Financing a Move Abroad

Here’s another practical post. Many readers have written in asking what the real costs of moving abroad are. It’s a great question. So let’s do it. Let’s talk about the nitty gritty of how much money it took the Blairs to move to another country. Spoiler: it wasn’t free, but it likely wasn’t as much as you’d guess.

Also, I’m going to write this using a tone that assumes you’re interested in moving abroad. If you’re not, no stress. Feel free to skip this post.

Our rent for La Cressonnierre is almost exactly the same as the rent we paid on our modest home in Denver (around $1500/mo). It’s actually slightly less or slightly more depending on the Euro exchange rate. If the house was closer to Paris, I’m sure it would be much more expensive, but because it’s almost 2 hours away, the price is very reasonable. After some research, we can see that our daily expenses and utilities in France will be quite similar to what they were in Denver. Which means that really, our monthly family budget won’t change much at all. So the good news is: if you can afford to live wherever you’re living right now, you can probably also afford to live abroad — assuming you’re flexible about location. In fact, if you move to a country with a lower cost of living, your monthly budget costs could even go down.

But, there are real costs leading up to the move.

1) Passports. If you or your kids need one, they are about $100 each to apply for.
2) Visas. Some countries require them. Some don’t. It depends on where you’re headed and for how long. Our visa applications were about $125 each. If there are less of you, costs would obviously go down. : )
3) Travel for visa application. My sister had no travel costs for her visa application, because her assigned consulate is in San Francisco, where she lived. But we had to fly everyone over 6 years old to Los Angeles. The flights were about $115 each. We went back and forth the same day, so there were no hotel costs.
4) Luggage. You may already have what you need, but if not you’ll have to go shopping. We found our luggage for $90 per person.
5) Plane tickets. This was by far our biggest expense. We found our plane tickets for less than $600 each, which was a good price, but they added up fast.
6) Rental security deposit on your Home in Another Country. Of course, any time you rent a home, a security deposit (usually at least 1 month’s rent) is required up front. In our case, assuming we receive a refund of the security deposit on our rental in Denver, this should be close to net zero expense.
7) Moving service. If you need to move your stuff out of the house you’re leaving behind, you’ll need to recruit friends and neighbors to help, or hire a moving company. This cost might be eliminated if you decide to rent out or sub-lease your current home as a furnished property.
8) Storage unit. Our storage unit is about $140 per month. If you have fewer people in your house, I’m guessing you might own fewer beds and less furniture and might need less space — which means a better deal per month. Or, you might have a parent’s garage you could move things into. Or, you might not need a storage unit at all if you’re renting out your house as a furnished space while you’re away.
9) Storing your car. We actually don’t have a cost here, because we were able to turn in our lease with only a small additional fee. (We drive a Honda Pilot and it’s held it’s value so well, Honda was delighted to buy it back. Nice!) Happily, we only drive one car, so that was easy. Instead of storing your car, you could also sell it. (Here in France, we’ll arrange for another car to lease for the year — but again, that really won’t change our monthly car budget at all.)

Conclusion. Are there extra expenses associated with a move abroad? For sure. The truth is, there are extra expenses associated with any move, any where. But it’s definitely less than we expected when we started our planning. Could we have done it a few years ago, back when I started Design Mom? Hmmm. Probably not. Ben Blair was a graduate student and we lived in New York with 5 kids — a very expensive proposition — it was hard to set aside money. But we’ve both been fully employed for the past couple of years so we’re in a different situation now. I’d guess, if you’re a family of 4, your moving expenses could probably be less than $5000. That’s not chump change, but it’s also not a down payment on the average American house.

Really it’s all about whether you want to do something like this or not. And I totally get that it doesn’t appeal to everyone. It wouldn’t always have appealed to me. We’ve only been here a week, and maybe I’ll feel different in the future, but at this point, the hours of research, preparation and stress leading up to the move were far more of a challenge than the funding.

What do you think? Are you a pay-for-an-adventure sort of person, or do you prefer your money securely in the bank?

P.S. — I’m really, truly no sort of financial person. So I will feel just awful if you make any plans based on what I’ve written here without doing your own research or seeking expert advise. : )

87 thoughts on “Financing a Move Abroad”

  1. Thanks for taking the time to write this post; I’ve been wondering about this, as an option for my family. My son has been in French immersion school for almost 3 years and he is about a year away from being 100% fluent. We’ve thought of making the move to France for a year or so he could experience life there and I am not sure what is holding us back!! Anyway, thanks for the post and I look forward to reading about your French adventures.

  2. i made a guess before reading through this post. you are right, it is less than i expected. yeah, you!!!!! here’s my question: how and why did you decide to move to france for a year? did you have any apprehensions for yourself or your kids? what were they and how did you make heads or tails of it? if you’re willing to spill it; i’m ready to ask it:) have a wonder-filled day!!!!

  3. I would love to hear more about what you decided to take and what to leave behind. Also, how did you get the things you decided to take all the way to France? I assume you didn’t need to take much but what about books, electronics, clothes, etc.? How did the kids decide what to take and what to leave behind? This is so inspiring for my spring cleaning! I have adopted your rule of what school work/art is really worth keeping. If you haven’t used something for 1 year do you really need it? It makes so much sense to look at things from another perspective! PS – the tree house is amazing!

  4. Thank you so much for posting about moving to France. It would be my dream to move my family to England, but I think I’m the only one with that sentiment right now.
    As a fellow graphic designer, I am also enjoying your posts on art projects with kids. They are more fun than the average “Crayola” variety. We’ll be trying the Potato Print project soon!

  5. I would LOVE to live abroad with our kids for a year or longer. unfortunately, both our jobs are based here (law and oil). I love following your adventures. Can’t wait to hear all about the area you live in now!

  6. Thanks for an interesting read. One other money-related point that you’ve mentioned before, but I think is worth re-stating, is that you and your hubby can both work from anywhere. I’ve asked my husband several times lately, “So, is there any way you could work from another country for a year or so?” And his answer is, “Sure. I’d just have to learn German (or French, etc.), including all the work-related terminology, then go through whatever process it would take to get licensed to be a land surveyor over there.”
    So for now, it’s a no-go for us. Rats. We’ll just have to live vicariously through the Blairs.

  7. My family of four has moved internationally three times- By far the biggest expense was moving company and car shipment (once by boat and twice driving across boarders)- I really enjoy living in new countries and hope we can do it again soon!

  8. As a single person (and an Aussie) I lived in Japan, England and here in the US (where I met my husband). We have 3 small children now but I would love to live in a foreign country again – when they get a little older. I love France and am so excited you moved there so I can follow your journey on living there with your kids.

  9. i’m sure you’ve covered this and i just missed it, but how are the kids doing school over there? sort of a cultural year of education + at home enrichment, or are they going to french schools?

    that’s the one aspect i’d be dying to know!

  10. I’ve been enjoying reading your French posts. Could you comment about the costs of health insurance while you’re in France? Also, how do you plan for your kids to learn French and meet French friends (you home school, correct?)

  11. My husband and I have often talked/dreamed about moving abroad. Thank you so much for putting the relative expenses in this post. It helps to demystify the moving process and make the dream seem a little more like reality.

    Enjoy la belle France. What a wonderful experience for your children!

  12. This info is fantastic. My husband and I moved to the Caribbean from the US last year and our biggest expense by far was transporting/ shipping our belongings. We also opened a pediatric dental office, so we had to ship our equipment. I think your estimate is perfect, given that your stay abroad is for a limited amount of time. If you plan on taking your furniture, appliances etc the estimate will be much much higher.
    I lived in Europe as a child for a year and it is still an experience I refer to often. Your children are very lucky!

  13. My husband is British and I desperately hope that we get to give our kids at least a couple years of their youth in Britain, or Europe, or anywhere other than the US, for sure. I LOVED reading this post, and ALL of your posts on the move. Seriously, they’re so easy to read, so thoughtful, and so helpful. I would love it if you would write about what it’s like transitioning and learning the language, both for you and the kiddos. :)

  14. I love these French posts, and appreciate the practical tips. Here’s my question–how are you working medical/dental/orthodontic/prescriptions, as well as mail? (I feel pretty much wed to our local orthodontist with three in treatment right now– perhaps your kids inherited better teeth, but that is a huge consideration for us in moving at this point.)
    Does mail forward internationally? Was that a huge hassle to change your address on all the accounts and everything? I admire the flexibility that renting a house and leasing a car gave you–way to seize the moment! Vive la France!

  15. Hi Gabby! You say that you’re not a financial person, but I’d say that you are an expert at aligning your finances with your values/priorities/life enjoyment. I’ve on only met/read a few financial “experts” who are really good at explaining that. We’re trying to get our financial house in order so that we align our money-priorities.

    I don’t know if living abroad is in the cards for us, but I am trying to have a long-term plan to take a 3-6 month sabbatical abroad. That seems a lot more do-able, but still a tad bit of adventure.

  16. Thanks for sharing this! My husband and I would really love to move abroad at some point in our lives, so this is really helpful. :) I’d like to head to England (where I have family, though I’m American) or Wales, or possibly Belgium or Italy. We’re keeping our options open. ;)

  17. $5000 dollars to get to France seems quite reasonable to me.
    However, this is not the full cost of moving country.
    I moved to Japan for two years and there were a lot of hidden expenses.
    They included –
    New cell phone ($100 for the phone plus $100 for deposit)
    Setting up phone line and internet ($50 installation and $100 deposit)
    Switching the gas and electricity into my name ($100 deposit on each bill)
    Transferring drivers licence ($40, would have been much more had I not been from Ireland, they have an exchange deal with Japan). Car insurance required an upfront payment of around $300.
    Total approx $900.

    I also had to choose whether or not to ship clothing or buy it in Japan. There is no way I could have lasted through four seasons on one suitcase of clothes. Shipping transatlantic is very expensive, so I chose to buy clothes again in Japan. I then had to throw them out/give them away when I returned home.

    I don’t have children, but if I had I would have needed to purchase school uniform sets ($200-300 depending on age) a regulation backpack ($100), gym kit, musical instrument and lunch kit ($150). Also, each child requires a full set of school books ($150ish).
    $600ish per child.

    Further to that, many countries require more than one month’s deposit on property rental – Japan is usually about six months, half of which you won’t get back – it’s a “gift” to the landlord.

    While furnished properties come with certain kitchen things, chances are that these will be different to the ones that you are used to in your home country. Anything that you need to cook your normal food, make sure you check whether the house comes with it. I was very surprised to learn that electric kettles, toasters and OVENS are unusual in Japan. I had to buy my own.

    In short, moving country, even for a short time, is a very expensive undertaking.

  18. Hi Gabrielle,
    I’ve so enjoyed reading about your move (and your sister’s move) to France. It is my favorite country! The only important detail you left out of your post is that most people don’t have a job they can do from another country. If my husband and I were able to work remotely we would take our little girls out of school in San Francisco for a year in a heart beat and live in France. But no such luck. I will continue to live vicariously through you and your lovely family.

  19. I would love to know how you found your rental houses, both in Paris and in Denver. My husband and I are renters and are trying to find a neat home in Denver. Thanks!

  20. That was interesting to read – although I know I’ll never need it! We are farmers and therefore tied to the ground here. I’m glad you’re doing this – I’ll live in France through you!

    I will however, someday, drag my farmer away for a visit to France. :-)

  21. I’d agree with some other posters – the job thing is the biggest expense! Either you both need jobs you can do from anywhere, or be willing and financially able to take a “sabbatical”. Some employers are all for it…some would say thanks for playing and you’d be out your job. Since both hubby and I are in the tourism business, it rather requires our presence at our properties, at least during peak season. But I’ve thought about socking money away to be able to take an extended (3 months min) leave over the winter. Some day…

  22. I am also curious about health insurance and banking–did you have to open new bank accounts or can you use American bank cards (i.e. Visa debit cards) linked to your existing accounts? And what about taxes?

  23. Moving abroad is out of the question for us. My husband’s work is here stateside. However, your adventure has been inspiring. I have recently looked into a one to two month long European vacation for our family. With all your helpful hints about lodging and traveling with children I have found it is more feasible and less expensive than I previously thought.

    Absolutely LOVING your chronicles of your year abroad. Thank you so much for sharing!

  24. Love following your move abroad! My husband and I can both work remotely so we’re planning to spend the month of April in Argentina {with our 2-year-old}. It’s going to be our test run of trying to run a service-based business from abroad. Thanks for all your practical posts on living abroad!

  25. I’m absolutely loving these posts about your adventures abroad! I’m in college right now, and I’m currently saving every penny with hopes that I can study abroad next year.

  26. Very interesting – takes a lot of the mystique out of a move abroad. I’d always assumed it would be out of reach, but that doesn’t seem to be much more than the cost of moving states.

  27. I’m also interested in the schooling aspect. And even if you homeschool, how do you manage to find activities for all your kids to be involved in as they would here (i.e. sports, music lessons, clubs, whatever) so that they will meet people and have that sort of cultural immersion? Just the thought of the research and logistics that must go into that overwhelms me. Oh, and given that you rent in the US, will you be able to return to your home when you come back, or will you be looking for someplace new to live?

    It sounds like an amazing experience, but it would be tough to do with our jobs, so I’ll also be living vicariously through you, probably!

  28. Thank you so much for sharing – this information – and your ongoing experiences in France! The first time I went to France, I fell in love. I would move there in a heartbeat (like many of your readers), but it’s currently not an option due to my husband’s job (like many of your readers!). I know the blog is design focused, but I would love to hear of your experiences in the French food markets.

  29. Thanks so much for these very interesting posts. People always just assume they couldn’t possibly do this sort of thing, so hearing about how someone like yourself is pulling it off is very inspiring! I was hoping maybe for a future installment that you could talk a bit about technology. Obviously with you and your husband working remotely, making technology work had to be a big factor in your move. I would love to hear about things like getting cellphone and internet set up. What did you have to change (did you have to get entirely new cell phones, or if you have an iphone could it work with a french carrier for example?) and what could easily stay the same (could you just hook your same old laptop up to your new internet connection?). I would love to hear your thoughts, and thank you so much for sharing!

  30. You are so inspirational! I would absolutely LOVE to do something like this. My husband could teach abroad and I could do my business anywhere. I just don’t know if we could detach ourselves from D’s grandparents for that long. Perhaps one day, but for now I’ll live vicariously through you:) PS: A friend just gave me the heads up that D’s nursery/your CafeMom post was linked to from Martha Stewart. Neat, huh?! xx

  31. I am so envious I can hardly stand it..hahahaha…LOVE these posts and wake up daily waiting to hear about each little thing that you are doing. Our kids are 21 and 24 and becoming more settled in their own adulthood. My husband and I would love to spend a year in France. Our jobs are MD and RN (and we speak no French)….but I keep racking my brain for anything we might be able to do. Keep feeding my vicarious enjoyment.

  32. I can’t believe your rent is so low! I’m living in DC right now, where out rent feel astronomical. I would think France would be so much more expensive! Like you said, being farther from Paris helps with that. If my husband could work remotely, we would be doing this in a heartbeat. Le sigh. Someday!

  33. Thank you! This was so interesting. My husband has a work from home job, and though it might be stretching it to move to Europe, it’s nice to hear/read some practical advice.

    The Blair Family is seriously so cool!

  34. Oh I am completely obsessed with your new life in France and want to do the same thing. We’ve been talking about it forever and say “some year”. Well our oldest daughter will be 5 in September and we are looking into Kindergarten options and with that Sept birthday it seems so many schools and parents are waiting a year to start. I have decided it would be the PERFECT year to move to France… and she can start Kindergarten the following year. Researching it and talking to my husband as I type.
    Thank you for all your posts and keeping everything so “simple”. You are the best. While in France you must visit Chantilly. About 30 minutes by train from Paris and the most charming town built around horses and horse racing. Perhaps you can don fancy hats and attend one of their big races? I am looking into Chantilly for us if we can manage to follow in your footsteps and figure out a year-long relocation to France.

  35. My husband is Irish and I’m from New Zealand. We live in a tiny ski town in Colorado with our 8 yr. old son. Last year we were offered the opportunity to live on the tiny Caribbean Dutch island of Statia for 6 months. With 5 months to plan, we decided to go for it. It was an amazing adventure, and similar to your experience, was not much more expensive then life in CO. Having lived in Japan, NZ, Ireland and in various places in the US in the past 20 years, we were accustomed to packing up but owning a house, car and having a child required a bit more forethought.

    While we had a few unexpected expenses – higher food and utility costs for one – we found that ultimately, flexibility was key. We changed how we lived to fit our budget. I wasn’t able to work legally, so I volunteered as a Spanish tutor in a local private school. In exchange, I had access to their US based materials for my son. This helped fill in the gaps in his Dutch required schooling. We had to rent a car for the first few months, which was expensive. But when we bought a car, we were able to sell it again for the same amount a few months later. Some of our utilities in the states couldn’t be turned off without paying a penalty, so we had low monthly costs on that end.

    Would we do it again? Yes, definitely. Exposing our child and ourselves to different ways of doing, speaking and just living was priceless and unforgettable. All the best to your family as you start your French adventure!

  36. We’re a family of four and considering a year abroad in about five years, with at least six months’ time living in a European country. I’ve already started researching financials so we can make sure we’re saving enough to make it through the year. Of course, our costs will be much higher due to additional traveling but for the half-year we’ll be stable, living in one place, I’m not anticipating costs too much higher than our current living costs. But we shall see what happens in five years!

  37. Really, the costs don’t sound that much higher than a regular European vacation. You would need passports, luggage, and plane tickets either way. Plus you save money not paying a mortgage/rent while paying for hotel. And you can cook, saving some big money. It’s interesting how a week or two of eating out and staying at hotels can add up really quickly (and I’m just speaking from experience of room and board for two!) It sounds like a great way to have a real, in depth experience abroad. How nice that it works out for you guys to do it!

  38. I would love to live abroad. But I honestly don’t know how I would do it. And my fiancé is very reluctant to move because he is so attached to his family which frustrates me a lot. I understand he constantly needs to be by his family, but he needs to learn how to live without them for once. Also, if I could have any advice on what job I can have to be able to live there, I so would do it! My dream is to live abroad. You’re living my dreams!

    Missing Amsie Blog

  39. this is such a helpful post for me. For a million different reasons. My husband and I would loooove to live abroad one day (soon?). Right now he is finishing up his undergrad, he’ll be going to graduate school soon, and we are expecting our fourth baby.

    How did you guys make ends meet while BB was in graduate school and you were unemployed?

    Also, we’re thinking of getting a Honda Pilot. Did you find it spacious enough for all the kids (8seats, duh) but for strollers and packing things too?

    Do you have much apprehension bringing your kids away from the ones you love, even if it’s just the year?

    These are questions I’m wondering about, that you mentioned throughout the post. Thanks Gabby.

  40. lastly I’m wondering (just thought of it) what are your kids doing for school? Are they nervous? Are you nervous for them? They’re clearly outgoing kids…

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