Recent posts have attracted some kudos from long-term expatriates (international citizens living abroad) as well as our customers who aspire to live abroad on the long-term. To make things easier for US citizens exploring that kind of transition, I thought we’d talk today about the six most critical things to know about being an American expatriate. This overview is sure to help in your preparations!
Six Things You Must Know About Living Abroad as an American Expatriate
1) Expatriates Still Need to Pay U.S. Taxes
The United States is the only industrialized nation that has a citizenship-based taxation system requiring its nationals abroad to file and pay taxes on their worldwide income. Failure to file your taxes or other forms required for Americans can and frequently is interpreted by the IRS as a willful criminal act, and banks in many countries refuse to do business with U.S. citizens thanks to the great amount of control they must cede to the IRS in order to do so.
There are U.S.-trained accountants in many countries who have experience and credentials similar to Certified Public Accountants in America. They are familiar with all of the U.S. tax requirements, including the requirement for reporting the contents of foreign bank accounts that was recently introduced. However, you should budget carefully for these services, as they can be expensive, and the rules may cause you to pay “double taxation” on some funds.
2) Expatriate Healthcare Can Be Tricky
If you’re going to be in a country temporarily, the best way to research your healthcare needs is to review Expatriate Health Insurance with InternationalInsurance.com. We’ve worked hard to develop expatriate medical plans that will help cover your needs throughout the globe. If you plan to live in another country for quite a while, though, you’ll need to gain a deeper understanding of what level of healthcare is available to you.
There are many countries around the world that have excellent healthcare systems; however, you will usually not have access to national healthcare schemes unless you have at least qualified as a permanent resident. Until then, a long-term insurance option may still be your best bet. If you are in a country with lots of expatriates, then you will probably notice two “tiers” of healthcare: Hospitals and clinics for expatriates and those for locals.
Expat-focused healthcare can be better, and you will definitely find that more people involved speak English. However, it can also be very expensive and is frequently overpriced. In some cases, a local clinic may meet your needs just as well: However, you should carefully find out as much as you can before you decide on one clinic or hospital over another. Experienced expatriates are a great source of information on this topic.
3) Getting an Expat Job is Interesting
In most countries, you are allowed to look for work even if you have arrived on a tourist visa. However, you may not do any work until you have obtained a work permit. Getting a work permit will typically require you to have a written offer of employment with a local firm, and the work permit must be renewed on a regular basis with evidence of continued employment.
Most people use their work permit in order to help them obtain permanent residence, although this is not required. Getting a job in foreign countries will differ radically based on the country, but you should expect some challenges with the first job offer. In most countries, employers are not inclined to hire foreigners; in some, they must demonstrate that no local can do the job.
If you have specialized skills, such as software development or information technology, you can often entice an employer. Likewise, there are some “specialized” areas where expatriates are very much welcome: These include teaching English and leading tours for English-speaking visitors. While these typically do not pay much, they can meet your needs in many countries.
If your skills fall somewhere between these poles, then your best bet is to use networking to your advantage. Before entering a foreign country, you can use tools like LinkedIn to scout for some opportunities. Likewise, the local expat community may be able to point out employers that are eager for your skills. However, your best bet in getting a job in any foreign country is to show reasonable language skills, and sometimes, these require immersion to develop.
4) Culture Shock Lasts a While (Sometimes Forever)
Before you leave, it’s a great idea to prepare yourself for your journey by reading guides about a given country. Skip the standard “travelogue” fare and focus on books that can provide you with insight into a culture. One of the book brands I enjoy for this is called “CultureShock!”
The “CultureShock!” series provides a basic overview of a foreign country and includes books on Sweden, Japan, Thailand, Korea, Italy, India, and many others. Because the books focus on cultural norms, behavior, and history, they give genuine insights into what to expect.
If you live in a major city, you might find that universities in your area offer classes about a given country. While you might not have time to take classes, professors are often eager to speak on their area of expertise and will meet with you to give you a grounding in the local culture.
Some countries offer English-language newspapers, so reading these can be helpful. Likewise, you can get a different perspective by talking to expats online before you leave. However, remember that some expats may have had negative experiences that color their views!
Once you arrive, don’t expect yourself to get comfortable right away. Odds are good that you will run into some trouble here and there. Likewise, you will probably find yourself calling home more frequently, spending time with expats, and connecting with your home culture online.
No matter how long you spend in a country, there will always be something that can surprise you and give you a “dissonant” feeling. This is normal! Do your best to immerse yourself in the local culture; challenge yourself to stretch a little further each week, with one simple goal at a time.
5) Staying in Touch Can Be Tough
Just because you are away, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stay in contact with your friends and loved ones back at home. However, you could find that this is an expensive and complicated process. What’s the best way to do it?
If you have brought a laptop computer or tablet with you, then you probably have the best answer available. Use Skype or another “voice over IP” program instead of traditional calling cards — these are simply too expensive for long-term use.
For the first several months of your time abroad, you can be very confident that everyone will be glad to hear from you — after all, you’re on an adventure! Just remember to take time zones into account whenever you call: It could be the middle of the night back at home.
Having a regular schedule of calling, at first, will make things easier on your loved ones and also give you something to look forward to on a regular basis. Of course, as time goes on, you might find yourself communicating over email, chat, and other tools instead.
6) Making Friends Can Be Easy
It might seem like it’s difficult to meet people abroad, but that’s not necessarily true: It all depends on the culture. Cultures that are notoriously easygoing and outspoken will make the social scene easier for you — for example, Italy and many parts of Spain. There are cultures that are more reserved, such as parts of Britain and many areas of the Asian world, where things can be a bit more challenging. However, people are often fascinated by foreign residents.
If you immerse yourself in the culture and language, opportunities are sure to emerge. Connect with expatriate friends to find out what works for them, but don’t stop there — you don’t want to end up stuck in the “expat bubble,” insulated from local life! Learn what others do socially, and challenge yourself to do it. Bars and nightclubs are only the beginning: Depending on the country, everything from camping to snorkeling to video games can be a major social activity.
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