0 In Expat Life/ Money Diary

Money diary: On saving money as an immigrant

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

A few months ago I shared my immigration story, talking about the choices I’ve made and the inherent privilege that has led me to this position today. Then after writing it I started drafting this post about saving and spending as an immigrant. It floated in my drafts for months. When, a few months back, I saw Rachel’s post about the cost of expat living, it inspired me to go back to this draft and publish it.

Before being an immigrant, it had never occured to me that being an immigrant makes it more difficult to save money (or keep said saved money) even in my extremely privileged situation. I came to that realisation in 2016 when I had to spend the rest of my savings on flights and visa fees.

That was thousands and thousands that had suddenly disappeared. And then what? I had the priviledge of being allowed to stay in the UK? That’s it? It hadn’t actually bought me anything. Just a priviledged visa status, which the UK likes to sell to the highest bidders anyway.

I believe that I’m pretty good at savings. I don’t have that many expenses (from other privileges and circumstances that have been in my favour). Despite all that, I’ve found it hard to save long term. As an immigrant, I think that correlates with additional fees that come up every once in a while. We know about them, we save, and then our money is gone again and our status has barely changed. Life just keeps going at the same pace.

In 2016, to go apply for my spousal visa, I spent:
Flights to/from home = £507
Visa application = £1700
Health surcharge = £500
Trying not to lose one’s sanity over said visa application = priceless

And it does add up. Next year in 2019 will be my fourth visa application to the UK. Meaning that since 2012, I’ll have spent around £4,500 in visa fees alone. Having to fly (for visa purposes or to visit my family) that’s calculating an extra £3500 on flights to and from the UK/Canada. That’s over £8,000 in less than 7 years. Those are good savings! Money I kind of wished I had for our mortgage or travelling or paying for grad school.

The goal of this post isn’t to complain but to enlighten those who aren’t exposed to this. I personally made the choice to come here and go through all those visa processes. I also make the conscious choice to go visit my family maybe once a year. And I have no regret having chosen to live as an immigrant. This is now part of my reality. Something that is always at the back of my mind.

I talked recently to my lovely beautician and she was shocked to hear how much immigrants have to pay to stay here. Most people, and especially my friends who work for the NHS, are shocked to hear about the extortionate NHS fees the UK government has added to all visa applications three years ago.

I never knew those things either, but now that I do, I believe it’s important to talk about them.

Someone who read about how immigrants are lazying on benefits and who doesn’t know immigrants may be inclined to believe that misinformation. For your information, immigrants (from outwith the EU) cannot claim ANY benefits. If they become unemployed for whatever reason they cannot even be exempt from paying council tax. Also paying for national insurance and taxes on a full time job does not exempt you from paying the health surcharge which apparently pays for our use of the NHS (meaning someone like me is double paying for it).

I’m privileged that I’ve always had my partner by my side. The Brit has always been there to support me through the times when I couldn’t afford rent because I’d just moved back and wasn’t in employment yet and bought food if I couldn’t afford it. (I have always repaid him once I got a job.) My parents helped as well if I struggled. I’m lucky to have that support network. But not all immigrants have that luck. They work hard sometimes to just make ends meet, pay for visa renewals, potentially go visit family back home if they can afford that treat.

Being an immigrant costs more money than people may think.

It’s feasible of course to save for multiple goals and endeavours. But it depends on your life choices, priorities, and/or circumstances. Despite our similar or different circumstances, I think it’s so important to keep an open mind and share our experiences.

And it’s so important to talk openly about money and sustainable ways of saving, budgeting and spending as an immigrant (or generally). I’ll have more posts and thoughts coming on that subject soon.

Are you an immigrant? Have you struggled with long-term savings or have any tips?xx

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