If you’ve been keeping up we’re sure you’ve heard that we’re about a year into this whole expat thing, and we love it. It suits us. Quick day trips to new and exciting places (exciting to us, sometimes the locals give us weird looks when we tell them where we’re heading), new people from all over the world. Just the best experience we could ask for. That’s not to say that things haven’t been difficult, it’s really taken us almost a full year to get our arms around some of the most basic things, one of which was simply how to manage the budget over two continents.
Now, our first financial-type reaction to finding out we were about to move half a world was to look into some sort of international bank account. But as we were unable to find anything available to us in the few weeks that we had leading up to our move we found ourselves needing to MacGuyver an international banking solution that worked for us. A year into our adventure, and we’ve realized that there wasn’t any good reason that we would have needed to spring for an expensive international banking arrangement.
1 – Keep a US checking account
Don’t close it! Even if you don’t think that you’re going to have any regular monthly expenses, keep a little something back in the US for anything that might come up. We had a few monthly expenses that we had planned for but there were still a number of unexpected expenses that had popped up over the past year that needed payment in USD. Save yourself the trouble (and expenses) of sorting our an international wire transfer by just having some stashed. We did end up closing our traditional accounts and moving them to a completely online bank to make sure that fees weren’t going to eat away at the few dollars we left back in the States, and hey, we weren’t going to be walking into a branch anytime soon. We went with Capital One 360 to take advantage of their high interest rates, mobile banking app and an added bonus of a few extra bucks for opening an account.
2 – Open a local checking account
This is a no-brainer. You’re going to need an account in your host country, and hopefully you find yourself with an understanding banker who can help you through the process, because it’ll likely be a little different from back in the states. For one, no checks (at least here in Belgium). Nope, everything is done with electronic transfers, which at first was a bit strange giving our account number to just about everyone but it truly does make it sooo much easier. And don’t lose track of your card reader either, this little guy creates a special code by using your bank card and pin number for you to authorize transactions. Oh, and make sure that your bank has all of the documentation that they need – while they may let you open an account right after you land they’ll eventually need proof that you’re residing in Belgium, otherwise you may find yourself cut-off from accessing your account unexpectedly until you walk them down to the bank and provide them.
3 – Balancing your funds
So now we find ourselves with two unattached accounts on two continents (we hadn’t expected to be international financiers). And as hard as we tried to plan things out to avoid the expensive hassle of international transfers without an international bank account, it’ll just happen that you’ll need to move money from one to the other at some point. We’ve found a little bit of a workaround as a solution. Before we left for Belgium we found a credit card that we could use internationally that didn’t have any foreign transactions fees or annual fees. This way, we can pay for mostly anything here in Europe with our US funds without getting dinged with extra charges. Another solution would be to figure out what items you can pay for in USD, we’ve found that most online travel booking sites will have that option and let you avoid those foreign transaction fees that most cards carry. Moving cash the other way around – from Europe back to the US took a little more research. We haven’t had to resort to this just yet but we’ve got TransferWise in our back pocket. We’ve poked around and found that this was the easiest and lest expensive way of wiring money from Europe to the US. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work the other way around just yet.
4 – Taxes
Get. Help. Quick. This get’s insanely complex from both ends. Lucky for us the company who we’ve moved with has helped to sort things out, but if they didn’t we would still need to find some help filing our taxes correctly. Plus, you might find that they have some fancy solutions to take advantage of your expatriate status that you won’t want to pass up.
5 – Arrive with cash
Get some funds converted into Euros at your bank before you start out on your expat adventure (and to be polite, probably before you move to close the account and open up your online one). It may be a while before you get your local bank account up and running, and then a bit longer before you get your first host country paycheck deposited. Travelling with a bit of a cushion helps the first few weeks, plus, you’ll find that apartments here in Belgium normally ask for 2-3 months of rent as a deposit. Added bonus: you’ll feel like a bit of a secret agent with a hidden envelope full of foreign currency boarding an international flight…