“Adulting” overseas: financial planning 101


You’ve graduated from university and you’ve now come to the dark side: the real world. Long gone are the days when daddy would tie your shoes and send you off to school with a pre-packed lunch made with love by mom — you’re a grown up now and you have responsibilities now. Adulting, the part where you pay your bills, rent, rent, going to bed at a reasonable hour, time management business — it can be a rough transition when you first start out. But have no fear as we laid out some of the tips to make a part of your adulting easier. 

Now that you are likely to receive your salary or pay for your living expenses in different currencies, financial planning is an important topic that is sadly, hardly discussed. It’s always the most daunting part of our “adulting” process, but I wish someone had taught me the essential financial planning skills before I started my career overseas. Luckily it’s never too late to start learning about it now. There’s also no right or wrong answer, everything depends on your situation and your goal. The goal of this article is to share all the factors that you should consider in creating your own financial plan, so that it is easier for you to seek out professional advice later on.


Budgeting and Planning: Earn more, save more.

Illustration of Money (flickr)

The first step in financial planning (more commonly termed as ‘wealth planning’) is to aim for more earnings and less spending. If you are a student in countries such as Japan or Australia, students are generally welcomed in the part-time/short-term labor markets and enjoying relatively high hourly wage. Make use of your stay, but be aware of the proper procedure to apply work permit in whatever visa you’re currently under. If you are employed, check whether there is a clause regarding an additional job on the side in your contract. If your employer allows you to take an additional job, you could also tap into the part-time/short-term labor markets–which I mentioned before or start consulting/freelancing job online. I’ve met some people who have income/assets in multiple countries, just because you’re currently living overseas does not mean you should stop managing your finances overseas.

The hardest challenge to tackle here is probably about taxation system. If you are employed, your employer may cut the tax from your salary every month and file the tax at the end of the fiscal year on your behalf, however you are still responsible to ensure whether the reported number is already fair and maximizing your rights. 

After you familiarize yourself with your tax responsibility, one key area in reducing spending is to be aware of the tax deductions. Check whether you are qualified for some tax deductions. In many countries, foreign employees are also obliged to pay for a national pension plan. If you decide to leave the country, find out if you’re qualified to claim back a percentage of your national pension payment. If you and your family will stay long-term in countries where national pension plan is neither reliable nor beneficial, you could also opt in to a third-party retirement plan. If you have an asset or an investment on the side, the tax treatment is also different. The point is, your tax record will affect the continuation of your work visa, your permanent residence application and therefore, your long-term stay in other countries.  

International banking and remittance

Illustration of ATM (unsplash)

International banking is tricky. You may think “Why is it so complicated?” but hear me out. In some countries, foreigners also face difficulties in banking with some of the major banks. In my experience in Japan, students often have difficulties getting both a simple saving accounts and a credit card, whereas employees often have difficulties getting both a credit card or a loan, even from the major banks. Once you open a saving account, follow the procedure to enable international transfer and know that some banks will still conduct a very manual investigation through mail or phone call. It is definitely very possible, but I encourage you to do your own research and compare the alternatives, even though you have limited options. 

Traditional remittance system through banks are common but exchange rates may not be the most competitive, especially if you will have to send and receive money frequently. More banks in Indonesia have stepped up their remittance program, however in some countries including Japan, only remittance through official partners will qualify for tax deductions.  When you are considering a few alternative fintech services such as Transferwise, it could be more cost-effective in exchange rates yet lose out on the tax deductions as mentioned previously. 

In my own experience, I have heard and encountered many kinds of banking systems which could come across as peculiar for foreigners. For example, ATM is not a 24/7 service in Japan, nor it is free. When you use ATM machines in some banks in Japan in English language mode, they leave out some of the advanced features, perhaps thinking that foreigners who don’t speak the local languages will likely run into troubles in accessing those features. Unfortunately, it’s really difficult to have a “common sense” when it comes to that, so I learn to ignore “common sense” and do my own research beforehand. 

Don’t Forget to Balance Your Social Life and Well Being

Managing your own life is part of becoming an adult-you have the power to choose what you are doing and always remember that.  You may fall into this “early career mentality” trap when you start your career, where you work lengthy hours and try to demonstrate yourself while saving some cash to get “as rich as quickly as possible.”

That’s all nice, but bear in mind that you have to work your whole life. On the other hand, it’s not the best approach to make yourself miserable throughout your working life. Having a social life is a good life to assist you destress and relax your mind from always thinking about job, it’s fine to have a little fun here and there.

Also remember that all of those $3 pizzas that you casually dump in every day aren’t going to be metabolized as fast as it used to. As you grow older, you’ll start to notice that some of the crap you once ate that had absolutely no effect on your waistline is starting to build a gut. This is a turning point in your life when you need to begin healthy lifestyle habits and take care of yourself, your mind and your body.

As a starting point, try to avoid eating out during your lunch break. This is where the pounds can creep up on you. Prep lunch items each week for the entire week so they are readily available for you to grab and go when headed to work. And as a bonus, you’ll likely save some major coin by doing this, and besides, cooking could be a great hobby to have. 



Financial planning is always best approached with numbers written down, so if you don’t have the expertise, seek out professional advice with your preferred financial advisor. The millennial generation is definitely more financially literate and empowered by the endless amount of information online. However do remember, we Google everything these days, but be smart and learn how to tell credible advice apart from others! 


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