Tag Archives: organization

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 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

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.

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.

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.

Essential Expat Information - The Hidden Costs of Relocation - Defining Moves, the Art of Successful Relocation

The Hidden Costs of Relocation (and how to reduce them)

Essential Expat Information - The Hidden Costs of Relocation - Defining Moves, the Art of Successful RelocationWe never manage to move cheaply. We’re on our seventh home in 11 years and currently looking for our eighth, so you would think we would be experts by now. But relocation is an expensive business – the packing, shipping, storage, tax filing, document preparation and transportation are just the tip of the iceberg.

We get wooed by the mouthwatering figures presented in the relocation package, and at that point, grown adults start confusing their employer with Santa Claus. They’re not – those figures have been created by a calculator loving accountant somewhere, and have not been put together with the sole purpose of making you happy. Quite the opposite, in fact – they reflect the minimum sum that the company feels is appropriate to get you established wherever it is you are going. And by established, they are not referring to the new Laura Ashley room set that you have been drooling over.

So, after reviewing three years of detailed accounts from the Defining Moves household, here are our top ‘hidden’ costs of relocation, and what you can do to reduce them.

 

Paying off past credit.

It’s money that you have already spent, but it’s still a cost to consider as part of your relocation package, because I’m pretty sure that if you read the small print, you will discover that credit companies take a dim view of you leaving the country.. When you took out that kitchen / bathroom / Laura Ashley credit agreement, the three years interest free credit seemed like a good idea. Now you are stuck with a hefty bill and maple cabinetry 3000 miles away..

What you can do. If you are even thinking of relocating, don’t take out loans without having the money to pay them off immediately. Your loan contract will almost certainly include a residence clause, you will need money to relocate to your own new home, and if you are planning on renting out your house, you are going to need an emergency fund if your home is empty, damaged by tenants or requires emergency repairs.

If you think you need to spend money on your home before selling or renting it, consult a property professional before you actually get out your wallet, and consider carefully the return on any financial investment.

Interim cost of living.

Most assignments allow for 4-6 weeks of interim living allowances, but it’s easy to go over budget once you are there. Typically, you are spending time looking for more permanent accommodation, finding your way around and getting established and you don’t have the time, the facilities and the storage space to cook for yourself. Your entertainment tends to be outside the home (i.e. cinemas, restaurants, shopping malls) and costly, and you are potentially paying for storage of your household possessions.

What you can do. Try and find interim accommodation with a kitchen and enough food storage to avoid daily trips to the grocery stores. Consider taking packed meals with you on days out (yes, I know I sound like my mother, but has anyone else ever noticed that when hunger strikes, the nearest cheap and healthy eatery is 25 miles away / back at the previous freeway exit?). If you are going to be eating out for at least one meal, make it lunch – typically you pay between 25 – 35% less for a similar meal at lunchtime, and portions are often smaller. Your wallet and your waistline will thank you.

Find your local library and parks, so when you are desperate to escape the confines of the generic wall color and furniture, you don’t need to pay for it. Consider joining a class, club or volunteer group so that you are meeting people – anything that gets you out without a price tag attached.

The Cost of No Credit.

You would think that in the world of the internet, email and instant access, business and financial services would be able to establish your creditworthiness over a wider geographical range. But no, while hackers in China can access your accounts and make merry with your credit cards, the financial establishment can only judge you on your local credit history. Which, bearing in mind you have just walked off the plane, is precisely zero.

This has a huge impact on your local expenditure. In the short term, you will be putting down hefty deposits for everything from cell phones to utility services, will struggle to get any sort of credit card, and will be paying international fees for any transactions using your home country bank account or credit card.

In the longer term, any loans that you try to take out will be at a higher interest rate, and will usually require a large deposit to qualify.

What you can do. Many banks now offer global accounts, so if you are going to be paid in your home country currency, consider applying  – especially if you will be transferring money regularly. If not, there are many reputable online Foreign Exchange providers who offer far better rates and easy to use systems. Test them out with small amounts first so that if something goes wrong, you haven’t lost an entire month’s salary.

If you are planning on using your existing account for international transfers, negotiate rates and ask about rate thresholds – often there are better rates for larger amounts.

 

Home Furnishings.

Anyone who has relocated before will tell you that for the first 3-6 months, their living expenses skyrocket. Setting up a home is expensive – which is why we have bridal showers, baby showers and wedding gift registries for newly weds. If you are lucky, you have the slightly less exciting interim allowance, which covers the basic cost of reestablishing residence, but doesn’t allow for the cost of making it into a home. It also does’t allow for the considerable time pressure, which is why when we move we tend to head for the nearest department store and get furnishings that ‘will do for now’, with the intention of replacing them later. Not only do we end up paying full price, we end up paying out twice.

What you can do. Research home stores before you go, and if you can see that items are expensive or difficult to find, consider adding them to your household goods shipment. Avoid shipping things that require specialized parts / care / refills unless you have regular visitors from home who are willing to act as couriers.  Find out where locals buy home furnishings and when the sales are on. Consider outlet malls, consignment stores and borrowing items for the short term. Look on local noticeboards for “Moving Sales”.

Brand Awareness.

When you live somewhere, you develop a store / cost hierarchy, which assigns quality and cost to items sold in a store. If we want something cheap that may not last, we head to Walmart. If we are willing to pay more for something more permanent, it might be Pottery Barn, Marks & Spencer’s or a local department store. If alcohol is involved, we may find ourselves in Restoration Hardware.. Whatever your home location, you have preferred stores that carry the brands and products you want at a price that you are willing to pay, and you can set your budget accordingly. When you move, all this goes out of the window and you find yourself spending a fortune in fuel driving around trying to locate bed linen, laundry detergent and a pair of pink tights for the school play – all of which you end up paying full price for, because you have yet to discover where the deals are.

Waste.

Not only do you not know where to buy things, you don’t know what to buy. You would think a move between countries speaking the same language would make this easier, but the marketing departments have ruined it by changing the names on even the most familiar products. For the first year in the US, every contact I had with a British expat included discussion about laundry detergent, and the choice thereof.

The same applies to foods, clothing, furnishings, electronic appliances and even services – you don’t know where to go and what an acceptable price range is, and you end up paying for brand names that you know – the ones, inevitably are more highly priced. You buy a car from a large dealership rather than from a small used car lot, you get it serviced there because you don’t know any reliable local mechanics. You buy your furnishings at full price because you didn’t know about half price Wednesdays, and you have no idea what you should be paying for   bread.. So you waste money on a higher quality than you might need, and you waste foods

What you can do. Ask for recommendations, samples and referrals. When you meet people with children of similar ages, ask about anything relocated to children. Receptionists everywhere from schools to doctors offices are a mine of useful information, and once you have found one good provider, ask them for the names and numbers of their favorites. If you have managed to find yourself a mentor, download our mentor checklist and ask them for their help. I am notorious for stopping people in stores and asking them everything form where they get their hair done, to how they get their child’s karate kit to stay so white. Most people are delighted with the compliment, and are very happy to share the information.

Check out the manufacturers. The names and packaging are all designed to appeal to a local audience, but many big manufacturers have a global presence. To help you narrow your choices, start with products by the same company and work from there.

If you have a realtor, consider asking them for a list of their preferred providers – they will not only have a list of reliable and reasonable tradespeople, but if they are involved in staging homes for sale, will also know where to buy attractive, inexpensive home furnishings (they will also now the more expensive places too!), and can give you an overview of the different price ranges of the various stores and businesses in the local area.

 

If there is one thing I have learned over the past 11 years, it’s that it is impossible to predict your true costs up front – but they will happen, no matter how frugal you are. Our solution is to start a moving fund before we go, keep a close eye on our spending and to travel as lightly as possible. Now it’s your turn – what are yours?

Redefining Relocation 4 - Creating a Family Timeline Expat Health

Redefining Relocation 4 – Creating a Family Timeline: Expat Healthcare

 

This bit should probably be entitled “Expat Healthcare Future Proofing ” because that is what we are trying to do here. The healthier you stay, the better your relocation experience will be.

Timeline Cheat Sheet

  • Any routine tests or treatment that would otherwise be due in the first 3-6 months of your assignment.
  • Order supplies of prescription medication for existing conditions.
  • Request prescriptions for medications necessary for leisure travel from your new home.
  • Stock up on preferred brands of personal care items that are not available in your host location.
  • Schedule any appointments, repeat prescriptions or restocking visits that require a visit home to coincide with vacation, school holidays etc.

 

Redefining Relocation 4 - Creating a Family Timeline Expat Health

Your most important task is to schedule recommended immunizations, treatments and screenings for both preventive healthcare and preexisting conditions.  As part of Your Current Health, you should have a list of recommended / required  immunizations for your new location, and you may have been organized and already scheduled them.

You will also find that many require boosters during your time away, so check to see whether those are readily available there, or if you need to take supplies with you. While many medications are available globally, some are not, and counterfeit drugs are a problem in some countries. If a medication is essential for your ongoing health, order enough supplies to last until you find a reputable source locally.

Please believe me when I say that once you arrive in your new location, you will have a huge list of things to get done, the pressure of a new work/life role, and not a great deal of help.  So make it easier on yourself; identify which check-ups, tests etc. will be due within the first three to six months of your assignment, and get as many as possible done before you go. 

If you plan to do any traveling from your new location, investigate what medical precautions are required and get any immunizations, healthcare, drugs and supplies from your doctors while you are getting all the essential stuff done.

It’s a lot easier to drop in ‘and I’m planning on traveling to/will need/will not be able to get” when you are sitting in your hometown doctors office (or going through your company medical) than on a Friday afternoon when you are staring at a tropical diseases poster in an airport on your way to a weekend in Dubai..

Stock up on essential home country healthcare. It may seem strange to include on a timeline, but if you know that you are going to need specific treatments, check-ups or prescriptions that require seeing a specialist outside of your host location, you need to include these in your timeline so that your home visits / vacation / school holidays coincide with the dates .

The more mundane include first aid items, antibiotics and medications that you may need but may have difficulty getting overseas (including birth control – not all are distributed worldwide).

Over the counter drugs such as Tylenol, Nurofen and Beechams (along with many, many others) etc are not universally available, so if you have any particular preferences or sensitivities, take extra with your household goods, and if you have allergies, you might want to take brands that you know are not problematic.

My daughter, for instance, has an extreme sensitivity to some sun products, so we take large amounts of a sunscreen that we know doesn’t cause irritation;  the same might apply to you for soaps, shampoos, detergents, skin care or even cosmetics.

Especially in Asia and Africa, brands cater to local needs, and so if you have Scandinavian or Scottish ancestry, you’re going to have to hunt harder (and pay a great deal more) for products for your skin type. And the same applies for those traveling in the opposite direction – while big cities cater to a cosmopolitan mix of health and beauty needs, as you get more rural, you will have difficulty finding the brands or products that you favor.

So start making your list. And checking it twice, as the song goes.

Photo of AZMU nurses and physicians on camels in Egypt en route to Palestine in July 1918 courtesy of cjh.org 

Redefining Relocation - Creating a family timeline | Defining Moves

Redefining Relocation 2: Creating a family timeline

Redefining Relocation - Creating a family timeline | Defining Moves

My brother has a five year life plan. He and his wife have at some point, sat down together and mapped out where they want to be in five years, and how they are going to get there. Every few months, they discuss what progress they are making, examine any changes that have happened, and make any adjustments that might be necessary.

I think he might be adopted.

The rest of my family are a fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants bunch, who value spontaneity, adapt easily, and lurch in and out of minor disasters with astonishing regularity. As a group, we are incredibly creative and resilient, but then again, when your idea of a plan is a weekly menu, you need to be.

As much as it pains me to say it, my brother has the perfect approach for redefining relocation. One of the greatest challenges that relocation service providers struggle with is that of ‘unrealistic expectations’, and yet I have yet to meet many expats who made unreasonable requests.

What I do know is that very few of us have a written plan for the next year, let alone the next five, so unless the relocation training manual comes complete with a crystal ball, the chances of the assignment and relocation service contracts reflecting our actual needs are slim.

The answer needn’t be complicated. We need to clarify our expectations as far into the future as we can, and make explicit what we need to achieve them. We are also going to discover the best and worst times to make any changes in location, and why. We’re going to draw a family timeline.

For those of you who love order and are proficient with Excel, you can use a template to create a timeline. The advantage of this is that you can gloat over the rest of us. However, after two hours of futile struggling, I’m using the pen and paper method.

Begin with each family member, starting now, and charting forward for at least two years. This takes into account your immediate needs for the transition and settling phase, allows for single year contracts to overrun and for an assignment of this length, your needs are fairly predictable.

It is also the point at which many visas expire, home and host location resident status changes, and home nation benefits, rights to resident rates for college and healthcare, and legal and financial rules change. Here’s my two year rough draft for the Wiggy One, just to prove that I sometimes take my own advice..

Redefining Relocation - Creating a family timeline 2 year international education plan

However, as many assignments are extended or rolled over into new overseas placements, two years is an absolute minimum. For ease of use, use a separate sheet of paper for every family member, (and even every category, if it gets really complicated) and plot 24 monthly markers along your line. A lined A4 legal pad turned on its side is perfect.

Over the coming weeks, we will be discussing each category in detail, but for now, these are the main areas we will be considering in terms of our two to five year plan.

  • Career (for both partners)
  • Family
  • Education
  • Financial Considerations
  • Legal Issues
  • Health
  • Personal Development
  • Life Goals

Between now and the next step, take time to write down as many events that will occur in each category that you can think of, including end of school years,  passport and visa expiry dates, driving license renewal, professional re-certification exams, future career and life plans, etc.

Your timeline is not set in stone, and many of the features on it will change over time. What it should do is clarify what is most important, and what challenges you will face, so that you have a working document to take into account when you consider relocation policies, available support and future assignments.

 

Photo courtesy of The State Library of New South Wales

 

Relocating? Essential documents that every expat should keep, copy and/or carry

We are in the process of applying for our Green Card, and it’s nothing like the film. For a start, we are legitimately married, and have been for so long that our vacation family photos usually just feature the Other Half and the kids, because having planned, packed and catered for a weeklong sojourn, there is no way I want my exhausted, disheveled state recorded for posterity. Anyone who wishes to verify that we are married just needs to spend half an hour in the same room and listen to a disjointed conversation that involves car pool commitments, emergency meal planning and a reminder of outstanding (not in the good way) household tasks..

However, back to the Green Card bit. So far, we have fallen foul of a lack of vaccination records for myself and the OH (resulting in a fresh round of childhood vaccines and a very sore arm), the inability to recall exact dates of employment from back when work meant I was actually paid, and an inadequate birth certificate. As our original posting was a year long temporary assignment, all our official documentation, wedding and baby photos, etc. etc. are safely in storage and completely inaccessible from sunny San Francisco. My latest interruption has been attempting to obtain a certified copy of my birth certificate from 4000 miles away – pausing only to pray to whatever God might be listening that my online order a) is not an elaborate scam, and b) gets here before next Christmas.

For those of you who like myself, had no idea what documentation might be needed over the course of your expat relocation adventures, I’ve prepared a checklist.

Essential Docs Checklist

It doesn’t just apply to relocating expats – it’s a good idea for everyone to have immediate access and back-up copies of the documents listed, so please feel free to share. Buy a scanner to make electronic copies of documents and store securely – you’ll be surprised how you need copies, and how useful it is to be able to email them  immediately. If nothing else, you will look and feel supremely organized. Unlike me..

 

Gender issues and organizational capability.. Best Foot Forward..

New Year, and a fresh start. That was obviously the motto of the Other Half, who failed to read my resolution rebellion, and decided to start 2012 as he meant to go on. With clean shoes.

There may be those of you out there who are as confused as I was about the role of shiny footwear in the overall success of 2012, but to the OH, it seemed crucial. So much so, that at 10am on New Years Day, as I reclined in bed carrying out global anthropological research*, I was suddenly buried under a deluge of books, laptops and bedside lamps that had formerly resided peacefully on my bedside trunk. This was swiftly followed by the opening and closing of the trunk lid, and then repeated with the two other trunks in the bedroom. (Those of you who have moved frequently will understand the multifaceted role that a nice wooden trunk can play – storage, furniture, seating, ladder alternative.. the list is endless). The body language that accompanied this performance can only be described as thunderous, and is usually only seen during last minute tax preparation or receipt of the Wiggy One’s grade card. Bearing in mind that we are in the process of renewing our US visas, I assumed that a vital piece of documentation had gone missing, so in ‘Very Good Wife’ mode, I asked what he was looking for.

Which just reinforces the old adage about the word ‘assume’, because what had triggered the house wide devastation was not a search for the meaning of life, the holy Grail or even last year’s W-2, but merely shoe polish. It’s not often I’m lost for words, but I have to admit that I was completely nonplussed. And then I laughed, which is right up there with assume on the list of things not to do when a partner’s credibility is at stake. There immediately ensued what would be described in a toddler as a tantrum, a teenager as acting out, but the OH describes as  righteous indignation. He needed the shoe polish, he wasn’t going to waste $20 buying more because our shoe polish kit “had brushes and everything'”(obviously there is a worldwide shortage of bristle that has slipped my attention) and moreover, it was always like this – he can “never find anything in this house”.

I did agree with the sentiment, but not so much the person at fault. It has long been observed that the burden of putting away, filing and finding falls with the female members of the household, while the males prefer to build cairns with everything that comes out of their pockets, and are unable to locate any items unless at eye level, and clearly labeled. For instance, butter cannot be found in the fridge unless it is still in the wrapper with the word ‘butter’ facing forward, and paperwork can be easily found in the clearly labeled files, but once liberated, there is huge confusion about which file to put them back in, so they get helpfully slotted between files and left to slip into the black hole underneath.

I wouldn’t mind if I wasn’t told by any number of his work colleagues that he is not only exceedingly competent in the organizational arts, but that he always calm, and nothing ever ruffles his feathers. So quite why I had the human version of a startled pufferfish slamming around the bedroom beggars belief. Suggestions about where he might look just increased the pitch and volume of responses, so I tore myself from my studies to assist with the search.

There are two things I had working in my favor. I have a process for dealing with the cairns that involves putting all the items in a bag and informing the OH of their location and need for attention. His response is to immediately restart cairn construction and to dump the existing bag in the far recesses of the closet. When we moved from Los Angeles, the contents of that closet were put in a box for his perusal, where it has remained undisturbed for the last 18 months, despite my timely reminders. And as the shoe brushes were last used at least that long ago and hadn’t been seen since, I had a pretty good idea that the two might be linked.

My New Year has started afresh on the moral high ground. For there, nestled in the box of assorted junk, was the show polish kit, complete with brushes. Throughout the hullaballoo, I kept calm and smiling, and it made victory all the sweeter. I like to think there was Divine Intervention, that someone, somewhere was rewarding me for 18 years of singlehandedly trying to keep chaos at bay, and emphatically proving that at home, the OH has the organizational skills of a goldfish.

It’s going to be a good 2012..

*watching YouTube.