Pandemic-Weary Expats Are Moving Home, and the Costs Are Piling Up

The pandemic launched an exodus of expats, and for many it’s come with an unexpected financial burden.

Whether it’s because of tight Covid restrictions, separation from family or the frustration of closed borders, a growing number of people living abroad have made the choice to move closer to home. In the process, they’re facing the reality of inflation and pandemic-related transportation snags, not to mention the possibility of lower-paying jobs and higher taxes in their new location.

Take Clement Burge. The Swiss video producer, 33, was fed up with Hong Kong’s ultra-strict Covid rules and was willing to make financial sacrifices to be closer to his extended family in Europe. Still, he wasn’t prepared for just how much his quality of life would change.

Burge moved to London in October with his wife and four-year-old daughter after living in Hong Kong for six years. Although he doesn't regret the move, the change was costly.

The family spent about HK$27,000 ($3,400) to ship their couch, a carpet and his daughter's toys to the U.K., and the visa costs for him and his daughter came to about 8,000 pounds ($10,000). They spent another 3,000 pounds to buy new furniture once they arrived. London life is also dearer than Hong Kong, with Burge estimating they spend an additional 830 pounds every month due to higher rent, childcare and cleaning expenses.

Burge also feels the impact on his take-home pay after moving from a low-tax jurisdiction to one where taxes come up to about 40%.

“Life in London is very expensive, especially with a child,” he said, adding that the family’s lifestyle has changed. “In Hong Kong, it's 20 degrees Celsius half the year. We used to buy our cheap local fish on our tiny island from the local fishermen and other fresh food. It was ideal. We had a full-time nanny. Here it's very different.”