The True Cost of Being an Expat

By on November 28, 2013

Grenada West IndiesI’ve written a lot about the cost of my two years living in the Caribbean. In sum, it was quite expensive. The $800 plane tickets, $500 grocery bills for two people, and $500 a month car rent all added up very quickly.

It was difficult to trim the budget but some of the more inexpensive aspects of our lives were the monthly Internet cost ($12/month) our cell phone bills ($40 a month for two of them) and entertainment (the beach is free!)

Yet, one thing I haven’t written about is the true cost of being an expat, the things most people don’t consider when they are dreaming of living on an island. That’s what I want to chat about today.

1. Healthcare Costs

Healthcare is pretty inexpensive in the third world. It’s about $30 to see the doctor without insurance. Dental work is about 1/5 of what it costs in the States. Deliveries are just a few hundred US without insurance. I could go on and on.

Many, many people are drawn to developing countries for these low costs. While many of them have trained physicians, most of the time they simply don’t have the latest equipment or infrastructure to handle emergencies. For example, there was really no NICU in Grenada, so as soon as I found out I was pregnant with twins, I only stayed on the island a few more weeks. There’s no hyperbaric chamber in Grenada if you have an accident while scuba diving. So, while anything could happen – even on vacation – I would caution against living on a Caribbean island permanently unless you have assessed the true cost of what it takes to keep you alive in an emergency.

2. Emotional Costs

Something else that many people don’t consider when they are captured by wanderlust is the emotional cost of moving to an island. You have to really consider that it might take you a while to make friends. It might take you a while to be accepted into the local community. If you move abroad with a spouse or significant other, you have to be prepared to lean on that person 24/7. Your best friend won’t be coming with you and neither will your mom.

Sure, Skype is great for keeping in touch with everyone back home, but you will not have the same support that you once enjoyed. Additionally, you have to consider the distance from elderly loved ones. I can’t tell you how many of my friends were devastated because they couldn’t make it back for a grandparent’s funeral or how one of my friends had to withdraw from school because their dad was sick and they couldn’t finish out their semester. It’s not fun to talk about, but it’s important to consider if you are prepared for the emotional impact that foreign life brings.

Of course, this post might make it seem like living out of the country was a bad experience for me, and that’s just not true. I feel really grateful that I was able to spend 2.5 years as an expat, as it was one of the most incredible learning experiences of my life. That being said, I also feel very, very lucky that I experienced no emergencies or medical issues while abroad. It could have easily happened to us, which would have made our island adventure not so adventurous after all.

So, if you are thinking about becoming an expat, awesome! It will be a great life experience. Just don’t forget to calculate in the hidden costs when you are doing all the math on moving, rent, etc. too.

Have you ever lived abroad or would you like to?

About Catherine Alford

Catherine Alford is a personal finance writer who received a B.A. from The College of William and Mary and an M.A. from Virginia Tech. When she is not writing for other websites on all topics frugal and fabulous, she enjoys sharing her adventures on her blog, Follow her on Twitter @BudgetBlonde or like Budget Blonde on Facebook.

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