Banking

Transferring cash back to the US to pay bills can be a big pain. I found out the hard way that it can take a month for a deposit to appear in one’s US checking account if one writes a check to oneself and mails it to the bank, and in the meantime your online account summaries are likely to show no mention of the progress of the transfer. One can also try international wire transfers, but these might require a trip to the bank and seem more expensive than what I’m going to recommend.

Citibank has a “global transfer service” which allows for transfers with a normal checking account to which one adds the free “global executive” feature. Transfers are free if the accounts at both ends are held by Citibank, and I recall there is a US$10 fee per transfer for accounts with other banks.

It’s a good idea to open a Citibank account, either checking/saving or credit card, before leaving the US, since your overseas branch won’t need proof of local permanent residence. Afterall, you may not have a permanent residence for a month or more while you look for the right home.

Passports

Make sure that all the people moving with you have passports at least six months from their expiration at the time you plan to arrive. If they’ve expired, then the wait for new ones can take weeks even if you pay for expedited service. Your employer may need you to have current passports well in advance of your arrival in order to apply for work visas on your behalf.

Absentee voting

Print out forms from VoteFromAbroad.org and take them to your local courthouse before you leave.

Income tax

If you make less than US$87k in 2008 from a foreign employer, then you don’t have to pay US income tax on it; but if you make more than that, you do. (Note that there are other conditions, too, such as being physically present in the foreign country for 330 days. See the instructions for IRS form 2555.) But I’m not a tax expert and I’m not offering professional advice; better to check out the IRS’ Federal Tax Information for U.S. Taxpayers Living Abroad (PDF).

I’ve been a very happy user of TaxActOnline.com for years because they ask a series of questions and fill out tax forms for you, which you can print as PDFs at the end. They charge just US$15 or so to e-file, and they handle the case of having US employers and foreign employers in the same year.

Health insurance

Your foreign employer may offer health insurance at a good price, but it may not cover incidents that occur outside your employment country, and may not cover high-cost items such as neonatal intensive care. IHI.com came highly recommended to me; they provide coverage for any country you might visit, they cover items like neonatal ICU, and their high-deductible (US$5k) option is pretty affordable.

Paper mail

EarthClassMail.com provides a low-cost service where you can get a PO box in a major US city, and all mail delivered to that address will have the front of its envelope scanned. They send you an email for each piece delivered with a link to their website where you login and tell them whether to scan it (free for the first 100 pages or so a month), shred it, recycle it, or ship it to a real address.

You won’t want to use this address for magazine subscriptions, parcel deliveries, or anyone who might send you a check, since shipping options are currently a little expensive (around US$8 for 1-10 thin envelopes).

Package mail

If you happen to be moving to Singapore, their postal service offers VPost, which provides a PO box for you in the US, in the UK, and in Japan. This is intended for package deliveries, and you need to forward invoices from Amazon and other sellers to VPost when you make your online purchases. Shipments from those PO boxes to Singapore are at reduced rates, but still pricey in my opinion.

Movers

If you’re moving from the San Francisco Bay Area, I recommend using Meridian.

If you’re moving to Singapore, I recommend HeluTrans, (65) 6225-5448.

Netflix

Of course you won’t be having DVDs shipped overseas to you, but wouldn’t it be great if you could use Netflix’s streaming service? It offers many fewer titles than the DVD service, but is still great. Unfortunately, Hollywood requires Netflix to check the IP address and system clock time of your computer to make sure you’re in the US because they haven’t found a way to protect streams from piracy. There is no exemption for US military bases, either. Hollywood forces Hulu.com and Video.aol.com to do the same checks. I don’t have a recommendation for this one yet.

You might want to check out these services, too:

Mobile phone plans

You’re likely to use a GSM phone network outside the US, which means you won’t be able to use a phone you bought from Sprint or Verizon (which use a different kind of network, CDMA), but you may be able to take your AT&T or T-Mobile phone if you “unlock” it from your carrier. Unlocking is something done to the software on the phone, and you can pay a local mobile shop to do it for you. There are also sellers on Ebay who will send you instructions and take a certain number of questions via email for a fee.

I have not been able to find any way of getting voice+data service for just occasional visits back to the US. The US carriers will want to charge you monthly whether or not you use their service.

Electric appliances

Before setting aside any electric appliance for the movers to pack, check if it will work with the electrical system of the country you’re going to. This applies to computers, TVs, razors, blenders, fans, etc. Even appliances that seem like they would have just a motor and no electronics might still have some tucked away. And even though adapter plugs and transformers can help, there is no solution if the Hertz rating doesn’t match. For example, US electric is 60Hz and Singapore is 50Hz (following the UK example, I believe). This difference will lead to blown fuses and smokey burned-out appliances. (I’ve never heard of a fire starting, though.) Even if your computer or printer says it will work on the new Hertz, you still should check your user manual to see if you need to move a switch before plugging in.

If your appliance doesn’t fit the bill or you’re unsure, you’re probably better off saving the shipment weight cost and just donating to GoodWill or recycling with GreenCitizen.

Pets

This is too wide-ranging a topic to cover here, but I do ask that you consider finding a good friend to adopt your pet instead of bringing it with you. I know from personal experience that long flights and new climates can be very hard physically and psychologically on a pet, and that doesn’t even count the effects of a quarantine period.

If you do bring a pet, be aware that any domestic stops on your journey will subject you to temperature limits by most airlines. That is, they won’t let you check a pet if a stopover city is too hot or too cold, out of concern for your pet’s health. You probably want to move during spring or fall for this reason. Taking a pet as a carry-on seems unfair to your fellow passengers, and the pet would have to be a kitten or puppy to be allowed in one of the small carriers (which are the only kind they allow as carry-ons).

Social support

You won’t want to believe everything you read, but message boards can be a great source of info about the country you’re moving to, written by people from your same part of the world who have already moved there. Go to google and search for country you are moving to + “expat”. There are probably several message boards of the kind you’re looking for.

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