Pitfalls and Curveballs – Common Errors Expats Make

Ignorance and inertia are often the biggest hurdles for expats to overcome in their business of living life in Asia. Here are some common and costly errors we make when moving abroad. 

Expats choose to live abroad for a variety of reasons. Most settle rapidly and enjoy the international lifestyle, never wanting to give it up. If you are a relative newcomer you will be wise to take note of the pitfalls which have affected your more experienced fellow expats and ensure that you not fall into the same pattern of costly errors they have made before you.

High living costs

The most common error is underestimating living costs. Many expats talk about the cheap cost of local food but then often revert to their favourite but expensive imported brands. Others start to think in the local currency thereby losing the feel for their true costs.

Furnished accommodations often fall short of expectations, necessitating shopping for a substantial number of items which may become rather expensive.

There will be rental deposits and, in some countries, advance rental payments. If you are locating to Myanmar the market is very tough indeed and rent for a year in advance is the norm. At the end of leases, renewal rents are being doubled and sometimes tripled in Yangon.

Inflated start-up costs

When you first arrive it is easy to feel that you are on vacation and splash out on local activities, adventures and cuisine, thereby severely depleting reserves you had earmarked to assist you in establishing yourself. This can be exacerbated when locals see you as tourists and set about their usual occupation of separating you from the contents of your wallet.

Exchange rates

This is one of the most common discussion subjects at expat gatherings. When you initially relocate you have a tendency to make a mental note of the exchange rate and use this as your benchmark when making comparisons between the price of goods and services at home and in your new country.

When the exchange rate changes and you add in the bank charges, you start to participate in the discussion, often sharing how this has negatively affected you.

Many do not realise that they can employ a currency conversion service which will save them a great deal of money in making foreign exchange transfers to places like Thailand. Get in touch with me if you are interested in this service. It is simple to sign up to and to use and will make you considerable savings over time.

Personal protection insurance

Many expats ignore risks they would cover back home. It would be wise to secure similar levels of personal effects insurance and cover against accident or illness. Too many expats take the attitude that it will never happen to them. The sad news is that it often does! The vast majority are never prepared and when disaster strikes it is catastrophic.

Make sure that when you arrange insurance you do not fall into the trap of taking the cheapest. These schemes often fall far short of what they say they are and when a claim is made there is much less cover than you had anticipated.

Pension provisions

Relocating abroad with your job often leaves you to make your own pension arrangements. Many expats take the attitude that they will deal with this later but never get around to it. This is a grave error. The longer you defer the decision the more difficult it is to make up for the delay. I advise many clients on their long term plans for their golden years, and I make sure that their pension entitlements accrued back home are amalgamated into a future overall strategy.


It is usually the norm to have a bank account where you live to take care of your living expenses. It is also important to ensure you have international banking facilities enabling you to conduct offshore transactions to deal with matters outside your country of residence. Sometimes local banking is difficult. Remote areas and often entire countries, such as Myanmar, are a long way behind the expectations of expats.


Many expats assume that they are exempt from local taxes where they live. They can end up with a shock when they are contacted by the local tax department and pay fines as well as interest on the tax they owe. Make sure you understand the differences between the way things are taxed in your new environment and the situation back home.

Will and succession provisions

Some expats have a will which is valid in their home country. This may be insufficient for their new situation. When they pass away their beneficiaries will need to secure probate in each country where there are assets. This can often be tricky and extremely time consuming and block your heirs from accessing any of the money you leave them until probate is resolved in all locations.

Come and ask me for advise. I will safely guide you through the pitfalls and protect you from the curveballs which are most commonplace in the business of living life in Asia.

Common Errors Expats MakeQuestions to the author can be directed to PFS International on 02 653 1971 or email to enquiriesthailand@fsplatinum.com

Andrew Wood has been an expat in Asia for 33 years and is Executive Director with PFS International. He has been writing Net Worth articles for five years and has made a significant contribution to the PFS library of financial service articles dating back over eight years. These articles which cover the complete A-Z of financial planning are available to readers on request.


2 Comments to “Pitfalls and Curveballs – Common Errors Expats Make”

  1. Robert Cooper 24 July 2013 at 4:35 pm #

    I am interested in currency conversion services that will be cheaper than from my UK account with HSBC (UK pounds) to my Vientiane US$ account with Siam Commercial. I make few transfers but large ones. All go via a US bank (Wells Fargo etc) and bank transfer costs are high.

  2. PFS International 1 September 2013 at 7:01 pm #

    Robert, that should be possible. I will be in touch via email.

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