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How Much Money to Save Before Moving Abroad: Auxiliares de Conversación

The big question everyone asked me when I moved abroad was:

“Are you crazy? Do you even speak Spanish?”

Just kidding. That came at a close second. The biggest question I was asked was:

“How are you going to survive over there if you only get paid 700€ a month?”

Well, if we think about the country that I come from, one thing is very obvious: The United States is relatively expensive. Our salaries are higher than some countries to cover the cost of living in different areas. For example, Northern Virginia is a pretty expensive area. If we were to go a bit further down south, some areas are not as expensive. The same goes with any other country you decide to live in, especially in Spain. So, how much money do you need to save before moving abroad? And how much money do you need to survive in Spain?

Saving Up

I’m sure going into it, we are all aware that moving is expensive. Moving anywhere, even down the road or into your first real home is expensive. In all the excitement and emotions of moving abroad, we tend to forget just how expensive it is. There are flight costs, buying all the home essentials, paying rent, security deposits, utilities, transportation fees, and more! Not to mention, what about all those cañas and tapas you’ll be getting with your new expat friends?

Before I moved abroad, I was fresh out of college. Whatever money I had, was from my parents, my graduation party, and a few random jobs I had while in school. It wasn’t much, and after my graduation party, it definitely helped, but I knew I needed more. When it comes to money, a lot of people are very touchy about the subject, including myself. Talking about money, how much I have or how much I don’t have, makes me anxious. I have a big fear of not having enough to pay for everything I need, and any emergencies. So saving up to move abroad gave me extra pressure to have enough cushion in my account.

The summer before officially flying over to Spain, I worked as a Cheese Bartender. The job paid a decent amount and I also received tips from my bar. From working as a Cheese Bartender, having graduation money, leftover savings from college, and helping out here and there with babysitting, I hustled. Below is a little snapshot of how much I saved, my total before leaving, and what my little income looked like:

Savings for Spain

Expenses before Spain

If you talk to my family, they will say I am probably one of the more “frugal” members. Or, I’m just cheap. But, when you’re trying to save money to go abroad, sometimes being cheap (or frugal) is necessary! I learned that if I wanted to make this type of lifestyle a reality, some things needed to change in regards to my expenses. I went out a lot less, lived at home to save money, worked a lot of double shifts at the restaurant to save money, and didn’t eat out as much or splurge on crazy items. Whatever money I spent before Spain was either on things I thought I would need (ie: clothes, shoes, etc) or very small splurges (ie: that tattoo hehe). Before even getting to Spain, Auxiliars will need to go and get their student visa beforehand. Below is a price breakdown of what I needed to pay for to be eligible to receive my student visa and get to Spain:

  • Background Check – $15
  • Notary for the background check – $20
  • Physical and doctor’s note saying I was healthy and sane – Covered by my health insurance
  • Student Visa application – $160
  • Flight to Spain – $500~ (I bought a one way ticket to Spain when I first arrived, because I wasn’t sure when I would be flying home)

*some of these prices are estimated, because I can’t remember how much I paid at the time!

In reality, after paying for all of those things, I probably had a total of $4000~ left in my bank account. My parents were very generous, to help me pay for a few things before leaving. They helped me pay for the flight to Spain, a hotel when I first arrived, and meals for the first 10 days. Although I wanted to fly over alone, my dad was VERY KIND and offered to go to Spain with me. He helped me get settled, made sure I was ok, and made sure I had an apartment.

Who can blame him? His first child was leaving the comfort of home and the United States! I decided to live in Spain, after only visiting the country briefly in high school. I decided to move to a country where no one else in my family had even visited, without any Spanish, and barely knew anything about the culture. I’m sure my parents questioned my sanity.

Expenses of Setting Up a Home Abroad

Setting up a new home is expensive. Living on my own, without my parents helping, was difficult. While living off-campus at my university was one thing, living in Spain on my own was an entirely different thing. I needed to figure out the cost of living in a foreign country, and the exchange rate of it all. In the Auxiliar de Conversación program, it is recommended that auxiliars save up enough cushion before arriving. As an auxiliar, I was only paid 700€ a month, at the end of the month. The program is also notorious for not paying their auxiliars on time. During my first year, I didn’t receive payment until the beginning of December! By then, I had already been working two full months with my schools. My second year with the program was much smoother. I received payment on time and had no problems.

*Pro tip: within the program, it can depend on who is the person that signs off on your checks. For my first year, the government of Castilla La Mancha was in charge of depositing my stipend. This caused for the late payments in the beginning. My second year in Andalucía, my high school was in charge of paying me. I only received one late payment because the professor hadn’t made it to the bank that weekend. 

If you’re worried about how much it can cost to set up life in Spain, here’s a little breakdown of my expenses.

expenses auxiliar de conversacionexpenses auxiliar de conversacion

Income

I was also very “frugal” in Spain, without skimping out on opportunities and other things. My main priority and goal was to travel as much as possible and live a typical Spanish lifestyle. While I took part in normal outings, such as tapas, cañas with friends, and going out, there were still times I opted out on a lot of things. I wanted to save as much as possible to travel as much as possible. This also meant that I took on a lot more private English lessons than the average auxiliar because I wanted to save. This is snapshot of what my income looked like while living abroad. I also picked up some freelancing opportunities here and there, which helped pay bills in the United States!

income auxiliares de conversacion

Savings Coming Home

While I tried to save as much money as I could, living in Europe didn’t allow me to save much. There are a lot of other programs in other parts of the world that allow expats to save a bit more money. For example, living in Southeast Asia is a lot cheaper than living in the United States AND in Europe. I have heard that programs over there also pay their English teachers a bit more, which makes it easier to save money. While living in Spain is a lot cheaper than living in the United States, it all became very relative. Although my stipend could be considered chump change back at home, it was considered to be a very good salary in Spain. Going out may be cheaper (hello, 1€ beers?!), but in the end, it ended up being the same.

At the end of my two years, before I moved home, I was able to bring back 1300-1400€. This was around the same amount that I had transferred to Spain when I had arrived my first year. The extra money I had was kept in a savings account in the United States, for emergencies. It was also great to have a little money in the bank when returning home. In the end, I didn’t spend more than I intended nor did I save too much more. I returned home with the same amount of money as I had started!

Worried about money?

If you’re worried about money, and it is something that makes you anxious (like me), I would recommend saving up a good cushion. Having $5000 saved up before going to Spain is more than enough, but I think having at least $3000 saved up should be plenty. If your parents are generous enough to help you, this will help cut some of the costs, like a plane ticket. If you’re going about this solo, $5000 should give you enough to transfer a fair amount to Spain, buy your plane ticket, and help you get set up.

My pro tip is to transfer a little bit of your income in Spain back to your account in the United States each month. This helps you keep track of your savings, gives you some money if you decide to come home and start job hunting, and is like an extra savings account for you! Having 700€ a month in Spain is more than enough for you to live comfortably. Of course, in different areas of the country, prices may fluctuate. But, if you can supplement your income with a few extra revenue streams, you will be set! Just don’t blow your hard earned cash (or coins) on those 1€ cañas, no matter how tempting!

how much money to save before moving abroad -- The quirky Pineapple

Pin it & Share the wealth!

 

Enjoyed this post? You might like these, too:
So, You Want to be a Blogger?
Raw Opinions: Auxiliares de Conversación
How to Apply for the Auxiliares de Conversación Program in Spain
Stop Asking When I’m Going to Join the “Adult World”

 

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  • Cassandra Le

    Thanks, Dave! I knew it would be expensive, but when everything starts adding up, I was so surprised and actually taken aback with how much things could be!

    I have heard that foreign teachers are making more money than other teachers. I’ve also heard that in Asian countries, a typical “white” English speaker will make more money or find more work much easier than someone who speaks English as their first language, but doesn’t look like a “typical” English speaker.

  • Cassandra Le

    LOL! A weird job title, right? I don’t know if other restaurants have a title like that, but what my job responsibilities were, were to: make cheese plates for customers (since it was also a wine bar/restaurant), make desserts for the restaurant, take care of espresso orders, and general customer service! I did a lot of cheese tastings and recommended/paired cheeses together with wine! It was intense. A graduation party is the party you have once you’ve graduated from university! (: I’m not sure if this is a States thing, but usually people give you money for it – like a “congrats!” type of gift.

    Yeah, thank goodness for my dad, because I would’ve been a very lost puppy!

  • It’s an extremely detailed account of your accounting Cassandra, well done with the spreadsheets! When I first moved abroad I was also shocked and nearly unprepared for how much it costs to set up a house, even in third world countries it can be fairly expensive!

    You are right about teaching English in Asia by the way. This sounds like a joke, but it’s not: I compared salaries of my friend who is a medical doctor in the biggest hospital in southern China. It turns out I made more money than him in my first year of teaching than he did in his first year as a doctor! WHAT. And apparently foreign teachers are making decently better money now than they were then (about 4 years ago).

    I guess the trick to managing personal finance abroad is all about leveraging your skills in the best markets.around the world 🙂

  • Ivy

    Okay first question- what is a cheese bartender? That sounds like an amazing job just from the name. Also what is a graduation party, why do people get money from it, and is it only in the States? So many questions! I loved that your dad went with you and helped you settle in <3

  • Cassandra Le

    Thank you, Deepika! (: I’m “frugal” to say the least hahaha but not cheap! Or at least I hope I’m not cheap haha that always has a negative connotation to it!

  • Cassandra Le

    Thanks, Allison! Spain is amazing! I loved being able to live there (:

  • Cassandra Le

    Thanks, Maegan! AHHH! That’s so exciting that you’re getting ready to move abroad! Where are you going? Good luck with everything!

  • Cassandra Le

    Thanks, RJ! (: I’m such a visual person, so I need some guidance on how to plan things out

  • Cassandra Le

    Thanks, Cat! (: I was breaking it down, and the cost of living in Spain is so different from the cost of living in the United States!

  • Cassandra Le

    Thanks Kyntra! To be honest, I actually hate spreadsheets and anything revolving accounting/numbers, but to be able to keep track of things, I guess we all have to do stuff we don’t like sometimes haha I hope you’re able to move abroad one day and experience it! It’s a great opportunity (:

  • Cassandra Le

    Thanks, Susan! It was tedious to track all of this, but it definitely pays off in the long run because then I could see where my money was going and learn how to save a lot better

  • Cassandra Le

    Thanks, Sara! (: I’m glad it was so helpful!

  • Cassandra Le

    Thanks, Faith! I hope you do decide to do it!! IT was an amazing experience, and I enjoyed learning all of it!

  • Cassandra Le

    Yeah, definitely! I think this breakdown is really specific to Spain, since the cost of living there is not very high. If I were to break down what my budget looks like in the United States, those numbers would be all over the place!

  • Cassandra Le

    That’s awesome! I hope you’re able to share in that experience with her! I’m sure my dad was super worried, but now our family thinks about it as an opportunity to travel more!

  • Cassandra Le

    Thanks, Charmaine! Haha yes I WAS WORKING AND GRINDING ALL DAY ON THOSE ENGLISH LESSONS! Also, working double shifts 3x a week at the restaurant before leaving was so tiresome, but I had such a huge anxiety about money that I felt like I needed to work more. Thank you!!

  • Cassandra Le

    Thanks, Julie! I wish I was able to save up a bit more, but bringing back the same amount as when I left isn’t terrible either!

  • Deepika Mehta

    Enjoyed reading your amazing money saving hacks and really admire your planning skills! Keep exploring and sharing your experiences 👍🏻

  • You’re very brave to have moved abroad! Spain does sound like a good place to experience a new life!

  • Maegan white

    I LOVE this post! We are getting ready to move abroad to Europe and I am a nervous wreck, hustling wherever I can! Thanks for your insight!

  • RJ

    Love this and your blog name! I really liked how you added your spreadsheets!

  • Cat Lin

    What a practical post for those who are looking to move abroad! I like how you go into the details on all the little expenses and how much you earn to support yourself In Spain!

  • Kyntra Strickland

    What a great post! I love your spreadsheets. I also love your courage to move to a completely new country right out of college. Teaching English abroad sounds like such a great way to experience living in a different city. Thanks for sharing all of this helpful information.

  • Susan Ripley

    I love this post! It’s so refreshing and helpful when travelers speak candidly about money issues. This is a great resource for understanding the cost of living in Spain, and also for getting good ideas on how to save up and how much to save before moving abroad. Great info!

  • Sara MacIntosh

    I’d love to be able to live abroad in Europe one day soon. I really enjoyed the whole post about how you saved up and what expenses were most costly. I’ll definitely be saving this for future reference!

  • really helpful post this – I am looking at moving to Spain I may or may not teach English but the expenses information was really helpful.

  • Alison

    Wow what a super helpful post! I always get asked the same and while it always depends on the person and situation it’s always easier to understand when you can see someone else’s plan.

  • You’re really lucky to have such a supportive family. As a father, I could totally see flying over to Spain to make sure my little girl gets settled in. Kiddo is 18 now and keeps talking about when she moves abroad. I hope the really does and I get to travel with her to move her into her first overseas apartment.

  • Charmaine Y

    Really enjoyed reading it! You definitely worked your butt off, girl! So proud of you for doing this! And that’s a whole lot of details in your breakdown. Super impressive! Congrats. Pat yourself on the back.

  • Julie

    Its pretty good you were able to save up so many on a modest stipend and bring the same amount back that you started with. Thats super impressive that you were able to save while living abroad! Great article detailing it!