How I Afford My Expat Lifestyle
In a recent Instagram post I rambled on for about 4 paragraphs about how moving to Australia was the most expensive decision of my entire life. And I’m not exaggerating – I actually think it’s higher than the cost of uni. That said I went to uni 2009 before the Student Loans Company had a Britney Spears style breakdown (except instead of shaving their heads they tripled the fees).
Aside from the $7000 de facto partner visa and the flights back and forth proving to ourselves and everyone we know that 11,000 miles was a totally reasonable distance to maintain a relationship, the ongoing cost of building a life with someone from the other side of the world is huge – and never ending.
Don’t get me wrong, I acknowledge that we’re incredibly privileged to have access to safe air travel and salaries that allow us to save enough to fly regularly. But when I’m punching in my credit card details into STA travel for the gazillionth time and staring down the barrel a double layover 27 hour journey with jetlag to boot, I can get a little whiney. Don’t h8 me.
So for starters we have an emergency savings account offset against our mortgage with money that we don’t touch. I have a portion of this ear marked for any emergencies back home in the UK. The kind where I’d have to hop online and book a flight for the next day. That’s pretty essential. I’m an only child and my parents are divorced, so if anything happens and my Mum needs me, I’m up. If this was The Price is Right, Bruce Forsyth would be saying ‘come on down!’ #throwback
Aside from emergencies, we travel back about once a year. Recently we’ve been guided by who’s getting married and when, meaning the trips have been a bit closer together than once a year, but soz nothing is going to keep me from by best pals tying the knot (or the Portugal hen parties for that matter).
So we plan our trips well in advance, and usually put down a deposit of $100 with STA Travel, and pay the balance 8 weeks before we depart. That gives us time to save, and lock in great rates. Usually we fly with Royal Brunei – and if you’ve been avoiding them for fear of the unknown, don’t worry. They were kind of unknown a few years ago but they’re getting more and more popular, and they have some seriously cheap deals out for some months of the year.
We’ve found the cheapest months to fly either direction are Feb/March/April/May and Sep/Oct/early Nov. Royal Brunei does usually have a double layover (Brunei + Dubai) but I’ve a feeling they’re stopping this. Keep your eyes peeled for cheap sales – they do happen. Last year I flew Melbourne to London for $894AUD (about £460). But snap them up when you see them because the sales do end.
Top tip: search on SkyScanner and use the calendar to search by ‘whole month’ or ‘cheapest month’. Moving your dates by a day or two could save you hundreds. It also helps you identify busy (read: expensive) periods for if you’re traveling regularly. You get to know when is cheap and when is cray.
Royal Brunei has a new fleet of Dreamliners, which are definitely more spacious and have a much quieter in-cabin experience. The in-flight entertainment is on the up (and by on the up I mean they’re adding more classic plane movies like The Devil Wears Prada and more episodes of Friends) and the food is no better or worse than any other airline. Sometimes you get Magnums and pizza and that is a good time for everyone.
In terms of how much the trips cost all up, they can be pretty expensive because I’m visiting friends and family who I only see once a year. While accommodation is free as I’m staying with my mum or friends, I’m traveling about and renting a car and all that jazz to be able to catch people. I eat out, I celebrate, I buy things in shops I miss and take home all the Galaxy chocolate and Drumstick squashies I can fit in my suitcase.
Usually I’m using annual leave or working remotely while I’m away, so what I do in terms of cash flow is save up a certain amount each week before I go away, and then drain my savings right down and transfer it all to pounds using TransferWise.
Side note: TransferWise is LIFE CHANGING for moving currency around. Super fast and low fees – would definitely recommend.
Then while I’m away, I let my salary build up over the 3-6 weeks that I’m gone, and that’s my savings base replenished when I get back.
People seem to think it’s all glamour and excitement and #holidaytimes, but – and here comes the whinging millennial in me again – it’s actually quite stressful! Trying to fit people in doesn’t leave you with a whole heap of time to relax, and my trips home usually replace any other holiday we have together.
In 2019 we are planning to go to America just the two of us for our first alone holiday in yearrrrrs, but that’s taking some major saving and sacrificing to achieve.