We’d like to share a few insights and anecdotes with future expats who must plan their travels to fit a limited budget. When we say “limited budget”, we literally mean just that. We do what we do on a shoestring budget of about $3,000.00 per month for our family of four; two adults, and two teenage boys, ages 14 and 16.
A few years ago, we spent some soul searching time on the internet exploring the possibilities of permanently moving offshore. We decided, “What the hell – why not us? We’ll move to Tonga, we’ll homeschool the kids, and we’ll be expats.” So, that is what we did.
A Few Words of Expat Wisdom
- If you really don’t like change or dealing with unforeseen problems and the possibility of adventures make you uncomfortable, (which, by Bilbo Baggin’s definition makes you late for supper), you better stay where you are. If you are adaptable and enjoy new experiences and are enthusiastic about adventures, and missing dinner isn’t that important, then you may have what it takes to be a successful, joyful expat.
- It is always nice to be able to speak the language, and for some people it’s imperative. So, give the language question some thought when you are choosing a country. Almost all Tongans speak English.
- If you really want to get away from the US for whatever reasons, and truly want to become an expat, don’t discount the possibility of living halfway around the world just because you don’t have much money. It’s not a valid reason.
ASSURED INCOME VISAS: An applicant, possessing a minimum yearly income of 10,000.00TOP (at today’s exchange this about $5,393.00USD), qualifies for this visa if they pass a health exam and have no criminal record, and have good references.
VISITOR VISAS: Many people live as perpetual tourists using only visitor’s visas. Upon arrival in Tonga, you are given a one month visitor visa. An extended visitor visa for three months can be applied for twice. At the end of the seven months you must leave the country. You can return immediately and begin the process all over again.
BUSINESS VISAS: You can qualify for a business visa if you meet the necessary requirements.
A foreigner cannot buy property. They can lease for different periods of time. This entails an up-front sum of money followed with monthly or yearly payments for the duration of the contract.
If you aren’t on a limited budget you can rent a house and proceed from there. In Tonga house rentals can be relatively cheap on up to very expensive. However, if you have limited finances it takes more creativity – but, it’s definitely doable.
There is no need to own a car. The bus service is amazing. The longest we ever waited for a bus was about ten minutes. They’re shabby old buses, and sometimes there’s standing room only, but they get you where you want to go. The fare is only a dollar or two. If you want to rent a car occasionally, there are several car rental agencies.
Part of our success was because we volunteered. If you volunteer you can save money while you become acquainted with the country. Once you are more knowledgeable, you can make informed choices about your expat future.
Wwoof International – “Wwoof” stands for Worldwide Organization of Organic Farmers
Helpx – This organization includes all varieties of situations
We’re members of both organizations. Most hosts will pick you up at the airport. Room and board are provided. Your volunteer commitment is for 4-5 hours a day 4-5 days a week. All of the hosts we stayed with also took us to places or events of interest.
As to situations: Wwoof hosts are organic farmers. For instance, wwoof hosts may have a large kitchen garden, operate a market garden, own orchards, or they may be farms with organically raised animals.
Helpx hosts might be anything; wherever there is a need for helping hands. A host family can be on a Pacific island, in the city of Auckland or in Outback Australia. There are art studios, people who make musical instruments, a circus troupe, or a busy mother needing a nanny. We stayed with a family that operated a gold mine. At another location we painted someone’s beach house. We volunteered at a luxury B&B and learned how to make Eggs Benedict inside of five minutes.
During our volunteer adventures we have worked alongside of people from the Czech Republic, Chili, Spain, Italy, Canada, New Zealand, and Germany – but we met very few from the US. For some reason, there aren’t that many Americans traveling. Maybe they think they can’t afford it – or maybe it’s that little thing about missing supper.
Volunteering is a cultural exchange: you volunteer, share meals, and share normal daily life with your host’s family. It’s total immersion into the culture of the country. It is an incredible way to meld with a culture without judgments; without comparing the local culture to “the way we did it back home”. And, it is so very interesting to meet, work alongside of, and live with other volunteers from all over the world.
A few days after we got to Tonga some of our new Tongan friends invited us to go with them to a big celebration for the coming wedding of the Crown Prince. We went with a dance troupe from one of the local villages.
Another time fourteen wwoofers loaded into the back of the farm truck and our Tongan hostess took us to see the Tongan “Stonehenge.” Other regular tourists were going to the same places in their tour vans or spiffy rental cars.
Every Sunday we had an Umu dinner, which is a traditional Tonga meal baked in an underground oven, and afterwards our household usually went to the beach.
Most Tongans speak English, but it’s nice to learn a few key phrases.
Tongans are a conservative, devoutly Christian culture. Wearing skimpy clothing, like short shorts, in public is frowned upon.
Sunday is a holy day. All businesses are closed and nobody works. Tongans are tolerant if foreigners work, but it’s polite not to. Religious freedom is guaranteed in the Tongan constitution and many religions are represented.
A Word of Caution
It is of utter importance when you talk to immigration upon entry to the country, to never, ever say you have come to their country to “work”, because you’re really not. All alarms will go off if you say you’re going to work. Then it’s “where is your work permit?” It is not work. And if you say so you will only get the host families and yourself into trouble.
If you don’t want to volunteer, consider housesitting. We have found house sitting to be a really good option. You can choose to house sit in any one of numerous countries for a few days, or weeks, or months, or even years. Many people are making house sitting their lifestyle. Our favorite pages are Housecarers.com and the Caretaker Gazette.
If you shop for airfares in the discount pages, you can avoid spending big money for getting there. If you fly with foreign airlines you save a lot of money.
For instance, at the time of this writing; if you buy a ticket between Los Angeles and Tonga, and you choose Air New Zealand, it will cost you $967.00 per adult one way.
If you’re going to Tonga, there’s a layover Fiji; you can reserve a room ahead of time. There is affordable accommodation near the Nadi, Fiji airport. For instance, “Beach Escape Villas” costs about $70.00USD for the four of us with, shuttle service, wifi, and breakfast – and, it’s close to a beach.
REMEMBER: Most countries want you to have an on-going ticket. We found that most people that head for Tonga just buy an on-going ticket to Auckland for about $190.00USD with New Zealand Air. No meal. One 23 kg checked bag, one carry-on bag.
We hope we have inspired future expats to not give up on their dreams just because of limited money. Think outside the box. It’s such a wonderful, big wide world with so much to see and experience. If we can do it, so can you!