I went to the post office at the weekend to send my long overdue holiday postcards to my family in the UK (blog post on Japan to follow this week!) It cost me $2 (two Brunei dollars are equivalent to approximately one English Pound or one dollar and fifty cents in the US) to send four postcards. It works out cheaper (by about half the price I think, I am out of touch about the price of stamps in the UK) to send a postcard seven thousand miles around the world than it is to send a postcard within the UK. This got me thinking about the unexpected costs and savings you are faced with when living abroad, so I thought I would share some of the surprises that I have come across since living in Brunei.
The first thing I was shocked by on moving to Brunei was the cost of food. You can eat out for a ridiculously low cost, for example a plate of noodles could cost as little as 2 Brunei dollars (BND) from a hawker stall or around 4 BND in a restaurant. You would struggle to make it yourself for that price. Other food is ridiculously expensive – particularly in the supermarket which has a lot of imported goods. Milk is our biggest outgoing: a two litre bottle costs 10 BND, and other dairy products are also about three to four times the price as they are in the UK. They are mostly exported from Australia and, if you want the fresh version over UHT, then you pay a premium. When we first moved here we decided it was too much and we would do without. After a while we told ourselves that missing out a whole food group because of the cost perhaps wasn’t a smart idea so dairy food became one of our luxury items – something we accept that we spend a lot of money on. There are quite a few other things like this that we just accept will cost more here. However, other things like imported lettuces from Australia (which also cost 10 BND) we pass over in favour of more local varieties – I say more local because most of Brunei’s food is imported.
Whereas our supermarket shop now costs a lot more than it used to, there are several things which are so much cheaper here. Fuel is the main one: it costs me 20 BND to fill my car up in Brunei, and last time we hired a car in the UK it was about seventy pounds – seven times the price. Given that Brunei is so small we also use a lot less fuel! Some of our economising is forced – the lack of Western clothes shops and entertainment means that Brunei can be the perfect place to save up if you don’t go too mad shopping on the internet! But no matter how long I have lived here, there will always be some items that catch me out by their ridiculous pricing – low or high.
What surprises have you discovered about the cost of living where you are? Do you have luxury items that you continue to buy, whatever the cost, or do you go without?