Why Moving Abroad May Be the Best Way to Pay Down Debts

Why Moving Abroad May Be the Best Way to Pay Down Debts

by: Krissi Driver

In 2009, I graduated from a small, private university in midwestern America with a spring in my step. I was ready to take on the working world! 

What I didn’t realize, however, was that the student loans I’d taken out to afford for my education were going to cost me more than just my monthly payments. A year into my repayment plans, I was struggling to make ends meet. 

Because it was the height of the Great Recession, lenders wouldn’t give someone like me making $25,000-30,000 USD a year a chance at consolidation. So I was paying 3 different loan servicers every single month. Between them, my payments were about $600. 

I tried to cut costs where I could – I owned used cars, tried to be careful about how much fuel I was using, had the lowest-allowed healthcare and car insurance coverage, and lived with roommates. It didn’t make much of a difference; I was still paying more in student loans than any other expense. 

I decided to make a drastic change and in 2013, I moved to South Korea to teach English. What was meant to be just a single year turned into nearly a decade. In that time, I’ve managed to build a life I love, and I’ve had some incredible experiences. But more importantly, my move to Korea helped me pay off all my student loans and credit card debt. 

Here are 5 reasons why I think moving abroad is the best option for paying down debts at home.

An employer may cover many of your living expenses.

When I moved to South Korea, a big part of my visa agreement and work contract stated that my rent should be covered by my employer. To say that this has saved me a ton of money over the years would be a major understatement!

In Korea, teachers like me are either provided with a rent stipend and can choose where they want to live or the school pays the landlord directly. 

I was happy to let my school do the legwork for me and handle finding me an apartment. Even though I wasn’t always 100% happy with the layout, I’ve had caring landlords and have been lucky enough to never have massive issues. 

This isn’t always the case, of course. If you’re moving abroad and your employer is covering your rent, you might get stuck with a less-than-ideal apartment or living quarters.

But if you can move and negotiate to have your housing costs covered (or even mostly covered), this obviously frees up a ton of money each month that you can put toward paying down your debt at home.

Many destinations have lower rent costs.

Alternatively, rent or housing stipends might not be an option for you at all, especially if you’re moving as a digital nomad or self-employed person.

If you’re not so lucky to have someone cover your rent costs, there’s still some light at the end of the tunnel. 

Why Moving Abroad May Be the Best Way to Pay Down Debts
Krissi at Seoraksan National Park

There are plenty of places you can go where rent is more affordable. You don’t necessarily have to move to the usual hotspots like Southeast Asia or South America to find a break on housing. 

Places like Portugal, Georgia (the country, not the US state!), and even the Baltic states like Estonia (and soon Latvia) are more affordable and friendly to remote workers. 

That money you saved on rent costs? Put it towards your debt or, like me, use some of it to expand your disposable income. 

Healthcare may be more affordable.

If you’re an American, you’re likely intimately aware of the high costs of healthcare. It’s not uncommon for individuals and families to go into massive debt due to expensive medical bills. 

However, nearly every other country outside the US has lower healthcare costs. Whether this is due to a lower cost of living, a lower standard of healthcare, or simply cost offsets due to higher tax rates for universal healthcare coverage, it means savings for you when you’re sick. 

If you often need medical assistance or are considering an expensive procedure, a move abroad might help with the affordability of your costs. The money you save can be diverted back to paying down your debt.

Transportation costs are often lower or negligible. 

If you grew up in a rural or suburban area, you needed a car to get just about anywhere. The costs of general maintenance, vehicle insurance, possible property taxes or car payments, and the fuel to run it add up quickly.

Even in many large cities, such as London or New York, there’s little relief when relying on public transportation. The cost of city buses or subways can really add up. 

If you’re moving abroad, you likely have some say in where you end up – be that a city or a more rural town. Choose a place that has things within walking distance or somewhere with reliable (and affordable) public transportation. 

Korea is a great example of this: I live in a city of over 2 million people. Nearly everything I need is within walking distance or can be delivered right to my door, often within a day or less. When I choose to take public transit, I pay just over $1 USD for the bus and subway. When I’m running late, taxis are also incredibly affordable. 

Now that I don’t have a car payment or the expenses associated with owning one, I can throw a little extra cash into my savings account.

Why Moving Abroad May Be the Best Way to Pay Down Debts

Living abroad can free up some headspace.

After I got settled in Korea and had been living here for a few months, I couldn’t believe how much more in control of my circumstances I felt. I could live more freely, make decisions with less scrutiny from my family and peers, and I felt more sure of myself. 

I still knew I had tens of thousands of dollars in student loans and credit card debt to pay off. But I also wasn’t sitting in a job I hated, feeling trapped by my monthly payments, low salary, and the many years it would take me to be debt-free.

There’s something psychological that happens when you’re no longer so closely bound to your debilitating debt. Even though I was making less money, all my expenses were far more affordable and I was able to live with more enjoyment and pay down my loans and credit cards much faster. 

If you’ve been stressed about debt, consider a move abroad. I can’t express enough how much it changed my life for the better and was (rather counterintuitively) the decision that helped me become debt-free 9 years ahead of schedule. 

Consider your options, review the pros and cons of each destination, and pack your bags. You might find it’s the best decision you ever make.


This article is a guest post by Krissi Driver.

Why Moving Abroad May Be the Best Way to Pay Down Debts

Krissi Driver is a freelance writing coach and content writer based in South Korea. A life-long teacher and mentor, she teaches self-motivated women how to start and maintain a freelance writing business so they can supplement or replace their full-time income and build a life they love.

Connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Instagram.


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