Author Topic: Expat Mustachians - how do you handle access to money/banking/credit cards?  (Read 3743 times)

ZiziPB

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Calling all expat mustachians!

How do you handle the logistics of banking, access to your portfolio and credit cards?  Do you keep all your money in the US and use US based debit/credit cards?  Any issues with restricted access?

Kwill

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Hi ZiziPB. I'm an expat. I haven't had many problems on the US side. The bigger problem was getting myself financially established in a new country where I had no credit history.

Before I left the States, I simplified my financial life by rolling over my 403b (like a 401k) to an IRA, consolidating to fewer financial institutions, and connecting everything to Mint.com. I looked at recurring charges to see how much needed to be in my US accounts every month and to see if there was anything that could be eliminated. I also made sure that the minimum payment would transfer from checking to my credit cards automatically when needed.

I'd recommend checking on the international fees and exchange rates for your credit cards and debit / ATM cards. Also, keep your bank notified when you travel.

Edit to answer the question about keeping money in the US -- no. No, it looks like I'll be in the UK long term, so other than my IRA from before, most of my financial life is necessarily in the UK as well. Where do you think you will need money and for what? That should answer your question about where the money should be.

For transferring money overseas, I've mostly used Transferwise (referral link).
« Last Edit: January 13, 2018, 05:21:45 AM by Kwill »

Drole

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We kept most in us and just transferred periodically to our local bank. 

We use Schwab for no atm fees internationally.  The cash limits you can withdraw daily do vary a bit by country. And if you need to pay rent, etc...that can be a challenge to build up enough $. 

Wells Fargo made my online banking life a living hell once we went more nomadic. They really disliked me logging on from Brazil and *every *single *time made me set up a new id and/or password. My husband found a way around by logging on via his cell which for some reason, said he was in Dallas, TX and not south America. I had a local phone service so no luck there.

I didn't really access any other accounts regularly but didn't seem to have any major issues with anyone else. 

Getting local bank accounts when not working in the country is a bit of a bitch bc of Facta. A couple of the big internationals told us no thanks. 

Padonak

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How do you guys keep a US address while overseas? What address do you use for banking, credit cards etc?

COEE

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Not an expat myself, but my parents are, and we just wished some friends well tonight at a party that are moving to Spain at the end of the month! 

Schwab is a favorite with many expats - no ATM fees - even overseas.  All the expats I know keep their money in the states.  Some of this would depend on country stability, for me at least.  I wouldn't mind moving money to UK, but 3rd world or corrupt countries, probably not.

My parents keep a PO Box here in the states.  They have a friend check the box weekly.  The friend also has his own PO Box as well, so it's not out of his way at all to help.  Important documents go there.  He will open all the mail and make sure it's not something my parents need ASAP and will scan it and email it to them if it is something urgent. 

Kwill

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How do you guys keep a US address while overseas? What address do you use for banking, credit cards etc?

I use my UK address. But I still use my parents' address in the States for some things. I just finished a graduate degree, which I started in person in the States and finished online overseas. Unfortunately, the college's online system requires a valid US state and US zip code, even though it allows you to select a different country. It's a dumb computer problem, but it means my diploma and transcript will have to be sent to my parents' house. I wrote to them once about this and got back the institutional equivalent of "Huh. That's weird. Maybe someone should look into that." I should probably bring it up again. Someone there should be able to figure out how to mail things internationally. It is a real institution with a decent reputation.

The other problem I've had is that Google Play thinks I live in the US, and my local UK bank's app only allows itself to be downloaded to UK phones. So I have to sign in via my desktop PC. There are directions online for changing your Google country, but they didn't work for me. https://support.google.com/payments/answer/6220310?hl=en-GB

grantmeaname

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Expat Mustachians - how do you handle access to money/banking/credit cards?
« Reply #6 on: January 14, 2018, 02:17:44 AM »
Where are you looking at moving to? Are you a US citizen?

My wife and I have left most of our financial life in the US. We have a bank account, credit card, and a pension in the UK but the bank account and credit card will be closed when we leave.

We worked to make sure our US financial institutions do not know we are abroad. There is no reason they legal could not serve us from overseas but it can be a bit of a pain.  We just switched our address for the accounts to a parents’ address and then told only the bank that we would be out of the country temporarily for a couple years.

When we arrived here we found out that it is not typically the norm for lenders to look at your credit history in other countries which means you may be starting over in getting a credit card. However, Amex does not follow this trend and they were happy to consider my US Amex when I was opening my UK Amex.
« Last Edit: January 14, 2018, 02:19:56 AM by grantmeaname »

ZiziPB

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Moving to Poland and I'm a dual US/Polish citizen.  I do have a checking account at a bank in Poland but my entire stache is in the US.  And I would like to keep it invested in the US.  I use both Fidelity and Schwab here, and do have a Schwab checking account.

So far my plan is:
- keep all my investments in the US
- use my daughter's or a trusted friend's mailing address in the US to receive my mail
- use the Schwab ATM card to access cash
- continue to use my US based credit cards
- periodically wire money to my Polish account and use a linked debit card for transactions, if need be
- eventually apply for a credit card in Poland
- file tax returns in the US and Poland (but would really prefer not to have to do state taxes in the US)

Thoughts?

grantmeaname

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That sounds like a good plan. You will get a much better rate for foreign exchange using TransferWise, as mentioned above, rather than exchanging money through your bank.

What state were you resident in before the move? Some states allow you to file an affidavit of nonresidence and that ends your filing obligation. Other states consider voting, drivers license, or mailing address as sufficient to create a taxable presence in the state, so it’s up to you whether you are willing to give up those rights to avoid the tax.

ZiziPB

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Currently living in CT.  Will file CT taxes for 2018 since I'm still working and earning an income here.  I need to look into state residency issues for 2019.  I do have a Polish driver's license so I'm not concerned about losing my CT license.  I'm also not too concerned about voting registration - if I don't live in the US, I have no business voting here anyway :-)  Mailing address is the only concern, but if need be I can use a mail receiving service in another state like some expats do.

Will look into Transferwise because I will need to wire a chunk of money to Poland before I leave here.

COEE

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I'm also not too concerned about voting registration - if I don't live in the US, I have no business voting here anyway :-)

I don't really agree with the above statement.  If you're a US citizen - you have a right to vote - no matter where you live - IMHO.

My parents don't have a bank in the country they went to.  Their new country is a cash society.  Dad goes to the ATM almost daily to get cash from Schwab so he can pay rent and stuff.  He does worry about walking around with more cash on him than many people make in a year (he lives in a very poor country).  But there is very strict penalties for stealing/robbing from tourist (Including death!) so he doesn't worry too much.

Rubic

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We use Schwab for no atm fees internationally.

I'm not yet an expat, but I plan to use Schwab and USAA debit cards for non-fee
ATM withdrawals.  Had no problems so far overseas.

Lake161

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We left all accounts in the US. We used credit cards with no international fees plus atm cards to access money.

For a US address, we used a mail service (earthclassmail). In hindsight, unless you are never coming back Iíd try to find a relative to receive your mail. 

Hereís a good blog on the mail issues: https://gocurrycracker.com/snail-mail-paper-checks-21st-century/

Hula Hoop

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I've lived here in Europe for 12 years and my job is here. So my main account is my euro account here.  However, I also have a US account with a few hundred bucks in it and I have all my savings in Vanguard in US dollars.  As a US Citizen it's very hard to invest outside the US because of FBAR even if you earn foreign currency.

My problem now is that the Vanguard site is suddenly asking for a US cell phone number so that I can log on.  I've been trying to call them but ended up on hold for 45 minutes so hung up.  Anyone else have this issue?

For the bank, US CC etc I usually one my dad's address in the US.  I also still vote in my home state. 

Kwill

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I've lived here in Europe for 12 years and my job is here. So my main account is my euro account here.  However, I also have a US account with a few hundred bucks in it and I have all my savings in Vanguard in US dollars.  As a US Citizen it's very hard to invest outside the US because of FBAR even if you earn foreign currency.

My problem now is that the Vanguard site is suddenly asking for a US cell phone number so that I can log on.  I've been trying to call them but ended up on hold for 45 minutes so hung up.  Anyone else have this issue?

For the bank, US CC etc I usually one my dad's address in the US.  I also still vote in my home state.

I haven't run into problems with Vanguard. I called them before I left the States and explained my situation, but I was told it wouldn't matter where I lived. I changed my address once I arrived, and in the rare case they are sending paper mail, it comes to my actual address. Could part of the problem be that you're always accessing the account from a different country than that in which they think you live?

I was using Republic Wireless before I left the States, so I switched to the $5 per month unlimited via wifi plan. I use that for most of my US calls and texts, and it's useful to have a valid number and no extra cost for calling US or Canada, no matter how long I talk. The cons are 1) telemarketers phone in the middle of the night, 2) it's a pain to switch back to regular cell service when I'm actually in the States and doesn't always work properly, and 3) it needs a good wifi connection to be useful. I leave it at home with the ringer silenced, and I've learned to warn people picking me up at the airport back home that I might not be reachable right away by phone.

I could see leaving bank accounts and credit cards with a US address if you are travelling constantly or if you are in a place where the mail isn't safe. But otherwise, it seems better to just have things sent where they need to go. The only bad thing about using my UK address with my US credit cards is that it means I can't use them for pay-at-the-pump gas in the States because I can't input a zip code.

aspiringnomad

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While slow travelling, our plan is to keep our Schwab checking and brokerage accounts thanks in part to the free ATM withdrawals. I also plan to keep a Chase Sapphire Card (likely Reserve) as my main credit card.

Not sure whether we'll be using my brother's address as my mailing address or using a mail scanning service; I guess it'll come down to whether or not he's willing to put up with the hassle.

Haven't researched cell phone plans as much yet. We both have T-Mobile in the US, which has been great for overseas travel with no charges on data in other countries, but I've read that they cut you off if you spend too much time abroad. Would be interested to hear others' thoughts on that issue, or general thoughts on good phone plans for slow travel.

We're eventually planning to settle in my wife's home country (after returning to the US for a short while) and I imagine that will require another game plan, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Rubic

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Haven't researched cell phone plans as much yet. We both have T-Mobile in the US, which has been great for overseas travel with no charges on data in other countries, but I've read that they cut you off if you spend too much time abroad. Would be interested to hear others' thoughts on that issue, or general thoughts on good phone plans for slow travel.

I'll probably switch to Google Project FI.  My co-worker was using it in
Asia and Europe with no problems, including tethering his laptop to it.
The only major downside is the expense of the phone.  The cost of data
plans appear to be reasonable.

expatartist

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Excellent tips here. Like most posters above, I too would keep most of my currency in the US (or similar stable country) and only withdraw as needed.

kaetana

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Non-American expat here. I'm an Australian who recently moved to the Netherlands and I'm a citizen of both countries.

Our main stash is still in Australia, because we have earned more in dollars than we have in euros and it makes sense to keep it in dollars since we do intend to come home at some point. We've kept some accounts open because we still have a house there and thus receive rental income. We've also kept some credit cards for frequent flyer points-gaining purposes. Since moving to Europe, we've also opened up accounts here.

For the most part, we try to keep our stashes separate: Australian expenses come out of the Australian accounts and the rest come out of our Dutch accounts (since that's where majority of our income comes into at the moment). We obviously had to use our Australian accounts initially before we got set up here, but since then we have just lived on our Dutch income. Transferring money from Australia is a no-no in our house because it would mean we are spending more than we earn!

As for mail, we are redirecting everything to a friend's address. She takes a picture of anything important and sends it to me. My husband and I have both kept our Australian numbers. I have a dual-sim phone and keep Australian and Dutch sim cards in there, so I still get any important text messages (verification codes from the bank and such) for free. I also purchased a Skype plan for unlimited calls to Australian numbers with a Skype number so that Australians can call an Australian number and get us, mainly to talk to my mother-in-law, who couldn't get her mind around using Skype. It's not necessary if the people you want to keep in touch with are tech-savvy enough to use Skype or Whatsapp.

One thing I would love to do is continue to churn credit cards for frequent flyer points while abroad. Has anybody attempted this? I don't know if it's possible to get credit cards without domestic income.

Hula Hoop

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I've lived here in Europe for 12 years and my job is here. So my main account is my euro account here.  However, I also have a US account with a few hundred bucks in it and I have all my savings in Vanguard in US dollars.  As a US Citizen it's very hard to invest outside the US because of FBAR even if you earn foreign currency.

My problem now is that the Vanguard site is suddenly asking for a US cell phone number so that I can log on.  I've been trying to call them but ended up on hold for 45 minutes so hung up.  Anyone else have this issue?

For the bank, US CC etc I usually one my dad's address in the US.  I also still vote in my home state.

I haven't run into problems with Vanguard. I called them before I left the States and explained my situation, but I was told it wouldn't matter where I lived. I changed my address once I arrived, and in the rare case they are sending paper mail, it comes to my actual address. Could part of the problem be that you're always accessing the account from a different country than that in which they think you live?

I was using Republic Wireless before I left the States, so I switched to the $5 per month unlimited via wifi plan. I use that for most of my US calls and texts, and it's useful to have a valid number and no extra cost for calling US or Canada, no matter how long I talk. The cons are 1) telemarketers phone in the middle of the night, 2) it's a pain to switch back to regular cell service when I'm actually in the States and doesn't always work properly, and 3) it needs a good wifi connection to be useful. I leave it at home with the ringer silenced, and I've learned to warn people picking me up at the airport back home that I might not be reachable right away by phone.

It sounds like you still have a US cell phone number -  that's why you don't have problems logging onto the Vanguard site.  My problem is that they want to send me a security code via SMS (can't be email) and they will only accept a US phone number.  They won't send the security code to my Italian cell phone number.  Obviously, I've lived here for 12 years so no longer have a US cell phone number.

I wish they would answer the damn phone so that I could fix this problem.  Maybe I should do like kaetana and buy a US SIM next time I'm in the US just so that I can receive the code to log into Vanguard.  Not going there again until August though.  When I'm in the US I usually just borrow a relative's phone to use while I'm there.

Actually that's one other question I have.  What is a good US cell phone plan for someone who visits a few weeks a year and just needs to send messages, use Google maps and make occasional calls?  Last time I was there it seemed like most providers were trying to sell me a monthly plan which of course is just silly if you're only visiting for 2 weeks.  What do other expats do?
« Last Edit: January 15, 2018, 05:48:11 AM by Hula Hoop »

Hirondelle

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Actually that's one other question I have.  What is a good US cell phone plan for someone who visits a few weeks a year and just needs to send messages, use Google maps and make occasional calls?  Last time I was there it seemed like most providers were trying to sell me a monthly plan which of course is just silly if you're only visiting for 2 weeks.  What do other expats do?

When I lived in the US as an exchange student, I had T-mobile's Pay as you Go. The minimum payment was $3 a month (for 30 texts/minutes) and you had to put money on it once you'd finished it. There might be even better plans available, but this was the cheapest I found (all other stores tried to talk me into $25+ plans or were totally baffled when I said I didn't want internet).

Kwill

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It sounds like you still have a US cell phone number -  that's why you don't have problems logging onto the Vanguard site.  My problem is that they want to send me a security code via SMS (can't be email) and they will only accept a US phone number.  They won't send the security code to my Italian cell phone number.  Obviously, I've lived here for 12 years so no longer have a US cell phone number.

I've never tried logging in via a cell phone, and they haven't asked to send me a security code, at least not that I remember. Hopefully once you reach them they will be able to sort it out. I suppose you've tried complaining by email already?

aspiringnomad

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Haven't researched cell phone plans as much yet. We both have T-Mobile in the US, which has been great for overseas travel with no charges on data in other countries, but I've read that they cut you off if you spend too much time abroad. Would be interested to hear others' thoughts on that issue, or general thoughts on good phone plans for slow travel.

I'll probably switch to Google Project FI.  My co-worker was using it in
Asia and Europe with no problems, including tethering his laptop to it.
The only major downside is the expense of the phone.  The cost of data
plans appear to be reasonable.

Thanks, definitely worth looking into. We both own iPhones but it looks like thatís not necessarily an obstacle if youíre willing to put up with a few bugs.

Padonak

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I used project Fi by Google in a few countries while traveling. Very convenient and works well. You pay $20 for voice and $10/gb for data. If you call from abroad, there is an additional charge per minute. If you call via wifi even from abroad, I think there is no charge, but it's worth confirming. Data costs the same regardless of where you are. Not cheap though compared to local sim cards in less expensive countries (e.g. South East Asia). If you call international numbers, the rates are competitive, same as Google Voice.

Overall I highly recommend it particularly if you travel to many countries and need cheap roaming. It's great when you can just turn on your phone at the airport and get an uber without having to buy a local sim card.

If you live overseas long term though the cost can add up. I would rather get a wifi only plan for $5 per month from Republic Wireless, though I checked their web site quickly and I think the plan is discontinued for new customers.

munch

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To the Hula Hoop's question:

I have most investment in Vanguard and do the security log-in via sms code.   The number i registered with VG is my google voice number which has a US area code.  When I login the sms code from VG shows up as an email in my gmail account.  So when i want to access VG i just have to have another window open with gmail and be logged into gmail and have no issues accessing my VG account.

I am paid in foreign currency; all living expenses are in same foreign currency; all investments are in USD.  So keep enough on hand here in local currency in local bank account to cover about 6 months expenses (i work and live here so am able to open a local account).
The issue I have is my local bank gives me a piss poor exchange rate when i xfer USD back to US.  I can get a better rate from the little exchange bureaus so sometimes i carry 10k in USD with me when traveling back to US.  Via the poor exchange rate on transfers I lose enough each year to cover one rt airfare to the US.  I dont know how to get around it.  Even the intl banks here (ie HSBC) give poor exchange rates.

Kwill

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... I would rather get a wifi only plan for $5 per month from Republic Wireless, though I checked their web site quickly and I think the plan is discontinued for new customers.

That might be. I'm sorry I forgot that the new plans were different. I think at this point if I ever need to replace the phone I use with RW I'll have to switch plans.

There ought to be some other good option. I've thought sometimes about getting rid of the US phone and getting a Skype number instead, but I would miss being able to receive text messages. People seem to like WhatsApp, but it seems like that is only good for communicating with other WhatsApp users.

katsiki

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The issue I have is my local bank gives me a piss poor exchange rate when i xfer USD back to US.  I can get a better rate from the little exchange bureaus so sometimes i carry 10k in USD with me when traveling back to US.  Via the poor exchange rate on transfers I lose enough each year to cover one rt airfare to the US.  I dont know how to get around it.  Even the intl banks here (ie HSBC) give poor exchange rates.

Have you looked into TransferWise?  It may be helpful in this case.  Normally, it is to transfer from person to person across countries / currencies.  However, you can likely transfer to yourself.

munch

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a slight diversion of topic but i am so amused and at same time dismayed by the consternation of Americans when it comes to cell phone plans in the US.  Compared to the rest of the world (including the so-called 3rd world places) the US is in the stone age when it comes to cell phone access.  When i travel to the states i usually get a temp sim card from t-mobile; the lowest cost sensible deal they have is usually $30-40 for 30 days access + $10 activation fee.  It usually is a 45 minute process at a t-mobile shop to get it set up but has been longer if there are actual customers in the store. 

Where I live now you can go to most any little phone shop and get a sim card with minutes and data for about equivalent of $12 that with regular usage will last me 3 weeks.  Total transaction time usually less than 5 mins.  It is a prepaid sim and you can buy recharge minutes from just about anybody; even the flipping barber I go to sells the little recharge cards which for another $3 will get me a week or two of regular usage (minutes and data).  (the dude doesnt understand customer service though cause he will stop mid cut to sell cards to anyone requesting but he charges me $2.60 for the haircut so i sit and bear it).

Everyone here seems to use Whatsapp (myself included).  Even the guys at the bottom of the economic food chain here use whatsapps voice recording feature to carry on an almost real time voice conversation with their families back home at a cost rate of relative peanuts via the data they get from the cheap recharge cards.  No debates about wifi vs republic wireless vs google fi vs whatever.

to summarize my rambling, it is night and day between the rest of the world and the US when comes to cellphone technology access in my opinion.  The thing i can not figure out is why it is so?


munch

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The issue I have is my local bank gives me a piss poor exchange rate when i xfer USD back to US.  I can get a better rate from the little exchange bureaus so sometimes i carry 10k in USD with me when traveling back to US.  Via the poor exchange rate on transfers I lose enough each year to cover one rt airfare to the US.  I dont know how to get around it.  Even the intl banks here (ie HSBC) give poor exchange rates.

Have you looked into TransferWise?  It may be helpful in this case.  Normally, it is to transfer from person to person across countries / currencies.  However, you can likely transfer to yourself.

I checked it out but the country i live in is not an option.

maybe once the crypto-currencies stabilize my problem will be solved.    :)

Drole

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[quote author=munch link=topic=86173.msg1859806#msg1859806 date=1516232766. 

Where I live now you can go to most any little phone shop and get a sim card with minutes and data for about equivalent of $12 that with regular usage will last me 3 weeks.  Total transaction time usually less than 5 mins.  It is a prepaid sim and you can buy recharge minutes from just about anybody; even the flipping barber I go to sells the little recharge cards which for another $3 will get me a week or two of regular usage (minutes and data).  (the dude doesnt understand customer service though cause he will stop mid cut to sell cards to anyone requesting but he charges me $2.60 for the haircut so i sit and bear it).


[/quote]

You are lucky. I can't even add up the time I have spent trying to get local phone and data in diff countries. Holy f#ck. Requiring tax ID numbers, automated phone systems that require a higher level of fluency, etc. For this reason, switched to t mobile. Husband has had that on all travels and generally no issues.

Shane

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While slow travelling, our plan is to keep our Schwab checking and brokerage accounts thanks in part to the free ATM withdrawals. I also plan to keep a Chase Sapphire Card (likely Reserve) as my main credit card.

Not sure whether we'll be using my brother's address as my mailing address or using a mail scanning service; I guess it'll come down to whether or not he's willing to put up with the hassle.

Haven't researched cell phone plans as much yet. We both have T-Mobile in the US, which has been great for overseas travel with no charges on data in other countries, but I've read that they cut you off if you spend too much time abroad. Would be interested to hear others' thoughts on that issue, or general thoughts on good phone plans for slow travel.

We're eventually planning to settle in my wife's home country (after returning to the US for a short while) and I imagine that will require another game plan, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

@aspiringnomad, +1 to your plan to use your Schwab Debit card to access cash at ATMs. We're doing the same, and it's been working great. My wife and I also each opened Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preffered cards before we left the US. After spending $4K on each of the cards, we got about 350K points total, which we've recently started using to buy plane tickets. Before the yearly fees came due on the cards, we cancelled all of them except one CSR, so we could keep getting 3X points on travel/dining expenses and also to keep our Priority Pass, which gives our whole family free access to awesome lounges at airports all over the world.

Cell phones: Before we started traveling in December, 2016, both my wife and I opened Google Project Fi accounts. At first, we really liked Project Fi, but after a bad experience we had with them, I really wouldn't recommend them to anybody who is traveling outside the US for any extended period of time. The problem we had with Project Fi was that the phone they required we buy in order to use their service, the Nexus 5X, died after only 11 months. Since the phone quit working within the one year warranty period, I thought there should be no problem getting it replaced. Since I had purchased the phone directly through Google Project Fi, I contacted their customer service and ended up wasting hours going round and round with them on the phone from our hotel room in rural Cambodia where we were traveling at the time.

At first, they were like, "Sure no problem. We'll send you another phone." But, then, when they found out we were in Cambodia, they were like, "Uh, no. We're not going to mail you a replacement phone there." They said they would mail my phone to my brother's address in the US. That sounded okay, as my brother said he wouldn't mind overnighting the phone to us via Fedex. But, then Google Fi told me they needed to send me a link that I had to click on to verify that I was returning my phone under warranty and to print out a shipping label to use when I mailed my old phone back to them. The only problem was, when I tried to click on the link Google Fi sent me I kept getting an error message.

Once again, I had to use my wife's phone to call Google Fi customer service, spending hours more on the phone, until finally somebody realized that the reason I was getting error messages when I clicked on Google Fi's link was because I wasn't in the US. Apparently, you can't really do anything with your Project Fi account or phone unless you are physically in the US. The Google Fi people were like, "Oh, well then, no problem. When you get back from your trip, just let us know and we'll send you another link and you can take care of it then. When will you be back in the US?" I told them I had no idea when I'd be back in the US. Silence. Anyway, finally I just gave up on getting warranty service on my phone from Google Fi. It just didn't seem worth it to spend so much time arguing with them on the phone.

A brand new Huawei Android phone was only a couple of hundred bucks at an electronics shop in Kuala Lumpur, and I like it a lot better than my old Nexus. Pretty much all over the world, except for the US, pre paid phone/text/data service is super cheap. As soon as we got to New Zealand I bought a SIM card and monthly phone plan with 1.5Gb of data for like NZ$20/month, which is only US$14. For the past week, we've been back in Kuala Lumpur. Apparently after 3+ months my old Malaysian SIM card had expired, so I had to buy a new one at the airport, but the new SIM card, X minutes of calling, X texts, and plenty of data to last me for a week in Malaysia only cost me MYR18.50, which is US$4.50.

Hope you guys enjoy traveling. :)

Shane

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a slight diversion of topic but i am so amused and at same time dismayed by the consternation of Americans when it comes to cell phone plans in the US.  Compared to the rest of the world (including the so-called 3rd world places) the US is in the stone age when it comes to cell phone access.  When i travel to the states i usually get a temp sim card from t-mobile; the lowest cost sensible deal they have is usually $30-40 for 30 days access + $10 activation fee.  It usually is a 45 minute process at a t-mobile shop to get it set up but has been longer if there are actual customers in the store. 

Where I live now you can go to most any little phone shop and get a sim card with minutes and data for about equivalent of $12 that with regular usage will last me 3 weeks.  Total transaction time usually less than 5 mins.  It is a prepaid sim and you can buy recharge minutes from just about anybody; even the flipping barber I go to sells the little recharge cards which for another $3 will get me a week or two of regular usage (minutes and data).  (the dude doesnt understand customer service though cause he will stop mid cut to sell cards to anyone requesting but he charges me $2.60 for the haircut so i sit and bear it).

Everyone here seems to use Whatsapp (myself included).  Even the guys at the bottom of the economic food chain here use whatsapps voice recording feature to carry on an almost real time voice conversation with their families back home at a cost rate of relative peanuts via the data they get from the cheap recharge cards.  No debates about wifi vs republic wireless vs google fi vs whatever.

to summarize my rambling, it is night and day between the rest of the world and the US when comes to cellphone technology access in my opinion.  The thing i can not figure out is why it is so?

@munch, we've experienced exactly the same thing as you and had the same question. What's up with cell phone plans in the US? Why are they so fucking expensive and a pain in the ass to set up?

munch

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@Shane  I have given that question some thought, usually on a trip to the US just after walking out of a t-mobile shop to get my comparatively more expensive temp sim card.

My guess is the major phone network infrastructure providers in the US are responding to their market demand.  That being that Americans are conditioned to signing up for 2 year plans in exchange for a "cheap" price on the phone included with the plan.  Over here you can sign up for a post paid plan with a network provider, not one of them offers a discounted phone as part of the plan; the flipside being you can cancel the plan at anytime without penalty.  Folks here want to own their own phone but have no desire to sign up for any contract with an early termination penalty.   In my opinion and from experience in other commercial dealings here they would see through the marketing scheme to the true cost for the plan.

THe real question in my mind is why pre-paid or pay-as-you-go phone service has not caught on in a bigger way in the states.  Is there just not demand for it or are the major networks restricting its offering with the concern it would lower their margins?  I believe most of the pay-as-you-go schemes in the US that are similar to what is offered here and in most of the rest of the world are comparatively pricier in the US along with more hassles in initiating.  Also, they are not offered by the major infrastructure providers but instead are offered by third parties who buy time in bulk from the major players.  In this case i am inclined to suspect the pricing by the majors of the time sold to the third parties is at a rate that precludes any significant advantage to the third party's pay-as-you-go offerings.

In my own experience though the major difference between rest of the world and the US for pay-as-you-go is at the beginning when you want to initiate the service (getting the sim card).  In the rest of the world that i have been too it is almost akin to entering a convenience store and buying a pack of gum.   In the US it is something just lower on the difficulty scale as getting a drivers license.  (ok maybe a little exaggeration there but not too much).   Why is it so?




Shane

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@Shane  I have given that question some thought, usually on a trip to the US just after walking out of a t-mobile shop to get my comparatively more expensive temp sim card.

My guess is the major phone network infrastructure providers in the US are responding to their market demand.  That being that Americans are conditioned to signing up for 2 year plans in exchange for a "cheap" price on the phone included with the plan.  Over here you can sign up for a post paid plan with a network provider, not one of them offers a discounted phone as part of the plan; the flipside being you can cancel the plan at anytime without penalty.  Folks here want to own their own phone but have no desire to sign up for any contract with an early termination penalty.   In my opinion and from experience in other commercial dealings here they would see through the marketing scheme to the true cost for the plan.

THe real question in my mind is why pre-paid or pay-as-you-go phone service has not caught on in a bigger way in the states.  Is there just not demand for it or are the major networks restricting its offering with the concern it would lower their margins?  I believe most of the pay-as-you-go schemes in the US that are similar to what is offered here and in most of the rest of the world are comparatively pricier in the US along with more hassles in initiating.  Also, they are not offered by the major infrastructure providers but instead are offered by third parties who buy time in bulk from the major players.  In this case i am inclined to suspect the pricing by the majors of the time sold to the third parties is at a rate that precludes any significant advantage to the third party's pay-as-you-go offerings.

In my own experience though the major difference between rest of the world and the US for pay-as-you-go is at the beginning when you want to initiate the service (getting the sim card).  In the rest of the world that i have been too it is almost akin to entering a convenience store and buying a pack of gum.   In the US it is something just lower on the difficulty scale as getting a drivers license.  (ok maybe a little exaggeration there but not too much).   Why is it so?

Yeah, I don't know either @munch. Last week, as soon as we landed in KL I picked up a new SIM card and topped up my Umobile account at a little shop in the airport in < 5 minutes for ~$4.50. Tomorrow morning, we're flying to Chengdu, and I'm hoping to do the same thing there. Seems like the big carriers in the US must be artificially controlling the market to milk Americans for as much as they can get out of them...

Dr Kidstache

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I'm more nomad than full-time expat. But I use a mail service to keep a domicile address in Texas. It's the address for all of my financial accounts and has a mail scanning service that I can use when I'm out of the US. I use Escapees mail service which can set up addresses in Texas, Florida, or South Dakota. Fantastic service and easy to use. There are lots of other mail service companies available.

I also have Republic Wireless and use the $6.46/mo wifi only when I'm traveling out of the country.

shelbyautumn

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How do you guys keep a US address while overseas? What address do you use for banking, credit cards etc?

I'm not an expat, but my mom and step-dad live in Costa Rica. Apparently in South Dakota (maybe ND?) you can stay one night in a hotel room and become a resident using that address (they have a driver's license and everything). They also don't have a state income tax, which is great since my mom and step-dad are still working. They use the service where USPS will scan your mail and email it to you. If they need something physical, they have it sent to wherever my mom is going to be for work next (she travels to the US at least once a month for work).

For phones, they have two SIM Cards (one for the US, one for Costa Rica) and Vonage phone numbers set up for work.

aspiringnomad

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While slow travelling, our plan is to keep our Schwab checking and brokerage accounts thanks in part to the free ATM withdrawals. I also plan to keep a Chase Sapphire Card (likely Reserve) as my main credit card.

Not sure whether we'll be using my brother's address as my mailing address or using a mail scanning service; I guess it'll come down to whether or not he's willing to put up with the hassle.

Haven't researched cell phone plans as much yet. We both have T-Mobile in the US, which has been great for overseas travel with no charges on data in other countries, but I've read that they cut you off if you spend too much time abroad. Would be interested to hear others' thoughts on that issue, or general thoughts on good phone plans for slow travel.

We're eventually planning to settle in my wife's home country (after returning to the US for a short while) and I imagine that will require another game plan, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

@aspiringnomad, +1 to your plan to use your Schwab Debit card to access cash at ATMs. We're doing the same, and it's been working great. My wife and I also each opened Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preffered cards before we left the US. After spending $4K on each of the cards, we got about 350K points total, which we've recently started using to buy plane tickets. Before the yearly fees came due on the cards, we cancelled all of them except one CSR, so we could keep getting 3X points on travel/dining expenses and also to keep our Priority Pass, which gives our whole family free access to awesome lounges at airports all over the world.

Cell phones: Before we started traveling in December, 2016, both my wife and I opened Google Project Fi accounts. At first, we really liked Project Fi, but after a bad experience we had with them, I really wouldn't recommend them to anybody who is traveling outside the US for any extended period of time. The problem we had with Project Fi was that the phone they required we buy in order to use their service, the Nexus 5X, died after only 11 months. Since the phone quit working within the one year warranty period, I thought there should be no problem getting it replaced. Since I had purchased the phone directly through Google Project Fi, I contacted their customer service and ended up wasting hours going round and round with them on the phone from our hotel room in rural Cambodia where we were traveling at the time.

At first, they were like, "Sure no problem. We'll send you another phone." But, then, when they found out we were in Cambodia, they were like, "Uh, no. We're not going to mail you a replacement phone there." They said they would mail my phone to my brother's address in the US. That sounded okay, as my brother said he wouldn't mind overnighting the phone to us via Fedex. But, then Google Fi told me they needed to send me a link that I had to click on to verify that I was returning my phone under warranty and to print out a shipping label to use when I mailed my old phone back to them. The only problem was, when I tried to click on the link Google Fi sent me I kept getting an error message.

Once again, I had to use my wife's phone to call Google Fi customer service, spending hours more on the phone, until finally somebody realized that the reason I was getting error messages when I clicked on Google Fi's link was because I wasn't in the US. Apparently, you can't really do anything with your Project Fi account or phone unless you are physically in the US. The Google Fi people were like, "Oh, well then, no problem. When you get back from your trip, just let us know and we'll send you another link and you can take care of it then. When will you be back in the US?" I told them I had no idea when I'd be back in the US. Silence. Anyway, finally I just gave up on getting warranty service on my phone from Google Fi. It just didn't seem worth it to spend so much time arguing with them on the phone.

A brand new Huawei Android phone was only a couple of hundred bucks at an electronics shop in Kuala Lumpur, and I like it a lot better than my old Nexus. Pretty much all over the world, except for the US, pre paid phone/text/data service is super cheap. As soon as we got to New Zealand I bought a SIM card and monthly phone plan with 1.5Gb of data for like NZ$20/month, which is only US$14. For the past week, we've been back in Kuala Lumpur. Apparently after 3+ months my old Malaysian SIM card had expired, so I had to buy a new one at the airport, but the new SIM card, X minutes of calling, X texts, and plenty of data to last me for a week in Malaysia only cost me MYR18.50, which is US$4.50.

Hope you guys enjoy traveling. :)

Thanks! This is very helpful. I wanted to keep my US number if at all possible, so hoping the options for doing that improve before we go, but right now it sounds a lot more practical and frugal to just get a local SIM.

Shane

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Re: Expat Mustachians - how do you handle access to money/banking/credit cards?
« Reply #37 on: February 08, 2018, 09:29:39 AM »
I'm more nomad than full-time expat. But I use a mail service to keep a domicile address in Texas. It's the address for all of my financial accounts and has a mail scanning service that I can use when I'm out of the US. I use Escapees mail service which can set up addresses in Texas, Florida, or South Dakota. Fantastic service and easy to use. There are lots of other mail service companies available.

I also have Republic Wireless and use the $6.46/mo wifi only when I'm traveling out of the country.

Interesting, @Dr Kidstache. Are there any downsides to using Escapees as your mail service? I seem to remember reading somewhere that certain banks/brokerages/CC companies may be able to recognize addresses that belong to mail forwarding services like Escapees and refuse to accept them? Have you ever had that happen? Do you have accounts with Vanguard? Are they okay with an address from Escapees? Is it possible to open new CC accounts, have the cards sent to your Escapees address, and then have the new cards forwarded to you at an address somewhere outside of the US?

For the past year, we've been using our family members' address for all of our accounts. We set everything up to be, basically, paperless before we left, so pretty much the only mail our relatives ever get for us is junk that they shred. Longer term, though, we don't, necessarily, want to keep using our relatives' address. For one thing, it's in one of the highest tax states in the US. Our income is low in FIRE, just dividends and some capital gains, but we're definitely going to end up paying way more in state tax than it would cost us to pay for a mail forwarding service from a no tax state. Also, occasionally, something comes in the mail that's not junk. Our relatives scan it and email us an image, but, inevitably, they do a crappy job of scanning. Either it's hard to read the whole thing, because it's blurry, or else part of the image is cut off. Of course, since we're not paying them anything, we can't complain. I'd really rather pay a professional mail service to collect, scan, shred and forward our mail to us, because I think they'll probably do a better job, and if I'm paying them, I won't feel bad about asking them to do things for us like forward new CCs, deposit checks, etc.

Eventually, we're going to want to establish residence in a low/no tax state. Does anyone know if it's possible to do that without physically going to the US? We really have no plans/desire to go back to the US anytime soon...


Shane

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Re: Expat Mustachians - how do you handle access to money/banking/credit cards?
« Reply #38 on: February 08, 2018, 10:03:20 AM »
Getting a new SIM for my phone when we landed in Chengdu, China wasn't as easy as in most other countries where we've traveled so far, but we did it, and it was similarly much cheaper than anything available in the US.

On January 20 when we landed at Chengdu Airport I asked around for a shop where I could pick up a Chinese SIM card. Finally, one guy told me it wasn't possible to get one at the airport, but he said I could get one at a shop in the "business center," somewhere in downtown.

We took a taxi to our Airbnb, and after checking in and taking a shower, I went out for a walk around the neighborhood. Right across the street from our apartment there was a China Mobile shop, so I went in there to ask about getting a SIM card. Nobody spoke English, but using Google Translate I was able to explain to them what I wanted. At first, they told me they couldn't do it unless I had a Chinese residence/ID card. I showed them my US passport, but they just shook their heads and said they needed to see my Chinese ID card.

The workers in the China Mobile shop, then, told me the same thing the guy at the airport had said, that I could get a SIM card at some place called the "business center" in downtown Chengdu. After spending 10 minutes, or so, trying to show me on a map where the business center was and trying to explain to me how to get there, one of the ladies finally said, "We'll help you out and sell you a SIM card." I was like, Cool! Thanks! It just took a little patience and lots of smiling and nodding my head.

A China Mobile SIM card ended up costing CNY50, and then they charged me another CNY50 which was enough to get 3.5Gb of data and something like 100 minutes of talk time. It seems like I'm getting charged for text messages, but pretty sure it's less than a penny each, so pretty negligible. So, the total for a new SIM and plenty of data for the whole six weeks we'll be in China was CNY100 = US$15.60.

On February 1, China Mobile sent me a text message saying that I needed to top up my account. A Chinese friend helped me to do it online by paying CNY60 = US$9.36. In hindsight, it looks like I didn't have to pay near as much as I did, as my account is now showing a CNY50 credit, and I've got paid up service until the end of February, which is all we really need.

So, bottom line, we got a new SIM card and cell service in China from January 20 - February 28 for a total of CNY160 = US$24.96, which doesn't seem too bad. The service works fine. I've made a couple of phone calls and sent a bunch of text messages. The cellular signal works good in Chengdu, and it even worked from some pretty remote places in the mountains of eastern Tibet where we spent the past 10 days hiking and riding horses up around 3800m - 4300m.

Dr Kidstache

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Re: Expat Mustachians - how do you handle access to money/banking/credit cards?
« Reply #39 on: February 09, 2018, 07:24:16 PM »
Quote
Interesting, @Dr Kidstache. Are there any downsides to using Escapees as your mail service? I seem to remember reading somewhere that certain banks/brokerages/CC companies may be able to recognize addresses that belong to mail forwarding services like Escapees and refuse to accept them? Have you ever had that happen? Do you have accounts with Vanguard? Are they okay with an address from Escapees? Is it possible to open new CC accounts, have the cards sent to your Escapees address, and then have the new cards forwarded to you at an address somewhere outside of the US?
Eventually, we're going to want to establish residence in a low/no tax state. Does anyone know if it's possible to do that without physically going to the US? We really have no plans/desire to go back to the US anytime soon...

I've had no issues with Escapees, @Shane. I changed all my banking addresses (including Vanguard and CCs) to my Escapees address no problem. I really like the Escapees mail service. I use the mail scan service and it's very fast. Envelopes scanned the day they're received. If I request the contents to be scanned, it's usually done the same day or next morning. Plus, there's a real person who answers the phone if you'd like them to just open a package for you and tell you what's in it or help with something outside the usual. They will accept certified mail for you and can deposit checks (though I haven't used that service). They will forward first class mail internationally. Getting set up with Escapees does require sending a notarized application, so there's that to consider if you're out of the country.

As for domiciling in a low-tax state, Escapees has a lot of information on their website about choosing a domicile (https://www.escapees.com/resource-center/domicile-info). They offer addresses in Texas, Florida, and South Dakota. Might be worth looking through their info to give you an idea of what would be involved and where to consider. I'm domiciled in Texas but I was also already a Texas resident. Great for no state income tax and low vehicle registration fees. Terrible for healthcare or other public services.

expatartist

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Re: Expat Mustachians - how do you handle access to money/banking/credit cards?
« Reply #40 on: February 10, 2018, 10:30:14 AM »
Re keeping a US phone # while overseas, I'm going with the T-mobile $3/month plan https://prepaid-phones.t-mobile.com/pay-as-you-go and will just get data when traveling in the US - I'm only here every year or two. The rest of the time I'll use my Hong Kong or other local SIM.

aspiringnomad

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Re: Expat Mustachians - how do you handle access to money/banking/credit cards?
« Reply #41 on: February 10, 2018, 10:52:18 AM »
Re keeping a US phone # while overseas, I'm going with the T-mobile $3/month plan https://prepaid-phones.t-mobile.com/pay-as-you-go and will just get data when traveling in the US - I'm only here every year or two. The rest of the time I'll use my Hong Kong or other local SIM.

Thanks! I was thinking of switching from T-mobile to Ting and doing the same thing because I didn't realize T-mobile offers such a cheap prepaid plan. Will plan on doing exactly this.

Shane

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Re: Expat Mustachians - how do you handle access to money/banking/credit cards?
« Reply #42 on: February 10, 2018, 03:26:04 PM »
Quote
Interesting, @Dr Kidstache. Are there any downsides to using Escapees as your mail service? I seem to remember reading somewhere that certain banks/brokerages/CC companies may be able to recognize addresses that belong to mail forwarding services like Escapees and refuse to accept them? Have you ever had that happen? Do you have accounts with Vanguard? Are they okay with an address from Escapees? Is it possible to open new CC accounts, have the cards sent to your Escapees address, and then have the new cards forwarded to you at an address somewhere outside of the US?
Eventually, we're going to want to establish residence in a low/no tax state. Does anyone know if it's possible to do that without physically going to the US? We really have no plans/desire to go back to the US anytime soon...

I've had no issues with Escapees, @Shane. I changed all my banking addresses (including Vanguard and CCs) to my Escapees address no problem. I really like the Escapees mail service. I use the mail scan service and it's very fast. Envelopes scanned the day they're received. If I request the contents to be scanned, it's usually done the same day or next morning. Plus, there's a real person who answers the phone if you'd like them to just open a package for you and tell you what's in it or help with something outside the usual. They will accept certified mail for you and can deposit checks (though I haven't used that service). They will forward first class mail internationally. Getting set up with Escapees does require sending a notarized application, so there's that to consider if you're out of the country.

As for domiciling in a low-tax state, Escapees has a lot of information on their website about choosing a domicile (https://www.escapees.com/resource-center/domicile-info). They offer addresses in Texas, Florida, and South Dakota. Might be worth looking through their info to give you an idea of what would be involved and where to consider. I'm domiciled in Texas but I was also already a Texas resident. Great for no state income tax and low vehicle registration fees. Terrible for healthcare or other public services.

Thanks, @Dr Kidstache. Checking out Escapees' site right now. Looks like there's lots of good info.

Minion

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Non-American expat here. I'm an Australian who recently moved to the Netherlands and I'm a citizen of both countries.

Our main stash is still in Australia, because we have earned more in dollars than we have in euros and it makes sense to keep it in dollars since we do intend to come home at some point. We've kept some accounts open because we still have a house there and thus receive rental income. We've also kept some credit cards for frequent flyer points-gaining purposes. Since moving to Europe, we've also opened up accounts here.

For the most part, we try to keep our stashes separate: Australian expenses come out of the Australian accounts and the rest come out of our Dutch accounts (since that's where majority of our income comes into at the moment). We obviously had to use our Australian accounts initially before we got set up here, but since then we have just lived on our Dutch income. Transferring money from Australia is a no-no in our house because it would mean we are spending more than we earn!

As for mail, we are redirecting everything to a friend's address. She takes a picture of anything important and sends it to me. My husband and I have both kept our Australian numbers. I have a dual-sim phone and keep Australian and Dutch sim cards in there, so I still get any important text messages (verification codes from the bank and such) for free. I also purchased a Skype plan for unlimited calls to Australian numbers with a Skype number so that Australians can call an Australian number and get us, mainly to talk to my mother-in-law, who couldn't get her mind around using Skype. It's not necessary if the people you want to keep in touch with are tech-savvy enough to use Skype or Whatsapp.

One thing I would love to do is continue to churn credit cards for frequent flyer points while abroad. Has anybody attempted this? I don't know if it's possible to get credit cards without domestic income.

Hi, I'm an Australian who has just relocated to London for work.

In terms of credit card churn, I was previously using a Qantas AMEX card in Australia. I've just opened a British Airways black Amex to continue accruing points, this time under Avios.

I came pretty close to heading to the Netherlands instead :)