Moving Overseas on a Budget: How I Did It

I was born in the US but I was relocated to the UK as a child and lived there for 34 years. It was where I grew up, was schooled, and worked. However, it has always been a dream of mine to relocate back to the US.

The trouble was that I wasn't a corporate success and didn't have a high paying career; there wasn't a big boss somewhere in the States who wanted to pay for my relocation and my skill set. I wasn't in demand. Financially, I had zero savings and a pile of debt. This was not a great standpoint to plan a move, especially one which could cost thousands of dollars.

Five years ago, I was fresh in recovery. I had been battling addiction for the past ten years and had finally got the help I needed. Yet, I was faced with a mountain of debt and aspirations that felt like a pipe dream. Slowly but surely, I climbed the mountain, repaid my debt and was finally able to make my dream a reality.

Here is how I made it happen:

Research

First, I found a state where the cost of living was reasonable; I chose Portland, Oregon. I researched the area and found that not only were there many self-employed people, but there were many jobs available for me.

Cash flow forecast

I researched relocation expenses and together with the cost of living expenses, I set up a spreadsheet listing these:

  • Relocation expenses: Travel insurance, flights, hotel/hostel costs, baggage fees, transport costs, essential items for the house, food, telephone, cash;
  • Living expenses: rent, deposit, utilities, food, spending money, medical insurance, gym, telephone, transport, bank account, taxes.

I could then calculate just how much I needed to relocate, savings required, and how long I could sustain myself based on my earnings. Then I forecasted what I needed to earn, and built a business plan around this number.

I also settled all outstanding balances on my credit card, gym, bank, and insurance, so that I left the country with a clean slate. To avoid any fees, I also ensured I had a reserve in my UK bank account for any unexpected outstanding bills.

Transport

I ensured that I my chosen location had decent ground transportation: Cycling routes, buses, light rail, and trains that keep expenses low. Portland is the best city in the US for cyclists. The first thing I did when I arrived was to buy a second-hand bike, with a guarantee, from a co-operative. Using my bike as a mode of transport, I saved myself $100 a month on a travel card.

Housing

Once I got to Portland, I stayed in a hostel until I could find a rental. Using Craigslist, I searched for roommates offering apartments that were

  • were within cycling distance
  • close to amenities
  • close to public transport links
  • fully furnished

By knowing exactly what I was searching for in an apartment, I was able to separate the wheat from the chaff during my hunt.

Packing

I compared the cost of carrying additional checked-in bags on the airline versus shipping. I determined that it was too expensive to ship items that I didn't need. Shipping my books, clothes I didn't wear, kitchen items, appliances, bedding, my bike, etc. would have cost nearly $2000! Instead, I sold everything. I gave myself two large suitcases and I packed everything I needed for a few months. I knew that anything I would need to buy, I could get in the US, and it would probably be cheaper than the UK.

Airline

I compared the cost of a return seat to a one-way ticket. Not only is a return cheaper, it can help your insurance situation. I chose an airline where the cost of baggage, and excess-weight fees, are clearly set out and at a competitive rate. I flew with Virgin Atlantic to the US, who allowed me to check-in two bags for free, but I was required to pay a flat fee for excess weight (per bag). When I arrived in the US, I stayed with family for the first couple of weeks. When travelling to Portland, I ensured that my internal US flight had reasonable baggage fees, too. You can usually find an offer to upgrade to first class 3 hours before the flight departs, for $99, this is a great option as they include two checked bags in the upgrade fee.

As I decided to move before the holidays, and I was fortunate enough that friends and family contributed to my airfare.

Medical insurance

I weighed the cost and treatment options of travel insurance (as I had a return ticket, it was classed as a trip as opposed to relocation) vs. medical insurance in the US. I called healthcare.gov to get a rough cost and see my eligibility for supported healthcare. This was a vital part of my research in choosing a state with reasonable living costs. Oregon health coverage can cost around $300-400 per month.

While relocation was a huge undertaking, it was worth it. In my first two weeks in the US, I signed new contracts for work and have moved into my new home. Pipe dreams can indeed become a reality with lots and lots (and lots) of planning.