Finances: Part II- In Transition

Hey everyone! I just wanted to say before starting this post that I have had trouble with my self-hosted website system. So, thanks to those who have notified me about not being able to interact on my blog. I will be switching to a new host soon, so bear with me! Fingers crossed it works out this time!

This is a continuation of my posts on expat finances. I am learning a lot as I go, especially now that I’m an adult and have more financial responsibility than I did when I previously moved to another country. See my previous post Finances: Part I- The Basics for my first post on this subject. Now, without further ado, let’s bust these money taboos!

Previous Experiences:

I was really young with my first two international moves. However, when I was old enough, my parents told me stories of their money experiences while transitioning and adjusting to a new culture.

When I repatriated to the US, things were relatively easy for me. I didn’t have assets in the UK, so I decided to move all my money to the US. Additionally, the exchange rates were favourable between the US Dollar and the Pound Sterling at that time. 

Financially Transitioning to A New Country:

There is a common misconception that Third Culture Kids are wealthy because of their mobile lifestyle. Family wealth is not always a factor in being able to move overseas. There are a variety of factors that make a mobile lifestyle possible. Companies can pay expenses for transitioning overseas, and include other perks for expats, so that’s a big deal. Additionally, it depends on where you are moving and how you move. Believe me, moving across an ocean and most, or all of another country can really compound the costs of moving. Plus, everyone’s situation is different, and people handle money differently.

As an example, I had to cancel my cell phone number in England before I moved. So far, I have been able to keep my US number while living in Canada. I had to upgrade my cell phone plan to allow calls within Canada and also be able to call the US when I have needed to do so. My initial plan was to change to a Canadian cell phone number after a month. However, Canada has some of the most expensive cell phone plans of any country, and I still have to make calls to the US now and then. I decided to keep my US cell phone number for a little while until I feel more financially stable.

Open A Bank Account Before or After Moving?

That’s a critical decision. When I moved to the US, there was no urgent need for me to have money there, so I waited until after I moved to open a bank account. However, with moving to Canada during the pandemic, I knew that I would have to quarantine for two weeks and I needed to be sure I had a bank account there. My Mum decided to wait to open one until after we arrived.

I bank with HSBC, so I was able to set up a bank account in Canada to be ready for when I got there. I had to go through an application and setup process that took some time, but it was worth it. Plus, I was able to sort out any problems before I moved! On the other hand, I couldn’t get a debit card for the account until I had arrived in Canada. After quarantine, I had to go to my branch to sign a couple more papers, and then I could get a debit card.

We realized later that I had the right idea all along. Additionally, we learned that the finances with moving to another country never really end, and it’s too much for one person to bear. Mum decided to take on extra tasks with moving so that I would have more bandwidth to deal with the finances. The reason why the situation ultimately worked out was that my Mum and I communicate well. 

Striking A Balance:

When you’re in transition, it’s not a time to cut corners. If you need to pay for something, suck it up and do it! I’ve had to pay more for my US cell phone plan, but so what? It works here in Canada and that’s all I ask! Plus, in my Quarantine Diaries Week 1 and Week 2, I talked about my Mum and I not getting our mattresses from Overstock. I caved and ordered them from Amazon because we had been sleeping on the floor for NINE days! We needed mattresses so badly we didn’t care about buying them again. Overstock delivered the mattresses a month later.

At the same time, unimportant costs can add up. As I said in my Finances Part I post, you are one decision away from making a financial mistake. I learned over the years to save any potential discounts for a time when I might really need them. There is no better time to use discounts than doing an international move. 

Want to know how much it cost me and my Mum to fly from San Francisco to Calgary via Vancouver? Nothing. We saved our credit card points for a time we really needed them. Of course, I offset our carbon emissions, and I was happy to put a little money towards it. My attitude was, “Sorry Mother Earth! I know you’re hurting, but my Mum and I need to get out of a crappy situation! Here’s a little something for you to say thanks.”

What You Need to Get Settled:

Again, it depends on your personal circumstances. You need to decide how much furniture you need to get and whether you actually need it. If your place is already furnished, great!

Sometimes, you can’t know what you need until you actually get there. My Mum and I had to buy PROPER winter clothes when we arrived. When my Mum was talking about getting winter clothes in California, I said, “You don’t go to California to get winter clothes.” Get what I mean?

Additionally, you have to get used to what shops are around when you move to a new country. I had to ask a Canadian friend what the difference is between Canadian Tire and Home Depot. Plus, when I discovered Co-ops in Calgary, I felt like a kid in a candy store! It was the best Co-op I had ever seen! Your general daily expenses are not going to settle until you decide where you like to shop and for what.

A Note on Healthcare:

Getting used to a new country’s medical system is something you need to budget for! Different countries have different rules for when new immigrants qualify for healthcare. That is if they have a government healthcare system.

In the UK, it took about a year to qualify for healthcare. Although, from what I saw with my family and friends, they don’t give quality healthcare to new immigrants until they have paid taxes for a while. In the US, you have to pay ALL medical bills until you get insurance! You absolutely MUST read the fine print of what your insurance covers! Plus, medical costs there are sneaky! You learn a lot of soft skills to save money on healthcare costs. For example, I decided early on what hospital I would want to go to if I had an emergency. I was certain of their quality care, but they didn’t charge me any out-of-pocket costs for using their resources like a hospital gown, or soap. It pisses me off that hospitals charge unreasonable costs that your insurance doesn’t cover!

How I feel when I hear about being absurdly overcharged for out-of-pocket costs:

Canada has a law that you cannot enter without health insurance. Plus, you have to live there a minimum of six months and one day to qualify for their government healthcare. That system works well because it’s a good time to get acquainted with a healthcare system before you qualify for care.

There are Cultural Ways of Dealing with M0ney:

You CANNOT ignore this! Countries will have different ways of banking, managing and transferring money and you have to work with it. It can feel overwhelming at times. 

Before my Mum and I moved to Canada, we had to put a deposit on our new apartment. The landlord told us how to send the money, but at first, I didn’t understand the instructions. I thought it was a simple wire transfer and the instructions didn’t make sense. Google didn’t help too much when I tried to find “what does ______ mean??” I figured because my ISP was in the US, I couldn’t access it. 

Eventually, I figured out the banking feature I had to use was called Interac eTransfer. Even though I had my Canadian bank account, I hadn’t really explored the features since I was busy moving. Then, I suddenly had to do a rent deposit and I was FREAKING OUT!!!! Plus, it seemed counterintuitive to me that there is actually a banking feature that doesn’t charge you fees for using it?! What kind of a country IS this where they don’t charge you for every banking service you use?! After a failed attempt at the Interac eTransfer the first time, I was going to blow like a volcano! Finally, I found a page on HSBC Canada about Interac eTransfer that explained it. 

Mum said, “you’re going to love this service someday!” She was right. There was so much stress the first time, but now I love it! Now, I look back on this story and laugh. That story is another reason why I was glad to open a Canadian bank account before I moved there. I don’t know what I would have done about the deposit if I didn’t have a Canadian bank account!

Final Notes:

Bottom line: It takes a MINIMUM of a few grand per person to get settled in a new country. The more you move to a new country, the better you get at making financial decisions. Mistakes don’t completely go away, but you’re less likely to make a serious one if you go by past precedent.

Additionally, it was a lovely surprise to find the best French patisserie in Calgary. Whenever someone does something nice for me or my Mum we get a box of macarons. When you’re an expat, you need a lot of help, and it’s really touching when people come through for you. There’s no better reward than seeing their faces light up when we give them macarons. You’re probably asking, “You have money for that?” The answer, “Yes, I have money for that.” I’m new here, and I’m building connections. Sometimes, I have moved and really been thrown into the deep end because people weren’t willing to help. Canadians are among the most generous people I have had the pleasure of living with, and I have given out a lot of boxes of macarons to say thank you!

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with what I have to say about finances as an expat?

Calgary Quarantine Diaries: Week 1

At this point, Mum and I only have a few more days of quarantine left and so far, we’re still healthy! We have found this time of quarantine to be a good time for us to recover from the journey and set up house and get used to things overall. It’s a more quiet and less harried time of getting settled in a new country than it normally is because we can’t go outside to do chores.

I read something once from women who are part of cultures that require them to isolate during their period. Those women say they really enjoy that time because they don’t have to take care of their families and they can relax and have some quality Me Time. This quarantine period reminds me of that.

To anyone who thinks periods are gross, sorry, not sorry! I’m all about ending period taboo since 1. It’s natural 2. Humans wouldn’t exist without it.

So, what things have happened the first week of quarantine? This won’t include my trip experience because that’s a post on its own, and there are parts that I’m not ready to share just yet.

It was hard to sleep that first night because we were sleeping on the floor. When I woke up, apparently FedEx had tried to deliver the things we had ordered from IKEA at 6:30 am! I had tried to request FedEx to deliver the packages the day we arrived, but it hadn’t worked out. I didn’t have a local number yet, and I got a hard time over it. I decided to leave my cell phone on that night in case it happened again, but it was a pain to say the least!

I suddenly missed my friends like crazy and texted them on WhatsApp to tell them I needed to talk. For me, WhatsApp is the BOMB for staying in touch with people overseas! You can still text your friends and not get charged! I was not okay after the journey and there’s a part of the story I can’t talk about without crying.

All I remember doing that day was unpacking my bags and setting the stuff up, talking to my friend and taking a nap. Plus, I remember our landlord stopping by to get our papers. We needed change for the laundry, and we exchanged a $20 CAD bill for it. YYC didn’t give me change when I got money there. The best thing about the first day: it started snowing! I hadn’t seen snow in years and it made everything beautiful! 😍

I hoped the second night would be better, but no. Even though I left my phone on, FedEx STILL didn’t deliver! I woke up feeling like I had hit my head against a brick wall again! FedEx eventually delivered though, and we were happy. We realized that it’s difficult to get deliveries at our apartment though and we just have to work with it.

We opened our IKEA boxes, excited to finally get our table and chair set and other supplies! We have depended on IKEA for furniture when we moved before because it’s so easy to assemble and you don’t need tools. To our dismay, we discovered we needed tools this time! Fortunately, we have kind friends who lent us some tools a couple days later.

I had noticed when I ordered from IKEA that you can request assembly service. I overlooked it though because I thought it wasn’t important. Then, I remembered that IKEA is under new management now and the founder had died. I had heard of their new sustainability initiatives, which was nice, but I hadn’t heard of them making it necessary to have tools to put it together.

To anyone who is moving and needs new furniture, be aware of this new development! I haven’t tried their assembly service, so I can’t speak for it, but it’s not the efficient assembly it once was!

Traveling had been such an adrenaline high and I didn’t start coming off it until the second day. I have anxiety and PTSD from being an expat and it started to hit. It was then when my Mum and I made a rule that we DON’T want to talk about what’s happening in the US right now! It’s better for us mentally that we don’t know, especially with the election happening in 3 days. I have found if I get up at night, I check my phone to see if I have any messages from my friends in the US. It gives me peace of mind that if I hear from them, they’re okay.

I have some essential oils which I have found to be balancing at times like this, and they did help. I had hoped I would sleep well with the oils, but that didn’t happen. I had a panic attack in the middle of the third night and Mum and I had a talk about the stressors we’ve been dealing with.

Since I am the highly organized person in my family, I bore a lot of the burden. I figured out how to get into Canada because of our chronic pain issues. It was highly detailed, but no one can obsess like I can! I have been in charge of jobs that don’t have an end in sight like finances, and my cell phone was our only source of internet for a while. I paid a high mental health cost for my work though and my Mum agreed to relieve me of some of the burden.

I couldn’t be happier that I’m with my Mum, but I also feel guilty leaving family and friends behind. My Mum said people need to realize in their own time that it’s really not a good situation in the US and that emigrating is a good life choice to make under the circumstances.

The next day, I was impressed that the snowfall had continued straight for 3 days! I have lived in snowy climates before, but never had I seen it snow for so long! I have stepped outside from time to time to take the garbage out (when no one’s around and wearing a mask of course) and I was able to wear a hoodie in temperatures of -10°C! Our apartment is rather overheated, so having the windows open at that temperature was quite pleasant.

I called another friend in the US. I haven’t shared my story of my journey much, but it seems like everyone I told was shocked by what happened. I think it’s a new reality for US expats. I read an article that the US is losing its passport privilege. I believe it! I am really touched by the support I have received and how welcoming people are! Thank you! You know who you are! ❤❤❤

Mum and I did some cleaning and ordered some more stuff. We had been researching how to find a good internet service and decided on one we wanted. I was happy that we would get it soon and we didn’t have to depend on my phone. Things were looking up!

By the fourth day, Mum and I had established a routine of cleaning, organizing and ordering what we needed to get. We each got a call from the IRCC (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada) to check that we were complying with the quarantine regulations. They were kind and respectful with their questions and comments and were even up for a little talk! I didn’t just answer their questions. I provided them some extra information too. They also checked that we’re getting food and fresh air, which was nice of them. Apparently, they are working seven days a week because of the pandemic, and like all other essential workers, I appreciate what they do!

Mum and I put together our table and chairs and they looked great! It took a while, but it worked. One more step to getting settled and making this place a home!

Day 5 was rather quiet. It was the day it stopped snowing, so by then, I was quite impressed with the length of the snowfall. You would think by now, we would have got our beds, right? Wrong. We were still sleeping on the floor. We were used to it, but it still hurt considering our pain issues. We had been taking afternoon naps in the bathtub because we were able to use our duvets to make it softer.

I had ordered our mattresses from Overstock Ca two weeks before and they told me I would receive them in 11-14 business days. I heard this week that the mattresses were being delayed at customs. I know COVID has delayed a lot of mail and deliveries at customs. I had to renew my UK passport a while ago and even that got delayed at customs. I kept looking for updates on my Overstock account, but still felt desperate for beds!

By Day 6, the snow was melting. There’s a chair in the back yard that got all this snow on it and when it melted, it formed these icicles that reminded us of the snail monster in Monsters Inc that fell through the grate in the sidewalk and said, “Oh great!”

Chair Monster!

I have started collecting cool Canada memes and one of my Canadian friends on Facebook posted this:

Source: Facebook

Definitely part of my collection now along with the cat meme I have in my post What I’m Looking Forward To!

I had been taking a nap in the bathtub for a while now, so I finally decided to take a selfie of me lying there. Okay, yes I know I haven’t shown a photo of myself yet, so here you go now!

Sleeping in the tub

By Day 7, the Overstock mattress situation was looking ridiculous! I know there are border delays, but come on! Is this Brexit or something? We called to see what was going on, only to find out that we basically weren’t going to get our mattresses this week. We caved and ordered the mattresses from Amazon. For the record, I use Amazon in a pinch because I have issues with how exploitative they are, but desperate times call for desperate measures!

Looking back on it, I should have done a price comparison of the mattresses before buying them. Overstock’s cheap prices would have jumped out at me as suspicious.

First seven days are up! Did we get out mattresses? Only one way to find out! Watch this space for part 2 of my quarantine diaries in Calgary and what my new adventures will be after I am done with quarantine!

Expect the Unexpected

I know I said I would be taking a short break from the blog, but then I got inspired. It’s going to be a short post again because I felt it important to share that when you move internationally, you have to expect the unexpected!

I know it’s a cliche, but in this regard it’s true. Anyone who knows me knows I am the queen of to-do lists and organizing and I can’t live without my bullet journal! I know as my moving date gets closer more unexpected things are going to happen. It doesn’t end when your moving date happens either. The unexpected stuff takes a while to go away after your moving date. Let me give you a few examples that have already happened to me:

My Cell Phone:

I found out my cell phone plan didn’t do international calls. There was an important call I had to make, and I had to delay it until I could update my cell phone plan. I was also confused because I thought something was wrong with the number I had been given. Fortunately, there wasn’t a time limit on needing to make the call. If there was, I would have been freaking out. I found out the number was correct, and I added the international calls to my phone plan with no stress at all. Funny how with your daily cell phone use that you forget what your plan doesn’t have.

Money:

Money is the biggest worry when moving. One wrong move and it can be an expensive mistake. So far, money is the thing that sets off an emotional meltdown. I decided to set a bank account up in Canada before I left. It’s rather detail-oriented though and when you’re under moving stress, it’s easy to forget if you have already been told something. I may be super organized, but that doesn’t mean I don’t forget things. Overall, I am glad I decided to set up the bank account before I got there, but more on that in another post.

Personal Relationships:

I’m so glad that my Mum and I are working so well together with this moving business! We have done this before and every time, we get better at it! We have divided our jobs up and we are accepting if my job overlaps into hers and vice versa. At least we are communicating, and there for each other at the emotionally low times because trust me, there are a lot of those happening! I’m SO grateful for my friends! I text them regularly because it’s nice to talk to someone while this stuff is going on. Plus, texting them is a kind of a breather from the hustle and bustle. That’s not to say unexpected stuff doesn’t happen. I have friends who really aren’t supportive and don’t understand what’s going on and I have to keep them at arm’s length. Those friends cause more stress than what it’s worth and it’s better not to deal with it right now. I can go back later though, but I need space from those unsupportive friends.

Deadlines:

Sometimes, there is a deadline that falls on you unexpectedly and you HAVE to drop everything and sort it out! It is a big relief when you do sort it out though, and it’s time for a bit of self-care! My favorite thing to do at the end of a stressful day is have a bubble bath!

Other things:

Sometimes, you overlook something you have to do, and you just shrug and do it. I wasn’t planning on voting for a few days, but then I got my ballot and I thought, “Let’s get on with it!” It’s better to get those done soon so they don’t cause stress later on.

To all my Canadian followers, Happy Canadian Thanksgiving for Monday! I’ll be having my own small celebration that day too, even though I’m not there yet.

Talk to you all later!

Finances: Part I- The Basics

Money: Taboo right? Well, let’s be real here. If you don’t have a handle on your finances before, during, and after moving overseas, your problems will swamp you. It’s tough enough handling money while you’re moving if you are good with money. If you aren’t so good with money, it’s time to step up your game!

Now is the time to do a financial health check and see if you have the resources to move to another country. Here’s what I do: I plan for expenses, and also emergencies, and then I check it again. And again… I’m not kidding. Emergencies can and do happen. I have found from moving overseas that I am one decision away from making a financial mistake, even if I don’t realize it, so I have to stay ahead of the game! It’s important to have as many protections against losing money that you can get. Check your overdraft protection amounts. Check if you can get some kind of insurance against losing your salary. If you’re late on a credit card or loan payment because you are busy with moving or overlooked something, see what you can do to fix it. 

There are some important decisions you need to make about building credit and planning for retirement. Even if you are young, you need to think about what you need to do to plan for retirement. Some countries have a residency requirement for claiming retirement benefits and you need to see if you can still get them even if you are overseas. You also want to think ahead a little bit about whether or not you want to buy a house or car, or need a loan in your new country. I understand that life happens, and you can’t see the future, but if any of those things are even the remotest possibility, you need to plan for building credit and consult with people who understand how to do this overseas. HSBC was very helpful in that regard, but I admit, the process for getting a credit card was a little difficult.

Additionally, it is important to decide if you want to keep money in your home country for any reason, especially if you want to avoid any pains with exchange rates and additional charges. Learning your way around exchange rates is a real skill in itself. You learn when to make them work for you and when you want to avoid them. I’ll mention examples from time to time in my future posts.

The most important decision you can make is choosing a bank that can support you through the move. When I was living in London and approaching the age where I could earn my own money, I looked for a bank that was good at dealing with international and expat finance. I knew there was a chance I could move to another country, and I wanted to be prepared for that. I also knew from experience that I did not want Citibank. Even though they advertise how good they are at international stuff, I found out that to not be true. 

A friend of mine from Germany told me about HSBC. She had to do regular financial transactions between the UK and Germany and she was impressed by how well HSBC dealt with that. So, I decided to give it a try. I was very impressed with HSBC’s customer service, and when I moved to the US, it was very easy to handle my money affairs. Unfortunately, I had to give up on HSBC because they did not have any branches near where I moved to in the US. Once I decided to move to Canada, I found that HSBC had opened a branch near where I lived, so it was easy to become a customer again.

When I went back to HSBC, I was pleased to see their quality customer service was still the same. I was able to get all my questions answered and I feel confident financially about moving. I have good people at my branch willing to work with me on my financial needs. Currently, I’m in the process of setting things up to move my finances from the US to Canada, and HSBC has been great in facilitating that process. One thing I remembered about HSBC from before, and still see it now, is they hire people that represent the cultural background of immigrants in the areas where their branches operate, so they can assist immigrants in their native languages. In England, the employees came from India, Africa, and different European countries. Here, the employees are from China. I also remembered how I specifically prefer to be helped by employees who have a foreign accent because it shows me that they have dealt with money matters of moving overseas.  

I have found that HSBC has since expanded their services for expats since the last time I was a customer. One source I like reading about information on living in Canada is HSBC’s Expat Explorer. This report is based on HSBC expat survey responses and is published every year.

Fellow expats? Do you agree or disagree with what I said? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments.

Note: I do not work for HSBC and I’m not trying to promote it.