Financial Lessons I Have Learned As An Expat
Being an expat has brought me many experiences and lessons. Some of them are financial, others aren’t. In this blog post, I want to go a bit deeper into my personal experience as a Spanish expat living in the UK and what financial lessons I’ve learned from it.
Expat Life Background
I’ve lived in the South of England for over 5 years, the time has gone by so fast. I almost feel like being half British. I greet people with you alright mate and expect everyone say sorry at all times, no matter what.
When I look at the pictures that I posted on my Instagram during my first days of living in Brighton, I can’t distinguish any wrinkles on my face, and it also seems that I didn’t know much about what grey hair actually means neither!
Fortunately, ageing in a foreigner country has also accelerated (I think) my knowledge acquirement and helped me develop a forward-thinking and open mindset, where I don’t believe in flags, but people that believe in themselves instead.
I remember well that quick learning sensation of my first year as an expat. It felt like in 12 months I had grown the equivalent of 10 years of living in Spain (or Catalonia). I switched from listening to dull politicians to strangers’ background stories, which was a lot more interesting!
But it wasn’t all fun.
Before I stepped my feet on British lands, I felt a bit down, I did not value myself much. I thought I was a bit worthless, like a shy little dog sharing territory with nasty bulldogs in an animal shelter. I was not able to compete, to bark and growl loud enough to get the top-quality ration of food, but I always thought that it didn’t matter though, as to whether I fought or not, I knew there would always be enough leftovers to carry on, at least, until the next day.
But that was THE problem, I would do nothing and still be able to survive.
Luckily that was all about to change in the UK. Here I would have to fiddle with a new lifestyle full of unknowns.
I Learned How To Earn
The first three months were easy and fun. As I had worked in Spain for over 4 years, I was entitled to get Spanish benefits for over a year period in the form of monthly payments. The good thing about the EU is that I could move to any EU member state and still be able to enjoy my Spanish benefits for three months.
After that, things got a bit more challenging. Besides having no longer any income type, the pound value against the Euro increase from 1.25 to 1.40 almost overnight. Goddammit! (that is an American word, I know, I know! 🙂 )
The shy little dog said: Ok Tony, you had enough, just book a flight back home, find a new job you won’t like, join an English academy and continue building your career and English from there.
But that wasn’t the point of all of it! The point was to survive, no to run!
Seeing my savings decrease day after day was scary! But how I could make money? I had been the last 4 years sitting on my arse in an office. Most foreigners like me made money on the hospitality sector. Me carrying a tray full of glasses and dishes to serve to customers? I couldn’t imagine that!
So, I had to learn to earn again, but this time life would be my trainer, not schools. Surprisingly, it was easier than I thought. I managed to convince someone to give me an opportunity to learn how to housekeep in a hotel. In a few days, I was the quickest of most of my colleagues.
That result left me in shock, I just couldn’t believe it! It didn’t seem that I was a little dog anymore. Where the heck I took all that energy from? How did I manage to learn and be so efficient in this short period of time? An industrial mechanical engineer making beds guys! What the hell?!
Then, I realised that the human’s brain and body are designed to perform at its best during “survival” times, as I could learn from reading the Emotional Intelligence book. It felt like having superpowers, honestly! I was stronger, faster and cleverer than ever and enjoyed “a nothing can stop me” feeling for a while.
I knew I had to fight if I wanted to “survive”. I learned to dig hard and discovered that the hardest I dig, the luckier I would become.
Now I was THE bulldog.
I learned how to earn in the real world.
I Learned How To Spend Less
If I wanted to complete my goal successfully (learn English) I knew it would cost me money. English courses are extremely expensive, and I wasn’t up for paying thousands to accomplish my goal.
Is there a monetary shortcut? I mean…, I live in an English-speaking country after all, why to pay money for something that a country itself can teach me?
This route is much cheaper but also much harder. It involves starting from scratch, you need to build your own base structure back up from the bottom, and qualifications, certificates or diplomas are worthless at the beginning. I wasn’t better than anyone else.
So, taking the shortcut seemed like a no brainer, it would be stressful but worth it (that internal stress would transform into external grey hair appearance later on!). There is a limited knowledge one can learn from a school anyway, the interesting lessons stand out there, in real life.
Suddenly, things like fancy televisions, watches, expensive clothes, cars or having the latest super iPhone version to show off to colleagues mattered nothing to me.
I valued other things instead, like living in a room close to Asda, Aldi or any other cheap supermarket. Sharing a house with someone acceptable. Meeting open-minded people who don’t mind going to a gay pub to enjoy some cheaper drinks or making friends who would listen to you without any judgement and without looking at your possessions.
Can you believe that I was happier spending less?
I Learned What Currency Risk Means
How much is the Pound worth today against the Euro? Checking this on a daily basis was a “bad” habit I developed during my first months. I was periodically transferring money in Euros from Spain to Pounds in the UK using Transferwise*, which was the cheapest well-known option to transfer funds among the expat community.
*If you join Transferwise using this link I am afraid you’ll get nothing and I’ll get £50 for every three people who join.
The issue was that me and my friends were trying to “time the market”.
Will the £ go down tomorrow? Maybe it’s better to wait a bit and transfer a larger sum later on?
That bad habit continued, and I ended up hooked at trading FOREX myself with an ending story of losing 45K EUR.
As I commented earlier, the Pound value increased dramatically against the Euro, and suddenly 1000 € was worth £700 instead of £800.
The lesson I take from this is actually rather basic, but I think it is sometimes overlooked. From my personal point of view, anyone who’s planning to retire in a country that uses a different currency should add a margin of safety percentage to their retirement pot.
I sometimes wonder if everyone from the financial independence community who plans to retire abroad has taken the currency-risk into account.
I Improved On Researching
Every country works differently and finding out how things work in a new unknown environment can become somewhat stressful. The more developed are your researching skills for finding reliable information the better. And as every skill, the more you practise it, the more you master it.
This skill will have a positive impact on my finances, otherwise, I would have never known how to invest tax-efficiently using ISAs or even bump into the financial independence community J
There are many more life lessons I have learned as an expat, but they are not financial ones.
Generally speaking, living abroad for a certain period of time opens up your mind towards a different vision. You become an observer and watch crowd movements to theoretically “copy” them and become a crowd member, or in other words, to adapt yourself to a new culture. At least that was how I experienced it. But watching how the crowd behaves raise questions sometimes and especially if some of their habits involve loads of spending or bragging about possessions or a high social status lifestyle.
Moving out of your comfort zone is the key sentence of the whole experience. Most employers value it massively, and it gives a lot of confidence to oneself, which is ideal to have a better opportunity to increase your income in the future. And not to talk about the networking benefits of speaking another language, especially English that can open some business opportunities, collaborations and an extensive amount of other advantages.
What do you think about the financial lessons I’ve learned as an expat? Do you think that I may be missing some? Perhaps, you are or were an expat yourself and would like to share your own experience?
Then don’t hesitate to write a comment down below, I would love to hear from you and connect with awesome people 😉
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