Category Archives: The Moving Process

Relocation & Expat Resources – The Moving Process. Information, Inspiration, How-To Guides and Tools for Trailing Spouses, Accompanying Partners, and Families in Transition and

Expat Success - Make your mistakes quickly. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful Relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global trailing spouse, accompanying partner, international assignment, expat family, expatriate

The Secret to Expat Success… And Why.

Expat Success - Make your mistakes quickly. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful Relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global trailing spouse, accompanying partner, international assignment, expat family, expatriate

 

 

I knew it. Finally, the insanity that is my expat life – and most of the website – has been vindicated, and it’s all thanks to Ellen Mahoney over at Sea Change Mentoring. She introduced me to the groundbreaking advice given by a tech start-up entrepreneur, as a recipe for global success and world domination…

 

Make your mistakes quickly

 

As a person whose family motto is “Disaster soon follows”, I have long been a proponent of this approach, with no idea that I was such thought leader. I had just assumed I was incompetent and (in a rare moment of self-acceptance) decided not to fight it. It’s a phrase that could be part of every expat mission statement, and should probably replace a lot of the well intentioned advice given in the all-too-brief briefing sessions; “learn the language”, “ get out and make friends” and my personal favorite “ join a gym”… Hmmm. Instead, the secret to expat success is familiar and effortlessly achievable – the global gaffe. And here’s why.

 

1. It reminds us that we will make mistakes.

In the assignment planning stage, it’s important to focus on the positive, but in doing so we often forget that expat life is still life. Mistakes happen, and when you are in an environment with unfamiliar language, culture, rules and expectations, they happen a lot. Making your mistakes quickly reminds us to expect – and even plan – for those mistakes. Whether that means working with a destination service provider or an expat coach, doing your own exhaustive research or simply being patient with yourself while you transition (or all of the above), it’s vital to acknowledge that perfection is impossible, and good enough is, well, good enough.

 

2. We focus on ‘right’ as a victory, rather than ‘wrong’ as a failure.

I once did a stint as a sales consultant and one of the job requirements was calling customers to set appointments. It was (and no doubt, still is) a miserable task –  you knew that your cheerful introduction could be greeted with anything from interest, to polite refusal, to a torrent of abuse and a dial tone. Thankfully, I was armed with a secret weapon; the company set targets for calls made, and let the actual results take care of themselves. So every call made was a relief – one less to do, one step closer to reaching the goal. Acknowledging that mistakes are inevitable (and in the early days, we are more likely to get it wrong than get it right) is incredibly freeing. It gives us permission to focus on the actions and let the outcomes take care of themselves. It prepares us for failure, and when things do go right, we get to stop, acknowledge it for the triumph that it is, and celebrate.

 

 3. It gets you out there.

Having taken away the fear of failure, there’s nothing like the element of competition to spur us on. Experienced expats (i.e. those who have been comprehensive in their cock-ups) can entertain for hours with hilarious stories of endless mishaps, miscommunications or general disasters; just visit the bar at any FIGT conference and listen for the raucous laughter if you don’t believe me. It’s the expat version of the Olympic Decathlon, with extra points for speed, style and variety. All that’s missing is the opening ceremony, the national uniforms and the lycra. But don’t let us stop you…

 

4. It helps you to bond.

If there’s one thing that unites the expat world, it’s our inability to watch people struggle without feeling some serious empathy. It’s one of the unwritten laws of expat life; we’re all in this together, and in my mind, there is a special place in Hell for expats who don’t help each other. Putting yourself out there and making mistakes publicly transports us all back to our early days and disasters, and gives us something in common that transcends language, culture or belief. It reminds us that we are human, and we love you for it.

 

5. It makes you brave.

Fear of failure is crippling, and stops us doing so many things that would take ordinary life and make it extraordinary. By contrast, being forced into situations where mistakes are inevitable and accepting them as a mere part of life’s journey gives us the motivation to be creative, to take risks and to try new things constantly. We dream big, and even if it doesn’t work out perfectly, we don’t go home. We learn that it hasn’t killed us, and we are really are stronger.

 

So there you have it – official permission to create chaos and have fun doing it. Providing of course, you follow our lead and share all your finer moments. Now we just need merit badges and an awards ceremony…

Expat essentials. Writing a will. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat family, trailing spouse, accompanying partner, global services manager, relocation service provider, destinations service provider.. you get the picture.

(Often Ignored) Expat Essentials – Writing a Will.

Yes, I know. You don’t want to think about it, much less talk about it, which is why I have been getting shifty looks from most of my expat network this week when I asked them the seemingly simple question: “Do you have a will?” Want to know how many people said “Yes”?

Two. Out of about thirty people, all of whom have high net worth, children from at least one relationship, and often dual citizenship / resident status. A little worrying, no? 

I can’t claim the moral high ground – we recently unearthed our Will, dusty from 10 years in an unmarked cardboard box in a storage container in Walthamstow. Not exactly accessible in the event of our demise, and even worse, was so out of date that the paperclip holding it together was rusty and the Feisty One was not even mentioned. So on her behalf, I am doing something about it… Here goes.

Expat essentials. Writing a will. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat family, trailing spouse, accompanying partner, global services manager, relocation service provider, destinations service provider.. you get the picture. I have a new dirty word: intestate. For those of you who have been living a carefree life of blissful indifference, it’s what happens when you don’t have a will. For non-expats, the implications are unpleasant: it gives the state responsibility and control over the division of your estate, decisions about who will take care of your dependents, the timeframe it all happens and (of course) access to a large chunk of your assets via taxes.

It’s a simple fix – a Will. It’s the document that tells those left behind what you want to happen to your dependents and estate.  Most of us overthink it, imagining a torturous process requiring three weeks of desperate hunting for title deeds and old bank statements. Nothing could be further from the truth – the best wills are simple statements of intent, which give executors something to work with and a few clues about where you have hidden your treasure. Combine that with a good estate planning lawyer and you will create a plan that saves everyone time, money and heartache at a time when they are most vulnerable.

Introducing first part of the Defining Moves “Ducks in a Row” program. Our aims are simple:

  • To inspire you to act. Right now. Because this is important.
  • To get you to the lawyer on time. We want to prompt to you think, discuss, list and plan, so that any legal advice you get is based on reality, not just the bits you could remember in the car on the way to the lawyer’s office. And make sure that when whoever prepares your will asks a question, you know the answer and are not paying $300 per hour for them to watch you think about it / argue with your spouse / try to remember whether or not you mailed the last life insurance premium.

So grab your pencil and paper, and let’s get started…

 

Step one: The People.

There are three groups of people you need to consider when drafting a Will;

  1. your dependents
  2. your beneficiaries
  3. your executors

 

Dependents.

These are the people who rely on you for some sort of care, support and/or protection. Traditionally, these were children still living at home, but modern families are often complicated with blended families, shared custody arrangements, adoptive children, elder relatives and even pets added to the mix. Thankfully, lawyers have seen it all before, and, even better if you have a family as nutty as mine, are sworn to secrecy…

Make of the list of those who you are responsible for, whether physically, socially, financially or legally, and the type of care you provide. Keep it simple – the rest can be figured out later – at this stage, your task is to create a comprehensive list.

Now list any special circumstances that will have to be addressed.  For many families, this may involve shared custody, child support or special needs but for expats there may also be issues of differing nationalities, citizenship and resident status that may have tax and legal implications.

For those of you with your own business, bear in mind that you may also have professional responsibility for continuity of care of clients – check your licensing organization or professional code of conduct if you are unsure.

 

Beneficiaries.

Your beneficiaries are the recipients of your estate – usually immediate descendants, siblings, friends and charities. Typically, assets are divided equally between your children, so if you want to use a different split, make this clear to your lawyer so that they can prevent your will being subject to legal contest. Note also that laws differ about division of assets when you die intestate – half siblings, step and adoptive children are often treated differently, and the portion of the estate automatically assigned to the spouse varies widely internationally.

If you have any other people or organizations who you want to leave money to, add them to your list now.

 

Executors, Financial Guardians and Legal Guardians.

It’s your group of guardian angels, so pick wisely. These are people who you trust to administer your estate and make sure your wishes are carried out, to care for your dependents and to manage the finances of the beneficiaries if they are unable to do so. The roles carry huge responsibility, so discuss whether or not your intended choices are both willing and able. They can be family members, friends or lawyers; typically, lawyers are paid (and aren’t given custody of the children…) whereas family and friends are less likely to be.

Note that guardianship differs from child custody: while custody refers to the physical care provided by a parent (who may have no legal powers), legal guardianship may involve physical and/or legal custody, and continues until the child reaches adulthood or the guardian’s death. By contrast, especially in the modern family, custody is far more flexible and changes according to the situations of the parents.

Here’s where expats need to be especially careful, because the local laws may be very different to those of your home nation and custody / guardianship arrangements and next of kin may not follow familiar rules. In the UAE, for instance, if no will is in place, Sharia law prevails, meaning that assets and custody of children potentially follow the male line – your husband / partner’s parents, brothers and sisters. How is your relationship with your mother-in-law, by the way?

 

Step Two: The Money

Your estate is the sum total of your assets, and while many of you will be rolling your eyes that I am pointing out the obvious, I can guarantee that there will be plenty of things that you will have forgotten. The temptation is to run to the filing cabinet / junk drawer and fish out the most recent bank statement, and start noting down numbers, but don’t. Your assets are constantly changing, so you only need to include categories – current and savings accounts, property, jewelry stocks, shares, businesses, investment accounts, life insurance, digital assets (websites, videos etc) – and where those assets are held. For a starter list, click here for pdf cheat sheet.

While you are making your list, make note of who your beneficiaries are, and how they are reported. Typically, life insurance goes to the spouse, but in a world where divorce rates run at about 45%, there are a huge number of exes who are still listed as primary beneficiary. Take note, and make any necessary changes…

 

Step Three: The Decisions

Now that you have the information, you can start making decisions about how to pass on your legacy, human or otherwise. Your key priorities are the welfare of your dependents, so start with those and work from there.

Guardianship of dependents.

Who do you want to care for your dependents if you are no longer around to do so? Depending on the complexity of your family and the types of dependents, there may be more than one answer to this question, so set it all out clearly, naming each dependent individually. Talk to all the parties concerned before you head to the lawyer’s office – you may be surprised to hear who your children would hate to live with, or which relative is intending to move to Outer Mongolia next month – to prevent return visits. Factors that may affect your decision are not just emotional – also consider location (how will your children feel about leaving the country, for instance), age and health of potential guardians, relationship with other friends and family, support network and financial ability to provide care.

Include financial provision for your dependents and decide who you want to manage your estate for them if they are still minors. In many cases, life insurance helps to cover the cost of raising children, but once you include the cost of college education it may not go as far as you think.

Financial, legal and professional dependent provision will require discussion with your lawyer and with those who you nominate to take over; the good news is that if planned in advance, the process is straightforward (and certainly infinitely preferable to leaving your legal advisor / executor to try to unravel the mess in your absence).

 

Step Four: The Division

This is the fun bit, providing you have money to leave. But before you start divvying up between your offspring and the local cat protection league, here are a few pointers:

  1. Remember that your debts and liabilities (taxes, funeral expenses, etc) will be deducted from your estate before the remainder is distributed. You can offset many of these by establishing a Trust, which will will talk about in the next chapter, but for the moment, just remember to include your loans, debts and other obligations when you are cataloging your estate.
  2. Ensure that you own your assets outright before you will them away. Anything jointly owned needs careful consideration to avoid passing on a headache rather than a well-intentioned gift. If you hadn’t already discussed future plans with the co-owner(s), now is the time to do so.
  3. Now is not the time to make a point. Sure, you may have favorites, but remember that in many cases you are not just leaving behind a bequest, but a lifetime of family discord and ill-feeling – not to mention legal challenges. It may seem a lovely idea to leave the bulk of your estate to your newest grandchild/ favorite nephew or next door neighbor, but the resulting fallout can often sour the best of intentions. The same rules apply for property – find out which mementos, furniture or jewelry are most loved by your friends and family, and divide accordingly, informing all of them who has been given what. That way, any discussions, disagreements or disappointments can be directed at you, rather than unwitting recipients.
  4. While we are on the subject of leaving objects to people, think carefully about whether they want them, and the responsibility you are handing over. It’s difficult to part with things, no matter how ugly, unwanted or expensive to maintain without feeling disloyal to the person who gifted it.

Now you have done the difficult bit, it’s time to put pen to paper and make a rough outline to take to the lawyer’s office. If you are an expat, you may be advised to get legal input from both your home and host nation perspective – while the laws of your home nation usually take precedence, extended residence overseas may change the rules, so be sure to explain the situation rather than making assumptions.

You need to include:

  • Your name, and identifying details (usually your address, but if you are an expat, you will need to clarify your domicile (primary place of residence) with an experienced lawyer – it has significant tax and legal implications.
  • Names of beneficiaries; the people and organizations you want to leave your assets (whether money, housing, land, stock options, digital assets etc ).
  • The name of your executor (the person responsible for making sure your wishes are met).
  • Guardians of your dependents – Legal and physical.
  • Who gets what.
  • Your legal advisor should also include a “residual clause” that states the recipient for any assets you forgot to mention, or have been accrued since you wrote your will. “I bequeath any residue to” should take care of it.
  • Signature and date, with initials and date on every page.

Congratulations if you made it to this point- you are well on your way. In the next post, we’ll be introducing the fun stuff.. Planning your funeral, Living Wills and frustrating the tax man.

Bet you can hardly wait.

 

Further Resources:

Nolo.com – Legal encylopedia – Wills

USA.gov – advice on writing both social media and regular wills.

UK Citizens Advice Bureau information on writing a will.

Australia. gov – Resources on wills and power of attorney

Expat Parenting – The International Peace Treaty..

expat parenting - how it takes more than one village to raise a CCK / TCK. Defining Moves, information, inspiration and resources for the global trailing spouse, accompanying partner, international assignment transferee..  When I originally wrote this post, I had yet to hit the expat parenting minefield that is the adolescent CCK (Cross Culture Kid). I now know firsthand the dubious pleasure of putting a career on hold to focus on transplanting children, only to be calmly told that I have “ruined” their lives.. 

Thus comes the realization that parenting is a truly thankless task, and it’s only the support of fellow sufferers that keep one from running screaming to the nearest liquor store. It’s why expat parents become experts at nurturing a large group of people who will provide support, comfort, alcohol and surveillance services through our child’s teenage years, people who, regardless of location, language, culture or religion, follow the same, previously unwritten code. For those of you who we rely on for our daily dose of sanity, here it is..

  1. Thou shalt not post pictures of home-made birthday cake excellence on Facebook, so that my children spot them and spend the next ten years bringing up my own birthday cake inadequacies.
  2. Thou shalt not point out that your child is walking and talking while mine has spent the last three hours with his hands down his trousers.
  3. When spying my child indulging in antisocial activities in public, thou shalt utter the words “her mother will be very cross when she finds out about that”; implicitly underlining that a) I am the all seeing, attentive parent, and b) I have high behavioral standards. It is irrelevant whether you believe this or not, and extra credit is given for saying it when other parents are present.
  4. When spying my child inappropriately dressed, thou shalt sing out in a helpful tone “Would you like me to call your mother to drop off your sweater / trousers / anything that doesn’t look like a Britney Spears outfit?”, thus communicating to the child that a) she’s busted; b) you are willing to go there; and c) there are eyes everywhere. Extra credit is given for not telling me about inappropriate attire unless there is a repeat occurrence.
  5. When my teenage child makes an inappropriate remark, thou shalt enter into a lengthy and awkward story about your own teenage angst, preferably with reference to kissing. The mental picture of adults ever indulging in such behavior is enough to silence any outburst, and serves as a cruel and unusual punishment which rarely has to be repeated.
  6. When my child comes looking for sympathy about my latest parenting gaffe, thou shalt listen kindly and then retell the story about how aforementioned child once had diarrhea next to the deli counter in a crowded supermarket, and until life roles are reversed, I still have the moral high ground.
  7. When my child comes looking for support in opposition to the latest parenting policy, thou shalt listen sympathetically, nod furiously, make noises of agreement, and then reiterate policy without the benefit of parent type shrieking. Extra credit is given if child thanks you for being so reasonable and fails to notice that it is the same policy.
  8. When my child leaves home, thou shalt not mention how many times I uttered the words “I can’t wait for them to leave home” and instead hand over tissues and gin to drown my sorrows.
  9. Should my child get married, thou shalt attend the wedding without publicly mentioning the pant fumbling, the diarrhea, the inappropriate clothing or the teenage years. Extra credit is given for having photographic evidence for use in ensuring timely Christmas visits etc.
  10. When my child has children, thou shalt join me in watching them recreate all my worst mistakes, smile and enjoy the show..

Photo courtesy of Clare Kruse, who inspired this post by breaking Rule 1..

FIGT Conference March 22-23 2013

Why You (and every expat) Should Be Going to FIGT 2013

FIGT Conference March 22-23 2013It seems incredible that a year has passed since the last Families in Global Transition conference; forever infamous as the one where I had a complete (and very public ) online meltdown at the eminence and credentials of my fellow presenters, only to have my cover blown by one Judy Rickatson, (aka @wifeinasuitcase) who is the expat online version of Wikipedia. If it’s out there, she knows about it, Tweets, Likes and Pins about it, and, I strongly suspect, has superhuman powers. If she was in charge of the search for the Holy Grail, it would have been found years ago, and it has become my life’s work to try and find an expat blog that she hasn’t yet discovered. She is the Simon Cowell of the expat social media world, discovering talent from the four corners of the globe; only much, much nicer.

Hence my blubbering gaining the attention of various members and supporters of FIGT, who all headed across to the Defining Moves website to offer kind words, support and offers of hospitality. It was the single most generous spirited gesture, and it embodies all that is special about the FIGT organization. People with years of experience, a hugely diverse range of backgrounds and an incredible depth of knowledge, all passionate about making expat life better.

It’s why I can’t wait to go back this year, and why you should all be joining me too. It’s a two day whirlwind of people, presentations and discussions from every perspective; starting with a keynote presentation from the brilliant Pico Iyer. Whether you are an accompanying partner, a expat service provider or from corporate HR, you will leave with a wealth of information and a host of new friends and real, live expat human resources. The only dilemma is how to fit it all into two days.

As for me, I have very personal reasons to want to go there too. It will be the first time I will actually meet many online friends in person, both those who regularly pop up here in the comments sections, on the Facebook page and on my Twitter feed.

At the top of my list?

Judy, of course.

 

If you need more information about Families in Global Transition and the FIGT 2013 conference, here’s the link to their website, including information on registering, becoming a member (as well as all the other benefits, you qualify for a reduced registration fee), global affiliates, sponsorship,  the New Attendees information webinar and the New Attendees welcome evening. I hope to see you there!

Embracing expat life - relocation and repatriation. Defining Moves - Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat trailing spouse, accompanying partner

Restore Default Settings. The Expat Relocation and Repatriation Dilemma.

This post was written 10 days ago, when after nearly a year of negotiating, selling and house hunting and 45 days in escrow, the expat dream of actually owning our own home was still hanging in the balance. At the time, it seemed a little too much like tempting fate to publish it, but now that I have a) keys and a signed contract and b) the Other Half 4000 miles away and blissfully oblivious to the havoc that I am wreaking on our new abode,  I am  now brave enough to share..

Embracing expat life - relocation and repatriation. Defining Moves - Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat trailing spouse, accompanying partnerAnyone who happened to be using the site last Wednesday would have left with a growing sense of confusion and a really good headache, thanks to a small, insignificant button at the bottom of my dashboard page.

It said “restore to default settings“.

Ironically, all I was trying to do was change the color of the page links from a difficult-to-spot-but-definitely-elegant gray, to a glaringly obvious red (I finally settled on a rather fetching lavender blue, but that’s another story). Try as I might, the tool for changing the color wouldn’t co-operate, and so remembering that the theme came with a red link text default, I resorted to pressing the aforementioned button.

Chaos ensued. My painstakingly crafted header logo (the creeping cat) disappeared, to be replaced by an advert for a website developer. So did the tiny logo that you see in the web address bar. The text reverted back to Times New Roman, strange boxes containing Latin gibberish appeared, and a whole drop down menu’s worth of content vanished.

I think the angels made it happen, in response to an impending “I’ve had enough, I want to go home’ tantrum that was brewing.

You see, we are currently trying to buy a house, something that (in theory) should be a happy and joyful event in expat life. It means we’re putting down some roots, taking some time to breathe, and in Wiggy’s words “finally getting to paint my bedroom a color that I like”.

Instead, it is turning into a harrowing catalogue of frustrations, starting with a real estate market that is so quiet it has crickets chirping in the corners, then finally finding a house – in the wrong school district, negotiating school transfers, discovering dry rot, navigating the ever changing rules of the mortgage lenders and finally, four weeks on, being thousands of dollars poorer with no sign of a completed house purchase on the horizon, and no printer ink left.

Yesterday’s debacle was a timely reminder that no matter how complicated it gets, you can’t go back. You can relocate or repatriate physically, but while the basic content may not change, the details have – the colors, the shading, the nuances that you have added along the way that makes you different from the person you were, and makes you view the world around you differently. And what surprised me was how important those details are once they are gone.

We forget that change is an integral part of life – not just for us, but for those around us. Friends from home have been traveling a similar path, and they view us differently too. Instead of the “I’ll just pop round for a cup of coffee/ borrow the lawnmower/drop off the kids for a playdate/” type friendship, it’s a relationship that has to be nurtured over distance, telephone lines and internet connections, and the supporting roles that we used to play in each other’s lives adapt and change. It’s not right or wrong, good or bad, it just is.

Life is messy sometimes. It’s what makes us grow, tests our strengths and reminds us that we are indeed alive. It’s why we travel, why we learn, why we uproot our lives and relocate to the other side of the world. It’s what helps us to embrace new ideas, new places, new faces, new challenges. It’s why we survive and thrive as expats, as parents, as partners.

And despite what you may have thought while watching the Defining Moves website disappear in front of your eyes, we’re not crazy. We’re just pressing all the buttons offered to us.

Photo courtesy of University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections

expat international call communication tools - Defining Moves, The Art of Successful Relocation. Information, Inspiration and Resources for the Global accompanying partner, trailing souse, expat partner

Keeping in Contact – The Essential Guide to Cheaper International Calling

When we first started gallivanting around the world, keeping in contact meant email and dial-up internet and very, very expensive bills. Thankfully for expats, global nomads, world travelers and their friends and family back home, things are now cheaper, quicker and far, far more convenient – provided you know what to use, where. By popular demand, here’s the Defining Moves guide to cheaper international communication. Complete with a lovingly handmade PDF cheat sheet. You’re spoiled, you really are…

 

If you are a landline lover (landlubber).

expat international call communication tools - Defining Moves, The Art of Successful Relocation. Information, Inspiration and Resources for the Global accompanying partner, trailing souse, expat partner

 

While most of us rely heavily on the internet for communicating, there are still plenty of places where the service is too slow / expensive / inconsistent to be reliable or who have loved ones back home who prefer a traditional handset. If so, you should be checking your provider for a reduced rate package that you can add to your plan – rather like the unarranged overdraft at the bank, spontaneous international calls are charged at prohibitive rates, while prepaid or pre-authorized ones are far cheaper.

If you can’t reduced rates, consider asking (and if necessary, paying for) family members to add international calls to their package at home and have pre-arranged call times – most landline calls are free to receive, regardless of whether they are local or international. Over the course of an overseas assignment, the savings will be significant, and you have the added advantage of guilt-free calls.

Combine this with a service from Rebtel, which offers cheap international calls from any phone, whether landline or mobile. It involves setting up an account online, entering the numbers you want to call, and then using the new local numbers that Rebtel gives you for each of your contacts.

It’s far less complicated than it sounds (especially when most phones allow you to store contact details) and Rebtel even offers you a free call to try it out. The even better news? It’s global, so you can use the new numbers anywhere in the world for local rate calls, and their website is incredibly clear and easy to use.

As a last resort, there are hundreds of international calling cards out there that in exchange for a prepaid card and a little inconvenience, offer a much lower rate. Try www.comfi.com for comparisons of rates – and again, don’t forget to check for connection fees…

 

If you have home internet but like to have a traditional phone and number.

 

It has to be Ooma. It’s a square device (about the size of an answering machine) that plugs into your internet router and allows you to connect a regular handset. The unit itself costs around $200, but allows you to make free domestic calls and very low-cost international calls while only paying applicable government taxes. What we like? You pay up front, all call costs, fees and taxes are clearly displayed and user reviews love it too. The bad news? It’s currently only available in the US. Sorry.

Alternatively, Skype offers a Skype To Go number to use with a handset – either buy one with Skype functionality installed, or use a phone adapter. You have to buy Skype credit online to both pay for the number and subscription/pay as you go credit, so if you are setting it up for your less tech savvy family members or friends, you might want to help them set up automated payments at the same time. In the interests of full disclosure, reviews were scathing, both about the call and product quality, and customer service. Eek.

 

If you have home internet and a computer / laptop / tablet with microphone and speakers.expat international call communication tools - Defining Moves, The Art of Successful Relocation. Information, Inspiration and Resources for the Global accompanying partner, trailing souse, expat partner

The current market leader has to be Skype, who offer low cost calling, no set-up, cancellation or contract fees, and a variety of products and services to keep the most demanding amongst us happy. Calls can be made through most devices with a microphone and speakers – computers, laptops, tablets and even cellphones with wifi capability – and for those of us who prefer to use a regular handset, they sell those too.

Calls to other Skype users are free and if you have a webcam, this includes free video calls – fantastic for keeping track of growing children, changing hair colors or home improvement projects.  Not so good if you forget that you have video enabled and make calls in your pajamas.

The good news is that Skype is widely used, so you will be able to make free calls to most of your global network. The bad news is that you will need a high speed internet connection to avoid distortions and dropped calls and if you have a usage limit, you will quickly burn up a significant amount of data with video calls. It is also prohibitively expensive  to call cellphones, their calling rates are buried in the darkest corner of the website, and their customer service is run entirely via email and video chat. Hmm.

 

If you prefer to use your cellphone, but don’t have a data package.

expat international call communication tools - Defining Moves, The Art of Successful Relocation. Information, Inspiration and Resources for the Global accompanying partner, trailing souse, expat partnerEnter Rebtel again, the patron saint of cheap international cellphone to cellphone calls. Sure, you have to sign up online and set up payment plan, but once you have a) saved their Rebtel number in your phone and b) practiced a few times, you can get regular cellphone to cellphone calls for local rates with no data, no hassle and great signal quality.

 

If you have a smartphone, data / wi-fi access, and love to talk.

Here’s where it gets really, really good, especially if your friends have smartphones and data packages  (or wi-fi access) too, because there are some great products and apps out there. My personal favorite is Viber, which offers free cellphone-to-cellphone calls and texts to other Viber users. It integrates with your contact list so you can instantly see which friends and acquaintances have Viber, and offers you the option of free calls (for when you have plenty of data or a wi-fi connection) or a regular call for when you want to use your voice plan. We love its ease of use, the ability to easily invite others to join and the call and text reliability – but be warned; it looks very similar to your regular cellphone call application, so check twice before placing any international calls…

expat international call communication tools - Defining Moves, The Art of Successful Relocation. Information, Inspiration and Resources for the Global accompanying partner, trailing souse, expat partnerNext up is the Rebtel app – all the features of Rebtel, with the ease of an app. The calls are free to other Rebtel users and (Rebtel claims) 98% cheaper to non-users. We love the easy-to-use contact list, with clear labels about which calls are ‘free’, and which are ‘cheap’, and has the cost of each call displayed before you press ‘Call’.

Trailing in third place is Skype – the most well known (and widely available), but also the most clunky to use (you have to search for Skype user names or emails) and the least transparent in terms of cost. Like the previous two, calls are free to Skype users, and there is the added advantage of video calling for those of you with camera phones, the ability to using instant messaging and to send photos. The bad news is that video calling eats data, so make sure you either have unlimited data or are using wi-fi when making those calls, and that all of your Skype contacts are notified that your are ‘available’ unless you remember to change your settings. And its SMS feature is a pain to use, and at least in my experience, pretty unreliable.

For free international video calls, iPhone, iTouch, iPad and Mac users can benefit from Apple’s FaceTime application which again uses the internet to connect the call. For those of you using iPhones, be sure to click FaceTime rather than Call, unless, of course, you enjoy three figure phone bills…

 

 If u prfr the writn wrd… International text messaging for free.

Viber is still up there for its free global messaging to other Viber users, but in terms of functionality, WhatsApp has to win the international messaging prize. It uses your existing contacts list to find other WhatsApp users, who can then be bombarded with texts, images, videos and goodness knows what else, for free. For those of you with TCKs, CCKs, global tweens and teens, it’s your passport to peace, family harmony, international communication, financial sanity and probably, Repetitive Strain Injury. Four out of five ain’t bad.

As a final note to those of you who travel frequently – consider getting your phone unlocked. While all of these features will help you save hundreds on communication costs, the savings are quickly overtaken by overseas data charges, and free wi-fi access is not always easy to find. An unlocked phone allows you to buy a Pay As You Go local sim card (cut it down to micro-sim size if necessary – instructions here) and stay in close contact with your network for less.

It’s good to talk. Or, for the more musically inclined…

Coping with expat homelessness - My Family in Global Transition. Defining Moves - the art of successful relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat trailing spouse / accompanying partner.

Coping with Expat Homelessness – My Family in Global Transition.

Coping with expat homelessness - My Family in Global Transition. Defining Moves - the art of successful relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat trailing spouse / accompanying partner.It’s the latest expat dilemma in the Defining Moves household, and in answer to our newly homeless state, I’m moving in with my sister. She may be currently unaware of her impending fate, but I’m guessing that she will be the recipient of quite a few panicked phone calls to inform her within minutes of this post being published.

It’s been a tricky few weeks in our family life; a combination of relief/grief that our home (albeit not one we have lived in for the last 7 years) has finally sold. It’s the first home that the OH and I bought together, the one we spent 8 years of blood, sweat and tears (and near financial ruin) renovating, and is the place where Feisty entered the world, prophetically at high speed and interrupting a particularly good Royal Variety Performance.

It’s hosted Millennium parties, expat students, copious numbers of chickens and too many renovation weekend projects to count. Friends and family have been coerced into everything from installing septic tanks, tiling bathrooms and ripping up floorboards, regardless of ability, stage of pregnancy or copious quantities of small children. Ask most of my Facebook friends for their memories of the house and they will cite brambles, dust, chaos, dodgy alcohol, and hopefully, laughter.  But for the last eight years, it’s been rented by a number of tenants ranging from the delightful to the dire, and is beginning to show the strain.

Throughout our expat travels, it’s what we have always called home, so ten days to pack up a household and fifteen years of memories, friendships and roots were all too short. We saw so many friends that we have missed, and missed seeing too many more. All the while, we worried that we would lose our roots, our stability, and our sense of home.

But a funny thing happened as we drove away, en route to my sister’s house. As the house disappeared from the rear view mirror, we didn’t feel sad anymore. We had had a brilliant ten days, surrounded by people who we only get to see every few years, and yet we picked up the threads as if it were only yesterday. We blended back into life without so much as a ripple, and when answering questions about when we would be returning, it was clear that not only would we be coming back, but that we knew how, when and what adventures we are going to have. This particular chapter may be over, but the story is far from finished.

I had imagined that the kids would be sad, saying goodbye to the only home that they had ever known, but I had missed the obvious point. It has not been their only home, and everywhere they have lived, they have been surrounded by people who care for them, whether blood relations or friends. The people at ‘home’ have taught them about friendship, strength of character and what is really important, and those values are what the rest of our gathered global family have in common.

We have gained so much more than we have lost, and it took selling the house to realize it. We were so focused on the safety net below, we had forgotten to look at the view. Somehow, having no house to call our own meant absolutely.. nothing. We still had the laughs, the stories, the catching up and the paintball bruises. We still have friends who find time to spend with us, who tolerate the months of silence followed by hours of chaos and who understand that if we didn’t catch them this time, we will definitely see them next visit. The memories of good times didn’t disappear once the pictures were packed, and we don’t need to be in the same room to share a common ground.

As the miles began to build up between ourselves and our former home, the Wiggy One made a observation, in rather less sombre tones than you might expect.

“Auntie Sarah’s is our home now”. He was smiling when he said it.

I had been thinking the same thing only that morning, when I woke up in her house, on a makeshift Ikea bed, amid the accumulated debris of my (temporarily displaced) nephew’s bedroom. In under two weeks, my physical residence in my home nation has gone from 6000 to 3 square feet. The only things I owned were in the suitcase on the floor and in a top drawer of the dresser – my drawer.

It represented permanence, the expectation that you are returning, and when you do, you will always have a place here. It’s all the things that we treasure about ‘home’, acceptance, love, laughter and a profound sense of stability. What we didn’t realize before was that it was held in bonds not bricks, hearts and not houses and people, rather than simply places.

It’s funny what having your own drawer can do. And a wonderful, kind and incredibly generous global family, who welcome us home; wherever, whenever.

 

 

the expat relocation home inventory. Defining moves - information, inspiration and resources for the expat accompanying partner. aka the trailing spouse

Expat Essentials: Do a Home Inventory

the expat relocation home inventory. Defining moves - information, inspiration and resources for the expat accompanying partner. aka the trailing spouse
And you are insuring these??

It’s got to be one of the most loathed tasks of any move, expat relocation or not: the home inventory. Many of us choose to do a low key ‘only mention the really big things’ effort, while some of us avoid it for ever. But your home inventory is one of the tasks that can make or break a move, especially one overseas, because it provides a clear, legal record of what exactly you own, what it’s worth, and what insurance you need.

The excellent news is that once it is done, it is very easy to update – especially if you use a spreadsheet format. There are many free online versions available – Google Docs is a popular one – that also allow you to save (incredibly helpful if you are traveling and don’t want to be carrying vast folders of paperwork everywhere) and share it with others (if you want to share the workload or have a moving company facilitating the move).

As someone who is on her fifth move (who has also done 3 commercial store inventories), I have now got this whole thing  down to a fine art – and less than 2 hours. Which is not a bad return on investment when at the end you will have a (hopefully) decluttered home, an accurate assessment of your home contents for insurance purposes, and a document that you can use, amend and share forever. So here, with no further ado, is our very own expat guide to completing your home inventory without ruining your day, your relationship or your chances of being voted “Most Cheerful 2012”.

 

1. Assemble your home inventory resources.

 

  • Packing supplies – preferably commercial packing boxes (they are regularly sized, strong and easy to stack) in a range of sizes, packing tape, labels and a permanent marker.
  • Method of recording inventory – either a printed paper version or by creating your own Excel / Google Docs / Pages spreadsheet. For a copy of our printable template, click here.
  • Colored stickers – one color per category (see Clear the Decks, below)
  • Camera
  • Envelope / Scanner for storing receipts.
  • Rubbish / Trash bags
  • Children / handy helper. The jury is still out on whether or not it’s a good idea for children to help – I personally get mine working – opening cupboards, counting etc. The downside is that they become distracted by finding old toys, picture etc far too easily, so it’s a good idea to do their rooms and any playrooms when they are absent..

 

2. Home Contents Inventory Criteria – Ship / Store /Sell / Donate?

 

There will be a number of different outcomes for your home contents, so plan now for easier decisions later. Categories include

  • Air Shipment
  • Sea Shipment
  • Checked baggage
  • Hand luggage
  • Store
  • Sell
  • Donate
  • Junk

Items that you are still using can be marked with different color stickers for easier packing later, whereas those for selling, donating and junk can be packed in labelled boxes. Even though you don’t intend to keep them, make sure you still include everything but the ‘junk’ as part of your inventory.

Remember fixtures and fittings that you would want to take with you when you leave – curtains, curtain rails, specialized light fittings, period fixtures etc., or that require individual care and attention for shipping insurance purposes.

 

Create Your Home Inventory Checklist

 

This is probably easiest to do as you go along, but decide what your categories and criteria are in advance will save you a lot of time and confusion. If you are using our template as a guide, you will see that we have a number of columns:

  1. Item – a brief description of what it is – either single item or group of X
  2. Quantity
  3. Brand
  4. Destination (Ship / Store / Sell / Donate)**
  5. Total value – new / as-is dependent on insurance criteria. Denote currency.
  6. Receipt / valuation (required for high value items, helpful on others)
  7. Insured
  8. Description (required for difficult to replace, high value or antique items)
Feel free to add your own columns – I’ve added specific ones related to the shipping of household goods, but other uses include cleaning, maintenance and repair, inheritors, owners, rental period etc. Make sure you record the date, for tax, insurance and shipping purposes – you need to to be able to show that your list and value is both recent and accurate.

 

the expat relocation home inventory. Defining moves - information, inspiration and resources for the expat accompanying partner. aka the trailing spouseIf you are relocating as part of an expat overseas assignment, check customs rules on what you can import – there are many exclusions, some of which may surprise you. Pickled eggs, for instance..

 

 

Start Recording

 

Taking it room by room is the easiest, most effective way to home inventory because it lets you take it in stages and (providing you are not in the middle of a remodel or one of those people who is continually redecorating for the current season) lets you spread it over days or even weeks – perfect if you want to deal will the junk and donations categories as you go along.

Concentrate on listing every item or group (e.g. soft toys, board games, DVDs) with enough detail to recognize and value them later – columns 1, 2 and 3 in our template. If you are clear on the destination of items, apply the colored sticker (just not to valuable antiques or things with delicate surfaces, please!!) or pack into a box, list it on your inventory and take a photograph of the item /contents of the box for your records. This will be important later if you need to prove existence and value of items for insurance or tax purposes.

Don’t forget to include everything on your property – it may say ‘home contents’ on your insurance policy, but that term also covers possessions in the garage, any sheds and outbuildings, garden ornaments and potted plants.

 

Fill in the blanks

 

The remaining information is what determines loss / damage value, so you need to complete it as soon as possible and provide supporting evidence. Very few people are properly insured, and many of us have pulled an approximate figure out of the air when it comes to assessing home contents, only to find that replacing clothes is far more expensive than we realized and we have been overpaying for the horrific dinner service we inherited from Great Aunt Nellie..

Points to consider include:

  • Does your insurance reimburse cost of new replacement or current value?  Use Ebay, Amazon and online stores for a quick and easy way to accurately assess these, and give you a total value for insurance purposes. The results may surprise you..
  • Do you actually want to replace it? If the answer is no, consider selling it, or at least excluding it from your home contents insurance.

Some items can be easily bought used, but you might prefer to buy others new. Used might include sporting equipment, tools, furniture and dinnerware, whereas clothes, shoes, electric appliances and toys are more likely to be purchased new. Insure accordingly, because clothes especially are expensive to replace..

Don’s spend hours agonizing over every last item – your home inventory is a dynamic document, so you can change your mind about whether to ship, store or sell at any point until the assessors / buyers arrive.

 

Keep a Back Up

 

Now that you’ve done the hard part, make sure you keep a duplicate, either online in a free storage service like Evernote or Dropbox, or as a photocopy in your files. If possible, store it in a variety of formats (Excel, Numbers) to allow easy sharing.

I prefer not to use discs and flash drives because of their easy loss or damage, but if you have a less destructive way with hardware, they are small, portable and convenient. Note, however, that more and more devices no longer have a CD drive, so a flash drive is more universally useable.

 

Get Rid of the Boxes.

 

This is my favorite bit – I find the removal of boxes and boxes of unwanted clutter incredibly cathartic. Don’t just remove them to the garage or garden shed, where they will stay for next three years; get rid of them immediately. And then sit down and enjoy your newfound space..

It’s Zen and the Art of the Home Inventory.. Bliss.

 

** Many countries, including the US, allow a tax deduction for donation of items to charities, so record the donations and keep the receipt from the drop off centre. If your area doesn’t have this  policy, there is no need to record donated items on your inventory.

The golden rules of expat housing - buying a home. Defining Moves - the art of successful relocation

The Golden Rules of Expat Housing – Buying a Home


I’m not a real estate professional, so the good news is that I’m not going to try and sell you a home. Predictably though, I have made plenty of mistakes when it comes to expat housing, and have spent long hours with more seasoned expats discussing what they have learned and what advice they would offer. So here, following on from our Golden Rules of Renting, are our points to ponder when considering buying property as an expat.

The golden rules of expat housing - buying a home. Defining Moves - the art of successful relocation

Understand your assignment contract.

Many assignment contracts include a buy out clause to facilitate a quicker move for the new expat family (or one transferring to local payroll), but don’t assume that you will automatically qualify. There are often limitations on the type of property that are included, such as homes that are atypical for the local area, ones that have planning or permit issues, any covenants or contractual limitations to the property or ones that you bought without conforming to company assignment policy.

In addition, buyout clauses tend to offer a ‘competitive market value’ for your home, which in plain terms means a price at which the property will sell within three months. For expats whose home location has a slower housing market, this can mean a substantial reduction in home value.

Understand your finances.

Since the 2008 financial meltdown, rules and restrictions governing mortgage eligibility have tightened  significantly. To the expat, this means  you may have difficulty qualifying for a home loan or that your limited local credit score only qualifies for the higher interest rates.

Talking of credit scores, you are going to need one if you plan on applying for a home loan. While some lenders will allow your international credit history to be taken into account, many won’t. Establishing and building a good local credit score means taking out some form of credit agreement as soon as you arrive (the length of credit history is one of the crucial factors in your score), and then managing it carefully, especially in the year preceding any mortgage application. For more information on credit history, scores and how they are calculated, check out the links at the bottom of the page.

When you are deciding what you can afford, it’s not just about the mortgage payment. Investigate any fees, charges and taxes that may not be standard in your home location. Most fees and taxes are calculated according to home value, and where international assignments are concerned, there will be wide variation in housing values.

Council taxes, local authority charges or property taxes are all calculated on home values, but need to be researched thoroughly  before you commit to buy – they vary hugely between states, regions and countries, and can add up to 25% to your mortgage payment.

There are also huge variations globally in terms of real estate agent fees and as an expat, you are likely to incur these more frequently than a permanently local employee, so include them in your financial calculations from the outset.

Be realistic about your timeframe.

When you take on a long term assignment or switch to a local payroll, it’s tempting to believe that you will live in your new home for the long term. However, unless you are emigrating or retiring, you are far more likely to be in your new home for between 3 and 5 years –  currently considered a ‘long term assignment ‘s international relocation terms. Your company may well help you with the moving costs, but I can guarantee you will have invested plenty of your own money in furnishings, maintenance, remodeling, landscaping and services. For assignments of under 5 years, renting will almost certainly be cheaper, so consider your motivation for buying very, very carefully, and be honest about the real costs over your assignment duration.

Understand the work involved.

A home is the largest single purchase you are ever likely to make, and involves a great deal of money, complex legal requirements and a team of people. If you haven’t already bought or sold a home, be prepared to expend a considerable amount of time, effort and emotional energy. If you are selling a home it’s even worse; open houses, viewings, contract negotiations and surveys are all demanding your attention just at the point you need to concentrate on planning your own relocation. There are ways you can minimize the effort involved (see list of tips, below) but still, know that if your relocation involves a property sale, you are less mobile, less focused and at the mercy of the buyers market..

 

STILL WANT TO BUY?

If all of our advice hasn’t made you run screaming for the hills, you must be serious about your plans to buy a house. From experience, the rules for buying a house as an expat are a little different, and for many of us, we have learned them the hard way. Luckily for you, we’re here to let you into our ten secrets for making your life in global transition a while lot easier..

1. Get a good real estate agent with a proven track record in the local area and who you trust to work in your best interests. Sometimes, this also means telling you what you don’t want to hear.

2. Listen to your real estate agent. Even if you don’t like what they are saying. You don’t have to agree with everything they tell you, but you do need to consider their advice.

3. Buy small. I love cathedral ceilings and huge family rooms, but experience has taught me that furnishing, heating, decorating and lighting them is more expensive than it seems. And nothing will fit in the next house – I guarantee it. A small home means that you have less debt, lower ongoing expenses and your house is far more rentable should you need to move. Oh, and it’s cheaper to heat, light and decorate..

4. Buy popular. Spend time watching the local real estate market nd understand what sells quickly, because if you get the offer of a lifetime on the other side of the globe, you are going to need to sell your house as fast as possible. Add in that most relocations have a very short turnaround time, it avoids the unpleasant situation of the working partner being transferred while the rest of the family wait behind for the home to sell.

5. Avoid quirky. By quirky, I mean anything that may raise red flags on inspections, or reduce your pool of potential buyers. You may love the murals in the front entrance, the 1920’s themed bar area or the garden gnome habitat, but everyone else is just adding up the cost and effort of removal.

6. Avoid fixer-uppers. Oh, I know, you love a project – but try to limit yourself to work that can be done in under six months and on a moderate budget. You are in the unenviable position of not knowing anyone well enough to call in favors, you don’t have a list of tried and trusted tradespeople, and no matter what the company says about your assignment being 3-5 years, if it ends early, you are stuck with a half-finished property..

7. Limit your spending. I have lost count of the property listings that I have seen which detail the huge amount of money spent on granite countertops and maple cabinetry. Neither of which I would want in a kitchen – give me white cabinets and butchers block every time. If something is very important to you, by all means go for it, but don’t for a minute assume that you will get your money back when you sell. Keep your spending proportional to the value of the home and the budget of the local buyers, and if in doubt, get a real estate agent to give you advice, rather than the contractor who would be doing the work. Realtors get very, very tired of sellers who are unrealistic about the true market value of their marble whirlpool spa.

8. Get permits. Make sure that any work you do is fully documented and inspected if necessary, and use licensed contractors. It’s not just about safety and quality, it’s also about having all the necessary paperwork when it comes to selling. The collapse of the financial markets has meant that lenders are being far more cautious about the properties that they lend money on, and any irregularities that the survey turns up may void the sale. In addition, it may invalidate any buyout clauses in your relocation assignment contract. You have been warned.

9. Ask your real estate agents for recommendations for tradespeople. They usually have a fantastic contact book of people who do work well, quickly and inexpensively, and most importantly, don’t leave a job unfinished.

10. View your home as a consumable, not an asset. In financial terms, expecting to make money on a property in the short term is highly risky, especially when it is your family home that you are speculating on. Even experienced property owners have been burned in by the recent fluctuations in the housing market, and they have the advantage of catering solely to the market, rather than having to make compromises to meet your individual family needs. Consider any  spending in the same way as rental payments, and you shouldn’t go too far wrong.

Now it’s your turn.  There’s an unlimited comments section stretching out below, just waiting to hear about your triumphs and disasters – I’ve got a great Dulux Paintmate story to trade….

 

Online Resources & Further Reading 

 

FreeScore – provides information on credit scores worldwide 

MyFico Credit Basics (US)

US Federal Trade Commission Access to Free Credit Report information (US)

Credit Karma (US) Website providing ongoing free credit score & management information

Money at HowStuffWorks.com’s overview of the credit system.

BBC Guide to Credit Score (UK)

BBC Guide – How to Check Your Credit Rating (UK)

Money Saving Expert – Consumer Guide to How Credit Rating Works

 

 

Expat Housing - Renting a Home. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful Relocation

The Golden Rules of Expat Housing – Renting a Home

Expat Housing - Renting a Home. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful Relocation
Make sure that everyone involved understands your housing needs.

It’s a time of turmoil in the Defining Moves household. After 14 years, we are finally selling our family home in Wales and transferring our home status to the US. It’s a funny feeling – despite living in six different homes since leaving, the process of finding and buying a new home away from “home’ is daunting.

The summer vacation is the peak time for family relocation; it’s the end of the school year, so educational transitions are easier, and you have more time to accomplish the endless tasks that moving yourself, your life and your family requires. With this in mind, I’ve put together a collection of golden rules garnered from international expats (I hesitate to use the term experts when there are quite this many blunders involved.) across the globe. Every one represents one of us learning the hard (and usually expensive and/or stressful) way, so take note. Today we feature renting properties – on Saturday, it’s the turn of the homebuyers..

N.B. If you are relocating with children over the summer, read this first.

Do your research.

Even if you have a Destination Service provider or relocation counselor assisting you with your search, don’t hand over all responsibility to them. Check out online rental listings, contact local realtors and ask amongst the expat community, international school networks and amongst work colleagues – often property owners use word of mouth or private advertising to find tenants independently, and you will get a much better idea of what is available and what you can expect to pay if you do a thorough search.

Understand what is both usual and available in your host location. In the US, for example, for a room to qualify as a bedroom it must contain a closet. In Europe, there is no such rule, and storage tends to be more limited, en suite bathrooms far less common and kitchens more basic. You are also more likely to be doing the yard work yourself, so be warned.

Check the standard of construction, even in newer housing, especially in less developed countries. While the houses may seem new and shiny with every modern amenity, leaky roofs, substandard electrics and insufficient water supply are very, very common. Where the local infrastructure is poor, ask to see the water supply and storage system (and whether it is mains, brought in by tanker, from a bore hole etc.) and how it is pumped into the main house. For electrics, ask to see previous bills, note whether there is a generator and look at the quality of installation. Is the property on mains sewerage or a septic tank, and when was it last emptied? And finally, from bitter experience, check for stains on the ceiling and around the floors to see what happens when the rains come..

Look at lots of properties and meet either the landlord or the property manager in person. If you don’t feel comfortable with them now, imagine calling them when the toilet backs up at 10pm.. Reputable landlords will be happy to supply references from former tenants (it’s even better if the former tenant is showing you the property), so don’t be shy about asking for them.

 

Get your finances in order

Most landlords will run a credit check, and it’s easy when transitioning between countries to lose track of payment due dates, utility fees – even medical bills. Once a bill falls 30 days past due (and sometimes even earlier) it shows up on your credit report and can negatively affect your credit rating, score, interest rate qualification criteria, home insurance rates and how you are viewed as a potential tenant.

Safeguard your international credit score before you leave your home location, by clearing any outstanding debts and payments, and set up direct debits or standing orders for ongoing recurring payments. When you arrive in your new location, get a secure PO box for mail forwarding rather than using the interim housing one – one glance in ‘your’ mailbox will tell you how many former tenants have been through and are still getting mail to that address. Then consider taking out a secured credit card, cell phone contract or other available credit to get your score started as early as possible. Take professional advice before taking out any credit – even a store or fuel card – if you plan on applying for a home loan. Every credit check, successful or not, has a negative impact on your short term score, which pushes up your available interest rates ..

 

Lifestyle Priorities

One of my wise friends gave me the advice to ‘shop for neighborhoods, not homes’, so spend some time working out what your priorities are before you sign on a six month tenancy agreement. For those of you with children, schools will almost certainly be at the top of the list, but also consider what will be beneficial or frustrating in day-to-day life. Parking, low traffic, good local amenities, parks, access to of leash dog trails, a diverse community with local events, libraries and good food are all on my list, but you may be looking for sports facilities, a supportive expat community and nearby shopping. The choice is yours, but make it before you drive the realtor mad, hey?

If you are staying in the same location for an extended period of time, consider the longer term costs. Many expats transfer to local payroll while still overseas, and allowances for private schooling, airfares and housing change. Will your income support private schooling long term – and if not, what are the local schools like? What college fees will you pay? Recent studies have shown that many expats’ current lifestyles are affecting their long term financial health, so don’t fall into the trap of living beyond your actual income and relying on expat allowances for the rest of your working life.

 

Consider the costs.

I love cathedral ceilings and picture windows. After two years in the East Bay area, with it’s 90 degree summers and breezy winters, I’m very, very glad that utilities are included as part of the tenancy agreement – especially when you have 79 internal light fixtures, not including lamps. Seriously.

There are the obvious costs, like transport into town or school, availability of public transport, memberships and maintenance fees, but there are also the ‘keeping up with the Jones’ costs that sneak in. The more affluent the community, the greater pressure there is to maintain the same standard of living, entertainment tends to cost more, and the local services, stores and amenities will cater to a higher disposable income. You have been warned..

 

Paperwork

Read the contract, and get professional advice about the local rules for both tenants and landlords. In many cases, the contract is difficult to enforce without a lengthy and costly legal battle, but it does serve as an early warning system of how experienced, knowledgeable and trustworthy your landlord is. A basic contract should include at the very least a name and address for both parties and the home for rent, the rental sum (and what it includes in the way of utilities, furnishings and any other applicable fees), the duration of the tenancy, the responsibilities of the landlord and tenant (garden maintenance, gutters, etc), any rules the landlord may have regarding treatment of the property (picture hanging, use of candles, parties etc) and an inventory of condition and contents of the property.

Before you sign, check whether the property is in financial good standing (your realtor or destination service provider should be able to help you with this) – tenant evictions because the house is being repossessed by the lender are increasing, and you have both the inconvenience of an unscheduled move and a lost deposit.

Do a move-in walk through with the property manager or landlord before your household goods arrive, and take lots of pictures, especially of any wear and tear or damage. And finally, get a receipt for each and every payment (especially the deposit) or at the very least, have a clear official record of the transaction.

 

Security

It’s our final piece of advice, informed by the experience of a friend of a previous tenant walking in unannounced at 7 am. Ask the landlord to change the locks. Establish who else has a key or access to the property – cleaners, gardeners, property managers, landlords – and what are the rules for permission of entry. Our front doors are the most basic form of security, and yet it’s the one thing that we all forget or take for granted. If you have an alarm, get instructions on how to change the code, and do it the day you move in. And then don’t do as a friend of ours once did and write the code on a Post It note next to the keypad. Hmmm.