will go a long way in making sure that my time here continues to be awesome and that I don’t cause myself more stress than necessary. And really, what more can a girl ask for?

Jess is your average Canadian girl living abroad. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, writing, and hunting down ingredients for Caesar cocktails.

Image via Unsplash

  • Wow, it’s like reading my own life. I’m from Vancouver and moved to the UK three months ago. It took me 2 months to get a crappy retail job (although it’s full time hours thankfully). I moved with my boyfriend and we didn’t follow our budget as closely as we should have, I have a credit card bill to pay at home still, and we’ve been doing a lot like going out with friends and weekend trips too. It’s been really tough and I feel like were floundering but I hope you can get back on your feet and back on track soon too! It’s an amazing place to be so far.

  • Sarah

    You all are so lucky you are Canadian and can apply for the youth mobility visa. I did a year in the UK for my masters degree and wanted to stay on afterwards with my boyfriend, but as an American this was impossible. I applied for a million jobs and even went on some interviews, but pretty much no one will sponsor a work visa unless it’s on a special skills list and even then I think it’s tough. I had to leave. Luckily, I’m married to that boyfriend now, who’s a Brit, and we’re excited to be moving back next year.

    Jess, if the library job is part-time, you could maybe do that and then a second job on the other days to cover expenses?

  • Cori-ri Anne

    I moved to New Zealand with my boyfriend and I was planning on starting on my masters, but neither of us had jobs. It is really daunting, I totally feel you. I was listening to “you are a badass at making money” recently and Jen Sincero had some great tips about manifesting what you want in life. So if you really want the library job- hang around libraries, make friends with the assistants and librarians, grab a coffee where they get coffee, volunteer to read to kids, get to know the neighbourhood, mood board it up- etc. (Obvi this applies to whatever job you want if not this one) This helped me get my job and many things in my life that I NEVER thought I would have (tiny house, property by the ocean, a ring on my finger)- MAY THE POWER OF MANIFESTATION BE WITH YOU!

  • Wow, this makes moving daunting! I’m planning to move to Australia and New Zealand (from Vancouver as well) in October 2018 on a working holiday visa with my boyfriend. I have credit card debt that I’m trying to pay off asap (just a few thousands left!) but I’m most worried about the student loans! I’m doing well here managing living expenses and student loans, but the idea of moving far away and potentially struggling to find a job for a bit is making me worried – although, I’ve heard nothing but great things about the job markets in Australia and NZ.

    Thanks for sharing these tips! I’m definitely keeping an eye out any loose ends and really, really sticking to our budget until we’re more settled in.

  • Emma Watson

    Thanks for sharing these tips! My boyfriend and I are planning on making the move next year from Australia sometime, and the job front and amount of savings area a few of the things that’s making me really nervous! Do you happen to have a blog where you’ve spoken about how much to save before you go? I’d be really interested in reading that x

  • Ludo

    Thanks for your article! Having moved to the UK from another country myself, I understand how daunting the process is, and I had the luck of being a EU citizen! However, I would say that the main issue that I see here is not having a job or at least an internship (even unpaid!) lined up for your first few months abroad. It would have helped immensely either because you’d already have a salary (job/paid internship) or at least access to more networking opportunities (unpaid internship). Personally, I moved to the UK after finding a 6-month internship which covered my rent, and luckily eventually turned into a job. Something that you could do now while job searching is signing up with a temp agency and do some volunteer work to keep you busy, beef up your CV with ‘local’ experiences, and get to know more people! Best of luck 🙂