Why Expats Need a Local Bank Account

Closed 24-hour ATMA few days ago I had some errands to run. It was time to pay for cable, internet and cell phone and we needed groceries.

We also needed to replenish our cash reserves at the trusty ATM.

The cab dropped us off next to our preferred bank’s ATM, and my husband whipped out his card and stepped up to the machine. He punched all the buttons, waited and . . . nothing. Nada. Zip. No message on the screen, just back to the usual “welcome” setting.

No Cash for Us at the Local ATM

So he tried again. Same thing happened.

We stepped into the bank and asked the young woman at the desk. She indicated there was a problem with the machine, we thanked her politely and went down the street to another bank and another ATM.

It was a replay of the first episode, only this time the final screen told us ominously that it couldn’t complete our transaction and we needed to contact our bank.

Uh oh.

“Maybe it’s an issue with his debit card,” we thought. So I tried mine. Same thing.

Trying hard not to panic we went on about our errands. I was able to use my debit card to pay for cable and internet, a good sign.

The Problem Wasn’t with our US Bank

When we got home I called our credit union back in the US. (We’re living in a small town in Panama as expats.)

“There’s no problem with your account,” the rep told us cheerfully. “And I can’t see any attempts to withdraw or any declines. Maybe their system just wasn’t communicating with ours. Why don’t you try a different ATM?”

We did, I explained.

“Well,” she said cheerfully, “just try again later.”

That’s all well and good, but it’s hard to stay calm when you don’t know where your next ATM cash withdrawal is coming from. Is it a temporary glitch between Panama’s banks and the US? Will it be fixed right away? Will it drag on for weeks?

Get a Local Account

This is why it’s important to have a local bank account when you’re living abroad. Why don’t we have one yet? Because we goofed.

Before leaving the US, I visited our credit union and got the letter of recommendation I knew we’d need. But what I didn’t know was that we would need a separate one for each of us. Even though our account is joint, we need one letter with my name on it and one letter with my husband’s name on it.

Not every bank in every foreign country has this requirement, but it’s the norm here.

Up until now, the whole ATM thing has been working perfectly, so we weren’t rushing. Now we’ll step it up. Because we only have enough cash on hand for about a week’s worth of expenses. After that, if we can’t access our Stateside funds, we’re up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

This little incident does have a happy ending. We were able to withdraw funds the next day without a problem. Phew!

Set Up Your Local Bank Account Early

As soon as you have an address in your new country, set up a local bank account. Even if you plan to get most of your funds from your “home” account, you should have a local account with enough funds for a couple of months worth of living expenses.

This is one part of your life administration you don’t want to find out the hard way!

How to Watch Your Favorite US TV Shows from Anywhere in the World

watch US TV anywhereIt’s not a VPN (virtual private network), but it lets you watch US TV shows on your computer, TV, tablet, phone or game device. It’s perfect for expats and travelers who want to keep up with favorite shows, sports and other entertainment from “home.”

It’s called UnoTelly.

After I wrote about VPNs a while back, a UnoTelly rep approached me with some information about their product and offered me a free trial account to test it out.

I was skeptical. Honestly, I’m not that into television anyway, so I didn’t jump on it right away. I also didn’t think it could do anything for me that my VPN couldn’t do.

I have to say, though, after using it for a few weeks I’m pleasantly surprised.

Full Access

UnoTelly gives you access to any and all web-based TV programming from the US. Now, that doesn’t mean you can watch every episode of every show, unfortunately. But if it’s available online, you can view it.

UnoTelly has three membership levels.

Free is free. You can access a minimum number of services. These include PBS, CBS and FOX, as well as online radio Spotify, Pandora and more.

Premium, $4.95/month. This gets you into more sites, including services like Netflix, HuluPlus, NBC, ESPN, Disney, HGTV and Showtime.

Gold, $7.95/month adds even more, including favorites like Animal Planet, ABC, WB, Nickelodeon, AMC, Spike TV, Natioanl Geographic and Comedy Central.

Note that the monthly fee is for the UnoTelly service only — you’ll still have to pay to access Netflix, or HuluPlus, or any other fee-based programs. Bottom line, if you had to pay to watch it in the US, you’ll need to maintain that account separately from your UnoTelly account.

Speedy

When I turn on my VPN, my internet speeds go down. Way down. With UnoTelly speeds are much better and I can stream shows at high resolution without any problem.

Use on any device

You can install UnoTelly on pretty much any device including laptop and desktop computers, tablets, phones, XBox 360, PS3, Wii, Apple TV, Google TV and more.

If you have multiple computers in your home, just install it once on your wireless router. If you don’t want to do that, each family member can log in on his or her own device.

Simple to Set Up

The UnoHelper guides you through a very simple setup and has you up and running in just a couple of minutes.

Free Trial Available

If you’re skeptical like me, sign up for a free 8-day trial. You can access all three membership levels and experience for yourself just how easy it is.

If you decide you don’t like it after the free trial period you can cancel anytime, and they offer a money-back guarantee as well.

Now, if only they could persuade AMC to stream Mad Men, I’d be really happy!

photo by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

Don’t Turn Your Social Media into an Epic Fail

TwitterIf you’re creating a portable career to support your overseas lifestyle, you’ll probably be involved in social media.

And if you’re doing social media, you need to learn to do it effectively. Like any other part of managing a business (and that’s what your portable career really is), you need a plan.

Recently I had a situation that gave me a great example of one company using social media — in this case, Twitter — beautifully for customer service and another demonstrating an epic fail.

Here’s what happened.

There’s a service called Cloudflare which speeds up the time it takes a website to load in a viewer’s browser. I use it, because I want to make your experience with this site as pleasant as possible.

A few weeks ago, a small tweak caused a problem where my hosting service and Cloudflare stopped playing nicely together, and Future Expats Forum was completely down.

Panic ensued.

I submitted a support ticket to my host. While waiting for a response, I posted a comment on Twitter.

“Oh, great. Tried to speed up my site with Cloudflare, now it’s not working at all. . .”

Within seconds @Cloudflare messaged me:

“@FutureExpat What’s the issue and domain? The domain in profile indicates a redirect error, which Dreamhost can help fix . . .”

The Cloudflare rep made several helpful suggestions, then provided the Twitter handle for my host’s Twitter-based tech support.

So I tweeted directly to @DreamHostCare. Several hours later, I still had no response from my hosting company, either through their support tickets or through Twitter. But the Cloudflare rep tweeted me several more times with suggestions.

Keep in mind, when I initially tweeted I did not direct the tweet to Cloudflare (by typing @Cloudflare), I just mentioned them. So Cloudflare must have support reps constantly monitoring the Twitter stream and proactively offering help.

That’s a great use of Twitter!

I never did hear back from @DreamHostCare. About 2-1/2 hours later I had a response to my support ticket, and the problem was resolved. But their use of their social media platform on Twitter was pathetic.

Bottom line: if you’re going to use social media, make a plan and do it right. If you’re offering customer service or technical support, you’d best have trained personnel available during the hours your customers are likely to need that support. In this global era, that might be 24/7.

Now, I’m not suggesting you’ll need to be present round-the-clock to represent your solopreneur portable career on Twitter, Facebook or any other platform. But you do need to create a plan that will work for you and your customers and clients.

Here’s a terrific infographic from Bluewolf showing some important facts about social media and business. (Click on the image to get a larger version.)

 

photo by eldh on flickr

Five Ways to Protect Yourself in an International Move

How to find a reputable international moverGuest Post by Adam Vagley

All movers are not created equally. The scams that plague domestic moving — damaged property, price gouging, delayed delivery — occur with international moves as well, where the stakes are much higher. While most moving companies provide consistently good service, the internet is littered with horror stories of people whose moves went poorly.

Here are five things you need to do to protect yourself.

#1 Get quotes from at least three companies

Even if your friend had an amazing experience with such-and-such company, you should get quotes from at least 3 companies about 8-10 weeks prior to your planned move date.

Many companies offer online forms you can fill out to get an instant quote. These instant quotes are a good way to whittle your way down to three companies, but you should never hire a mover based on these alone.

Any reputable company will insist on sending a representative to your home to conduct an in-home survey. You should not be charged for this visit; if any company says there is a fee, take them off your list for consideration.

These in-home surveys are important for a couple reasons. First, the representative gets to see in person how much stuff you’re moving and will be able to give you a more accurate quote. Second, you’ll get an opportunity to see whether the person is punctual and knowledgeable, which will give you an idea of what the company is like.

#2 Verify that each company is licensed

Most companies list their relevant licenses on their websites (check the bottom of the homepage). If you don’t see it, ask for it. Then check the license number on the relevant licensing body’s website. In the United States you can check a mover’s license on the U.S. Department of Transportation site. Any U.S. moving companies that ship internationally via the ocean must also be licensed by the Federal Maritime Commission.

#3 Make sure you compare the quotes

Once you’ve received all the quotes, it’s critical that you compare them. One quote may be $3,000 and one may be $5,000.

The cost difference may be explained away because one company is simply more expensive. On the other hand, the movers may be offering very different services.

What is not included is as important as what is — will they provide packing materials, cover clean-up at your destination, and pay for port charges if shipping by sea? Are they picking up from your old home and delivering to your new home, or only delivering to the nearest port? If you’re unclear about what is included or what a term refers to, get clarification in writing.

#4 Insure your move

Things can and do go wrong during international moves, even with the best of companies: a box falls during loading and breaks dishware, the shipment sits in a humid storage container and some furniture gets moldy, part of a shipment gets lost (seriously, it happens). You need to protect yourself against these things. In fact, some moving companies require you to insure your move.

Many moving companies have their own insurance companies that they’ll recommend to you. While these may be separate legal entities, you can see the conflict of interest here. Talk to your existing home, car, or rental insurance provider to see if it’s something they offer or if they can make a recommendation.

There are generally two kinds of insurance offered: Total Loss and All Risk. Total Loss insurance will only compensate you if your shipment is 100% damaged or lost. If you pack your own goods you can only get this type of insurance. The reason is that most people are not experienced packers, so the contents are more likely to be damaged.

All Risk insurance covers both individual items (i.e. a mirror gets broken) and the total shipment for all types of damage and loss. A moving company may specifically exclude some items in its Terms and Conditions, however, so make sure you read the fine print.

#5 Document the condition of each item and make sure the movers sign off on the condition

Document, document, document. Take photos and videos of the stuff you’re shipping to document the condition of each item. And when the movers come to your house to pack and create an inventory, they should write the condition of each item on the inventory and provide you with a signed copy. This way, if anything does get damaged, you’ve got plenty of documentation to show it wasn’t already damaged when they packed it.

There’s a key theme running through these five tips: be proactive. When you take these extra steps to protect yourself, you minimize the chance that your moving experience is a bad one.

Adam Vagley is co-founder of GoodMigrations, a free resource for people moving abroad to find international movers, read customer reviews of those movers, and get tips from the comprehensive moving guide. Adam was inspired to launch GoodMigrations after his own experience moving from New York City to Sydney, Australia. He can be reached on Twitter at @GoodMigrations. His personal expat blog is http://theviewdownunder.blogspot.com.

Moved abroad already? We need your help! Please take a minute to rate your international mover.

Photo by Paul Keller on flickr

Pinfluence: Marketing Your Business with Pinterest

If you’ve established a portable career as a writer, photographer, blogger or life coach, your marketing centers (or should center!) around a website that you own.

Your website displays your skills, tells prospective clients or customers something about you, and gives them a way to get in touch with you.

Unfortunately, the days of “build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door” are gone. You have to let the world know about your mousetrap in no uncertain terms.

The old school way to do this was through advertising. Today, the better method is through social media.

A few months ago I told you about five social media sites you should be using for your business. At that time, there were two relatively new networks — Google Plus and Pinterest.

For a while pundits dismissed Pinterest as just a girly place for designers and wedding planners.

. . . Until Pinterest started referring more traffic than LinkedIn, Google Plus, Reddit, YouTube and MySpace combined.

Now businesses are flocking to the platform and some are using it in highly creative ways.

Pinterest is heavily visual. Its creators describe it as a “virtual pinboard” where you can post images (with links). The images can link to articles, photos or videos so it’s a very interesting and upbeat way to share content.

You organize your “pins” onto category “boards.” Some of mine include Panama, Expats!, Portable Careers and Travel Tips and Hints.

If Pinterest interests you and you want to know more about how to use it productively for your business, there’s a new book about it that’s definitely worth a read.

Pinfluence

Pinfluence: The Complete Guide to Marketing Your Business Through Pinterest by Beth Hayden is available now at booksellers on- and offline.

Beth, who gives advice to bloggers on her Blogging with Beth site, was kind enough to send me a review copy of the Kindle version.

She starts off by sharing some Pinterest success stories, and they are truly stunning.

Like Alaskan mom Ana White who loved woodworking and started a blog to share her passion. After getting involved with Pinterest, her blog now gets over three million page views each month, and about 6,000 unique visitors a day come from Pinterest.

As Beth points out:

“Done authentically and well, Pinterest marketing can be a powerful soruce of traffic to your website, and can help you build an incredible community of followers and superfans who loyally support everything you do.”

Isn’t that what we want?

The book walks you through joining Pinterest, setting up your profile, how and what to “pin,” and the basics of connecting with other Pinterest users. (It is a social network, remember.)

If you’re using Pinterest to market your business, you’re not spending time with it just because it’s fun (although it really is!). There’s a bottom line to be served, and Beth spends the rest of the book addressing it.

And, while you’re learning about Pinterest, you’ll be picking up useful information about how to use social platforms in general.

Beth includes an Action Plan at the end of each chapter, to help you put what you’ve just learned into effect.

On the whole, this is an excellent how-to guide for improving your business with Pinterest. It’s given me several new ideas about how to use Pinterest to attract more viewers to this site, and it’ll help you, too.

How to Choose Your Retire Overseas Paradise

Paradise! Every plan-to-be expat has a different idea about their overseas retirement paradise. For you, it might be a high-rise condo in a bustling metropolis with world-class shopping and nightlife. For someone else it might be a country ranch, or a beachside retreat.

Finding the country to live in that will tick most of your boxes (no country’s perfect) is a complex process. Once you’ve eliminated the obvious won’t-work-for-you choices and narrowed down your list to two or three overseas retirement possibilities, it’s time to go visiting.

In an ideal world, you’d be able to spend at least a month exploring each of the countries on your short list, visiting two-four regions of each country.

Then, when you think you have your country picked out, go for an extended stay of two or three months.

This isn’t an ideal world, but do the best you can. We moved to Panama after only one brief visit — I don’t recommend doing it this way, but our circumstances were very difficult.

You’re ready to hop on a plane — but where do you stay when you get there? Hotels are fine for brief visits, but they don’t give you much sense of what it’s like to actually live there.

For that you need to stay in a home. It can be an apartment, a condo, or a traditional single-family detached house. And those aren’t quite so easy to set up in advance.

Fortunately, short-term, fully furnished vacation homes or holiday rentals are available in many parts of the world.

Introducing Paradise Hunter

Recently I spoke with Dennis Kambeitz from Paradise Hunter. His company helps to ease your path as you search out your ideal overseas destination. They can help you with vacation rentals as well as property purchases when you decide you’re ready to settle down.

This was the third in a series of articles about finding your best retire overseas country.

photo by WordRidden on flickr

World Class Surf and Mountain Scenery on Panama’s Azuero Peninsula [video]

View of the Pacific near Pedasi, PanamaLast week we took a road trip south from Las Tablas, down through Pedasi and past Playa Venao, along the eastern coast of Panama’s Azuero Peninsula.

I love the mountains, and I also like the ocean. The Azuero gives me both. No matter where you are on the peninsula, you’re within sight of one or the other — and sometimes both.

I hope you enjoy this video.

Is Life Coaching Still a Good Portable Career for Expats?

another cute soccer coaching picture Life coaching is an extremely portable career. Most coaching is done by phone or online, so as long as you live where you have reliable telephone and/or internet connections, you can do business.

As with many other solo-preneur type businesses, coaches find they do better when they focus on a small, specific area. As an expat, coaching other expats is a natural niche to choose.

Evelyn Simpson has been a serial expat for over 20 years. She’s narrowed her specialty down even further — she coaches the accompanying partners of expats who’ve been sent overseas by their companies.

I talked to Evelyn a while ago about who can benefit from coaching, and also about what it’s like to be a life coach. You can read more about those interviews here and here.

Recently I caught up with Evelyn again to talk about changes she’s seen in the coaching business over the past year.

More Competition, Tighter Budgets.

“From a client perspective, there are more and more coaches coming into the market, so clients have more choice,” Evelyn explained. “On the other hand clients often have more limited budgets and are looking for more specific coaching programs with specific projected outcomes rather than more nebulous ‘coaching’ (this is a phenomenon that is occurring across many segments of the coaching market.”

More Accompanying Partners Want to Work

Back in the good old days of expat overseas work assignments, salaries and budgets were generous and often the accompanying partner (sometimes called a “trailing spouse”) didn’t need to work. That’s not so true today.

“I have also seen more clients looking for coaching to help them to work out what they want to do and to help them get into/return to the workplace.

“Some of this is driven by women who are educated and used to working wanting to have a purpose or means of fulfillment while they are overseas. Another part is driven by the fact that many companies are cutting back their expat packages making it less financially lucrative to be an expat and more likely that the accompanying partner will want to earn an income.”

The demographics among working expats are changing slightly as well, with more women taking overseas assignments. While a larger proportion of expats are single, there are also more men who are now the accompanying spouses.

Anne Egros, another expat coach, explained that more and more companies are not offering relocation packages. She’s also seeing shorter assignments (i.e., less than three years).

More Clients Want Coaching Programs

Because of budget constraints, many clients are looking for coaching programs to purchase, rather than one-on-one coaching sessions. Evelyn explained:

“Many clients are looking for more packaged products (I’ll be launching some myself in the autumn).

“Selling a defined program where clients can understand what they can expect to get out of it is increasingly important. As in the rest of the coaching industry, expat coaches are beginning to offer a wider range of products, group coaching, online self-study programs and defined programs.”

Companies are Paying More Attention to Accompanying Partners

Companies are seeing that a successful expat assignment is very dependent on the accompanying partner’s happiness. In fact, the biggest reason for cutting an overseas assignment short is the partner’s dissatisfaction.

But while companies are starting to pay attention, they’re not doing much about it yet, according to Evelyn.

“There has also been a notable increase in the amount of attention that the corporate Global Mobility function is paying to accompanying partners as they realise that an accompanying partner’s happiness is key to the success of an assignment. While there is more discussion, it hasn’t translated to additional support for accompanying partners as yet.”

If You’re Considering a Portable Career As a Coach

Be prepared for a more competitive marketplace and more group coaching. Learn to create saleable coaching products instead of relying on the more personal, traditional coaching methods. The need for expat coaching is still strong.

If becoming a life coach is part of your plan for supporting yourself overseas, take a look at the training that ICoach Academy (aff) offers.

photo buy unoguy on flickr

How to Choose the Best Country for Your Overseas Adventure, Part II

Last week I wrote an installment about how to choose the best country for your overseas adventure. It’s a complicated process because there are so many factors that come into play.

I suggested you begin with some soul searching and serious conversation with your significant other if you have one. I listed a bunch of things to consider.

  • Climate
  • Geography (beach, mountain, other)
  • Big city, small town or something in between
  • Language
  • Proximity to your home country
  • Schools and childcare if you’re moving with young ones
  • Entertainment
  • Culture
  • Health care
  • An expat community

I favor quickly eliminating choices that are obviously not workable. Start with the items from the list that are unchangeable and you can’t do anything about.

Those are:

  1. Climate
  2. Language
  3. Proximity to your home country

Climate

Humans are very adaptable and can become accustomed to any climate. But an overseas move is challenging enough without adding a constant, daily dose of discomfort. That’s why I think it’s important to look at climate first.

As I mentioned in the previous article, if you wilt in the heat, you won’t be happy in the tropics. If your idea of heaven is to hit the ski slopes every day, don’t move to an island. If cold and snow are a problem for you, don’t pick anyplace that’s ever hosted the Winter Olympics.

Language

Are you willing to learn a new language? If not, and if you have to be in an English-speaking country, your choices are whittled down pretty fast. You can look at:

  • Belize
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Malta
  • US
  • UK
  • Canada
  • South Africa
  • India

If you’re a bit more flexible, most of Europe opens up to you as plenty of Europeans speak English. You can also add Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines to your list.

If you’re willing to learn another language, you can look at Latin American countries and most of Asia.

Proximity to your Home Country

Do you have family or other close ties in your home country? How important is it that you be able to travel back there frequently or rapidly? How many hours travel time is acceptable? Is it likely you’ll need to return on an emergency basis?

If you have grown children who are starting families, or if you have aging parents, there’s a strong likelihood that you’ll need to rush back at some point. Will you be able to do that if you’re on the other side of the world?

Quality of Life

When you start the process of deciding on the best country for your overseas retirement, what you’re really doing is deciding on your quality of life. Climate, the language of the people, and distance from home are three very important factors that you can’t change. That’s why I think it’s important to consider them first.

Now that you’ve shortened your list of possible countries, it’s time to research some additional quality of life issues.

“Quality of Life” is very subjective. Lots of organizations create indexes of countries or cities with the best/worst quality of life. They do it using a set of metrics — criteria which they attach a mathematical value to.

Unfortunately, their criteria might not match yours — the climate they give high marks to might be something you dislike, for example — so it’s always best to take these indexes with a grain of salt. It’s still worth looking at them, though, because they can spark lots of ideas.

Here are a few to look at quality of life metrics:

Numbeo
Mercer
Expat Explorer
International Living’s 2011 Quality of Life Report
18 Best Places to Retire Overseas
Best Places to Retire, Do Business and Live Overseas

Finances

The state of your finances also has a big impact on quality of life.

At some point you’ll have to dig deep into your financial situation. Even if you’re not ready to do that yet, you should have an idea of whether you need to look at budget destinations or can afford a more upscale location.

Keep in mind that there’s no such thing as a budget for an entire country. The cost of living in New York is significantly higher than the cost of living in a small midwestern town. Panama City is more expensive than a small town in the interior. Paris is pricey, but parts of France can be surprisingly affordable.

The Best Tool I’ve Found

There’s an excellent tool I’ve found for helping you through the entire process of moving abroad. It walks you, step by step, through all the major decisions you need to make, including your choice of location. I’ve written about it here and here.

It’s called 52 Days to Your New Life Overseas, and it was written by Kathleen Peddicord, an expat with over 25 years experience advising people on how to retire overseas.

Every day you get an email with information and an assignment to complete. Kathleen suggests you budget about an hour a day to work on it.

You can take longer than 52 days — I certainly did! But if you’re serious about your plans to live overseas, it can save you a lot of time and money.

Find out more about it here (aff).

This is the second of a three-part series of articles.

photo by JoeLodge on flickr

Las Tablas, Panama [video]

Las Tablas is a bustling little town. It’s busiest when temperatures are coolest — in the early morning, around lunchtime, and then in the evening after dark. (Here in the tropics, we don’t have the lengthened summer evenings and the short, short winter days that North Americans are used to.)

It’s located on Panama’s Azuero Peninsula, near the east coast. The nearest beach is about six miles away.

A few days ago I grabbed my camera and went into town to shoot some video. It was mid-afternoon on a sunny day — great for photographs, but the people were indoors trying to stay cool.

This video doesn’t give you the sense of liveliness that characterizes the town, but you can get an idea what the heart of downtown looks like.

The park, like most Latin American towns, is anchored by the church at one corner. Shops line the other four sides.

There’s free WiFi available in the park, and lots of trees and places to sit.