Tag Archives: essentials

Expat family essentials: Estate planning checklist. Defining Moves: information, inspiration for the global expat family. Trailing spouse, supporting partner, expat partner, accompanying partner, international assignment

Expat Family Essentials: The Estate Planning Checklist

Expat family essentials: Estate planning checklist. Defining Moves: information, inspiration for the global expat family.  Trailing spouse, supporting partner, expat partner, accompanying partner, international assignmentWhen my mother came to visit us in Los Angeles, she neglected to bring her swimsuit, and was faced with the challenge of what to wear in our pool. My generous offer of a string bikini was rudely rejected with the words “Over my dead body”. I am taking her at her word, and when she moves on to a better place, we will be marking her passing with an open casket viewing and the aforementioned attire.

Just to compound your already low opinion of me, I also respond to unwanted maternal points for improvement with the words “ Just remember who’ll be choosing the nursing home”…

Let this be a lesson to those of you who are feeling complacent having written your will; if you also want a say in your care and send off, do in it writing, and make sure it can be found before the services (healthcare, financial or spiritual) have taken place. It applies to all of you, but if you are an expat, the risks are even higher..

 

There are four more documents that you need to consider preparing:

  • Guidelines for your funeral arrangements
  • Power of Attorney
  • Trust / Catalogue of assets
  • Letter of intent

Funeral arrangements. 

If, like myself, you have specific ideas about your funeral, you need to put a plan in place so that loved ones left behind can honor your wishes. For those of us with a somewhat warped sense of humor, it’s a great time to mess with everyone a little, but I appreciate that not everyone out there is as cruel as I.

The key points to cover include:

Location for service (church, crematorium etc.), preference for cremation or burial, memorial service, storage / distribution of ashes, etc.

Funeral preferences – hymns, caskets, flowers, donations, clothing (yours, but feel free to have a little fun with their dress code too…). You could even write your own eulogy and obituary, complete with an embellished (and  potentially wholly fictitious) list of accomplishments.

Funding – it’s the one we all forget, but if you are living overseas and wish to be buried in your home town, make provision for the costs of repatriating both your body and your family. Your embassy can give guidance, but the costs are entirely your own. Bear in mind that your heirs can’t easily access accounts left in your name once you have died – funeral expenses are deducted from the estate before it is divided between the beneficiaries, but flights etc are usually paid in advance, so ask your lawyer the best way to facilitate this.

Power of Attorney.

The Durable Power of Attorney / Enduring Power of Attorney is a document that designates a representative to make financial, health care, or other business decisions for you if you become unable to do so for yourself.

This can be general or limited / springing. A general durable power of attorney gives permission for whomever you name to make every decision on your behalf, if you are no longer able to advocate for yourself. A limited durable power of attorney cover specific events, like selling property, making investments (often given to financial advisors / brokers) or making health care decisions (also called an Advance Directive of Health Care).

You can choose anyone to act as your agent, but commonsense rules apply – choose someone trustworthy who has your best interests at heart, and who is physically able to make those decisions; while many decisions can be made remotely, those living overseas should consider choosing someone who is able to travel.

Trust.

I am not a lawyer, nor have any legal expertise or qualification, so I am leaving the explanation of what exactly a trust is to those in the know – click here for the best explanation I could find, or check out the additional resources at the bottom of the page. Your task is to go away and get legal advice on whether trusts are applicable to your situation.

Simply put, a trust is a legal holding zone for assets, which are controlled by individuals known as ‘trustees’, for the benefit of other named parties “beneficiaries”. You nominate multiple trustees and beneficiaries, allowing both flexibility (it is relatively straightforward to change the conditions of the trust) and smooth transition of both control of and benefit from the trust.

The vast majority of people set up trusts for financial reasons – properly crafted, your trust can help to avoid significant estate taxes. However, for expats, the ability for assets to be transferred seamlessly is often far more important; especially where the remaining spouse is on a dependent visa and no longer legally entitled to remain in the host country.

It also has the advantage not just cataloging major assets but also specifying how beneficiaries can access the funds contained in the trust, meaning that should the unthinkable happen and both parents die, they can leave instructions for funds to be released at appropriate intervals (for example, lump sums to cover college tuition and living costs, down payments on a first home etc) rather than giving total control when the children reach legal adulthood.. As someone with a 17 year old who is unable to manage his birthday money effectively, the thought of leaving him in charge of half our net worth in a year’s time sends shudders down my spine.

Letter of Intent.

Finally, it’s the easy one – your letter of intent. It’s not a legal document, instead simply some guidance to the guardians of your estate and your dependents about what your wishes, your hopes and your future plans for your dependents are.

There are two things to bear in mind:

  1. Think of your letter of intent as a set of guidelines, not rules. You are handing over the job to someone who is not you (and never will be), so let them do their best with the situation they have; if there are any ‘dealbreakers’, it’s probably a good idea to discuss them in person before you assign them the responsibility.
  2. Make sure you have the funds to back it up. There’s nothing like being left with a laundry list of expectations, and no money to do it. It’s the same lesson we teach our children; if it’s that important, you should be willing to pay for it with your own money..
  3. Don’t assume children are your only dependents; you may need to make provision for your parents, your pets or your clients.

So there we go – you are well on the way to getting your plans a little more ‘future-proofed’, whether in terms of money, care for your dependents, or what they say about you in your obituary. Just remember; your epitaph really is the one thing that is written in stone…

 

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

The Fragile Finances of the Expat Trailing Spouse. Defining Moves, The Art of Successful Relocation

Women, Money and What ‘Dependent Partner’ really means. The Fragile Finances of the Expat Trailing Spouse.

The Fragile Finances of the Expat Trailing Spouse. Defining Moves, The Art of Successful RelocationUpdate: After considerable lobbying from consumer groups, the US Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection has amended the rule requiring evidence of independent income when applying for consumer credit, replacing it with a declaration of household income. This is excellent news for accompanying partners in the United States who had been denied access to credit and left unable to build an independent financial identity, in a country where a credit card or credit history is required for everything from hiring a car to setting up a cell phone contract. Sanity is restored…

I came to a horrible realization the other day that I was beholden to my husband. It sounds incredibly old-fashioned; even using the word ‘partner’ in that sentence would be wrong, because it implies an equality that I had let slip away.

The dictionary describes the term beholden as owing something to somebody because of something that they have done for you’, so if you view being shuffled from pillar to international post as a favour, the word pretty much covers it. I realized that although I live in California, where community property and a 50/50 division applies, I did not have the independent means to pay for legal advice. And when he leaves all his dirty breakfast dishes on the counter above the dishwasher for the 5 millionth time, there is a big emotional difference between don’t want to divorce my Other Half, and CAN’T…

As with the vast majority of dual career couples, when I agreed to the OH’s first relocation, I was aware that from now on my own career would take a back seat. Global mobility research discusses the change (usually reduction) in income when a couple relocate, but discussion centres around household income, rather than individual earning power.

Which is exactly what I have lost. I have never worked in professions known for lavish salaries (nursing or teaching, anyone??), but I was able to earn significant personal income with opportunities for promotion. Now, however, my sole income in drawn from the ‘household’, and as such, is vulnerable. And I’m not alone.

It’s not just those of us who relocate that are in this position. It’s anyone who has chosen to reduce or give up work to manage family commitments, whether you are in constant global motion, or have never set foot outside your home town. If you have no independent source of income, whoever earns the salary holds the keys to your supposed household income.  And while you are legally entitled to a portion of those, it requires court approval to gain access to them, whatever the circumstances. Which also requires legal counsel, who (funnily enough) will want to be paid.

Take credit cards. Over the last 20 years, we have become used to being approved for credit, regardless of our personal income; the household income has always been taken into account. Sure, the credit limit may be small, but it’s quickly increased once our payment history shows our ability to make payments and manage the account well. However change is afoot, certainly in the US, where credit card issuers are changing their rules, and making it far more difficult for the accompanying partner to gain credit (and a good credit history), unless they are employed outside of home.

Last year, the Fed ruled that credit card applications should ask about a consumer’s individual income or salary rather than his or her “household income”. This isn’t just for students under 21, but for everyone. That means that a stay-at-home parent is considered as unworthy of credit as an unemployed college kid–and seven out of eight stay-at-home parents are mothers. No one without a pay stub, no matter the value of her contribution to her household, can get a line of credit unless her spouse cosigns the account. (Anisha Sekar,  July 7, 2011)

Now, in light of the recent economic meltdown, placing more focus on individual income and ability to repay debts is no bad thing, but it does have ramifications for those of us who suddenly lose the ability to get even the most basic forms of credit like a cell phone contract or credit card. It also means that unless you are named on the account, you lose the ability to make financial decisions, access accounts and resolve disputes, which if, like mine, your partner spends a great deal of time out of the country and on air flights, can make financial management impossible.

The Other Half is also the primary name on the host country bank account, and I don’t have automatic access to his account. Typically, he goes ahead to take up his new post, while I remain behind with the children to finish up the school year and pack the house for the move. It works well for us, but does mean that he has sole responsibility for setting up basic financial services in the new location, so it is his name on the salary transfer and tax details, and therefore his name on the account, at least until we get around to updating it.

We choose to manage this by having me sign all the checks (if he signed one himself, it would probably be dismissed as a forgery), I have the ATM card and PIN number, and I’ve set up the internet banking with my passwords. And while this unusual state of affairs makes for amusing dinner party conversation, it gives me absolutely no legal right to the household funds in that account, nor access to them should he suddenly develop amnesia / get run down by a London bus / decide to trade me in for a younger, blonder model…

The mention of Tax ID and salary above should alert you to the fact that opening your own bank account is not necessarily as easy as it first appears. Requirements vary from country to country, but most require evidence of who you are, your legal right to be in the country, how you will pay tax on any interest, and how you intend to fund the account. So when you turn up with your passport and cash, you may be disappointed… However, it is something that is worth doing if you value your sanity, because things can and do go wrong, and I am willing to bet that it is you who will be left holding the can when it does. If the money is in your sole name, you have control over it; if it’s not, you don’t. Simple as that.

And finally, let me mention the dying thing. I have known a few situations where a spouse has died at a young age, and not once did I ever hear the words “well now, let’s get on and sort out the money”. What I saw were people who had their lives knocked out from under them, who were trying to cope with immense loss, overwhelming grief, and devastated children. Imagine how much worse it gets when you are overseas, your right to be in the country expired with the demise of your spouse, and all your assets (and therefore your ability to get home, to make funeral arrangements, to pay medical bills and to pay for normal household expenses) are now severely compromised. I have seen it happen, and it was horrific.

So, if you do nothing else today, do these things for me, wherever you are. Get started on your own personal credit history, even if you have to take out a secured credit card to do it. Promise to keep track of your credit score, every month. Get an independent bank account in your host country, and commit to funding it, every month. And finally, make a joint will, keep it simple and safe, and make sure it is legal in the country that you live in.

Oprah would be proud. I feel more secure already…

Creating a Relocation Budget. Defining Moves, the Art of Successful Relocation. Information, Inspiration and Resources for the Global Trailing Spouse, Expat partner, accompanying partner.

8 Money Rules for Creating a Relocation Budget

Creating a Relocation Budget. Defining Moves, the Art of Successful Relocation. Information, Inspiration and Resources for the Global Trailing Spouse, Expat partner, accompanying partner.
Creating A Budget. Striking error in our hearts since 1917..

Relocating plays havoc with your money; the cost of moving, the unpredictable expenses, the loss of local financial history and the soaring banking costs all make creating a relocation budget the greatest work of fiction since Harry Potter.

Despite the uncertainty, financial preparation and clarity is vital to a successful global transition, because if you think cultural orientation is challenging enough, try learning the Mandarin for “Why has my card been declined?”.

So for those of you considering (or already) living overseas, here’s part one of the  commonsense rules to follow for creating a relocation financial plan.

1. Budget no more than 25- 30% of your net household income for housing

– including rent or mortgage, property  tax and insurance and security services. While this may seem low, it gives you greater financial flexibility, so when other unexpected costs crop up, you are well prepared.

It’s especially relevant for homebuyers – while corporate assignment contracts often include a buyout policy, in the current financial climate you may get offered far less than you expect, or even be ineligible for the program. Check the fine print carefully before you buy if you may need assistance when selling or if you move on short notice – but for maximum security the less income you have tied up in property when you lead a nomadic life, the better. Read The Golden Rules of Expat Housing – Buying a Home.

2. Make friends with your tax advisor.

Expatriate taxes are complicated and while you need a qualified tax professional to oversee them, but don’t just relinquish responsibility.

Their priority will be to complete your taxes in a timely and accurate manner, but they have a wealth of information and experience relating to your tax breaks and liabilities for future plans and destinations and can help you avoid making costly mistakes. Higher education and retirement costs continue to rise, and with expat life comes the uncertainty of where these costs will be incurred and what support (if any) is available locally.

Most locations have tax free savings or investment policies for retirements, college funds etc., but you need to get independent expert advice to help you make the right choices. My personal favorite? Grant Thornton, for their knowledgeable, down to earth, easy to understand approach.

3. Plan for the Relocation “Money Roller Coaster”..

Changing location means fluctuating expenses – often much larger than you expect. Healthcare, school and college fees, retirement, cost of living and tax liabilities all vary hugely between locations and having a financial cushion can be the difference between all going well, all going into debt or all going without.

Don’t confuse this with your emergency savings account (for more on that, see part 2);  this fund is purely to manage expat related expenses that you can’t accurately predict. Anything from last minute flights home, the extra security deposit because of your pets or extra tutoring for your children – all are common expenses that most of us will have to cough up at one point or another, so forewarned is forearmed.

Once the dust has settled in your new home, add up how much you spent relocating – it doesn’t need to be accurate to the last penny, just a rough estimate. Divide this figure by the length of the assignment in months, and set up an automated bank transfer to a separate ‘transfer expenses’ account.

If the amount seems terrifying, don’t panic. Even $100 per month over the course of a 2 year assignment will net over $2400, enough to handle most short term expenses. The key to remember is that something is better than nothing, and the earlier you start, the bigger your cushion will be.

For a guide to cost of living expenses, use Xpatulator.com as a starting point but remember to take into account your individual family needs. While local clothing or groceries may be cheap, your preferred brand of  breakfast cereal, school wear or laundry detergent may be far more expensive than the index suggests.

4. Don’t Get Used To Expat Packages.

The days of the longterm expat living in one location for 10 years or more are over – nowadays, the trend is for shorter term assignments or moving the long term employee onto local, local plus or ‘expat lite’ programs. These packages may look seductive on paper, but they are designed to reflect the actual cost of living rather than as a perk.

While your income seems larger in the short term, you are exposing yourself to longer term financial challenges (potential loss of spousal income, international college fees, privatized healthcare and changing pension benefits to name a few), so explore the long term impact of your assignment and budget accordingly before you assume your increased income is disposable.

Read 9 Essential Questions Every Expat Should Ask  and

Don’t Let Your Expat Dream Become a Financial Nightmare.

 

Coming Next: Protecting Your Credit, Life Insurance, The Expat Emergency Fund, Long Term Plan.

Expat Essentials: Safeguarding your longterm health, finances and family. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful Relocation. Information, Inspiration and Resources for the Expat Trailing Spouse / Accompanying Partner

Not Just For Expats: 3 Ways to Safeguard Your Life, Health and Family at home and abroad.

Not Just for Expats - 3 steps to safeguard your longterm health, family and finances. Defining Moves The art of successful relocation
My version of long term care

This post was sparked by an episode Mad Men –  a series about adverting executives in  New York in the 50’s and 60’s.  This particular one covered the characters’ responses to the Cuban missile crisis.

Kennedy was had just given his famous television broadcast, highlighting the potential threat to the US from the Soviets, plunging the characters into a frenzy of uncharacteristic behaviors.

In justifying their sudden need to fulfill life dreams and expectations, one of the characters made the comment:

” We might not be here tomorrow”,

to which the reply came;

“Isn’t that always true?”.

We all applaud the idea of living each day as if it were your last, but are incredibly naive about what that actually means. Most of us imagine finally parachuting, walking the Inca Trail or any other number of ambitious, death defying activities listed on our bucket list. It bears little relation to the reality of life and death.

The concept of seizing the day is reliant on good health, or at least mental consciousness, the absence of pain, and a considerable amount of forward planning. If I ask how many of you have checked your medical records, understand your health insurance rights and coverage, or have an advocate who knows your wishes in the event you are unable to make decisions, 97% of the room start twitching nervously and suddenly find their notes fascinating. Sound familiar?

For those of you who are now in a state of panic, let me reassure you. You don’t need to start visiting psychics, ordering crystal balls or trying to predict every eventuality – in fact, the simpler you keep it, the better.

To get you started, here are the three essentials to consider:

 

Health Insurance for Locals and Expats Living Overseas.

For those of you who don’t live in a country with a National Health Service (and for many of you who do), for any travel abroad or residence overseas, health insurance is essential. While many services and regular care can be contracted more cheaply without going through an insurance service provider, for the expense  of chronic, emergency and long term health coverage, you need a safety net.

Sadly, most insurers are for-profit businesses, which means that they are careful (and in some cases, downright difficult) about handing out money, and have many ways of avoiding or limiting it. Not being completely honest about your age, activities, destination and current or previous health is the fastest way to get your claim rejected and end up with a huge bill.

Pre-existing conditions, so-called ‘extreme sports’ and high risk behaviors (i.e. drug taking, using prostitutes) are common exclusions and many policies only cover your host country. They often specify services and providers that you can use, required co-pays and ineligible treatment and procedures. This means that either you personally, or your family, will be liable for any healthcare costs not met by the insurers, and these can stack up really, really quickly.

The basics to consider include:

  • What exclusions apply to your policy, and are they relevant to your situation?
  • What are the insured maximums, and what does that really mean in terms of local care?
  • Are you covered for transport home?
  • In the event of your death, will your remains be repatriated or is that the responsibility of your next of kin?
  • If you have company insurance, how are your benefits affected if you are no longer able to work or have to terminate your assignment early?
  • What happens if care is not available in your host country? Will you be sent home, or to another country, and if so, can family members accompany you?
  • If you are taken ill when overseas, are you covered for a family member to join you? Who will look after the children? Who will be your advocate? How do I make my wishes known in a way that is legally binding?

 

In the event of serious or long term illness, where do you want to be?

Common wisdom dictates that we like to be surrounded by our nearest and dearest, but for some, that qualifies as the one of Dante’s Rings of Hell.

As Greta Garbo is famously uttered “I want to be left alone”.

Most of the time the answer is “wherever I can get the best care”, but the reality is harsher and involves finance, family, support and legal residence issues.

For working expats, the decision is often taken out of their hands – once you are no longer able to work, your visa is invalid, and you are repatriated. For those permanent overseas residents the choices are wider, and many choose to stay where care is cheaper and there is less pressure on family members to be full time caregivers.

Returning ‘home’ is often not as easy as it seems, and may require significant adjustment –  repatriation is difficult under the best of circumstances, so expect a period of transition for the whole family, especially if you have been expats for a long period. Consider both mental and physical health needs for all the family – there are many excellent counselors that can deal with adaptation and coping issues, both for you, your partner and your children. x

Before you take the decision to move back, you will also need to check that you are entitled to healthcare benefits – either though the national health service or via your insurance – before you move; many insurance companies will not cover people with certain pre-existing conditions or will demand high premiums, and your expat insurance may only include your host country. Consider also what is included, whether it is just urgent care, inpatient care or ongoing long term care – and also, the standard of care and and waiting lists.

.

Do you have an Advanced Directive of Health Care?

More commonly known as a Living Will, this document defines who will make decisions for your care in the event that you are unable to do, and sets guidelines for your care. We tend to assume that here only apply if we have a serious debilitating illness, however having a stated person to advocate for you is invaluable for acute and emergency medical conditions too – whether you are simply under anesthetic, unconscious, in severe pain or have temporary amnesia.

Your advocate doesn’t have to be your life partner – I have chosen my sister for four reasons: firstly, we have similar decision making processes; I would rather that my partner was free to concentrate on his own needs and those of the children; she has a great relationship with my partner and I trust her to make the best decisions for both him and I without being burdened with guilt and expectations, and finally she has a great sense of humor, and if anyone can find the laughter in any situation, it’s her.

Many doctor’s offices have ADHC template forms that you can complete, but it’s worth getting legal advice – many terms vary between states and countries. Use simple language to eliminate the chance of misunderstandings, be specific about your intentions, state what treatments you are and are not willing to receive (especially in countries with different health standards and practices), nominate a healthcare proxy (someone who you trust to make decisions for you) and ensure that they understand, agree and that their contact details are accurate and finally, get it witnessed, preferably by someone with legal standing.

 

Expat Essentials: Safeguarding your longterm health, finances and family. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful Relocation. Information, Inspiration and Resources for the Expat Trailing Spouse / Accompanying Partner
How my children see it..

Ill health happens, and never when we expect it. When it does happen, it’s a knee jerk, all hand-on-deck approach, dominated by the need to get care quickly, the demands of the medical staff and the fear of the unknown. It is always inconvenient, unexpected and bewildering, and as a former nurse I can tell you that the last thing your partner or loved ones want to be doing is second guessing your choices. They need to know what you would want, and they need it in writing. It needs to be discussed, agreed upon, written down and easy to find. You can change your mind at any point, but we all need somewhere to start. 

And as a final piece of advice, bear in mind the words of wisdom from Phyllis Diller:

“Always be nice to your children – they are the ones who will choose your rest home.”

 

Expat or not, this is important.. The Relocating Expat Information Checklist. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful Relocation

Expat or not, this is important.. The Relocating Expat Information Service. You.

Expat or not, this is important.. The Relocating Expat Information Checklist. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful RelocationI have two distinct groups of readers; those who enjoy watching and hearing about my expat disasters from a safe distance, and those who are listening carefully, trying to avoid making the same ones themselves. Some are happy to stay exactly where they are and enjoy the fun, and some of you have a thirst, a career or a spouse leading you to life as a global nomad.

You all fall into one of two categories: those who hold the information, and those who desperately need it. I mentally think of you as The Knowers, and the Growers.

The Knowers (aka Locals & Expert Expats) are those of you who have lived in a place for long enough that you know where everything lives, know how to get the information and help you need, and understand the unspoken rules that make every community unique. You know which teachers inspire children, how much to spend on birthday gifts and which children have nut allergies. You know where to go to get your legs waxed, where to get your car serviced, and where to get the best deals on everything from food to children’s shoes to carpets.

And then there are the Growers (aka The Recently Relocated, the Inexperienced, Inept or Just Plain Overwhelmed).We can be easily spotted by our bewildered expression, the vast number of forms were are incessantly clutching, and by the GPS unit permanently fixed to the dashboard of our hire car. We arrive either half an hour early or ten minutes late, depending on how many times we had to stop to check your address. Our children are always under or overdressed and have Tshirts with unfamiliar writing and logos. If you happen to stop for a chat, we will either be lost for words, a little misty-eyed at your kindness or will talk your ears off for the next 45 minutes. And if you happen to suggest meeting up for coffee, our faces will light up with joy as we shout “Yes Please – Now??!!”

I spent most of my life as a Knower, rooted in the same community for the first 30 years, leaving only for college and returning faithfully each holiday. Living in the town was as easy as breathing – I knew where everything important could be found, and when a gap in my knowledge appeared, family and lifelong friends quickly filled the breach. It was a fabulous upbringing – secure, stable and even now, very little changes. It had roots.

At 30, it all changed, and I became a Grower. I had to nurture a new life, a new network and a new identity. I lost my career, my sense of self and my instruction book, and I made many expensive and painful mistakes. So many, in fact, that I have filled a website full of them. It was only thanks to the intervention of some very kind Knowers that I didn’t run screaming back home.

Which is why, following on from the last post, I’m putting together the Defining Moves version of two tins cans and a piece of string, to connect you all in the most basic of ways. No-one should have to make this many mistakes, or hit the low points that so many do, and we can at least try to do something about it. S, linked at the bottom of the page are two lists of all the questions we desperately want to ask those of you in the know, but are too shy / afraid / overwhelmed to ask.

Whether you are a Knower, a Grower or anything in between,  download it, print it, add to it and share it with schools, friends and newcomers alike. Comment if you think I have forgotten something, but whatever you do, please fill in whatever you can. It doesn’t have to be complete – one simple recommendation is enough to tell us that you have noticed us, and you do care. We need you.

We who are about to arrive, salute you.

Stuff We Really Need to Know: The Newcomer’s Checklist

What Every Parent Needs to Know

Photo courtesy of the US National Archives.

Expat Etiquette - How To Be the Perfect Host. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful Relocation- Information, Inspiration and Resources for the Expat Accompanying Partner / Trailing Spouse

Expat Etiquette – How to Be The Perfect Host

Expat Etiquette - How To Be the Perfect Host. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful Relocation- Information, Inspiration and Resources for the Expat Accompanying Partner / Trailing Spouse Let’s be clear about this – I am most definitely not the perfect host. My concessions to visiting guests limit themselves to clearing the accumulated debris from the guest bedroom, providing toiletries and ruthlessly utilizing their airline baggage allowance to my own ends. Guests to my home have to endure 5.30 am starts, midnight visits from a large fat cat who can open (noisily) every door in the house and potential involvement in whatever home improvement (a flexible and dubious concept) project we happen to have going. So far, Evan rewired half the house while Jo supervised the installation of a septic tank, Miles fixed the leaky toilet, Sarah grouted the bathroom while Ify painted baseboard, and Simon and Sarah are on a first name basis with the staff in hardware stores across the globe.

Sadly for all impending guests, our recent time as tenants will be coming to an end and it will be back to the joys of home ownership and associated maintenance projects. So if you are planning on coming to visit, brace yourself. And wear old clothes..

For those of you who, like me, are a little challenged in the diplomatic art of hosting visitors, I have conducted a survey of those who do it well. Here’s what they told me..

1. Be clear about expectations are before they commit time and money – both your expectations and theirs. Discuss what facilities you are able to offer, what house rules you might have, whether you can spend time with them and what their goals for the trip are. If it involves you donning a chauffeur / chef uniform, it’s best to break the bad news to them gently now. And while you are at it, now is a good time to encourage them to research what they might like to do in the local area while they are visiting, rather than waiting until they are parked on your couch..

2. Show your guests how everything works – even better, make post it notes or written instructions so that they are not overwhelmed and you are not forced to continually repeat yourself. LifeHacker has produced a brilliant guest information packet that you can download here, which covers everything from emergency contacts to wi-fi password.. Include household quirks, security and safety issues, and any pet requirements. Ooh, and stop off at the cleaning closet and the laundry on your way – you never know, you may get really, really lucky.

3. Encourage your guests to make themselves at home, unless you want to be responsible for every morsel that passes their lips. Make space in the refrigerator (it encourages them to shop for food – never a bad thing..), and provide food storage containers if you have them (they can take sandwiches on trips and so won’t need to keep popping home to refuel). Stock up with easy to prepare breakfast supplies; cereals, toast, bagels and fresh fruit, and force encourage them to help themselves. If you have guests who have hired a car and are spending days out, give them a cooler and ice packs, and encourage extended adventures.. Be warned, however – their idea of home may be the TV continually running, large amounts of debris scattered around and the consumption of all meals on the living room couch.

4. Provide the basic comforts – clean sheets and towels, and  a hairdryer, clothes hangers, toiletries, adapter plug and bottles of water of they have performed particularly well on the chocolate importation front. The more travel sizes of toiletries you provide (shaving foam, shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, pain relievers, disposable razors, sanitary protection and toothpaste) – the less likely you are to have to do emergency supermarket visits. I also include maps (they will inevitably need one at some point), local transport schedules and a list of where all the main supermarkets, coffee shops and pharmacies are.

5. Enable electronic access. Emily Post may never have had to write about the etiquette of cell phone chargers, but I’m going to. Take it from me, guest cellphone / iPad / iPod battery life is inversely proportional to the level of agitation and insanity displayed, and is exponential in teenagers. Provide adapters, and if you value your peace and family harmony, keep a universal charger kit for the house and car. It will be the best $20 you’ll ever spend.

6. Set them free. Spending every waking minute with your guests is a recipe for disaster. They may be staying with you, but they will also need time alone to explore, catch up with other friends etc. Provide them with information on the local area (a local hotel will have ready-made packs you can beg, or check out your local tourist information center or library), along with a map and if you are really generous, loan of your GPS. We also borrow a guide book from the library, get brochures and prices for the places that we have liked and encourage use of our car. Check your insurance is comprehensive, up-to-date and covers out of town visitors, and practice not wincing as they attempt to back out of the drive.

7. Take directions. Don’t attempt to organize their holiday for them – feel free to offer suggestions or resources, but remind them that you are a local, not a tourist. If they are international visitors, it may be cheaper for you to book things for them and them to reimburse you; but make sure you look on deal sites like GrouponGoldstar or your local version to make their budget go further.


Resources

Lifehacker: Creating a Bulletproof Guest Account for Windows – (see Comments section for a How To for Mac)

From Clueless to Class Act – Manners for the Modern Man  (Jodi R. R. Smith

From Clueless to Class Act – Manners for the Modern Woman  ( Jodi R. R. Smith)

Everything you need to know about relocation, you learned in your first week of school

Everything you need to know about relocation, you learned in your first week of school..

Everything you need to know about relocation, you learned in your first week of schoolA conversation over coffee last week centered around how we all adapt to any new environment, and I offered up the Feisty One as an example of someone who had it figured out from birth. Watching her walk into every new school leaves me sitting in the school car park in tears, while she sets her shoulders, pastes a smile onto her face, and proceeds to network like a New York socialite.

Somehow, she has decoded the unspoken rules that guide social acceptance, and while her group of friends may change over time, within 15 minutes of setting foot somewhere new she’s worked out the social groups, the codes of behavior, and just who her new friends are going to be.

For the rest of us, here are the relocation lessons that we have learned, lived and long since forgotten..

 

Everyone is scared, but we all have different ways of showing it. Some get louder, some get quieter, some giggle, some snarl. Don’t let your fear define you, or how you judge others. A little patience goes a very long way.

The sooner you make a friend, the better it will be. Because two heads are better than one when it comes to figuring it all out, facing the world, and sharing the fun.

You’ll miss home and family, but you’ll learn to enjoy the time away and cherish the holidays spent together.

Some days are better than others. Some days, you just have to wait it out.

Some lessons you will love, some you will like, and some you will hate. Having favorites is good, but time and perspective will teach you that the ones you liked the least taught you the most.

People can be mean, but the earlier you learn how to deal with them, the easier your life will be.

Look after your lunch money. Mom won’t always be there to bail you out.

Your behavior affects the whole school, so choose your actions wisely.

Don’t believe all that you are told. Consider the source of your information carefully, and then decide the real story for yourself.

Being prepared feels a great deal better than arriving knowing that you didn’t do your homework.

Not doing your homework is the fastest way into trouble.

Being rude is the second fastest.

Breaking something once and you might be forgiven, break it twice and you’ve lost their trust forever.

You can do anything you set your mind to with practice, patience and help from others.

 

3 Simple Strategies for More Effective International Relocation - Defining Moves

3 Simple Strategies for More Effective Global Transition

3 Simple Strategies for More Effective International Relocation - Defining Moves
We all need a little point in the right direction..

At Defining Moves we believe that the most crucial parts of successful global transition are a clear assessment of your situation and thoughtful planning. It seems self-evident, but in reality we are often working with inaccurate information, cross cultural confusion and an unrealistic expectations. With that in mind, here are our 3 essential strategies that will make any relocation far, far easier. And yes, you already know you need them, but how many of us take the time to actually DO them..?

 

1. Before You Go – Cultural Orientation

Many transferring companies provide some cultural orientation training, but it often focuses on the working environment rather than the living one. If you have the chance for professional help, take it, but don’t just stop there – there is a wealth of information out there that can help you better prepare and adapt to your new home.

Guides like the Lonely Planet and Rough Guide both have excellent sections on the local environment, cultures and expected behaviours for visitors, along with a language starter guide. Remember that you are not on vacation, and many other guides assume that many of your basic daily needs will be met by a hotel, so opt for the backpacker and independent travel guides  – they are written for people who have greater contact with locals and are looking after their own living needs.

Blogs, expat websites, forums  and social media networks give you great insight into your new world through the eyes of an expat, and can offer a way to make contacts with like minded local residents without leaving your couch. It’s currently a hugely underutilized resource in terms of cultural orientation, possibly because of the sheer volume and varying quality.

I’ve listed some of my favorites at the bottom (feel free to suggest your own) – many offer local guides for a fee, and a listing of expat blogs by country. Contact the blog authors, read their articles and the comments of others, and build a picture of the day-to day challenges that expat family life will present.

Many expat groups have a Page on Facebook – simply searching the term ‘expat’ and your new location will generate listings. Doing the same search on Twitter will put you in touch with plenty of people willing to share (and probably a few oddballs, so brace yourself), and allows you a less formal method of contact than email. However, remember that with social media, you are also sharing a great deal of information about yourself, so read our guide to using social media before you start.

If you prefer to meet people face to face, Internations is another place to meet a huge variety of expats from across the globe, with monthly meetings in many cities. They also have an excellent online resource and community.

 

2. As Soon As You Arrive – Find a Mentor.

The Armed Forces, established experts at the task of relocating people, have long been advocates of mentors for transitioning individuals and families, but the corporate world has yet to catch up. The good news is that the expat community is a very supportive one that understands the challenges faced on international assignment, and is always ready to rally to the cause, so don’t be shy about asking for help and finding a mentor.

We’re not talking about finding a friend here –  you don’t even need to like your mentor, as long as you respect their opinion. You are looking for is someone who has a good working knowledge of your new location, has an enviable list of contacts, and has recommendations that they are willing to share. You don’t need to agree with their choices or follow all of their advice, but having a place to start will save you time, money and considerable frustration. It’s about getting the information to get things done in the most effective way possible.

Your mentor provides a number of functions – they can point you in the direction of essential goods and services, help you navigate your first weeks in your new environment, and provide an early warning system for problems that you might face.

Ask your transferring company whether they have anyone locally or in your host country who knows the ropes or look for spouses of work colleagues, PTA members or expat welcome groups. Your relationship might not extend beyond a shared coffee, a phone number and a list of people and places, so try to have a list of what you need already prepared. Here’s our Mentor Checklist to get you started.

 

Once The Dust Has Settled – Continued Cross Cultural Training / Support.

In her FIGT 2012 presentation, Philippa Erlank of Consider Culture pointed out that most cross cultural learning takes places between the 6th and 12th month of any assignment. Before that, the practicalities of establishing a home, school and work life take priority, and after a year, most people have settled into some sort of daily routine both in terms of tasks and behaviors.

Those who have been through expatriation before will tell you that most corporate cross-cultural provision happens either before the transfer or immediately after – both points at which you are distracted, bewildered and often struggling with the logistical arrangements of family life. By the time you realize that you need help, it has disappeared into the sunset with the rest of your expat life delusions.

There is good news, however. Most cross-cultural training is delivered by independent consultants, many of whom are happy to provide ongoing private services, both in person or via online coaching. They are familiar with the unique demands of temporary life overseas, and can provide a listening ear, sage counsel to help you with day-to-day dilemmas, and a compassionate shoulder if it all becomes too much. So if your relocation package provision has ended, or if you are relocating independently, it’s well worth exploring the idea of a intercultural or expat coach to help you gain understanding and get the answers to that most fundamental of questions..

Why?

 

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