Monday, February 6, 2012

THE EXPAT LIFE AND HOW TO SURVIVE IT

This is a guest Article written by my good friend, CapnRick. Rick is an American expat living in Argentina, he also does Consulting ricdele@gmail.com
Thanks Rick and take care!
FerFAL

                 THE EXPAT LIFE AND HOW TO SURVIVE IT
                 10 Ways to G.O.O.D Without Losing Your Shirt
by Ricardo de Leon

As an expat US native, I get asked about my reasons for the relocation outside my birth country and my experiences in doing so.  I am developing this article to aid in answering the more common questions for people who inquire.  I love my life in Argentina… but, the expat life is not for everyone.  The information herein is original and does not commit me to any liability for, nor rights to the information herein. You may freely copy this and reproduce it in any form you wish without attribution.
Most of my expat friends do NOT live in their expat home year round, but spend 6 – 8 months each year at their country of origin home, with a condo they have purchased or a rental they use for their time here in Argentina.  Some of them will eventually reverse the process and spend most of their time here, but many will never fully expatriate. I also spend 2 – 4 months each 18 – 24 months in the US. I have permanent residence in Argentina, where many expats just come in on a tourist visa, renew once after the initial 3 month visa period, then leave before the 6 month tour runs out. Please do not convince yourself that it will always be OK to abuse your host nation’s hospitality forever by abusing the tourist visa renewal policy… it makes things unnecessarily more difficult for other tourists. Many expats in BsAs (Buenos Aires) have made themselves unwelcome by abusing this policy for years, via constant renewals or illegally overstaying their tourist visa limits. Some have even bought property here, and can not visit when they wish due to host country wrath at the expat’s disrespect for sovereign law of the host country.

WHO SHOULD REASONABLY BE ABLE TO EXPECT TO EXPATRIATE THEMSELVES AND THEIR FAMILY WITHOUT LOSING THEIR SHIRTS

People who are relatively young and relatively healthy with easily transferable job market skills, good sense of personal integrity, good forgivers and hardy adapters, fluent in the host country language or willing to walk barefoot over glowing coals (figuratively speaking) to learn it. Other things that aid in assimilating massive changes to one’s lifestyle include having sources of income outside the host country. In many cases, one’s ability to enjoy life without a lot of modern conveniences and media options (or even universally acceptable cell phone reception) is crucial to the success of a good expatriation plan.
There are some folks who should never consider expatriation. If one is uproot themselves from their known habitat and support infrastructure, one must be prepared to do without those comforts while building new ones in the new home. The relocation process is a very destructive one even within ones’ own country. Especially consider…
o  those who have no easily transferable job skills for the international marketplace. Doctors can easily find earnings at a lesser skill level job in the medical profession while getting re certified as physicians in the new country, whereas lawyers have a more difficult time due to a different legal system (example… differences between the English justice system and Napoleonic law). The people who earn their living over the internet can live anywhere they have a good, dependable high-speed internet connection. Many professions would have a difficult time transferring their skill sets to an often hostile workplace as an expat. People in most countries resent foreigners coming in and taking their jobs… including those in the US, Australia, Canada and the UK. Language barriers should also be considered.
o  those who have serious chronic ailments that require lots of medical attention. While the level of care is generally good to excellent in many places, insurance becomes a problem. For example, I have Blue Cross/Blue Shield coverage as part of my retirement package. At age 65, the primary care entity became MediCare, thanks to the 2003 federal law that let BC/BS off the hook as primary care provider. Before I turned  65, I was able to send claim forms back to BC/BS and get refunds for costs expended outside the US. The entire cost for a procedure was often less than the copay for that same procedure in the US, so I got very little benefit from BC/BS. Since MediCare… not usable for costs incurred outside the USA… took over as primary provider, the benefits have dropped to zero, except during my short visits to the US. Since I never signed up for MediCare Part B due to the fact it is worthless outside the US, I have a complicated scenario on benefits if I need medical coverage even while inside the US. At my advanced age with pre-existing conditions, I have no chance of buying insurance that makes sense for me. Your experience may be different.

Even if you are young and healthy, one cannot foresee events. Sooner or later, everyone needs medical care.  Children with medical conditions certainly are a serious complication.

o  persons who heavily depend upon others for emotional support should not consider expatriation. Even if the support provider is moving with you, one cannot depend upon their being able to adapt to conditions in the new country.
o  people who depend heavily on financial services (banks, etc) while avoiding the use of technology to access those services and their money.  You will soon realize most people need bank accounts in more than one country, and access is often ONLY via internet for those services. ATMs alone are not sufficient for many of us.
o  people who often indulge in alcohol or other stimulants on the street or in public. These folks put themselves and others at enhanced risk… and enhanced chance of severe consequences. These non-US justice systems tend to be less lenient than US justice systems, up to and including the death penalty for illegal narcotic possession in a few countries. I am not aware of too many countries where this sort of behavior can be exercised with impunity… or personal safety.
o  people who lack the capital with which to live for at least 6 months while starting to seek new employment. A lot of work can be done establishing relationships with future employer prospects via internet before actually cutting ties with your support base in your home country. But, even if you have a job lined up before moving, you need 6 months living expense in your pocket when you move. Things don’t always go as planned. Optimism is a very dangerous drug if you overdose.
o  the need to get access to your money back in your home country. This took me almost 4 years to  arrange money access to the current liveable state. One can never assume that opening a bank account or accessing any other financial services of any kind beyond ATM access is possible in a different country. Some of the procedures I tried include…
oo …having my attorney set up a company for a local citizen who wanted to have a US bank account for security’s sake (banks here are toys of the government). With that company set up, my attorney could then apply for a tax id in the company name and open the bank account in the client’s name with that tax id. As it happened, the client traveled to Miami and set up the bank account himself, using the company tax id as planned. Then, he could hand me relatively modest amounts of  local currency in cash in exchange for my bank transfer of US dollars to his account in Miami… anytime it was mutually convenient to do so. Recent government activity has changed things to the point that this procedure is of uncertain legality, so BE CAREFUL if you try something like this and beware the consequences of accidentally running afoul of anyone’s money laundering laws.
oo … using my wife’s account. Not having any local income has a downside… I cannot qualify for a local credit card. There is no such thing as a prepaid credit card here. Debit cards, tied to a checking account, are not legal to use to buy things over the internet or phone… you can only use them in person and showing government picture ID. There is no easy credit. There are very few mortgages… cars and houses are paid for in CASH! Most expats with a permanent residency and even a local job have a tough time getting a bank to agree to allow you to open a bank account here. Expat sites here seethe with expressions of frustration at money handling problems no one could anticipate. This is not an opportunity for the easily frustrated. I can ONLY qualify as co-signer on my citizen wife’s checking account, where we make deposits each month to handle the debit card transactions we need to perform each month. I probably will never qualify for an account on my own, which suits me fine. I need the joint account to be able to access other bank services beyond the scope of this article.
NOTE: THE LACK OF a local credit card means I cannot have a local PayPal account, and must use my US PayPal account, which I had hoped to combine to transfer money. Sorry… won’t work.
oo using our attorney to collect all our income and deposit monthly all those funds not able to be set up on automatic direct deposit. We handle most of our other transactions over the internet. Our attorney also receives our mail, scans important items to email to us, etc… services most expats suddenly finding themselves in need of paying someone to do for them.
oo used JonesTur to transfer a large sum in US dollars to complete a cash real estate purchase. Other such money exchanges offer this service. Fees for these services range from 1% to 5% depending on how well they know you at that branch office and the size of the transaction.

PLAN

The most important part of any international move is the Plan, which should reasonably consist of several elements:
o  Make up a list of the countries you are interested in considering for a home. Begin to acquire and collate information on each site. Expat blog sites and user group sites are easy to find… just type the name of the country you wish to research into a search engine search subject box and get started.
o  Research the requirements to obtain permanent residency. I used the Miami consulate of Argentina’s website to get most of my information, determined that permanent residency was a reasonable expectation for me, and set up an interview to establish the requirements for a temporary residency. The paperwork for moving two vehicles and a lot of household effects for me and my wife would be possible only once my temporary residence was approved.
o  Once you have a short list of candidate countries in which you are interested, it is time to start lurking and corresponding all the expat sites. I spent years of the Colombia site before I felt I was going about things incorrectly. You should go back several years on the expat commentaries and read as much as you can about the members’ questions and experiences. This information is useful in eliminating some countries.
I would still consider Colombia, but I would now give precedence to Panama and Ecuador. For my particular needs, Ecuador is great. Panama is not my favorite, but makes the most sense for those who cannot tolerate such disruption in their lives as other countries require. The US dollar is the local currency, many US health insurance firms have networks set up there, and the banking, real estate and job situations are a dream there compared to the rest of the world. The only place I can stand the climate is at the higher altitudes, which really limits access to the civilized goodies of Panama City. I visited these countries many times over 40 years in business, but got most of my information from the expats.
I am really fortunate to be well situated with a marvelous lifestyle in a top-notch climate. We walk everywhere and recently sold the vehicles because we don’t really need them. I wish all of you the same.
o CHECK EXPAT WRITERS’ BLOGS so you can get some good ideas before making a final decision. My favorites are Simon Black … http://www.sovereignman.com/simon-black/   and Fernando Aquirre… http://www.themodernsurvivalist.com/about

EXECUTE THE PLAN

The final decisions made, it is a good idea to plan to …
o  rent for the first year or two. One must be severely overly optimistic to try to buy real estate in a foreign country without a couple of years of research or throwing an amazing amount of money away. Neither course is likely to end well. The best chances for optimum results only come after tedious and astute research and getting good local assistance from local friends and expats.
Being able to walk away from a series of decisions that didn’t work out is always easier if the legal entanglements are not too severe. You will be glad you were careful.
o consider trying to do without a car… at least for the first year or so. The advice may seem radical if, like me, you have driven for over 50 years and had a car since teen years. It is important to realize that the majority of people in most countries do NOT drive on a daily basis and car ownership is not as prevalent outside the first world countries. The paperwork is incredibly complicated, there are many items that can go wrong with seriously bad outcome. We came close to losing our car to confiscation and sale by customs, all because of an intramural row with a different government agency over whether or not a certain law was in force. If we had not had several thousand dollars available to cover the problem… bye-bye Ford Focus. Your results could be better or worse.
The good news is that the bus/train/taxi facilities are fabulous… we are very comfortable using public transport, at very economical rates. If we ever need our own transport, I may pick up a good deal on one of the thousands of scooter that crowd the streets here.
o  request a copy of my free TRAVEL SECURITY article to see some personal safety issues that may come up as you move around the world and your new home, and how to deal with them. Send a request email to ricdele at gmail dot com. To get you started thinking about personal security, try to consider that you are safer leasing an apartment above ground level than one would be  in a freestanding home with a yard. Be aware of your surroundings, especially when approaching your front door from the street. Many home invasions can be avoided by carefully considering your surroundings and perhaps walking away from your front door, delaying opening the door, etc if the scene seems unsafe. Once the invaders are free from view from the street, the situation is about as bad as possible.
o  try to build  good relationships with the local merchants and government officials. The sense of community is a marvelous asset if there are emergencies of some kind. Having the local beat cops watching out for you is always a good idea. Fernado “FerFAL” Aguirre taught me that one. I have applied it in my new home, and my wife is amazed at how successful my community Public Relations has been. Thanks, Fer.
o  plan to become active in expat social activities. I consider it part of my duties as an expat to stay in touch with other expat and their issues. Consider joining expat clubs and participate in group activities. There is a wealth of experience, information and advice available through these activities. Most importantly… IT’S FUN!
o  once you have picked out your new host country, join LinkedIn for free and start investigating groups to join. There are over 2,000 LinkedIn groups that show up on a site search for “Argentina”, and many more for “Latin America”, as examples. I have met some very helpful people and gotten lots of good ideas from my reading there. Who knows? You may be able to find that new job to finance your expatriation on LinkedIn.
o  some may be surprised that I do not recommend home schooling your children unless the security concerns are otherwise unworkable, or you were already home schooling prior to expatriating.  Private schools are expensive, but, a necessary expense to insure that your children are not subject to undue potential for violence against them. I believe that the best solution for most families may be the private school approach as kids acclimatize to a new environment in a foreign country better when attending school, religious services and community activities with their peers. Besides, IT’S FUN!!!!
o  volunteering for service to charitable organizations is a good way to aid in assimilation into the community. Another FUN way to adapt to your new home.
Join the forum discussion on this post!

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I like this and appreciate it, but I want to stress that the pseudonym "Simon Black" is a scammer. Be extremely careful. FerFAL and JJ Luna are not scamming anyone. Simon Black is all about scamming, that's my personal experience. Just compare and contrast FerFAL's blog and book, JJ Luna's blog and books, and then the secret agent world traveler Simon Black and you can join his club for $3000, oh wait, he'll discount it to $999, oh wait, today only, it's $399.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous, I'm curious as to what exactly you mean by the term scammer and what criteria you use to reach that conclusion and why we should value your conclusion higher than that of CapnRick.

I have no financial interest in SB's organization and in fact have come to think somewhat less of them than I once did, but I still don't see that he's scamming anyone, but I'm willing to be wrong.

Maldek said...

@Anon

I am reading SB newsletter for over a year now and I do have good respect for the man.

Whenever I emailed or posted a question I got a reply and usually the quality level of the response was higher than what you can get from most.

The point is that SBs advice is about wealth protection - those who have assets to protect. If 399/year is a lot of money, then you will not benefit from his advice.

For example if you have $100 000 in your US bank for 1% interest and you follow his advice and most it to mongolia for 14% per year you just made yourself a profit of $ 13000 for an investment of 399 - get the picture?

Anonymous said...

If you put $100K in Mongolia then you are truly brave. Hope you get back your principle AND your interest. There's a reason they're paying 14% (junk bond status).

That sad, I'll pile on a little sarcasm b/c Doug Casey is once again promoting his G.O.O.D. lifestyle in Salta. Anyone want to take the "Jump!"? (pun intended)

D_from_California said...

Hey FerFAL. First things first, congrats on getting your family to a more suitable area to live! My question is, why did you go to N Ireland instead of Chile? I would have guessed going to Chile would have been the easiest route to get out of Argentina. It is very similar demographically (European, Spanish speaking, majority Catholic/Christian), and has a great private sector and free market (much freer than even the USA). People save ALOT, and their "Social Security" system is completely Privatized, with an economy that isn't in debt or running in the red zone. I'm not so sure about their gun-ownership laws. I was just curious, but once again, good job fulfilling your responsibility as a man/father. BTW, have you gotten your gun yet? Or gone through mandatory duck hunts? lol (<- Reference from your first Ireland article :)