I’m the biggest advocate ever about travel, both short and long-term! There are numerous benefits and lessons to be learned from exploring the world, and I honestly believe everyone should go out and spend a year or so abroad sometime in their life. As I’ve mentioned before though, not everything is all majestic landscapes, yummy food, and a wonderful cultural experience –sometimes traveling and living outside your own country can be downright hard.
Have you seen that meme floating around with that dog splayed out on the deck that says ” I can’t adult today?” Sometimes I feel that way about traveling responsibly. I am genuinely afraid of all the issues below, but at the end of the day, I have to buck up and take care of them anyway. After all…I am [unfortunately] an adult.
1. Filing taxes in a foreign country.
Taxes can be confusing enough living in the United States. I’ve used Turbo Tax since I turned 18, and continue to use them to file my return each year even while abroad. Yes, as U.S. Citizens it is mandatory to file taxes while living outside the US. 89% of the time you’ll be exempt from paying anything if you’re a tax-paying alien or resident within a foreign country (and make under $100,000)…so for us, it’s usually it’s a smooth process on the US end. Add becoming self-employed and three or more countries of residence into the equation though, and things get bananas.
I’ve called the IRD (New Zealand’s version of the Department of Revenue) at least once a week this month to make sure everything is in order for me to file my taxes over here. From what I’m gathering and my experience so far, it’s not going to be super difficult, but I’m not even allowed to file until April 10th (cut off date is July 7th). Crazy huh? It seems so late in the year to file, and I can’t help but feel a little nervous about it like I’m missing something (hence all the calls).
2. Renewing passports abroad.
This isn’t as awful as it sounds, it just makes me a bit nervous knowing I don’t physically have the ONLY legal document allowing me to stay in a foreign country, on my person. As a matter of fact, once I submit my passport for renewal, that document is in a stack of other packages located somewhere in the air between here and the US.
Derik’s passport only has a page left, and expires next year, so before we travel anywhere else we need to get his passport renewed. This is my task for this week…hoping we get it back before May/June (vacation time)!
3. Acquiring visas.
Sometimes getting a travel visa into a specific country is as easy as waltzing up to the immigration officer at the destination airport, and sometimes it means jumping through a million hoops in the HOPE of being accepted (ehem India and Russia). Work visas on the other hand are a whole new ball game, and they require personal legal documents, sponsorship, visits to an embassy or consulate, interviews, and, of course, your left leg. Sometimes I feel like it would be easier having a superpower than being able to get a work visa in a desired country. Also, a visit to the Immigration office is 10 times worse than a visit to the DMV, so count your blessings if you’ve never had to experience one.
4. Insurance claims.
Buying insurance is clearly the responsible thing to do. It can be challenging finding a good company, especially fresh off the plane in a new country you know nothing about. State Farm, Farmers, BlueCross…where ARE THEY? Yep, you left them at home with everything else familiar to you. The quest of finding a good and reputable insurance company can seem daunting, but is usually just a Google search away. Be sure you always check out claim reviews on the company you’re leaning towards.
After searching for a good two weeks for the best health insurance company to use while we were in New Zealand (required on a working-holiday visa), we went with OrbitProtect. Please note that health insurance is different than traveler insurance (which we usually purchase through World Nomads). We weren’t aware of the headache we would have to handle after filing a health claim to receive compensation after Derik’s medical emergency back in December. OrbitProtect denied our claim twice before finally approving it after appeals from the hospital itself. After Googling ‘OrbitProtect not paying claims’ I saw that failure to approve and pay claims is actually a reoccurring issue with their company. They’re so fickle about what they approve, and even with Derik’s E.R. visit to the hospital for a random heart issue, they still were on the fence about it, saying it “may have been an underlying condition he had without knowing so.”
5. Keeping up a good credit score back home.
We do eventually want to relocate back to the US (well, there’s at least an 80% chance we ever actually will), and with moving back home will come buying a house. Because of this fact, we have to consciously do everything we can to keep our credit score high in excellent standing. We usually purchase our plane tickets and hotels on our rewards credit cards, and then pay them off after we travel. We do not go on another vacation until the credit cards have been paid off. So far it’s worked well for us score-wise and has kept us in-check financially.
6. Work and housing contracts.
A contract is a legal binding document- unless you live in South Korea, then it’s only a piece of paper your employer can use and abuse. Figuring out how seriously countries take contracts and how easily they are to get, revise, and break is always challenging, and you usually learn the hard way.
I have so.many.stories. about contracts-both housing and work that I could tell you about, but that would take too much of your time. Just know to be flexible, but also know when to put your foot down and bow out when you need to. If your employer or landlord is making your life a living hell, get out of there. You did NOT uproot yourself, fly thousands of miles overseas to be miserable. There are far better things to do with your life and your time.
7. Receiving packages that are marked over $100 value.
Most people back home don’t know this, but packages received abroad that are marked more than $100 value (give or take) must be taxed for import into another country. It’s super annoying, especially if you were like me, living in Asia, trying to buy jeans from AE because you can’t find any locally. I would pay full price for the jeans online, pay an extra $50 for shipping, and THEN still have to pay $50-80+ just to receive my order from the South Korean Customs office! It was at least a $100+ investment on top of what the purchase price was for a few items. It’s also really depressing to have to pay import tax on a used personal laptop you bought 4 years ago that your parents shipped to you in the mail. You may laugh, but this DOES happen.
I’m always confused about purchasing something back home with whether I’ll have to pay taxes or not. Certain sites will actually list the items on the customs forms at cost value (way lower than retail price) and not include shipping. Other sites will list the items at full value with shipping, so even if your order is only $65 dollars, shipping can cost $40+ , which means you might be responsible for import tax. Have I confused you now too?
Let’s just say, in a nutshell, receiving items internationally can cost way more than you anticipated, but it’s still always exciting getting a package in the mail regardless!
Derik and I have moved 8 times in the past 4.5 years we’ve been together. As human beings, our tendency is to gather and horde things, but after moving that many times, a person tends to look at acquiring things in a whole new light. Instead of thinking, “I need this.” I can’t help but think…”How can I pack this for our next destination? Is it even worth it?” There’s nothing worse than having too much stuff while living abroad. When moving time comes, it’s always a mad scramble to get rid of as much as you can by giving your good stuff to friends, throw away the invaluable stuff, and try to fit the meager remains in your carry-on bags or the two boxes you have purchased to ship the rest home or after you.
There’s a lot more that is involved in the moving process (clearly), but the whole “What should I do with my stuff?” part stresses me out the most. I think finding a new place to live, figuring out where to work, and getting acclimated to a new culture, is actually pretty fun and adventure-filled. The more we move, the more I realize how little we actually need to survive.
As we are nearing the end of Derik’s contract and our year working-holiday visas, we can’t help but wonder, “What’s next?” Is it moving time again? Do we stay here? Should we start looking at the future? Should we just enjoy the time we have with each other right now? There are so many uncertainties when it comes to choosing a new travel path. We have a lot to consider in the next couple months, but I’m excited to see what those months hold for us.
Living abroad long-term is very rewarding. I love the fact that we can live in one place long enough to learn about the way others do life. I love experiencing new cultures, foods, and landscapes. Although there are tough issues and circumstances to figure out (which I never want to lie to you about), this life is by far more than I ever dreamed. I’m in love with travel, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything.