Goodbye, corporate job

Today was my last day in my corporate job.

It felt as freeing as I’d expected to turn in the clunky old laptop and walk away, sans security badge, sans security blanket (but with a happy goodbye to the nice security guard). I ran into a colleague on my way out, and he said he envied me. I knew exactly what he meant. I’ve felt that way countless times, watching other colleagues move on. There’s obviously a lot to be said for what the big employers can offer, and I’m very grateful for the time I’ve spent at mine. But it’s exciting to be on the precipice of something new, and I think that’s what we all tend to vicariously feel when we see our friends and colleagues making moves.

My intention now is to be so tuned in and present that I don’t feel that twinge of envy when I see other people making big, bold moves. Because I’ll be making my own, and I won’t have any reason or excuse as to why I can’t. My time, my energy, my focus, my results, are all my own now. It could be terrifying, but we’re made for this. Smarter people than me have said, repeatedly, that safety is an illusion, but I like the way Helen Keller said it:

It can feel like a big risk, venturing out into previously uncharted territory. Both the potential upside and downside are much greater, and both are entirely possible. And will both be felt by the risk-taker alone. I’m OK with that. I’ve done the math and the equation balances, especially when freedom is given such a heavily weighted average, as it is in my calculations.

So farewell to the illusory security of my old job. I’m excited for all that lies ahead.

 

 

Planning an international move: a checklist for minimalists

Making your move as a minimalist

When you’re getting ready to make a big move, the to-do list can start to feel overwhelming.
You can get caught up in minutiae that isn’t worth your time, and that can distract you from
fully being in the moment and really living those last few weeks or months before you start
the next chapter.

In my most recent international move, from the US to Ireland, I had fortunately been in the
process of decluttering and moving towards minimalism for about a year prior, so it was
about as stress-free as an international move can be. I realise not everyone making an
international move will have such a spartan amount of personal possessions. But I think anyone can encourage a shift of focus off of the physical possessions that can loom so large, and
onto some of the less obvious things that future-you will really thank you for getting figured
out.

Plus it’s just fun being a minimalist and making lists.

Various types of stuff and what to do With it:

Physical stuff:

General rule: Decide what you’re bringing, and then bring less. This is a good
time to get rid of old stuff: donate/give away most, sell some if you have time,
store an absolute minimum. I stored a box of sentimental stuff with my parents,
and got rid of the rest. Any clothes you have that you’re not bringing, you
probably don’t need. Donate, donate, donate. (Bonus tip for future-you: remember those trips to the charity shop before your re-accumulate more stuff.)

Kitchen stuff: I love to cook, and even as a minimalist, I briefly considered
whether I should try to bring some of my kitchen stuff with me to Ireland. NO! I
happened to mention this insane notion to my cousin who’s much smarter than
me, and her response was: “Um, no. Definitely don’t do that. I thought you’d done
this before?” Touche. Kitchen stuff was donated and zero fucks were given that
day.

Furniture: This is one of the worst categories of stuff. It’s big and heavy and hard
to get rid of. Get rid of as much as you can, ideally by selling it. I’ve had good luck
with Craigslist in Canada and the US, other countries have similar sites.

Clothing/personal effects: Keep these to one or two suitcases, max. Yes,
including shoes and accessories. You’ll replace a good bit of it once you settle
into your new location, anyways. I try to keep only what I’m currently using, plus
what I’ll definitely use in the next 3-6 months. Even doing this, and even with an already minimal wardrobe, I still got rid of yet more stuff within a few months of arriving in Ireland. Bring less than you think.

Tom Bihn Aeronaut 30, my ride or die

Bring like this amount of stuff, if you can

Money stuff:

Banking: This comes up surprisingly often on various expat subreddits etc., especially
given how simple the best approach is: Keep your bank account in your home
country, and open a new one in your new country. Done and done. There’s usually no downside to this and it will make your day to day life so much easier.

  • Americans will need to remember file an FBAR to report any non-US bank
    accounts, to the extent their total foreign accounts exceed $10,000 USD in a given
    year. Talk to an expat tax pro (such as yours truly!) about this if you don’t
    know how to file it!

Credit cards: If you have a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction
fees, and has a low (or no) annual fee, keep it. I’ve learned the hard way that
credit cards are expensive and sucky in some countries (hi, Ireland!), so I like having my
US credit card as a fallback for any time I’m in a country with a currency I don’t
normally deal with.

Retirement/savings: Consider what you’ll do with your retirement/long term
savings accounts in both your departure and destination locations. I rolled my old
401k into an IRA, and I’m planning on maintaining that for the time being. I have
some specific ideas on what to do with US retirement accounts when leaving the
US, both as a US citizen, and as someone who will become a US non-resident,
but that’s for a future tax-nerdy post.

Transferring money: I like Transferwise for quickly moving money between
currencies, for a good exchange rate and with low, easy to understand fees. Don’t do anything silly and complicated like old fashioned wire transfers, unless there’s really no way around it.

Taxes: Just adding this to the checklist, as you’ll want to consider your residency
status in both locations, as well as arrival and departure filing requirements.
These really vary a great deal depending on your personal circumstances, so,
again, find a friendly expat tax expert for all the countries you deal with!

Simplify: I got rid of any excess cards and accounts that I wasn’t using, and
continually re-examine this to see if there’s anything further I can minimise or
simplify. I like having as few accounts as possible to get the job done. Right now that tends to average two per country I deal in, one for everyday banking, and another for long term savings/investing.

 

Practical stuff:

Communication: Everywhere else in the world uses Whatsapp, but I had to get a
few of my American pals on board with it. Yes, you may be used to texting me.
Now you can text me on Whatsapp and then the evil empire (aka the cell phone
company) doesn’t triumph over the downtrodden.

Free your phone: I happened to own my phone outright, so I was able to ask my
previous phone company to unlock it before I left. This made getting a new SIM a
snap. I’d suggest this where possible. Using a foreign SIM sucks for a number of
reasons, not least being extortionate roaming charges, and not being able to easily give your number to cute people you meet. Trying to explain your weird foreign phone number with its country code and plus signs and leading zeroes will really kill your flirtation game. Kidding! Sort of! It’s good for giving your number to local services too. Just get on a local SIM as soon as you can, and start living your life.

Mailing address: This one doesn’t come with any easy, pithy answers. Physical,
paper mail is the sucks and there’s no really satisfactory way of transporting those
horrible bits of paper around the world. Minimise the amount of physical mail
you’ll need to the extent possible, and then ask a friend if they can forward you
the really essential stuff.

  • For me this basically amounted to my W-2, as my previous employer wouldn’t email
    it to an external email address. And even this managed to suck! They
    ended up sending it to my old apartment, despite my best attempts to update my forwarding address to my friend’s address before I left. Ugh, fine. Fortunately, I had set myself a reminder to follow up on the W-2 if it hadn’t arrived by a certain date, so they would have time to resend it to the correct forwarding address. Doing this one time was fine, but doing this monthly would be unpleasant. Avoid paper mail to the extent possible.

Passport: If it will be expiring anytime soon, you might want to renew before you
leave. I have a gorgeous 10 year passport and it’s my most prized physical
possession.

Driver’s licence: In my experience you really don’t need that “international driver’s
licence” thing people sometimes mention. But it will be handy if your current
driver’s licence has as much time left before it expires as possible. Fortunately, I had just renewed mine before I moved, so I’m using this
to buy time and decide if I want to get an Irish driver’s licence. They make you
take the test, so I’m leaning towards no. I haven’t had any difficulty renting a car here on my old licence.

Anything else?

I’ll be making another move soon, this time to become semi-nomadic and
location independent. I envision having a few mini-bases in a few important locations where
my most beloved people are. But I’ll still rely on the above concepts of minimising and
simplifying, as they have served me well. What would you add to this list?

…and taxes

Given that taxes are one half of the oft-cited only two certainties in life, you might expect my humble profession to have a more glamorous, or at least dramatic, reputation. And yet, despite having a profound influence on every aspect of our financial lives, some people (inexplicably!) find the topic less than scintillating. Shocking, I know.

I found myself in this field somewhat by accident, but after nearly a decade working with expats and taxes, I can tell you it’s far from dull. Especially working with individuals, and never more so than in the context of international moves. Helping people sort their taxes out can be incredibly gratifying at the best of times, when I ideally help set someone’s mind at ease, or provide insight into complex areas that can be rife with misinformation. Then there are the other times, when someone perhaps wishes they’d thought about taxes a bit sooner. Those conversations can be a tad more dramatic, albeit not the kind any of us hopes for.

But at the end of the day, dealing with tax means dealing with people and their lives, in all their beautiful, messy complexity. The intermingling of their pasts and their futures. 

International moves can be overwhelming. And for busy professionals, often their taxes could be one of the last things they want to devote their valuable time to thinking about. So I always count it a personal, as well as professional, win when someone tells me how glad they were they spoke with me, even at that most hectic time in their life. And even in those, shall we say, ‘dramatic’ times, it’s always better to get a plan in place sooner rather than later.

When I say I found myself here by accident, I will admit I didn’t set out to be a tax professional when I grew up. I sometimes joke that it doesn’t tend to be what little girls dream of. (For the record, I believe my top professional aspiration at age 8 would’ve been “princess.” Still waiting on that one…)

When I signed up for the on-campus interview through my university, I was drawn in by the “international” aspect of the job description. I later found out that the job entailed diving deep into this very specialised area of US tax that many people never think about. But it has expanded my own global mindset in every way possible, and now I count myself truly fortunate to be able to work in a profession that so closely aligns with my values.

I deeply believe that global mobility is an incredibly powerful tool for personal and professional growth and fulfilment. I also deeply believe that the freer people are to move around the planet, the better our world becomes. In that sense, I consider it an honour to play a part in facilitating that freedom, one person at a time.

The other side of the equation is helping people sort out a major area of their finances. To the extent that I can help people feel more empowered, and less in the dark, about the financial impact of their relocation, to me that’s absolutely worthwhile, values-driven work. To take something that can feel overwhelming and undecipherable, and make it relatable and actionable to individuals, given their own individual facts and circumstances, is really rewarding.

So, despite a somewhat mild-mannered reputation, I see my work as furthering two of the things I value the most: empowering individuals in both location freedom and financial freedom.

I try to keep that in mind even when I delve into the denser or nerdier aspects of expat tax, which I may even do on this blog. And if it inspires or reassures anyone to take the leap into the expat or globally mobile lifestyle, it will be well worth it!

Do you have any areas of confusion on expat tax issues?

Particularly from a US perspective, either people moving to the US, or US people moving abroad? I’d love to hear from you and plan some posts to help bring some clarity to any areas of confusion! There are absolutely no silly questions in this complex area, and remember, smart people ask.