The 'economic advantages' and hidden costs of living abroad as a freelancer

Stephanie Bergeron Kinch
A view of Copenhagen taken by the author.
Photo by Stephanie Bergeron Kinch

The past 11 years have taught me that while there are many economic advantages to living in Europe, permanently moving to a new country can be expensive.

When I met my Danish husband in 2005, I could barely point out Denmark on a map. All I knew was that he was a cool Danish scientist and I wanted to be with him forever. We got married and moved overseas in 2008, taking only five suitcases with us on the plane.

I have since learned to speak Danish, retrained for a Danish driver's license, learned to pretend to love pickled herring, and received Danish citizenship. Other additions and acquisitions in the years since my move include three children, one cat, one big house in the suburbs of Copenhagen, a car, and many bicycles of varying sizes.

My husband and I take full advantage of the economic upsides of living as educated professionals in Europe. I work as a freelance writer, but I never have to worry about health insurance because it's provided by the state.

When we had three children in five years, we were entitled to a total of three years of maternity/paternity leave, which we could share. Even as a freelancer, I received state-paid maternity leave.

The past 11 years have taught me that while there are many economic advantages to living in Europe, permanently moving to a new country can be expensive.
Stephanie Bergeron Kinch
Freelance business writer

Our kids will go to college for free through the master level, and they will receive living subsidies from the state while they do. We enjoy five to six weeks of vacation every year, time that allows us to take inexpensive road trips to neighboring countries like Germany and Sweden.

With advantages like this, it's no wonder that the idea of living abroad appeals to a lot of people: Two-thirds of U.S. workers say they would move abroad for a substantially higher salary, according to a November 2019 study. That's 66% of the American workforce willing to leave everything behind and live the high life overseas if the pay was good.

The truth is, though, when you add in all the costs of being an expat, the extra money can disappear. So, before you quit your job and buy a one-way ticket across the Atlantic, consider these hidden costs of moving abroad.

You get to pay your taxes twice

American expats have the privilege of doing taxes twice a year — once for the country they live in and once for the U.S. government. That's because America is the only major country in the world with a citizen-based taxation system.

Luckily, cross-country agreements mean that you won't be double-taxed, but you will need to pay for an expat-friendly accountant or tax software. I pay my accountant $500 just for my American taxes each year.

While we are on the subject of taxes, expect to pay more if you are moving to Scandinavia. Social safety nets aren't free — you pay for them with income tax rates of up to 40%+ and a sales tax of 25%.

After your kids turn 2, they have to pay an adult fare on overseas flights. This adds up for annual trips to visit family in the U.S.
Photo by Stephanie Bergeron Kinch

The forms are expenses

European immigration laws are tightening, which means more fees and forms for those hoping to move to the EU. If you're lucky, you will already have a job that handles this for you. If you take the love boat over, as I did, you're stuck fending for yourself.

The application fee for a family residency permit in Denmark is currently $940. If you already have a job contract, the cost drops to $445. Waiting times for these permits vary from a month to more than a year, and the permits aren't permanent.

Depending on your circumstances, you will have to renew (and pay!) every few years until you have been there long enough to apply for permanent residency. Your applications don't always have to be submitted in person, but once you move, you can expect many visits to the immigration office to handle visa and residency permit concerns. If that office is on the other side of the country, you will have to pay for transportation and accommodation costs as well.

It costs a lot to bring your pets

No wants to leave Fido or Fluffy behind, but is it worth upwards of $3,000 to take them with you? That's the decision many pet-owners have to make when moving to Europe. The cost of internationally shipping a cat or dog is $1,000-$3,000. They also need extra vaccines, health certificates, and an $89 EU pet passport.

You have to move by ship

When I moved to Denmark, I brought three suitcases with me. At 24, I didn't own much else. If you are already established in the U.S., you may have furniture, household goods, and other belongings. For those items, there's container shipping.

Basically, you shove what you need into a big metal container and send it on a slow boat across the Atlantic. Transit time can take anywhere from 11-53 days, and delays aren't uncommon.

Expect to pay $1,500-$2,500 to ship a 40-foot container to Europe. That excludes delivery from the port, insurance, and customs fees, which can vary greatly depending on your destination and the contents of your container. For a more accurate price, check out this shipping cost calculator.

Getting home for the holidays costs thousands

After you move, there's an ocean between you and your family. There's no cheap way to cross it — especially if you have three kids like I do.

I spend $3,000-$4,000 every year to head home for the summer or for Christmas, plus the cost of a rental car, meals, and accommodations. Emergency trips back for funerals or sickness carry an even higher price and require an extra emergency fund.

Start saving for this fund before you move — you never know when you will need it.

It's still a pretty sweet deal, though

I always imagined myself working a 9-5 job. You usually need full-time employment in America to get security and benefits. In Denmark, everyone already has that.

As a freelance writer In the United States, I would have to worry about things like health insurance and expensive child care. Here, a strong public safety net takes care of me and my children, giving me the opportunity to build my career my way.

As for take-home pay, I do make far more than I would as a writer in the U.S. I am one of a few native English-speaking freelance business writers in this tiny land, so the demand for my services is high from Danish companies that do business abroad.

You usually need full-time employment in America to get security and benefits. In Denmark, everyone already has that.
Stephanie Bergeron Kinch
Freelance business writer

'Moving abroad isn't like going on vacation'

If you are one of the 66% of Americans who would consider moving abroad, it's worth continuing to consider it. Just remember that moving abroad isn't like going on vacation. It takes real work, and real money, to put down roots in a new country.

In my experience, there are upsides, and it's worth putting down those roots. Just make sure that you are well informed, ready for the unexpected, and open to new and incredible experiences.

Stephanie Bergeron Kinch is an American freelance writer who has called Denmark home since 2008. In the past decade, she has written for several of Denmark's biggest brands, including Carlsberg, Grundfos, Novozymes, and Oticon Medical. Science, health, and technology are her primary specialties. Stephanie holds an M.S. in Global Studies from Lund University in Sweden and a B.A. in Journalism from Ithaca College. She lives in a Copenhagen suburb with her husband and three children.

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